Stocks fell on Wednesday as surging oil prices offset remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that signaled no change in interest-rate policy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 18.03 points, or 0.2 percent, to end the day at 10,811.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index dipped 0.33 point, or 0.03 percent, closing at 1,210.08. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 3.75 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 2,067.50.
U.S. crude oil futures surged above $53 a barrel, a four-month high, after a series of refinery problems in Texas spurred fresh buying. Light, sweet crude for April delivery rose $1.37 to settle at $53.05 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In his remarks to the House Budget Committee, Greenspan was upbeat about the economy and did not suggest there would be any major changes in the Fed's monetary policy. He emphasized the importance of congressional action on Social Security and said hiking taxes would be negative for the economy right now.
Among local movers, shares of Occidental Petroleum Corp. rose 2.4 percent to $70.94 after the L.A.-based firm's stock rating was upgraded to "outperform" from "market perform" by Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co.
Cheesecake Factory Inc. gained a slight 0.1 percent to close at $34.46 after the Calabasas Hills-based casual-dining restaurant operator's stock rating was raised to "hold" from "sell" by equity firm Matrix USA.
On the down side, shares of Semtech Corp. fell 6.1 percent to close at $18.91 as investors reacted to the Camarillo-based semiconductor producer's quarterly earnings, released after market close on Tuesday. Semtech reported fourth-quarter net income of $12.1 million (16 cents per diluted share), compared with $12.5 million (16 cents) for the like period a year earlier. Revenues rose 6 percent to $58.4 million. The company said it expects net sales for the first quarter ended May 1 to decrease 5 percent from the fourth quarter. Earnings in the first quarter are expected to be 14 cents per diluted share.
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