NEW YORK, JAN. 15 -- Today, Wall Street was watching instead of trading.

As wary traders hunkered down before tonight's deadline for war or peace in the Persian Gulf, stock and oil prices fluctuated in narrow ranges and closed with small changes in a day notable for its unusually light trading volume.

"It's a little bewildering. The {stock} market has no direction at all," said James E. Cayne, president of Bear Stearns & Co., a leading New York brokerage house. "Nobody's betting anything here today. They may have made their bets a week ago or a month ago," Cayne said.

Peter Beutel, an oil trader who is director of Pegasus Econometric Group Inc. in Hoboken, N.J., said, "Once we get past 12:01 tonight, it's going to be like one of those playoff games with overtime... . I think people are waiting to see what the final score is, and then everybody will get on the bandwagon."

The Dow Jones industrial average managed to gain 6.68 points to close at 2490.59. But the market's overall performance was mixed, as declining stocks narrowly led those advancing.

In Tokyo Wednesday, however, mounting war fears sent the dollar climbing and stocks plunging hours before the United Nations deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. At the close of the morning session, the Nikkei stock average was off 725.80 points, or 3.1 percent, at 22,487.43.

The dollar was changing hands at 136.65 yen at late morning, up 1.30 yen from Monday's close. The Japanese markets were closed Tuesday because of a national holiday.

The dominant feature of the day on the New York Stock Exchange was the lack of activity, as only 110 million shares changed hands, the lowest volume in three months for a day not affected by holidays or trading suspensions for fire or other problems.

The price of a benchmark barrel of high-quality crude oil for February delivery fell 71 cents, to $30.07, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, with most of the decline coming from a last-minute sell-off by nervous traders concerned that there might still be a chance for peace overnight.

The securities exchanges, brokerage firms and banks that form the heart of the Wall Street community tightened up security at their offices and buildings today, as they worried about possible terrorist actions. Security precautions were especially in evidence at the New York and American Stock Exchanges, which closed entrances and added guards and intensified the screening of visitors. At the Dean Witter brokerage in the World Trade Center, officials said that they had carefully made plans on how to continue their trading operations if they were interrupted by violence.

The mood around Manhattan was subdued. Outside of historic Trinity Church in the center of Wall Street, anti-war posters dominated the front entrance and a basket of anti-war lapel pins was available inside. Noonday worshippers read from a one-page prayer sheet entitled, "A Litany of Peace."

Nearby, traders had stepped to the sidelines.

"The mood of portfolio managers is not to do anything, to wait and see," said Byron R. Wien, a managing director and chief U.S. investment strategist at Morgan Stanley & Co. "Most of them have taken their side on whether we're going to go to war or not, and now they're waiting for reality to happen."

Oil market trading also was described as thin. "The best way to describe the overall tone is 'stand on the sidelines,' and if you don't have to participate, don't," said Suzanne Pearse, a broker at Down International Energy Corp.

"There's still a feeling on the part of some people that somehow, in the eleventh hour, this thing will be tamed," Morgan Stanley's Wien said. But he added that that sentiment was "disappearing hour by hour" and emphasized that there was not enough activity to make a clear judgment about the market's sentiment.

Tom Bentz, trading director for United Energy Inc., said some oil traders who were betting on war seemed to lose confidence near the end of the day and sold futures contract positions so they would not be caught "long" overnight in case peace did break out.

Other financial markets provided little incentive for stocks to move today. The U.S. bond market, off 7/32 as stocks opened, was down 12/32 late in the session, rebounding from midafternoon lows. The dollar, which was little changed in quiet trading, fell slightly against the mark in New York, closing at 1.5420 marks from late Monday's 1.5457.

London stocks, based on the FTSE-100 index, settled down 9.9 points at 2070.9.

Among actively traded NYSE issues today, Occidental Petroleum, whose restructuring move was applauded by analysts, rose 3/8 to 18; Pacificorp was down 1/4 at 20 3/4; J.P. Morgan, a day after reporting lower-than-expected earnings, slid 2 5/8 to 42 1/8; IBM was up 3/4 at 107 1/2; and General Electric was up 1/4 at 54 3/8.

As measured by Wilshire Associates's index of more than 5,000 actively traded stocks, the market gained $8.75 billion, or 0.30 percent, in value.

The NYSE's composite index of all its listed common stocks rose 0.49 to 171.70. Standard & Poor's 500-stock composite index stood at 313.73, up 1.24. The Nasdaq composite index for the over-the-counter market gained 1.55 to 357.30. At the American Stock Exchange, the market value index closed at 297.61, up 0.89.

Staff writer Stan Hinden contributed to this report.