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Stocks inch higher as energy rallies; Monsanto tumbles

NEW YORK - U.S. stocks closed modestly higher, led by gains in energy companies as investors hope that the worst may soon be over for the battered sector.

Wednesday's advance followed a big gain from the day before.

Exxon Mobil led the Dow Jones industrial average higher with a gain of 2 percent.

Other energy companies also rose.

Investors were encouraged by another gain in the price of oil, its seventh rise in the last eight days.

Agribusiness giant Monsanto dropped 8 percent after cutting its outlook, and spirits maker Brown-Forman, whose brands include Jack Daniels, fell 2 percent after lowering its guidance.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 34 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,899. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added eight points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,986. The Nasdaq composite climbed nearly 14 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,703.