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Stocks Drift Higher in Midday Trade    12/22 11:33

   U.S. financial markets drifted slightly higher in midday trading Monday, 
although the gains were held back by discouraging data on U.S. home sales and a 
deepening slide in oil prices. 

   (AP) -- U.S. financial markets drifted slightly higher in midday trading 
Monday, although the gains were held back by discouraging data on U.S. home 
sales and a deepening slide in oil prices. Stocks have notched gains the past 
three trading days.

   KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 87 points, or 0.5 
percent, to 17,893 as of 12:06 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 
index was flat at 2,070. The Nasdaq composite rose one point, or 0.02 percent, 
to 4,766.

   SANTA RALLY: Stocks are continuing a pre-Christmas advance, which traders 
often refer to as a "Santa" rally. Major indexes ended last week on a strong 
note, finishing higher three days in a row. The Dow and S&P 500 are both up for 
the month, while the Nasdaq is down.

   THE QUOTE: "With the Dow being up substantially more than the S&P 500, I 
would tend to say what's holding back the S&P is more related to its makeup 
than it is a problem related to investors' perception or concerns," said Sam 
Stovall, U.S. equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. "We're firmly in a Santa 
Claus rally."

   SECTOR WATCH: Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index rose, led by 
technology stocks. Semiconductor services company KLA-Tencor rose $1.84, or 2.6 
percent, to $71.56. Energy stocks declined. The sector is down about 10 percent 
this year.

   SHELL GAME: Shares in Caesar's Entertainment jumped 14.8 percent on news the 
casino operator will buy an affiliate in a bid to smooth the reorganization of 
another struggling division and balance its debt load. The stock gained $1.99 
to $15.49.

   HOUSING SPUTTERS: The National Association of Realtors reported that sales 
of previously occupied homes fell 6.1 percent last month to a seasonally 
adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million. That's the slowest pace in six months. 
Over the past 12 months, sales have risen 2.1 percent. The disappointing data 
sent shares in most homebuilders lower. NVR led among the decliners, sliding 
$22.36, or 1.8 percent, to $1,214.

   PUSHING BACK: Shares in drugmaker Gilead Sciences fell 15 percent after 
pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts said it will no longer cover two of 
Gilead's hepatitis C drugs as part of an effort to battle the high cost of 
treatment for the disease. Gilead slid $15.18 to $93.27.

   PAID OUT: Ocwen Financial slid 26 percent on news that the subprime mortgage 
servicer's executive chairman will resign in a settlement that also provides 
$150 million to homeowners. The stock shed $5.72 to $16.18.

   EYE ON OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.65, or 2.9 percent, to $55.48 a 
barrel. Oil peaked at $107 a barrel in June but has plunged since then due to 
weak demand and abundant supplies, especially after Saudi Arabia and other OPEC 
members agreed to maintain production levels.

   ENERGY SLUMP: Several oil production and exploration companies tumbled as 
the slide in oil prices deepened. Nabors Industries fell 79 cents, or 5.8 
percent, to $12.84, while Chesapeake Energy slid $1.38, or 6.9 percent, to 
$18.48. Range Resources shed $3.16, or 5.3 percent, to $56.71. Southwestern 
Energy dropped $1.90, or 6.1 percent, to $29.10.

   OVERSEAS MARKETS: In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, while 
Germany's DAX rose 0.8 percent. France's CAC 40 gained 0.3 percent. In Asia, 
China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.6 percent, while South Korea's Kospi 
added 0.7 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.3 percent, while Japan's Nikkei 
225 rose 0.1 percent.

   BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury 
note rose to 2.18 percent from 2.17 percent late Friday.


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