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US: Stocks rise modestly after two straight routs

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[NEW YORK] Wall Street stocks finished modestly higher on Tuesday but worries about slumping oil prices and a likely Federal Reserve interest rate hike limited the gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.4 per cent to 23,675.74.

The broad-based S&P 500 ended up a hair at 2,546.16, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index won 0.5 per cent to 6,783.91.

After two straight routs, US stocks had opened solidly higher and pushed upward through the early afternoon. But stocks briefly tumbled into the red amid worries that ongoing fights on Capitol Hill could lead to a government shutdown.

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Analysts are also watching for Wednesday's Fed decision, which comes amid intense pressure from President Donald Trump on the US central bank to keep rates low.

Most analysts still expect the central bank to lift interest rates but the stock market's pullback in December has boosted the still-slim odds the Fed will take no action.

"The psychology of the market is very fragile," said Tom Cahill of Ventura Wealth Management, who was not cheered by the idea of a Fed pause on higher rates.

"If the Fed doesn't hike rates, that would be concerning because it would mean the institution miscommunicated in a substantial way with the market," Mr Cahill said.

"It would be problematic for the future announcements by the Fed."

Oil giants Chevron and ExxonMobil both fell more than two percent as US oil prices sank 6.6 per cent on worries about excess supply amid sluggish global growth.

Large banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo finished flat or negative and were unable to hold gains, a worry for "those hoping the banks can exhibit meaningful signs of bottoming," according to analysts at Briefing.com.

But technology giants such as Apple, Amazon and Microsoft all gained one per cent or more.

Boeing jumped 3.8 per cent after it boosted its dividend and announced a new share buyback program, while Johnson & Johnson added one percent after announcing a $5 billion share repurchase plan of its own.

AFP