NEW YORK — The stock market settled for a mixed showing Thursday after an early rally faded.
But analysts noted that the late selling was concentrated in a few big-name stocks. Groups such as food and utility issues remained strong.
The Dow Jones average of 30 industrials, up more than 6 points in the early going, was down 4.20 at 1,260.71 by the close.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 99.78 million shares, down from 101.04 million on Thursday.
Stocks had the credit markets working in their favor, with interest rates down considerably for both Treasury bills and bonds. However, the rally in stocks that began Wednesday faltered as the session progressed.
First Presidential Visit
Analysts said investing institutions were apparently intent on selling some blue-chip issues as they ready their portfolios for first-quarter reports.
The day began with what was billed as the first visit ever to the NYSE trading floor by an American President in office. President Reagan called for support for his budget plan and then rang the bell sounding the start of trading.
The Dow Jones average of 15 utilities climbed 1.49 to 152.85, its highest close in more than 19 years.
In the food and soft-drink group, 52-week highs were recorded by such issues as Borden, up 1 at 71 5/8; Quaker Oats, up 3/4 at 44; Dart & Kraft, up 1 at 94; Pepsico, up 1 at 54, and Coca-Cola, up 3/8 at 69 3/8.
Some brokers said strength in these groups might reflect concern over a slowing economy, since food and utility stocks are regarded as "defensive" issues that stand to suffer relatively little impact from down cycles in business activity.
Others argued, however, that enthusiasm for the utilities was generated by expectations of further declines in interest rates, which might benefit the market as a whole.
Unocal led the active list, up 1 7/8 at 49 1/2. An investment group headed by T. Boone Pickens, chairman of Mesa Petroleum, increased its stake in the company to 13.6% with the purchase of a large block of shares Wednesday.
The group, which had previously declared that it was buying the stock strictly for investment purposes, said Thursday that it was considering seeking to gain control of the company or to restructure it.
In the daily tally on the Big Board, gainers outnumbered losers by more than four to three. The exchange's composite index edged up 0.05 to 103.98.
Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 118.74 million shares.
Standard & Poor's index of 400 industrials rose 0.01 to 200.43, while S&P's 500-stock composite index was unchanged at 179.54.
The NASDAQ composite index for the over-the-counter market added 0.61 to 278.17.
At the American Stock Exchange, the market-value index closed at 228.10, up 2.12.
The Wilshire index of 5,000 equities closed at 1,848.501, up 1.192.
Large blocks of 10,000 or more shares traded on the NYSE totaled 2,046, compared to 1,958 on Wednesday.
Bonds Rise Sharply
Bond prices rose sharply and interest rates tumbled as the Treasury completed its end-of-the-quarter borrowing operation.
Traders said the bond market rally reflected a growing consensus on Wall Street that the Federal Reserve will not tighten credit in the near future, a move that would push interest rates higher.
Among the factors contributing to such a view is that the money supply, which grew rapidly earlier this year, has leveled off recently.
The Federal Reserve said Thursday that the basic money supply, called M1, fell $500 million in the week ended March 18, after dropping $2.1 billion the previous week. The figure came in toward the low end of advance estimates on Wall Street.
Analysts said investors also were encouraged that the Treasury's refunding operation was out of the way.
The financing package was completed with the Treasury's sale of $4.26 billion in 20-year, one-month bonds, which sold at an average annual yield of 12.04%, up from 11.86% at the previous auction of such bonds last December.
The latest yield also was the highest for those newly issued securities since last June, when the return was 13.76%.
In the secondary market for Treasury bonds, prices of short-term governments rose 13/32 point, intermediate maturities climbed 31/32 point and long-term issues shot up 18/32 points, according to the investment firm of Salomon Bros. Inc.
As a result, yields on 30-year Treasury bonds skidded to 11.68% from 11.82% late Wednesday.
In corporate trading, prices of industrials and utilities rose 3/4 point in moderate trading.
Among tax-exempt municipal bonds, general obligations rose 3/8 point and revenue bonds were up 3/4 point. Trading also was moderate.