NEW YORK — The stock market managed to post a small gain Wednesday in a session dominated by widespread takeover speculation.
Food stocks were the main, but not the only, focus of buying on rumors and conjecture about possible mergers or buy-outs.
The Dow Jones average of 30 industrials, up nearly 6 points at its mid-session peak, closed with a 1.23 gain at 1,326.72.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 99.14 million shares, up from 97.17 million on Tuesday.
Analysts said many traders were busy trying to search out the next "deal" stock, whose price might jump on news of a merger, acquisition or buy-out.
Otherwise, they said, a cautious mood continued to prevail about prospects for the economy, corporate earnings and the stock market.
Beatrice led the active list, up 1 at 43 1/2 on turnover of more than 5.5 million shares. In recent days the company has been the subject of intense speculation about a possible takeover or buy-out.
Among other prominent food stocks, Dart & Kraft rose 1 5/8 to 38 5/8, Sara Lee 1 1/8 to 45 1/8, Ralston Purina 7/8 to 45 5/8, Borden 2 to 42 1/2, Campbell Soup 1 to 42 and Conagra 2 1/8 to 37.
ITT Corp. climbed 7/8 to 34 5/8. The company said it knew of no reason for the activity in its stock and dismissed takeover rumors as "baseless."
Hilton Hotels was up 4 7/8 at 64 5/8. It said rumors that it was working on a plan for a leveraged buy-out were untrue and added that it knew of no other company with designs on acquiring it.
Frontier Holdings, traded on the American Stock Exchange, jumped 3 1/8 to 22 7/8. On Tuesday, People Express agreed to buy the company for $24 a share, topping a previous bid by Texas Air.
Ozark Holdings, the volume leader among Amex issues, gained 7/8 to 12 3/4. Ozark said it was aware of takeover speculation involving it but said it was not involved in any talks toward a possible deal.
In the daily tally on the Big Board, advancing issues outnumbered declines by about four to three. The exchange's composite index rose 0.35 to 105.54.
Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 117.24 million shares.
In the bond market, prices inched lower as the congressional wrangle continued over raising the federal debt ceiling.
As bond trading wound down for the day, Congress had still been unable to agree on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.
Once it does, analysts expect that the Treasury will bring about $50 billion in notes and bonds to markets within a few weeks, an exceptionally heavy load.
Despite the impasse on the debt ceiling, the Treasury Department sold an emergency issue of $5.01 billion in 78-day Treasury bills. The securities were sold at an average yield of 7.23%.
In the secondary market for Treasury bonds, prices of short-term governments slipped 1/32 point, intermediate maturities were unchanged and long-term issues were off 1/32 point, according to the investment firm of Salomon Bros. The movement of a full point is equivalent to a change of $10 in the price of a bond with a $1,000 face value.
The Merrill Lynch daily Treasury index, which measures price movements on all outstanding Treasury issues with maturities of a year or longer, fell 0.04 to 105.60. The Shearson Lehman Treasury bond index, which makes a similar measurement, was up 0.02 at 1,108.98.
In corporate trading, industrials and utilities were unchanged in light activity.
Among tax-exempt municipal bonds, general obligations moved up 1/8 point and revenue bonds rose point in light activity.
Yields on three-month Treasury bills, meanwhile, rose 3 basis points to 7.19%. Six-month bills were up 3 basis points at 7.36%, while one-year bills were unchanged at 7.47%. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
Yields on 30-year Treasury bonds were 10.62%, the same as late Tuesday.
The federal funds rate, the interest on overnight loans between banks, traded at 8%, up from 7.5% late Tuesday.