NEW YORK, OCT. 30 -- The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17 points today in a session that was primarily dominated by index-arbitrage program trading.

While the market should have been buoyed by an encouraging estimate of the third-quarter gross national product, traders seemed to shrug off the statistics.

Traders said the cash market, locked in a narrow range, appeared to be "on hold" -- except for computer program-driven vacillations -- waiting for more definitive information later this week on the direction of the economy and the prospect of war in the Middle East. "Betting on the probability of war is a little like betting Russian roulette -- the odds are in your favor, but the price you pay for being wrong is somewhat severe," said Frank Gretz, an analyst with Shields and Co., a New York investment firm.

At the close, the Dow stood at 2448.02, up 17.82, although declines outpaced advances on the Big Board by an almost 4-to-3 ratio. New York Stock Exchange volume was moderate at 153 million shares.

Among individual stocks, there were no real market-movers. But Dow component Boeing Co. was a conspicuous loser all day in reaction to what traders said was a downgraded recommendation from a major brokerage house to merely "hold" the stock instead of "buy" it. Boeing finished down 1 5/8 at 44 1/2 after trading off 2 points for much of the day.

Among stocks reporting earnings, Ford eased 2 1/8 to 27 1/2 after announcing third-quarter net of only 22 cents per share, compared to $1.03 a year ago.

But Neiman Marcus surged 3 3/8 to 14 5/8 on news that General Cinema Corp. will buy all Neiman's outstanding shares that it does not already own in a $240 million deal.

There was some recovery in the stock of some banks after more than a week of heavy selling. Citicorp, which hit a new 52-week low during the session, recovered in the afternoon to close up 3/8 at 11 1/2. Chemical Banking also advanced 1/4 to 10 7/8 while MNC Financial added 1/8 to close at 4 1/4.

Dissenters, however, included Chase Manhattan, which led the most active list, dropping another 1/2 point to close at 10 1/4, and Manufacturers Hanover, which shed 1/8, closing at 16 3/8.

The Dow transports eased 2.05 to 825.07, but the utilities, an interest-rate bellwether, surged 2.58 to 210.96, suggesting to bullish traders that the rate picture may not be as bleak as some pessimists have painted it.

Broad indexes failed to keep pace with blue-chip measures during the afternoon rally. At the close, the Standard & Poor's 500 was up 2.18 at 304.06, the NYSE Composite up 0.84 at 166.08, the Value Line down 0.73 at 216.73, the Amex Market Value down 0.72 at 288.07 and the Nasdaq Composite down 0.97 at 329.83.