US STOCKS-Wall St inches up as miners, energy offset unrest

* U.S. home sales hit a record low in February

* Fed tells Bank of America to rein in dividend plan

* Dow up 0.4 pct, S&P up 0.1 pct, Nasdaq up 0.2 pct

* For up-to-the-minute market news see [STXNEWS/US]
(Updates to afternoon)

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) – U.S. stocks edged higher on
Wednesday as a rise in mining and energy shares offset worries
about unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, while
analysts saw more gains in oil ahead.

Volume was at about 4.5 billion, below average for
afternoon trading, after the market posted the worst trading
volume of the year on Tuesday.

The S&P index of materials stocks (.GSPM: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 1.1 percent
and was the S&P 500’s top-performing sector. The sector
climbed in sync with metals prices, including copper, which
was up more than 2 percent. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold
(FCX.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shares shot up 4.3 percent to $54.53.

Speaking at a Reuters summit in New York, Freeport-McMoRan
Chief Executive Richard Adkerson said the company has the
balance sheet to handle a large acquisition. For details, see
[ID:nN23261740]

Brent crude was trading around $115 a barrel as further
unrest in Yemen added to risks of oil supply disruptions in
the region.

Analysts said oil prices could stay high in the near term,
improving the outlook for energy companies, but at the same
time causing concern about the dampening effect of high energy
costs for consumers.

“The area at this point looks volatile, so oil prices are
going to remain elevated and drift higher,” said Fred Dickson,
chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co. in Lake Oswego,
Oregon.

“The big energy stocks are participating in the move with
crude, but the surprise is refiner stocks have benefitted,
which means producers and refiners are passing through price
increases” fairly quickly, he said.

Refiner Valero Energy (VLO.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shot up 2.6 percent to
$28.83. For the year, Valero’s stock is up 25 percent.

Shares of Exxon Mobil (XOM.N: Quote, Profile, Research), down 0.4 percent at $82.27
on Wednesday, have gained 13 percent since the start of the
year.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) was up 45.37
points, or 0.38 percent, at 12,064.00. The Standard & Poor’s
500 Index (.SPX: Quote, Profile, Research) inched up just 0.79 of a point, or 0.06
percent, to 1,294.56. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: Quote, Profile, Research) was
up 5.06 points, or 0.19 percent, at 2,688.92.

The Federal Reserve’s rejection of a dividend plan by Bank
of America (BAC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) weighed on bank stocks.

Bank of America Corp (BAC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shares slid 1.9 percent to
$13.62. The KBW index of bank stocks (.BKX: Quote, Profile, Research) fell 0.8 percent.

In data that suggested the housing market’s problems were
continuing, U.S. new home sales fell in February to a record
low and prices were the lowest since December 2003. For
details, see STORY: [ID:nCAT005396] TABLE [ID:nCLANEE7CK]

Other recent economic data, however, has suggested
improvement in the economy, which has tempered some of the
worries about rising oil prices, overseas tensions and Japan’s
disaster.

“We’re in a bit of a correction right now … until the
price of oil settles,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market
economist at Avalon Partners, in New York. “But the bias will
be to the upside” for the market.

Money manager Van Eck Global resumed creating new shares
of its Market Vectors Egypt Index Exchange Traded Fund
(EGPT.P: Quote, Profile, Research) after the local Egyptian market reopened.
[ID:nN23254833] The fund was down 8.7 percent at $15.20,
following losses in the Egyptian market.
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For graphics, please see:

Egypt ETF downdraft:
The price of the Market Vectors Egypt Index fund got out of
sync with the few stocks still trading after the local market
closed on January 28. But the fund’s price dropped sharply
when
the Egyptian market re-opened on March 23.
http://r.reuters.com/sat68r
Breaking the link between GDP and jobs:
Final sales may be a better predictor of job growth.
http://r.reuters.com/rat68r
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(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Jan Paschal)

US STOCKS-Wall St inches up as miners, energy offset unrest