NEW YORK (AP) _ Stock prices failed to rebound Wednesday as investors concerned about third-quarter results again punished the shares of poor performers.

But the decline could have been much worse. Bargain-hunting in the last hour of trading helped battered issues stage a mild recovery, allowing the Dow Jones industrial average to almost break even and limiting the size of the Nasdaq composite index's drop.

The Dow closed down 2.96 at 10,628.34, according to preliminary calculations, after dropping as much as 40 points during the day. It fell 176 points on Tuesday.

Broader stock indicators also were lower.

The Nasdaq dropped 61.01 to 3,628.09, after spiking into positive territory earlier in the day. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.03 to 1,421.18.

``You did see some bargain hunting for some of these beat-up tech stocks and that perhaps is one reason why you saw the Nasdaq and Dow come back,'' said Dick Dickson, a technical analyst at Scott & Stringfellow Inc. ``But by and large, investors are more on the sell side. When a stock comes down or a company warns, they sell it.''

In recent weeks, the market has been fixated on the approach of third-quarter reports. Increasing indications that the economy is slowing, combined with oil prices at decade-high levels and Europe's weak currency, have many investors looking to the third-quarter as a sign of what is to come for many companies.

Investors Wednesday again penalized or rewarded companies depending on their earnings outlook.

Priceline fell $8.14 to $10.50 _ a 43 percent drop _ after the discount travel Web site said its bottom line would be hurt by weak airline ticket sales.

A stronger-than-expected earnings report helped push 3Com up $3.06 to $17 on the Nasdaq.

Energy stocks were up, as well, on persistent concerns about fuel costs as winter approaches.

Exxon Mobil rose $2.88 to $89.50; Enron jumped $1.94 to $87.44.

There was also limited bargain hunting, but most stocks weren't able to hang on to their gains.

Intel rose 56 cents to $43.88, as the chipmaker struggled to rebound from a slump that began Friday when it warned of disappointing profits. Micron Technology rose $1.94 cents to $51.63, after failing to sustain a nearly $4 increase.

Sun Microsystems rose 44 cents to $117.93, unable to hold a nearly $3 gain. Hewlett Packard climbed $3.81 to $102.81.

But investors didn't blindly snap up technology-related stocks. Web portal superstar Yahoo! fell $12.06 to $90.38, while e-tailer Amazon was down $1.88 to $37.88, after being down more than $3 earlier in the afternoon. Both companies have faced questions in recent weeks about profitability and whether their business models will work.

``Technology is seeing some real concerted selling across the board on profit-taking. It's fear of a slowdown,'' said Scott Bleier, chief investment strategist at Prime Charter. He believes Internet stocks and some of telecom and semiconductor issues are especially vulnerable because they traded at such high premiums earlier this year.

``Those sectors that are the most expensive will have the biggest downside, and that includes technology,'' he said.

Nortel fell $4.56 to $59.44.

Financial and old-economy stocks also had a tougher time as profit-seeking investors moved money out of blue chips.

Citigroup fell $1.13 to $52.38. Caterpillar slipped $2.19 to $32.81.

And Corning tumbled $15.75 to $307.25 after it announced it was buying part of the fiber optic operations of Pirelli, an Italian company.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 6-to-5 margin on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.16 billion shares, ahead of the 1.10 billion in the previous session.

The Russell 2000 index was down 3.13 at 506.76.

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