NEW YORK, JAN. 4 -- The Dow Jones industrials closed down 7 points today after news of a Persian Gulf negotiating session in Geneva halted a steep morning slide.

The initial morning plunge was prompted by fresh evidence of a widening recession in the Labor Department's December employment report and the Commerce Department's report of a worst ever plunge in factory orders in December. Computerized program selling was particularly heavy.

Traders described the session as a particularly complex one, replete with numerous crosscurrents and complicated by a major AT&T telecommunications outage.

At the close, the Dow stood at 2566.09, down 7.42. Advances edged declines on the Big Board, however, by a ratio of about 8 to 7. Volume was light at 140 million shares.

Among Dow components, Coca-Cola rose 1 1/8 to 45 1/8 while Boeing tacked on 1 5/8 to 46 3/8. But Merck eased 1 3/8 to 85 1/2, General Motors lost 1 to 33, Westinghouse slipped 1 1/2 to 25 7/8 and Woolworth fell 1 1/8 to 27 7/8.

Alcoa also lost ground, sinking 1 1/2 to 56 3/8, after announcing that the company will take an after-tax charge of $275 million against fourth-quarter earnings.

Among volume actives, drug stocks came under profit-taking pressures, as they did on Thursday. Bristol-Myers Squibb lost 3/4 to 63 5/8 on almost 2 million shares traded, while Abbott Laboratories slipped 7/8 to 40 3/4 on over 1.3 million shares.

Among prominent percentage movers, Tenneco slumped 3 5/8 to 43 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

Manufacturers Hanover, for instance, slipped 7/8 to 21 1/2 after announcing that its exposure to highly leveraged transactions, or HLTs, has more than doubled in the fourth quarter because of the bankruptcy of Best Products, to which the bank had extended $181 million in loans. Total HLT exposure in the third quarter had been $87 million.

The Dow transports eased 0.37 to close at 909.12, while the utilities edged up 0.13 to 207.94 in lackluster trading.

Among broad stock indexes, the Standard & Poor's 500 was down 0.91 at 321.00, the NYSE Composite down 0.46 at 175.95, the Value Line down 0.12 at 239.19, the Amex Market Value down 1.73 at 303.05 and the Nasdaq Composite down 0.27 at 367.24.