NEW YORK, JAN. 3 -- The Dow Jones industrial average fell 37 points today as traders took profits in the very consumer stocks that provided a bulwark for the November-December rallies. In the first two days of 1991 trading, the Dow has lost 60 points.

As on Wednesday, stocks reacted primarily to fears of recession and declining profits, while the bond market rallied on falling oil prices amid new Middle East peace overtures.

But unlike Wednesday, when equity trading remained relatively featureless for much of the session, today saw profit-taking in consumer nondurable stocks, which rose late last year.

With jitters over a steeper-than-expected recession increasingly prevalent and with the bulk of fourth-quarter 1990 corporate earnings only two weeks away, shorter-term investors locked in profits on companies from foods and food wholesalers to drugs, from beverages to tobacco, and from household products to cosmetics.

Selling was less conspicuous in stocks that have not enjoyed healthy run-ups over the last two months, traders said.

Although some high-technology issues attempted to buck the downward trend, financial services were hard hit and banks resumed their recent decline.

"For the stock market, it's a question of 'recession' vs. 'peace,' " said Jon Groveman, chief trader at Ladenburg, Thalmann. "But 'peace' is simply a perception right now, whereas lots of people are convinced 'recession' is a reality."

At the close, the Dow stood at 2573.51, down 37.13, while declines outpaced advances on the Big Board by a ratio of about 9 to 5.

New York Stock Exchange volume remained relatively light at 141 million shares, although it expanded noticeably from 126 million on Wednesday.

Among Dow stocks at the close, losers mimicked the larger blue-chip market as consumer nondurable and energy stocks received the brunt of selling. Coca-Cola lost 1 1/4 to 44 and Procter & Gamble slumped 7/8 to 84 5/8.

Among industry groups, drug stocks were more severely hit than most consumer groups. Merck skidded 2 7/8 to 86 5/8, Bristol-Myers Squibb tumbled 2 1/4 to 64 3/8, Syntex lost 2 3/8 to 55 7/8, Warner-Lambert skidded 3 to 64 1/4, Pfizer dropped 2 3/8 to 77 3/4 and full-point losses were suffered by American Home Products, Mylan Labs and Schering-Plough. Even Amgen, which only Wednesday rose 1 1/2 upon government approval of an AIDS-related, anemia-treatment drug, tumbled 3 5/8 to 60 1/8 in Nasdaq trading.

Hilton Hotels added 2 1/8 to close at 38 1/2 on continued vague rumors of a Japanese buyout.

Shares in T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore mutual fund company, fell 1 1/2 to 21 3/4 after First Boston cut its investment rating from "buy" to "hold."

Although today's drop in crude-oil prices was not earthshaking -- February crude settled down $1.01 per barrel at $25.48 -- oil company stocks were hard hit. Chevron dropped 1 3/8 to 71, Du Pont lost 7/8 to 35 1/4, Texaco fell 1 to 58 5/8, Atlantic Richfield fell 1 7/8 to 120 3/4 and British Petroleum lost 1 1/4 to 75 3/4.

On the over-the-counter market, AST Research fell 5.5 percent in heavy trading after Shearson Lehman downgraded his rating, saying a recent 10 point run-up had made AST too expensive.

Oracle Systems led the Nasdaq most active list, falling 1 to 7 after reporting its second-quarter profit fell by about 60 percent compared to the same quarter the year before.

The Dow transports finished up 0.19 at 909.49, although there were no prominent movers among its component stocks.

The interest-sensitive utilities eased 0.69 to finish at 207.81, however, posting its second straight loss despite conspicuously higher bond prices.

Among broad stock indexes, the Standard & Poor's 500 was down 4.54 at 321.91, the NYSE Composite was down 2.21 at 176.41, the Value Line fell 1.90 at 239.31, the Amex Market Value dropped 1.79 at 304.78 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 4.68 at 367.51.