updated 3/24/2004 7:52:29 AM ET 2004-03-24T12:52:29

Wall Street wobbled through an indecisive session Tuesday, finishing modestly lower as investors, worried about the economy and terrorism, had no conviction to sustain even a mild wave of bargain-hunting.

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With the Dow Jones industrial average having fallen 5 percent since March 8, investors sought to rebalance their portfolios with stocks that, while still fundamentally sound, were hit hard in the two-week selloff. But stocks gave up their gains twice during the session as nervous short-term investors cashed in their intraday profits.

“The market right now is probably at the lower end of a fair-value range,” said Kevin Caron, market strategist for Ryan, Beck & Co. “The near-term trader, trading off the news on the war on terrorism, is going to take this opportunity to move money out of this market. But for long-term investors, this is a good time to step in.”

The Dow fell 1.11 points, or 0.01 percent, to 10,063.64 after rising as much as 60 points early in the session and then ratcheting up and down through the session.

Broader stock indicators also ended slightly lower after a volatile day. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 1.50 points, or 0.1 percent, at 1,093.90, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.10 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,901.80.

Volume remained somewhat light as investors carefully chose their bets, opting for the financial, transportation and healthcare sectors — all defensive stocks meant to ride out any short-term volatility.

Many investors sat out the session, waiting for Thursday’s gross domestic product and first-time jobless data for a sign of whether the economic recovery would gain some momentum. Lower-than-expected numbers, however, could prompt another round of selling in a market that’s been falling for weeks.

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Analysts said the market may be close to finding a bottom, although they said stocks might give more ground before buyers finally settle in for good.

“People have been forced to digest a lot of bad news very early, and there’s some feeling that they took too many chips off the table too quickly,” said Jack Caffrey, equities strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. “With the preponderance of the volume yesterday being on the downside and some better news from earnings, we may have the ingredients for a short-term rally.”

Financial services stocks led the buying, as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. became the latest financial company to far outpace earnings estimates. Goldman Sachs, up 9 cents at $101.39, beat estimates by 85 cents per share and boosted the entire sector. Merrill Lynch & Co. lost 9 cents to $59.20 and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. gained 18 cents to $40.98.

Jones Apparel Group Inc. climbed 12 cents to $35.78 as it launched a $297 million hostile takeover bid for Maxwell Shoe Co. Inc. Maxwell was up 50 cents at $22.59.

The troubles for The Walt Disney Co. continued as six of the nation’s largest pension funds demanded an immediate meeting with the company board to express their concerns over the strength and direction of the entertainment giant. Disney nonetheless rose 20 cents to $25.10.

Microsoft Corp. shed 35 cents to $24.15 as it lashed out against the European Union for its proposed $614 million fine for alleged antitrust violations. The EU is also expected to require Microsoft to release a version of the Windows operating system in Europe without the Windows Media Player bundled in.

Viacom Inc. said it would collaborate with the Shanghai Media Group to produce children’s programming in China’s largest city. Viacom slipped 5 cents to $38.05.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by nearly 8 to 5 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.44 billion shares, compared to 1.45 billion at the same point Monday. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.93 points, or 0.4 percent, to 560.92.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average dropped 0.3 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent for the session, while France’s CAC-40 and Germany’s DAX index ended the day flat.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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