NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks finished mostly higher yesterday, helped by stronger-than-expected earnings from leading companies such as Merrill Lynch & Co. and Motorola Inc.
Stocks traded on the Nasdaq and American Stock Exchange indexes soared to their second consecutive highs. The rest of the market was little changed amid pessimism tied to Friday's employment report and reluctance to take big positions before this week's producer and consumer price reports, traders said.
"The overall picture hasn't changed," said Philip Tasho, who invests about $350 million as managing director for equity strategy and management at Riggs Investment Management Corp. "The economy is growing slowly, and companies that are reporting good earnings are in finance, capital goods and technology."
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 0.28, to 3593.13, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 0.24, to 461.12. Monday, the Dow industrials added 8.67 points.
The American Stock Exchange Market Value Index soared 2.91, to a record 470.50, surpassing Monday's high of 467.59.
The Nasdaq Combined Composite Index soared 4.81, to an all-time closing high of 772.46. The rise was led by Cisco Systems Inc., Oracle Systems Corp., Centocor Inc. and Chiron Corp. The old high for the index was 767.65.
Within the Dow average, gains in Chevron Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. vied with declines in Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. P&G; climbed 62.5 cents, to $50.375, after the household products maker said it expected to report record earnings for the first quarter, which ended Sept. 30.
Advancers narrowly outpaced decliners among common stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading was active, with about 264 million shares changing hands on the Big Board, up from 182.7 million Monday, which was the slowest of the year because banks and government offices were closed for Columbus Day.
Oil, brokerage and semiconductor stocks led the market's advance. Chip shares rallied after Motorola posted better-than-expected third-quarter earnings late Monday. Motorola's report alleviated some of the disappointment Monday with Intel Corp.'s earnings, traders said.
"That's the big turnaround" that helped the market yesterday, said Dale Tills, manager of institutional equities trading at Charles Schwab & Co.
Motorola closed up $5, at $103.50, more than recouping Monday's drop of $2.50 when Intel posted lower earnings than some analysts had forecast. Texas Instruments Inc. rose $1.75, to $66.50, and Advanced Micro Devices Corp. added 25 cents, to $20.375.
Computer networking shares gained yesterday after Wellfleet Communications Inc., a maker of equipment that links different types of computers, posted stronger earnings than analysts predicted. Wellfleet soared $6.125, to $53.25.
Wellfleet's surprisingly strong earnings triggered gains in other networking stocks. Cisco Systems Inc. jumped $4.875, to $50.875, Synoptics Communications Inc. rose 87.5 cents, to $24.50, and Cabletron Systems Inc. jumped $2.25, to $97.625.
After semiconductors, brokerage stocks were the next biggest gainers. Brokerage stocks rose in the wake of strong earnings from Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, PaineWebber and Charles Schwab & Co., traders said. Merrill, the biggest U.S. brokerage firm, also declared a 2-for-1 stock split and raised its dividend 14 percent.
The rise in stocks was helped early on by a decline in long-term interest rates. The decline helped make stocks more attractive.