Exhausted from celebrating the start of war yesterday, the stock market hunkered down today after the Federal Reserve conceded the economic and political outlook is so unpredictable that even it can't tell what is going to happen next.

As expected with the nation on the brink of war, the Fed made no change in interest rates today. But the central bank surprised pundits by totally ducking the issue of what it might do next.

Citing "the unusually large uncertainties clouding the geopolitical situation and their apparent effect on economic decisionmaking," the Fed said it's impossible to tell how what's ahead for the economy.

So, the economic policy makers announced that they "decided to refrain from making" any prediction about where the economy is going or what might need to be done about it.

Stock prices vacillated between modest losses and mediocre gains, finally edging up a little bit after traders decided they couldn't argue with the Fed's decision on the futility of trying to predict the future.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 52 points to 8,194.23.

The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index was up 8 points at 1,400.55.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index closed ahead nearly 4 points at 866.45.

But one market did react to the war developments today.

In the petroleum futures markets, the price of crude oil plunged, falling more than 9 percent, the biggest drop in 18 months.

Crude oil fell below $32 a barrel, down from more than $40 a couple of weeks ago when traders were counting on the war to disrupt Iraq's oil production and send prices soaring around the world.

The sharp drop in crude oil prices suggested that oil traders not only disagree with the Fed on the impossibility of predicting what's going to happen, but are betting billions on the outcome.