NEW YORK, NOV. 8 -- The Dow Jones industrial average inched almost 3 points higher in choppy trading as news regarding the Middle East swirled around the trading floor.

The rescheduling of a presidential news conference twice during the afternoon triggered nervous selling in the Chicago futures markets that spilled over into programmed selling on the New York Exchange.

"The stock market acted fairly well for most of the day," said strategist Dennis Jarrett at Kidder, Peabody. "It was primarily that flurry of sell-programs around 3 o'clock that knocked the wind out of the bulls."

Oil prices, which had been down as much as $1.50 at midday, also moved sharply in the closing hours, closing the day up 22 cents at $35.53 a barrel.

Adding to the stock market's jitters, the Treasury's auction of $10.75 billion in 30-year bonds, the third and final leg of its record $34.25 billion quarterly refunding, was only satisfactory, market sources said. Yields, although down, were only modestly so, and bidding was somewhat weaker than expected. The 30-year Treasury bond, in any event, was down 13/32 as stocks closed, after posting a 2/32 loss as they opened.

At the close, the Dow stood at 2443.81, up 2.97, while advancing issues edged declining ones on the Big Board by almost 4 to 3 on moderate volume of 155 million shares.

Among Dow components, IBM gained 1 to 107 1/2, Eastman Kodak rose 1 1/8 to 40 and Exxon added 1 to 49 1/4.

But Sears slipped 1 after reporting October sales down 0.4 percent compared to same-store sales a year ago. And Alcoa lost 1 1/4 to 50 1/2. Alcoa has now fallen from a high of $70 per share in late September, a more than 28 percent loss, amid ongoing worries about aluminum inventories coupled with eight consecutive monthly drops in U.S. housing starts -- the first time that has happened in 31 years.

Oil company shares posted solid gains for the day on Mideast fears. Amoco, Mobil and Exxon each rose 1.

Elsewhere, U.S. units of Smithkline Beecham PLC traded down 5 1/4 to 45 7/8 on most-active volume of over 4 million shares. Although the British company announced a 30 percent rise in third-quarter pretax profits, results still disappointed U.S. analysts.

"Smithkline is not a company driven by new products," said drug-stock analyst David F. Saks at Wedbush Morgan Securities, "so, unlike some young biotech company, for example, its price is more a hostage to current numbers." Smithkline's down sales for the quarter have led to some extrapolation about lower-than-expected results for the year, Saks explained.

The Dow transports finished down 5.18 at 827.66, but the utilities managed a marginal, 0.06 gain to 209.13.

Among broad stock indexes, blue-chip averages fared better than secondary measures for a change. The Standard & Poor's 500 was up 1.60 at 307.61, the NYSE Composite up 0.67 at 168.14, the Value Line up 0.27 at 220.52, the Amex Market Value down 0.67 at 289.07 and the Nasdaq Composite down 0.43 at 336.37.