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Oil surprise staves off Wall Street lull

US stocks rose yesterday, shaking off a slide in China&rsquo;s equity market as investors responded well to a surprise drop in crude oil stockpiles that might suggest an improving demand outlook.<br /><br /><strong>Exxon Mobil</strong> and <strong>Chevron</strong> led the blue-chip Dow industrials index&rsquo;s advance. Exxon Mobil was up 2.3 per cent at $68.00, and Chevron gained 1.8 per cent to $68.16.<br /><br /><strong>Murphy Oil</strong> was up 3.1 per cent at $58.05 and the S&amp;P Energy index gained 1.9 per cent by the market close. US crude oil rose 4.7 per cent, or $3.23, to settle at $72.42 a barrel after a report showed the biggest drop in inventories since May.<br /><br />Wall Street had opened lower after the Shanghai Composite index fell to a two-month low as investors fretted that China&rsquo;s 20 per cent slide over the past two weeks would continue.<br /><br />&ldquo;We see more people shrugging off overseas weakness and putting money into equities here, not wanting to see the stocks come down,&rdquo; said Michael James, a senior trader at Wedbush Morgan. &ldquo;Firmer oil prices are helping the overall equities market, but there is a positive bias toward equities to begin with.&rdquo;<br /><br />The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.22 points, or 0.66 per cent, to 9,279.16. The Standard &amp; Poor&rsquo;s 500 index rose 6.79 points, or 0.69 per cent, to 996.46. The Nasdaq Composite index advanced 13.32 points, or 0.68 per cent, to 1,969.24.<br /><br />Healthcare stocks also outperformed the broader market, led by <strong>Merck</strong>. The drugmaker&rsquo;s stock was up 2.5 per cent at $31.48. Shares of rival <strong>Pfizer</strong> added 2.4 per cent to $16.37.<br /><br />But the tech-heavy Nasdaq&rsquo;s advance was curbed by <strong>Hewlett-Packard</strong>, which was down 0.3 per cent at $43.83 after the computer and printer maker expressed caution about business demand. Earlier, H-P hit an intra-day low at $42.52.<br /><br />Another speed bump came courtesy of <strong>Deere</strong>, which shed 2.9 per cent to $43.78 after the tractor and farm equipment maker said it expected to barely break even in the fourth quarter.<br /><br />With many traders on vacation, volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with only about 988m shares changing hands, sharply below last year&rsquo;s estimated daily average of 1.49bn.