NEW YORK, FEB. 14 -- Blue-chip stocks closed with a sizable loss today, weighed down by a wave of computerized selling by traders who pocketed profits from its recent strong rise.
"It's no bloodbath by any means. It's some good, solid profit-taking. ... It's a very healthy digestion of the recent gains," said Brett Discher, vice president of equity trading at Dain Bosworth.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed off 31.93 points at 2877.23. New York Stock Exchange volume was active at 231 million shares, and declining issues led gainers by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1.
Analysts said investors' buying enthusiasm was cooled by news that General Motors and Ford reported a combined $2.1 billion loss for the fourth quarter, closing the book on one of the auto industry's worst years. Chrysler was the only U.S. automaker to show a profit in the fourth quarter, reporting earnings of $31 million.
"This is healthy," said Dale Tills at Schwab & Co. about the Dow's loss. "It'd even be healthy if we dropped lower over the next day or so."
Market sentiment remains high, traders said, fanned by prospects of lower interest rates and on optimism over a relatively short Persian Gulf War and U.S. recession.
"People realize the war may last one month, two months, three months -- it will eventually come to a halt. But the question is what happens after the war," said Diego Veitia, chairman of International Assets Advisory Corp., noting that problems like the ailing banking industry remain.
The dollar rose, boosted by recent interest rate cuts in Europe and hopes that U.S. rates may have hit bottom. Interest rate differentials are a key force in currency markets, and traders said the dollar slide may finally end if its yield grows more attractive while returns on other currencies shrink. The dollar closed at 1.4660 German marks, up from Wednesday's 1.4630 marks.
Oil prices, meanwhile, retreated in trading driven by a decline in demand for home heating oil. Crude oil for delivery in March settled at $22.32 per barrel, down 24 cents, at the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Bond prices were mixed in another quiet session. The price of the Treasury's 30-year bond, little changed in the past two days, fell 13/32 point, or about $4.06 per $1,000 in face value.
Stock market analysts said the losses from the automakers dimmed hopes for an industry recovery in 1991. GM fell 5/8 to 36 1/4 and Ford slipped 1/4 to 30 1/2.
Among other individual stocks, Boeing proved resilient by posting a 7/8 gain to 48 following its 11 percent loss in the last four sessions amid worries about its order backlog.
3M dropped 2 to 91 1/4, Merck lost 1 to 97 5/8, Procter & Gamble gave up 1 3/8 to 82 5/8, Exxon dipped 1 to 53 3/4, Chevron sank 1 1/8 to 72 1/8, Du Pont slipped 1 5/8 to 37 5/8, and Eastman Kodak fell 1 1/4 to 45 3/8.
The stock of Pitney Bowes added 2 1/2 to 52 3/4. C.J. Lawrence reiterated a buy rating on the stock, citing the potential for the company's automated mail room equipment.
Nike shares lost 4 1/4 to 46 5/8 after analysts at several brokerage houses lowered their estimates for the company's third-quarter and year-end earnings on expectations of a slowdown in its re-order business.
Broader market indicators mirrored the Dow in decline. The Standard & Poor's 500 was down 4.80 at 364.22, the NYSE down 2.26 at 198.92, the American Stock Exchange index fell 2.14 at 340.80, and the Nasdaq Composite down 3.66 at 444.31.