NEW YORK, FEB. 19 -- Blue-chip stock prices fell slightly today as investors awaited the next step in the month-old Persian Gulf War.
Solid earnings reports by some prominent companies, however, helped stem losses in early trading, and also supported a market rally in the last three hours of trading, analysts agreed.
After a dizzying ascent last week, capped by a 57-point rise Friday, and after losing as many as 19 points in early afternoon today, the Dow Jones industrial average closed with a loss of 2.47 points at 2932.18. Declining issues slightly outnumbered those advancing on New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 189.9 million shares, only the second time in 14 sessions that the pace of trading has fallen below 200 million shares.
Traders were cautious amid conflicting signals about prospects for a quick resolution to the gulf conflict. A diplomatic initiative from the Soviet Union got a chilly reception from President Bush, and U.S.-led forces forged ahead with preparations for a land battle against Iraq. Bush's statement sparked a brief sell-off.
"People are waiting for either peace or a ground war," said David Chao of the investment banking firm County NatWest.
But the sell-off was limited, a sign of the market's bullish sentiment, analysts said. The Standard & Poor's 500, a broad market indicator, rose 0.33 to close at another record, 369.39, as did the NYSE index, with a gain of 0.11 to 201.40.
Well-received earnings reports included those of Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell and Liz Claiborne.
Hewlett-Packard shares closed up 5 1/2 at 45 5/8 on trading of more than 2.3 million NYSE shares. Honeywell finished up 1 7/8 at 54 1/2 on its earnings report. And Liz Claiborne vaulted 5 points to 41 1/2 after announcing record three-month earnings.
Philip Morris rose 3 to 65. C.J. Lawrence, an institutional brokerage, reiterated a buy rating on the company and raised its 1992 earnings estimate.
Dow component IBM rose 2 1/8 to 139 1/2, Digital Equipment surged 3 1/2 to 78, Stratus Computer added 1 5/8 to 29 1/4 and Cray rallied 1 to 44.
Shares of Deere and Co. fell 3 1/4 to 49 3/8 after the farm equipment manufacturer reported a loss that was deeper than expected.
Synoptics Communications lost 3/4 to 46 1/4 on continued disappointment over earnings reported last week.
Scimed Life rose 2 to 44 1/2. Hambrecht and Quist reiterated a buy rating on the company.
Apple rose 2 3/8 to 60, Quantum advanced 1 1/8 to 24 3/4 and Sun Microsystems tacked on 1 3/8 to 29 7/8.
Other broad stock indexes finished narrowly mixed. The American Stock Exchange index rose 0.97 at 343.70 and the Nasdaq index climbed 1.61 at 450.32.
Bond prices were pushed down largely by uncertainty about the Federal Reserve's monetary policy in the face of Middle East peace prospects. The Treasury's bellwether 30-year bond fell 5-32 point, or $1.56 per $1,000 in face amount.
Oil futures closed at their lowest point in four weeks as prospects for peace in the gulf once again swept the market. Selling on the New York Mercantile Exchange erupted early on a Cable News Network report that Iraq was expected to respond to the Soviet peace proposal. After dipping to $19.85 a barrel, March crude crept back to close above $20 in the absence of a response.
Silver futures on the Commodity Exchange plummeted to their lowest prices in more than 17 years before recovering slightly to end 10 cents lower in all contracts.
The dollar finished higher on world currency markets. It rose to 1.4935 German marks, up from 1.4777.