AP Business WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks fluctuated throughout an uncertain session Wednesday, dropping amid fears of terrorist attacks and then turning mostly higher late in the day on rumors that Osama bin Laden had been captured.
The market, worried about the possibility of more terrorism, was on its way to its third straight decline before the unconfirmed rumors.
"There were some rumblings that the U.S. military may have captured bin Laden. That caused some buying late in the day," said Todd Clark, head of listed equity trading at Wells Fargo Securities. "When you have volume so light, it's not hard for the market to move."
Trading was light amid the uneasiness over warnings from the FBI and Vice President Dick Cheney each of the past three days.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 52.17, or 0.5 percent, at 10,157.88, according to preliminary calculations. Still, the advance was moderate compared with the Dow's 247-point loss over the previous two sessions.
The broader market also managed a late advance. The Nasdaq composite index rose 9.27, or 0.6 percent, to 1,673.45, having dropped 77.21 Monday and Tuesday.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 6.14, or 0.6 percent, to 1,086.02.
Wednesday marked the market's first winning day in three sessions, but it was mild compared to the big swings the market enjoyed last week when the Nasdaq gained 8.8 percent for the week and the Dow rose 4.2 percent.
Still, analysts weren't holding much hope that the market would make much, if any, upward progress by the end of this week and believed selling could continue to dominate as investors play it safe ahead of the long Memorial Day weekend. Some of the recent terror warnings are pegged to the weekend.
"Emotions are running high. It's a reminder of the disruption that a terrorist strike can cause not only to the public, in loss of life, but its effects on the economy," said Barry Hyman, chief investment strategist at Ehrenkrantz King Nussbaum.
Hyman said the prospect of terrorism is "a reminder of the risk profile that we as investors have to put into a market ... that is not cheap and still has nagging earnings concerns ahead of it."
Among the gainers, Ford, advanced 52 cents to $18.10 after Banc of America raised its rating to buy" from "market perform."
Johnson & Johnson rose $1.01 to $61.65 after releasing data showing that its new drug-coated stent is effective. Additionally Merrill Lynch reiterated its "strong buy" rating on the Dow stock.
Grocery chain Albertson's advanced $1.91 to $34.06 after raising its first-quarter outlook.
Dell Computer gained 12 cents to $27 as Merrill Lynch reiterated its "strong buy" rating on the stock.
But Gap dropped $2.45, or 15.3 percent, to $13.55, after president Millard "Mickey" Drexler on Tuesday announced plans to retire as CEO, a move that raised new questions about the future of the troubled retailer. Additionally, Merrill Lynch lowered its near-term rating on Gap shares to "neutral" from "strong buy."
Dow industrial Home Depot fell 65 cents to $44.25, after beating earnings expectations on Tuesday but indicating it is cautious about the future of the home improvement industry.
Advancing issues were barely ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was light at 1.14 billion shares, compared with 1.17 billion on Tuesday.
The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, fell 1.55, or 0.3 percent, to 493.91.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished Wednesday up 1.4 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 sank 1.7 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.9 percent, and Germany's DAX index declined 1.3 percent.
------On the Net:
New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com
Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com