NEW YORK — Stock prices posted a small loss Monday as hopes for an early resumption of the market's 1985 rally went unfulfilled.
The Dow Jones average of 30 industrials slipped 1.61 to 1,547.59.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 99.61 million shares, down from 105.03 million on Friday.
Many Wall Streeters have been hoping for a pickup in activity, with the market back on a normal schedule after two weeks broken up by the Christmas and New Year's holidays. But the pace remained sluggish.
Analysts said there was little in the news to stimulate buying at prices hovering just below the record highs reached in mid-December. A monthly survey of corporate purchasing executives found that economic growth slowed a bit in December.
The calendar of government reports on the state of the economy is relatively light until Friday, when figures are due on the producer price index and industrial production for December.
"Economic statistics have been and will remain mixed," said Donald Straszheim, chief economist at Merrill Lynch, in his latest weekly commentary.
Merrill Lynch shares led the active list, up 1 1/2 at 36 amid takeover rumors and speculation. Both Merrill Lynch and Chrysler, mentioned as a possible buyer of the company, denied that there was anything in the works.
Sears, Roebuck was down 1/2 at 37 7/8. A 1.34-million-share block changed hands at 37 1/2.
Among other financial-services stocks, Paine Webber gained 5/8 to 35, E. F. Hutton rose 7/8 to 35 1/2 and Phibro-Salomon rose 1/2 to 44.
Kerr-McGee fell 7/8 to 32 3/4. Over the weekend a tank ruptured at a Kerr-McGee uranium processing plant near Gore, Okla., killing one worker. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was investigating.
Trans World Airlines dropped 1 1/8 to 14. Financier Carl C. Icahn took over as chairman of the company amid evidence that its financial condition was worsening.
Other airline issues were mixed amid signs of spreading fare competition in the industry.
In the daily tally on the Big Board, about eight issues fell in price for every seven that gained ground.
The exchange's composite index dipped 0.12 to 121.38.
Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 120.91 million shares.
The Wilshire index of 5,000 equities closed at 2,162.103, down 1.690.
Standard & Poor's index of 400 industrials lost 0.23 to 233.72, and S&P's 500-stock composite index was down 0.23 at 210.65.
The NASDAQ composite index for the over-the-counter market rose 0.27 to 325.99.
Amex Index Slips
At the American Stock Exchange, the market value index closed at 247.37, down 0.36.
Large blocks of 10,000 or more shares traded on the NYSE totaled 1,839, compared to 1,782 on Friday.
In bond markets, uncertainty over the credit market's ability to absorb a stream of new Treasury issues caused most government and corporate bond prices to fall.
Tax-exempt municipal issues performed better, mainly reflecting an extremely light calendar of new issues.
Traders were awaiting government figures on unemployment for December, which will be released Wednesday. The Labor Department report will provide the first glimpse of how the economy performed last month.
Maury Harris, with Paine Webber, said the credit market is "marking time" ahead of the Treasury auctions and release of the economic information.
"There are always concerns about how much demand there will be" at Treasury auctions, Harris said.
The labor force data is expected to shed some light on overall economic activity.
Traders have been hoping that recent sluggish economic growth would induce the Federal Reserve Board to reduce the discount rate as part of a strategy of relaxing credit conditions. The discount rate, which is the fee the Fed charges on loans to banks and savings institutions, has been at 7.5% since May.
Harris said he does not anticipate an imminent discount-rate cut but said a reduction might be made later in the first quarter.
In the secondary market for Treasury securities, prices of short-term governments were unchanged from late Friday, intermediate maturities fell 1/16 point to 3/16 point and long-term issues were down about point, according to the investment firm of Salomon Bros.
The movement of a 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, rose 0.02 to 111.11. The Shearson Lehman daily Treasury bond index, which makes a similar measurement, slipped 1.02 to 1,163.93.
Corporate Bonds Off
In corporate trading, industrials were down in light trading and utilities were down 1/8 in light activity.
Among tax-exempt municipal bonds, revenue bonds rose 1/2 point in moderate dealings and general obligations rose 3/8 point in light trading.
Yields on three-month Treasury bills were down one basis point to 7.05%. Six-month bills fell three basis points to 7.10% and one-year bills dipped one basis point to 7.12%. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
Yields on 30-year Treasury bonds rose to 9.3% from 9.27% late Friday.
The federal funds rate--the interest rate on overnight loans between banks, traded at 7.938%--down from 8% late Friday.