Stocks closed sharply lower in heavy trading Friday after a late round of computer-guided sell programs tied to "triple-witching hour" thwarted the market's bid to recover from early losses.
The Dow Jones industrial average, which added 10.24 points Thursday, plunged 27.12 points to 3494.77.Among the broad gauges, the New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 2.27 to 244.94, while Standard & Poor's 500-stock index dropped 4.86 to 443.68. The price of an average share lost 32 cents.
Declines topped advances 1,096-757 among the 2,529 issues crossing the NYSE tape.
Adjusted volume amounted to 294,176,000 shares, compared with 230,326,000 in the same period Thursday.
Program activity related to "triple-witching hour" - the quarterly expiration of stock-index futures and options and individual stock options on the same day - inflated volume. Trading often becomes hectic, and prices sometimes swing wildly ahead of the event, which comes on third Friday of each quarter-end.
Prices ended slightly higher on the American Stock Exchange, but slightly lower in over-the-counter trading.
Treasury securities ended mostly lower, while the U.S. dollar posted sharp gains.
The bellwether 30-year Treasury bond, which edged up 2/32 Thursday to yield 6.80 percent, was at 104 1/32. The issue's yield, which moves in the opposite direction of its price, hovered around 6.80 percent.
In overseas trading, the Tokyo stock market closed lower and Frankfurt retreated but London and Paris rebounded.
On Wall Street, A.C. Moore, investment strategist at Argus Investment Management in Santa Barbara, Calif., said that before late computer-guided sell programs kicked in, buy programs "sustained the market going into the final minutes."
Moore said he thought the buy programs "masked the market's underlying technical weakness. The market lacks substantive leadership and its momentum is diminishing."
He pointed out that on a historical basis, "the average rate of a bull move has been 26 months, and the current move is already about 33 months. Some time this year, we'll see a correction of at least 10 percent."
Fundamentally, the analyst said, the market "is moving into a period of higher taxes at a time when the economy is very slow. The tax increases (proposed by President Clinton) are going to decrease corporate earnings."
On the trading floor, Wal-Mart Stores paced the Big Board actives, easing 3/8 to 251/2.
Citicorp followed, easing 1/4 to 275/8. General Motors was third, inching up 1/8 to 413/4.
Litton Industries climbed 8 to 65 after announcing a plan to separate its commercial and defense-related businesses into two independent public corporations.
The drug sector proved particularly weak after Kidder Peabody & Co. lowered its ratings on six stocks - Merck, Pfizer, American Home Products, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Holdings and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer.
Kidder also cut its five-year compounded earnings growth-rate forecast because of government intrusion into the pharmaceutical sector and increased competition from generic products.
Dow component Merck fell 11/2 to 371/8, Pfizer lost 25/8 to 721/8, AHP lost 21/4 to 653/8, Glaxo eased 1/4 to 177/8 and Rhone-Poulenc fell 1 to 49. Separately, Johnson & Johnson dropped 27/8 to 427/8 after a rating downgrade from Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co.
Among some of the blue chips, Philip Morris eased 1/8 to 481/4, IBM fell 1/2 to 491/8, and Boeing ended unchanged at 383/4.
The Amex Market Value Index eased 0.57 to 436.82, while the average price of an Amex share shed 1 cent. Declines edged advances 294-270 among the 769 issues traded. Volume was 14,751,000 shares, compared with 14,396,000 traded Thursday.
Echo Bay Mines led the Amex actives, easing 3/8 to 11.
In over-the-counter trading, the National Association of Securities Dealers composite index dropped 6.35 to 689.59.