NEW YORK, FEB. 18 -- The stock market gave ground in late trading today as traders apparently shied away from the 2000 level in the Dow Jones industrial average.

The Dow average of 30 blue chip stocks dropped 14.58 points to 1986.41 after closing slightly above 2000 in the week's first two sessions.

Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones by a ratio of about 7 to 6 among New York Stock Exchange-listed issues.

Big Board volume totaled 151.43 million shares, down from 176.83 million in the previous session.

Analysts said there was little in the economic news to prompt traders to take big positions.

The market rallied last week and Monday as investors' fears about the business outlook eased. But expectations about economic growth and corporate profits remain subdued, and many market participants were evidently reluctant to buy stocks with the Dow hovering around the 2000 level, a psychological barrier to some.

Speculation has also died down lately that the Federal Reserve will take any new steps in the immediate future to relax its credit policy.

Hewlett-Packard was a big gainer among the blue-chip and technology issues, rising 2 to 59 1/2. The company reported earnings for its fiscal quarter ended Jan. 31 of 71 cents a share, up from 45 cents in the comparable period a year earlier.

By contrast, Ford Motor fell 2 1/4 to 42 1/4. The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.87 a share, up from $1.50 in the last quarter of 1986. Analysts said the stock fell because investors were disappointed with the earnings figures.

Lomas & Nettleton Financial fell 1 3/8 to 15 1/4 on top of a 1 1/8-point drop Wednesday, when the company said it would take a charge of about $93 million in the current quarter in connection with moves to cease its home-building operations and restructure its mortgage banking division.

Rorer Group jumped 4 5/8 to 58 on rumors that it has been approached with a merger or acquisition proposal. Rorer denied those reports, however.

Among other blue chips, General Electric was off 5/8 to 43 1/4, American Express was down 3/8 to 25 1/8, Eastman Kodak was off 1/2 to 42 and Merck was off 1 1/4 to 158 3/4.

General Motors was down 1 1/2 to 67 1/2. Chrysler was off 7/8 to 24 7/8.

As measured by Wilshire Associates' index of more than 5,000 actively traded stocks, the market lost $10.31 billion, or 0.40 percent, in value.

The NYSE's composite index of all its listed common stocks dropped 0.58 to 145.14.

Nationwide turnover in NYSE-listed issues, including trades in those stocks on regional exchanges and in the over-the-counter market, totaled 175.83 million shares.

Standard & Poor's index of 400 industrials fell 1.61 to 296.98, and S&P's 500-stock composite index was down 1.30 at 257.91.

The Nasdaq composite index for the over-the-counter market edged up 0.35 to 355.63.

At the American Stock Exchange, the market value index closed at 277.92, down 1.17.