It was August again today on Wall Street.
Traders got over the hurricane scare that spiked oil prices and spooked stocks yesterday and reverted to their standard summer somnolence.
Stocks rebounded a bit from the six-week lows they hit on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index advanced less than three points to 1,212.37. The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index added a little more than five points, closing at 2,134.37. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed almost 16 points to 10,450.63
The price of crude oil hit a new record, $68 a barrel in New York futures trading, but eased back to $67.49 after traders studied the track of tropical storm Katrina.
Fear that Katrina would develop into a hurricane and sweep through the natural gas and oil-producing rigs in the Gulf of Mexico produced a sharp spike in prices on Wednesday. The storm did develop into a hurricane today but the latest forecasts route it away from prime petroleum waters, but if it tracks back toward that territory, speculators are sure to boost prices.
Wall Street spent much of the day sorting out conflicting housing statistics, which got even more confused today with news that mortgages rates fell for the second week in a row.
Freddie Mac of McLean, the nation's second-largest mortgage provider, reported that the nationwide average rate for 30-year loans fell to 5.77 percent and rates on 15-year mortgages slipped to 5.35 percent.
Rates had been moving steadily upward -- advancing for six weeks in a row -- until the trend broke last week. The continued decline only added to the debate about the housing market -- which has been particularly hot in Long Island's Hamptons, where Wall Street's wealthiest spend their summers.
While real estate agents reported Tuesday that sales of existing homes fell in July, Wednesday's new homes report from the Commerce Department showed a big jump in July sales.
Don't believe the government data, economist concluded today, saying the jump -- based on a small sample of builders -- does not gibe with other reports.
Mortgage bankers say applications for loans to buy houses are continuing to decline and government data shows median prices of new homes are slipping as well -- down more than 7 percent in July. That drop, analysts say, is because of a slowdown in sales of higher priced homes -- which is where the market tends to cool off first.