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US stock indexes drift higher

U.S. financial markets drifted slightly higher in midday trading Monday, although the gains were held back by discouraging data on U.S. home sales and a deepening slide in oil prices. Stocks have notched gains the past three trading days.

Keeping score: The Dow Jones industrial average rose 87 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,893 as of 12:06 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was flat at 2,070. The Nasdaq composite rose one point, or 0.02 percent, to 4,766.

Santa rally: Stocks are continuing a pre-Christmas advance, which traders often refer to as a “Santa” rally. Major indexes ended last week on a strong note, finishing higher three days in a row. The Dow and S&P 500 are both up for the month, while the Nasdaq is down.

The quote: “With the Dow being up substantially more than the S&P 500, I would tend to say what’s holding back the S&P is more related to its makeup than it is a problem related to investors’ perception or concerns,” said Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ. “We’re firmly in a Santa Claus rally.”

Sector watch: Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index rose, led by technology stocks. Semiconductor services company KLA-Tencor rose $1.84, or 2.6 percent, to $71.56. Energy stocks declined. The sector is down about 10 percent this year.

Shell game: Shares in Caesar’s Entertainment jumped 14.8 percent on news the casino operator will buy an affiliate in a bid to smooth the reorganization of another struggling division and balance its debt load. The stock gained $1.99 to $15.49.

Eye on oil: Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.65, or 2.9 percent, to $55.48 a barrel. Oil peaked at $107 a barrel in June but has plunged since then due to weak demand and abundant supplies, especially after Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members agreed to maintain production levels.

Energy slump: Several oil production and exploration companies tumbled as the slide in oil prices deepened. Nabors Industries fell 79 cents, or 5.8 percent, to $12.84, while Chesapeake Energy slid $1.38, or 6.9 percent, to $18.48. Range Resources shed $3.16, or 5.3 percent, to $56.71. Southwestern Energy dropped $1.90, or 6.1 percent, to $29.10.

Overseas markets: In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, while Germany’s DAX rose 0.8 percent. France’s CAC 40 gained 0.3 percent. In Asia, China’s Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.6 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi added 0.7 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 1.3 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 percent.

Bonds: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.18 percent from 2.17 percent late Friday.

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