NEW YORK — Stock prices fought to hold onto gains today as the the Dow Jones index hovered around the 1,900 mark amid futures-related buying and investor caution.
The Dow Jones index of 30 industrials rose 34.15 points, or 1.6%, to 1,902.52.
Gainers outpaced losers by a 5 to 2 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, with 1,118 stocks advancing, 498 declining and 380 unchanged.
Big Board volume totaled 231.43 million shares, against 227.31 million in the previous session.
The NYSE's composite index rose 2.14 to 133.56.
The key index managed to rally for a third straight day, but analysts said the Dow's advance, which centered on blue chip issues, was not broad-based. High-quality issues also accounted for a 56-point gain in the Dow on Tuesday and a 45-point rise on Monday.
"Market participants have a very select shopping list and are sticking to that basket for some time," said Eugene Peroni, an analyst at Janney Mongtomery Scott Inc. in Philadelphia, in explaining the interest in quality issues.
"If (the rally) carried over into secondary issues, I'd be happy," said William Howard, a vice president with Sutro & Co. in San Francisco.
"But this is a technical rally in a bear market . . . and I don't think the general public is involved," he said.
Much of the day's volume was attributed to computer-guided purchases and investors who snapped up equities to lock in dividends.
Still, analysts said there is a subtle bolstering of investor confidence under way.
"The market has a more positive underlying thread of confidence that has been missing for weeks," Peroni said.
"The buying seems to be a little more calculated and with greater conviction than there has been," he added.
Bond Prices Steady
While the market grappled with technical and psychological pressures at the 1,900 level, analysts said positive economic news could help fortify the week's advance.
Traders are anxiously awaiting the release of October merchandise trade figures, due out Thursday. The consensus on Wall Street is that the trade deficit will land somewhere between $14 billion and $16 billion.
The credit markets showed little movement in quiet early trading today as investors awaited the release of key economic reports.
The Treasury's bellwether 30-year bond, which in the last three sessions lost more than 2 points, or $20 per $1,000 in face amount, inched up 62.5 cents by midday.
Its yield, which moves inversely to its price, slipped to 9.21% from 9.23% late Tuesday.
Treasury Indexes Lower
Analysts said the market was likely to remain quiet until it learns more about where the economy is headed.
In addition to the release of the trade deficit report on Thursday, the government is scheduled to release its November retail sales and producer price data on Friday.
In the secondary market for Treasury bonds, prices of short-term governments were unchanged, intermediate maturities were unchanged to 1/16 point lower and 20-year issues rose 1/8 point, according to figures provided by the investment reporting service Telerate Inc.
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, fell 0.01 to 109.37.
The Shearson Lehman daily Treasury bond index, which makes a similar measurement, also declined 0.01, closing at 1,144.66.
In corporate trading, industrials and utilities were unchanged in light trading, according to the investment firm of Salomon Bros.
Moody's investment grade corporate bond index, which measures price movements on 100 corporate bonds with maturities of five years or longer, rose 0.18 to 263.01.
Yields on three-month Treasury bills were down 1 basis point to 5.81%. Six-month bills were unchanged at 6.39% and one-year bills were up a basis point at 6.70%.
A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
The federal funds rate, the interest on overnight loans between banks, traded at 6 11/16%, unchanged from late Tuesday.