Wall Street steadies as oil plunges, China woes deepen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street rallied to finish slightly higher on Monday, steadying after a brutal start to 2016, while beaten-down oil prices plunged further after a fresh tumble for Chinese stocks.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

In a volatile session in which U.S. stocks were lower much of the day, the S&P 500 and the Dow rallied to close higher after last week posting their worst-ever five-day starts to the year.

China's main stock indexes .SSEC.CSI300 each dropped more than 5 percent on Monday. Oil prices fell to new 12-year lows, as concerns over China hurt commodity prices broadly.

Noting that weak signs out of China and falling oil prices have recently pressured stocks, Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana, said: “You had both those things happen today and the market managed to finish upward.

“The fact that it did hold up for the same reasons that it seemed to go down last week, that’s a victory,” Carlson said. “Today was kind of a nice, perhaps, first brick in the bottom being put in place.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 52.12 points, or 0.32 percent, to 16,398.57, the S&P 500 .SPX was up 1.64 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,923.67 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC lost 5.64 points, or 0.12 percent, to 4,637.99. Energy shares .SPNY led declines, while the healthcare sector .SPXHC fell 1.2 percent as Celgene Corp CELG.O weighed after posting a disappointing financial outlook.

Investors were looking to U.S. corporate earnings to help provide confidence, with major banks reporting later this week, despite expectations for a second consecutive quarter of overall declining earnings.

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“We are going to start to get into earnings season and that is going to begin to be the bigger cue for this market,” Carlson said.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 gave up initial gains and ended down 0.4 percent as commodity shares tracked oil and metals prices lower.

MSCI's broadest gauge of stocks globally .MIWD00000PUS slipped 0.4 percent after registering its biggest weekly decline in more than four years.

Oil prices fell for a sixth straight session to start the new year, as traders cited fears over slowing demand in China.

U.S. crude prices CLc1 settled down 5.3 percent at $31.41 a barrel, while benchmark Brent LCOc1 dropped 6 percent to $31.55 a barrel.

“The focus is still on China and the demand concerns in China moving forward into 2016,” said Tony Headrick, an energy market analyst at CHS Hedging LLC.

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The U.S. dollar was up 0.3 percent against a basket of currencies .DXY, while the euro fell 0.7 percent against the dollarEUR=.

“Modestly improved risk sentiment was enough to cause the euro to lose some ground against the U.S. dollar,” said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington.

U.S. Treasury yields inched higher in volatile trading. Benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR were down 12/32 in price to yield 2.1736 percent, from 2.131 percent late on Friday.

Copper prices CMCU3 fell 2.2 percent to 6-1/2-year lows as the Chinese stock declines reinforced worries about demand in the world's biggest consumer of industrial metals.

Spot gold XAU= fell 0.8 percent but still hovered at more than two-month highs.

The 19-market Thomson Reuters CoreCommodity Index .TRJCRB sank 2.6 percent to a 13-1/2-year low.

Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Catherine Ngai and Tariro Mzezewa in New York, Marc Jones and Amanda Cooper in London; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler