Stock market tries but fails to continue Wednesday's advance


NEW YORK -- Stock prices made a feverish but failed effort yesterday to extend Wednesday's 32-point gain.

The Dow Jones industrial average spent most of the day in plus territory and was up more than 20 points for a while. But the enthusiasm wore off in the last hour, and the index finished down 2.97 at 2952.23.

Analysts attributed the late weakness to activity by computer program traders engaged in multiple transactions heading into today's "triple witching hour," which involves the simultaneous expiration of stock index options and futures.

Trading was active, with 231 million shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, up from 176 million Wednesday. The number of gaining and losing issues was about even.

Traders continue to react to every hint of a rumor regarding interest rates.

Rao Chalasani, a Prescott Ball & Turben market strategist, believes that the stock market will need a cut in short-term interest rates to push it to new highs.

"The possibility of the market going above 3,000 is real. But I think it's more based on interest rates coming down," he said.

Stock traders yesterday were looking over the shoulders of bond traders, who had their eyes fixed on easing commodity prices.

"Nonetheless, lower prices for crude oil and commodities were unable to stir much buying interest in bonds today," explained John Lonski, senior economist at Moody's Investors Service.

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