NEW YORK, NOV. 1 -- The Dow Jones industrial average gained 12 points today on bargain hunting amid hopes that the Federal Reserve will soon ease interest rates further after release of weak economic data.

The National Association of Purchasing Management added to economic concerns by pegging their widely watched index at 43.4 percent, its lowest level since the economy was emerging from a bona fide recession in late 1982.

If Friday's numbers on October employment are as dismal, the Fed could choose to ease short-term rates immediately or after its Nov. 13 policy meeting, analysts said.

Nonetheless, today's session was a confusing one for stock traders. The Dow rose initially in the wake of a sharp bond-market rally premised on a rise in state unemployment claims. But while bonds rallied even higher, stocks began to slide, reaching bottom by midmorning.

At the lows, however, the market looked sufficiently sold out to invite bargain hunting, and buying pressures persisted for the balance of trading.

The Treasury's 30-year bond rose 11-16 point, or $6.88 per $1,000 in face amount. Bond prices tend to strengthen on bad news because investors generally view fixed-income securities as a safe haven during unstable economic times.

At the close, the Dow stood at 2454.95, up 12.62, while advances led declines on the Big Board by about 3-2 on moderate volume of 159 million shares.

Market bellwethers such as IBM showed resilience during the morning sell-off. The computer maker, which has shown signs of resuming its leadership role among Dow stocks, closed up 1 7/8 at 107 1/4, finishing off its session high despite some late damage to other blue chips from apparent sell-on-close orders.

General Motors held remarkably steady for a second session, despite Wednesday's news of a $2.1 billion charge against earnings for plant closings. GM finished up 1/8 at 36 7/8.

Among other Dow components Chevron gained 1 1/8 to 69 1/4, and both Exxon and Texaco managed nearly a point advance. Only United Technologies held onto its midmorning loss, finishing down 1 at 44 1/8.

Among industry groups benefiting particularly from the afternoon rally were computer stocks, following new strength in such issues as Honeywell, and in bank stocks, which prospered thanks to the dramatic rally in bonds. Honeywell surged 3 1/8 to 85 3/4, Hewlett-Packard moved up 1 1/4 to 27 1/4, Digital Equipment added 1 1/8 to 48 5/8, NCR rose 1 to 48 1/4, and Storage Technology tacked on 1 to 14 3/4.

In the banking sector, where hopes of continued easing by the Fed prevailed, points leaders were Bankers Trust, up 1 3/4 at 32, Manufacturers Hanover, up 1 1/4 at 17, J.P. Morgan, up 1 3/8 at 38 and Republic New York, up 7/8 at 39 7/8.

The Dow transports rose 9.61 to close at 831.92. The utilities surged dramatically for the third time in as many days, ending up 2.33 at 215.61.

Among broad stock indexes, the Standard & Poor's 500 was up 3.02 at 307.02, the NYSE Composite up 1.42 at 167.59, the Value Line up 0.95 at 217.84, the Amex Market Value up 1.11 at 288.90 and the Nasdaq Composite up 0.76 at 330.60.