The stock market meandered lower in extremely light trading Monday, pressured by rising oil prices and a weak bond market.
The Dow Jones industrial index fell 5.51 to 2,085.17 with only 116.4 million shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, down from 145.10 million on Friday and the lightest total in two weeks.
Declining issues outnumbered advances by about 5 to 3 in nationwide trading of NYSE-listed stocks.
Traders said many investors remained on the sidelines as little news emerged to offer direction. They said the start of debates between presidential candidates George Bush and Michael S. Dukakis on Sunday night had no discernible effect on financial markets.
"The market is looking for some sort of catalyst and obviously the debates last night was not it," said Jon Groveman, head trader of Ladenburg Thalmann & Co.
Several market analysts said higher crude oil futures prices had a dampening effect on the market because they awakened worries about inflation. Crude oil prices jumped as much as 46 cents a barrel because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' pricing committee announced plans to hold further talks on the oil glut. But prices later lost most of their gains, keeping a lid on transportation stocks.
Still Hurting From Crash
Traders said lower bond prices depressed stocks in general. The benchmark 30-year U.S. Treasury bond fell 10/32 to 100-13/32 in late afternoon trading, raising its yield to 9.08% from 9.05% on Friday.
Stocks are still suffering from the aftereffects of Black Monday last Oct. 19, said Edward O'Brien, president of the Securities Industry Assn., in a statement issued as the first anniversary of the crash approaches.
The SIA, Wall Street's main trade group, "believes the near-term outlook isn't likely to improve substantially until full investor confidence is restored in both the integrity of the marketplace and the strength of the economy," the statement said.
Among actively traded issues, TW Services rose 1 to 24 3/4. The investment firm of Coniston Partners disclosed that it holds a 19% stake in the food services concern.
Best Products, which said its board is considering the sale of the company, jumped 3 7/8 to 18 7/8.
Kroger rose 5/8 to 56 3/8. The company rejected bids from the Haft family and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., saying it plans to proceed with a restructuring.
Service Merchandise fell 1 1/2 to 12 3/8 among the volume leaders in the over-the-counter market. An investor group that had previously expressed an interest in the company decided not to make a bid at this time, Service Merchandise said.
The NYSE's composite index of all its listed common stocks dropped 0.42 to 151.96.
In foreign trading, the Nikkei 225-share index closed at 27,330.95, down 59.17, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In London, share prices finished almost unchanged on the London Stock Exchange, as a nervous market awaited today's key British trade report for August.
The Financial Times 100-share index ended 0.3 higher at 1,792.7.