NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mostly higher Thursday as the continuing rebound in oil prices gives energy companies a lift. The gains are modest, however, as the market hasn't made big moves this month. The dollar is weakening and reached its lowest level compared to the Japanese yen in almost three years.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 8 points to 18,581 as of 3:10 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 added 4 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,185. The Nasdaq composite rose 12 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,240. On Wednesday the Federal Reserve released minutes from its latest meeting, which investors took as confirmation the Fed is in no hurry to raise interest rates again. That's sent the dollar slipping compared to the yen and the euro.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained $1.43, or 3.1 percent, to $48.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose $1.04, or 2.1 percent, to $50.89 a barrel in London. That gave energy companies a lift, and Marathon Oil rose 92 cents, or 5.9 percent, to $16.62 while Devon Energy gained $1.25, or 2.9 percent, to $44.56.
Oil prices have rallied over the last two weeks, but they have essentially remained between $40 and $50 a barrel for the last four months. After oil traded as low as $26.21 a barrel in February, that relative stability has boosted energy company stocks.
CURRENCY: The dollar fell to 99.97 yen from 100.19 yen, its lowest level since October 2013. The euro rose to $1.1354 from $1.1290. The dollar has been weakening lately as investors anticipate that interest rates probably won't go up soon. A weaker dollar is good for U.S. exporters, and chemical, mining and technology companies all traded a bit higher Thursday. The dollar was worth about 120 yen at the start of this year.
THE QUOTE: Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist for LPL Financial, said the U.S. market tends to be calm in August and trading volume is usually low — although that means surprising events can cause big swings for stocks. That hasn't happened lately.
"We had record volatility to start the year and these things do tend to revert," he said. "It's amazing how quickly things change."
RISING RETAILER: Wal-Mart Stores climbed $1.27, or 1.7 percent, to $74.20. The world's largest retailer raised its annual estimates after reporting strong results for the second quarter. The company is revamping stores and has won back some customers. Wal-Mart, which has lost sales to sites like Amazon as people make more purchases online, is also buying online retailer Jet.com for $3 billion as it fights for more online shoppers.
CISCO CUTS: Internet gear maker Cisco Systems reported unimpressive quarterly results and said it will lay off 5,500 employees, or about 7 percent of its staff. The company had already cut about 10,000 jobs over the last few years and it joins companies like Microsoft, Intel and HP in eliminating jobs and overhauling its product lines. Its stock lost 38 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $30.34.
PRIVATE PRISONS PLUNGE: Prison operating companies nosedived after the Justice Department said it will end or sharply reduce contracts with the companies, saying privately-run prisons have more safety and security problems than prisons run by the government. Around 12 percent of federal inmates, or 22,000 people, were in private prisons at the end of last year.
Corrections Corp. stock plunged $10.12, or 37.2 percent, to $17.10 and Geo Group tumbled $12.56, or 38.9 percent, to $19.73. Both companies get about half their revenue from contracts with the federal government, and their stocks hit their lowest levels in years.
WILD RIDE: Harley-Davidson stock skidded after the U.S. government sued the motorcycle maker, saying it made illegal devices that could cause its vehicles to emit higher amounts of some types of air pollutants. The shares dropped as much as 8 percent earlier in the day, but made up most of those losses after the Justice Department said Harley-Davidson agreed to settle the case by buying back and destroying the devices. It will also pay a $12 million penalty and spend $3 million on a project that will help mitigate air pollution. The stock lost 98 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $53.50.
BONDS: Bond prices inched higher and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.53 percent from 1.55 percent.
METALS: Gold added $8.40 to $1,357.20 an ounce. Silver gained 9 cents to $19.74 an ounce and copper picked up 2 cents to $2.17 a pound.
OTHER ENERGY TRADING: Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to $1.49 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 4 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to $2.67 per 1,000 cubic feet.
OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX added 0.6 percent and the French CAC 40 index rose 0.4 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 slid 1.5 percent. The Kospi in South Korea added 0.9 percent.