NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed mixed yesterday as a slid in international oil shares offset gains in the banking sector.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed 3.79 points higher, at 3274.91, led by a late flurry of computer-driven buy orders.
Advancing common stocks roughly equaled the number of declining issues on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading was active considering many investors took the day off to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. About 198 million shares traded on the Big Board.
Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.31, to 436.84. The American Stock Exchange Market Value index advanced 0.14, to 403.79.
The NASDAQ Combined Composite index rose 0.98, to 698.13, setting an all-time high for a fourth straight session. The rise in the NASDAQ was led by gains in Intel Corp., McCaw Cellular Communications and Lin Broadcasting Corp.
"Investors are getting more and more nervous with the NASDAQ and S&P 500 at record highs," said Barry Berman, head trader at Robert W. Baird & Co. "People are afraid to buy stocks because they're afraid the market has topped."
International oil stocks fell as crude prices continue to fall. Oil prices are down about 13 percent in less than three months. Crude oil for February delivery closed unchanged, at $18.87 a barrel.
"It hasn't been too cold a winter, so no one expects oil to rise too much," said Edward Laux, head equity trader at Kidder, Peabody & Co.
Exxon Corp.'s stock fell 75 cents, to $59.375; Amoco Corp. declined 75 cents, to $48.75; and Mobil Corp. slid 87.5 cents, to $61.375.
Investors are avoiding oil stocks and buying shares of companies that stand to benefit most from the improving economy, Mr. Laux said.
"Investors are betting that [President-elect Bill] Clinton will take steps to help the economy," he said.
Bank stocks received a boost from reports that BankAmerica Corp. was preparing to sell $2 billion in troubled loans to Morgan Stanley Realty Fund. The transaction provided evidence that the nation's real estate market was improving. BankAmerica gained $2.125, to $49.50.
Shares of Bank of New York Co. rose $2.75, to $59.50. The stock has soared since the banking company said last week that earnings rose 58 percent in the fourth quarter on higher net interest income and lower provisions for troubled loans.
The stock market was little affected by reports of heightened tensions in Iraq and more air strikes by U.S. and allied planes, Mr. Laux said.
Intel surged $4.875, to $116.625, as shares of the semiconductor manufacturer rallied to all-time highs.
Xerox Corp. declined $3.75, to $82.875. The company said it would take a $778 million after-tax charge in the fourth quarter related to the sale of its Crum and Forster, Furman Selz and Xerox Life units.
McDonnell Douglas fell $1, to $56, as the company faced renewed allegations that the Air Force made an improper payment of $500 million to the aerospace company in the second half of 1990.
Lin Broadcasting Co. soared $6.50, to a 52-week high of $88.25. Lin Broadcasting was named "stock of the week" at First Boston. Shares of McCaw Cellular Communications Corp., which owns 52 percent of Lin and holds the option to buy the remainder, rallied $2.50, to a 52-week high of $39.125.
Ames Department Stores rallied $1.1875, to $2.50, after Barron's magazine reported the company's balance sheet and sales are improving.