STOCKS : Dow Up 3.38 in Slowest Trading Session of Year

From Times Wire Services

Stocks eked out a slight gain Monday, helped by a mild buying flurry in blue chips in the slowest trading day so far this year.

The Dow Jones index of 30 industrials, which drifted in a narrow range throughout the session, closed up 3.38 points at 2,686.71.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones by a slim margin in nationwide trading of New York Stock Exchange-listed stocks, with 752 issues up, 697 down and 514 unchanged.

Big Board volume eased to 114.79 million shares from 150.41 million on Friday. It was the lowest volume since Dec. 26, when 77.61 million shares changed hands. Previously, the smallest number of shares traded this year had been 118.39 million on Feb. 12.

A lackluster, apprehensive climate dominated trading with little news to spark interest. The modest climb in the Dow index followed last week's gain of 22.97 points.

Some investors took solace in Friday's employment report, which showed a sharp rise in job growth for February and tempered recessionary fears. The economy's strength prompted interest in cyclic stocks, which benefit from the expanding economy.

On the New York Stock Exchange, drug company Rorer Group topped the active list, climbing 2 7/8 to 65 3/4. It agreed to a $3.2-billion buyout by French chemical giant Rhone-Poulenc SA.

Among widely held blue chips, IBM rose 3/8 to 106 7/8, General Motors was up 3/4 to 47 and General Electric was down 1/4 to 62 3/8.

In the auto sector, General Motors rose 3/4 to 47, and Ford rose 5/8 to 48. Chrysler eased 1/8 to 18 1/8.

Among airline issues, UAL climbed 2 1/2 to 136 1/2, AMR rose 1/2 to 63 1/2, USAir added 3/4 to 30 1/8 and Delta edged up 1/8 to 70 1/8. Pan Am Corp. rose 1/8 to 3 1/8.

Norton Co., a mining concern, advanced 1 5/8 to 56 1/2 on volume of more than 700,000 shares. The company said it knew of no factors to account for the move and added that a report of a group purchasing nearly 5% of the company's shares was a rumor.

General Development, a real estate firm, plunged 2 1/8 to 3 5/8 after the company said it was meeting with its banks to work out a program to improve its financial condition.

The U.S. dollar's continuing pressure on the Japanese yen snapped a two-day rally on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Monday, sending stock prices broadly lower in thin trading. The Nikkei 225-share index tumbled 624.89 points to 33,368.23.

Shares finished lower in London, as the pound's weakness, a sharp rise in retail sales and the decline in prices in Tokyo depressed prices. The Financial Times 100-share index fell 11.5 points to close at 2,222.8.

CREDIT Bond Prices Finish Mixed in Light Day Bond prices were mixed in light trading Monday, as traders said few factors influenced the market.

The Treasury's benchmark 30-year bond rose 1/16 point, or about 62 cents per $1,000 face amount, while its yield, which falls when prices climb, dipped to 8.61% from 8.62% late Friday.

Gib Clark, chief trader at Daiwa Securities Inc., said the market started the day moderately lower in a spillover from Friday, when strong U.S. employment figures for February caused a drop in prices. Also affecting the market was an overnight drop in bond prices in Japan.

But "between the dollar doing better and Rostenkowski somewhat opening up the debate on the deficit, we came back unchanged," he said.

Clark was referring to a budget plan released by Democrat Rep. Dan Rostenkowski that calls for higher taxes and a one-year freeze on increases in Social Security benefits. The Bush Administration said it would consider the plan by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The bond market reacts favorably to talk of reducing the deficit.

The federal funds rate, the interest rate banks charge each other on overnight loans, was quoted at 8.188%, down from 8.313% late Friday.

COMMODITIES Frozen Pork Bellies Stage a Strong Rally Futures prices for frozen pork bellies rose sharply on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for the fourth time in five sessions. On other markets, grains were mixed, while precious metals and energy products slid.

"Bellies are king again," said analyst Paul Hare of Linnco Futures Inc. in Chicago. He attributed the rally to a technical adjustment following a slump Friday.

Contracts for delivery of pork bellies in March, May, July and August rose the daily limit of 2 cents. The March contract settled at 52.95 cents a pound.

Corn rallied after opening lower on news of Friday's disappointing U.S. Agriculture Department supply-demand report, said Susan Leighty, an analyst with Prudential-Bache Securities Inc. in New York.

She said corn has been supported by good feed demand for hogs and good export demand, especially from Asian countries.

But weekend rainfall in U.S. growing areas and a forecast for more showers were depressing the futures market.

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