NEW YORK, AUG. 3 -- Stock prices stumbled and ended largely lower in active trading today because of rising Middle East tensions, breaking Wall Street's eight-day winning streak.

The Dow Jones average of 30 industrial stocks, which gained more than 160.30 points last month, including 86.74 points last week, was down throughout most of the session and ended at 2557.08, off 14.99. Broader market barometers generally declined.

Losing issues outpaced gainers by more than a 3-2 margin in composite New York Stock Exchange trading. Big Board volume totaled 207.84 million shares, compared with 181.87 million the previous session.

Analysts attributed the performance to uncertainties in the troubled Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf, where Iran has escalated threats against U.S. warships escorting oil tankers.

The specter of spreading religious and political violence in the region was seen as a justification by some investors to cash in the market's recent record gains.

"We have a market here that had a virtually uninterrupted rise in the last several days. It was due for a correction anyway," said Jack Solomon, an analyst at Bear Stearns Cos. in New York. "The Persian Gulf affair is the excuse of the profit takers."

Others said that considering the potential severity of the Middle East crisis, the stock market reacted strongly, with many investors perceiving opportunities to buy stocks that declined.

"If we look at today overall, the market put on a good show," said Alfred Goldman, director of technical market analysis at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis. "I saw money willing to buy stocks on any modest price concessions."

Among actively traded blue-chip issues, IBM dropped 1 3/4 to 159 1/4, General Electric lost 5/8 to 58 5/8, Merck lost 1 1/4 to 188 and General Motors fell 1 1/8 to 87 3/4.

Oil stocks surged because of the prospect that the Mideast conflict would constrict petroleum exports from that area, one of the world's most important producers, thereby raising oil prices sharply. Mobil rose 2 3/8 to 54 7/8, Exxon rose 3 3/8 to 97 1/2, Schlumberger rose 1 3/8 to 50 7/8 and Atlantic Richfield rose 2 5/8 to 98 3/8.

The Mideast tension and reported threats of a South African miners strike also helped precious metals stocks. Homestake Mining rose 2 3/8 to 44 5/8, ASA rose 3 1/4 to 72 3/4 and Hecla Mining rose 1 1/8 to 23 1/4.

Trading was extraordinarily heavy in American Electric Power, which fell 1/4 to 27 1/8 on nationwide volume exceeding 27.44 million shares. Today was the deadline for investors to qualify as shareholders of record for the company's 56 1/2 cent quarterly dividend, which amounts to an annual yield of 8.3 percent.

Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 238.63 million shares