A late sell-off concentrated in blue chips sent the stock market to its fourth straight loss Wednesday and left the Dow Jones industrial average at its lowest level since mid-January.
The Dow index fell 16.01 to 1,242.05, its lowest close since it stood at 1,227.36 on Jan. 18. In the past four sessions, the average has dropped 42.73 points. The Dow posted a net decline of 8.72 points for the month.
Volume on the New York Stock Exchange came to 101.55 million shares, against 111.81 million Tuesday.
Analysts say the market has been plagued in recent days by simultaneous concerns about a slowing economy and possible upward pressure on interest rates.
Philip Morris dropped 1 7/8 to 84 and R. J. Reynolds Industries was down 3 1/2 at 73 3/4. Tobacco issues have been under pressure since the start of the week, when the Wall Street Journal published an article on product-liability suits against cigarette manufacturers.
Atlantic Richfield climbed 4 1/8 to 63, adding to its gains since the company's announcement of a restructuring, stock repurchase program and an increased dividend.
Houston Natural Gas, the subject of takeover rumors, jumped 11 3/4 to 58 5/8.
Hi-Shear Industries gained 2 1/2 to 21 3/8. The company said another firm, which it did not identify, has expressed an interest in acquiring it.
Trans World Airlines rose 5/8 to 16. As the stock has climbed in the past couple of sessions, there have been unconfirmed reports that financier Carl C. Icahn has been buying it heavily.
Among the blue chips, hardest hit by selling were General Motors, down 1 at 66 3/8; Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing, down 2 at 75; Merck, down 2 at 99 3/4, and Eastman Kodak, off 2 1/2 at 64 1/8. Kodak reported that its earnings for the first quarter dropped to 50 cents a share from 64 cents in the comparable period last year.
In the daily tally on the Big Board, about nine issues fell in price for every five that gained ground.
Large blocks of 10,000 or more shares traded on the NYSE totaled 1,961, compared to 2,299 on Tuesday.
Bond prices rose after the Federal Reserve System twice entered the open market to add funds to the banking system by arranging the temporary purchase of government securities.
Yields on three-month Treasury bills fell more than a tenth of a percentage point, and yields on 30-year Treasury bonds dropped nearly a tenth of a percentage points.
The federal funds rate rose to 9% from 8.50% late Tuesday.
In the secondary market for Treasury bonds, prices of short-term governments rose 1/8 point to point, intermediate maturities were up point to 1/2 point and long-term issues rose 5/8 point to 3/4 point, according to the investment firm of Salomon Bros.
Yields on 30-year Treasury bonds fell to 11.39% from 11.48% late Tuesday.
In corporate trading, prices of industrials and utilities rose 3/8 point in moderate trading.