After a fast start out of the open, the stock markets were well off their highs with about an hour to go in trading. Despite positive news from China that overshadowed continuing concerns about Europe's financial woes and pushed the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) higher by as much as 150 points earlier today, just after 3 p.m. EST, the Dow was up just 64 points to 12,486. The S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) rose five points to 1,294 after having hit above the 1,300 level for the first time since last August.

Energy stocks in the Dow posted a reasonably strong performance, with Chevron (NYSE: CVX) up about 0.25% while ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) rose 0.7%. The gains came despite news that natural gas prices fell another 7% today to below the key $2.50-per-million-BTU level. Increasingly, analysts expect that prices could eventually fall to around $2, which would represent their lowest levels in almost 10 years.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) also fell fractionally in afternoon trading. A recent report suggests that the company might have been a possible rival bidder to Bristol-Myers Squibb to buy out Inhibitex and its promising hepatitis C treatment. A securities filing that named five bidders makes it clear that competition is fierce to pick up potentially profitable drugs to bolster pipelines.

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