Floundering around for some excuse to do something, the stock market rose for a while today based on rumors that al-Jazzera television was reporting Saddam Hussein had been killed.
No such report. And no evidence to suggest it has happened -- at least as far as anyone knows yet.
When that feeble excuse for making trading decisions evaporated, Wall Street reverted to running in place and by the end of the day had gone nowhere.
The Dow Jones industrial average wound up with a day as flat as they get, losing a point and a half to close at 8,298.92 after jogging between small gains and small losses.
The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index also was down less than 2 points at 878.29
The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index had more difficulty keeping its head above water, falling 6.5 points to 1,382.94.
Technology stocks -- which outperformed most other sectors during the first quarter of the year -- weakened today as more companies warned of sagging profits ahead.
RF Micro Devices -- supplier of chips for mobile phones -- Nautilus -- the exercise machine maker -- and Mead Westvaco -- the paper company -- all issued earnings warnings that undercut support for their stocks.
Shares of AOL Time Warner Inc. rose for the sixth day in a row, the longest winning streak since last Halloween. Investors who have gradually been moving back into the battered stock found another justification today: reports that AOL is close to finding a buyer for the Atlanta baseball, basketball and hockey teams that once belonged to Ted Turner. Two different buyers were named in competing news reports on the sale talks, leading traders to guess that maybe one of the reports was right.
Equally confusing to the market were conflicting reports on whether the Federal Reserve has put together some sort of emergency economic plan in case it's needed. The Associated Press broke the story of the emergency plan -- said to include another interest rate cut -- but soon Bloomberg was quoting Fed officials as denying there was such a plan.
The Fed and AOL sports team incidents illustrated that investors are so hungry for information to help them make market decisions that they will swallow just about anything.
Investors can count on the markets to remain unstable not only until the Iraq war ends but also until uncertainties about the economy are out of the way, said John Forelli, portfolio manager for Independence Investments in Boston, an affiliate of the John Hancock insurance company.
"When I watch the market jump all over positive news from Iraq like it did yesterday, it shows me just how badly people want to be back in the market," Forelli said in a bulletin to investors. "When we see the rapid pullback on any negative news like earnings warnings today, it tells me investors still have more hope than confidence."
"The fog of war may clear," he added, "but the clouds hanging over the markets and the economy may linger. We just won't know for a while."