Wall Street rebounds to a record on energy

NEW YORK - Stocks returned to record levels on Wednesday as a rebound in oil prices boosted energy shares. The stock market also gained after the completion of midterm elections that saw Republicans take control of the Senate.

The direction of the stock market has been dictated by swings in the price of oil this week. Energy stocks plunged on Monday and Tuesday on reports that Saudi Arabia was cutting prices for U.S.-bound crude. On Wednesday, oil rebounded on a smaller-than-expected increase in overall U.S. supplies.

Devon Energy (DVN) was the biggest gainer in the Standard & Poor's 500 index after it reported record oil production late Tuesday and said that its third-quarter earnings more than doubled to $1.02 billion. The results were better than Wall Street analysts had forecast.

The stock market has returned to record levels after a sharp slump last month. The rebound has been fueled by a combination of rising corporate earnings and evidence that the economy is maintaining its gradual recovery.

"We're within the midst of a secular bull market right now, and I do believe the general trend right now in the U.S. stock market is going to be upward," said Kevin Mahn, President and Chief Investment Officer at Hennion & Walsh Asset Management.

The S&P 500 rose 11.47 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 2,023.57. That surpassed the previous record of 2,018.05 set on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 100.69 points, or 0.6 percent, ending at 17,484.53. The index is also at an all-time high. The Nasdaq composite fell two points, or less than 0.1 percent, to finish at 4,620.72.

Investors also assessed the impact of the midterm elections.

America awoke Wednesday to sharper dividing lines in an already divided government. Republicans gained control of the Senate and strengthened their hold on the House in a wave of Election Day victories late Tuesday. Republicans racked up Senate victories in seven states, including GOP-leaning Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Many analysts pointed out though that a divided government isn't necessarily negative for the stock market.

Evaluating data going back to 1946, analysts at S&P Capital IQ found that the stock market had its best returns when a Democratic President was opposed by a unified Republican Congress. In the eight years when that combination was in place, the S&P 500 index gained an average of 15.1 percent.

The worst returns occurred when a Republican president was working with a split Congress. In that scenario, stocks rose an average of just 3.5 percent a year.

Despite this week's events in Washington, what matters more for investors when evaluating companies is the strength of their balance sheets and their earnings potential, said W. Janet Dougherty, a global investment specialist based in Chicago with J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

"In the near-term what happens in Washington shouldn't deter you, or impact how you're investing," Dougherty said. "It's really does come down to fundamentals."

Investors also got some encouraging news on hiring on Wednesday.

U.S. companies added 230,000 jobs in October, payroll processer ADP said Wednesday. That's the most in four months and a sign that businesses are still willing to hire despite signs of slowing growth overseas. The report could indicate a healthy gain in the government's monthly report on jobs due out Friday.

In oil trading, benchmark U.S. crude rose for the first time in five days, climbing $1.49 to $78.68 a barrel on a smaller-than-expected increase in overall U.S. oil supplies and a surprise decline in oil supplies at the main U.S. trading hub in Cushing, Okla. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, rose 13 cents to close at $82.95 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Devon energy surged $5.60, or 10 percent, to $61.62 after reporting record oil production late Tuesday and saying that its third-quarter earnings more than double to $1.02 billion.

Other winning stocks included a pair of big media companies.

Time Warner (TWX) jumped after raising its earnings forecast for the year. The company's stock gained $3.02, or 4 percent, to $77.99.

Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) said late Tuesday that it earned $1.04 billion in its fiscal first quarter on strong results from its cable networks and movies including "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and "The Fault in Our Stars." Its stock rose $1.51, or 4.5 percent, to $34.84.

TripAdvisor (TRIP) was the day's biggest loser. Its stock plunged after the company posted weak quarterly results late Tuesday. The travel website company's shares dropped $11.84, or 14.1 percent, to $71.95.

In currency trading, the dollar rose to 114.74 yen from 113.69 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.2472 from $1.2548. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose was unchanged from Tuesday at 2.34 percent.

The price of gold continued to slide. Gold fell $22, or 1.9 percent, to $1,145.70 an ounce. Silver slid 51 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $15.43 an ounce and copper dropped 1.1 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $3.01 a pound.

In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline rose 0.9 cent to close at $2.087 a gallon, and heating oil fell 0.4 cent to close at $2.439 a gallon. Natural gas rose for the seventh straight trading day on forecasts for colder weather. Natural gas futures rose 6.5 cents to close at $4.194 per 1,000 cubic feet.