NEW YORK (AP) _ Stocks were narrowly mixed Thursday as investors contemplated earnings, the economy and analyst downgrades of two personal computer makers.

``They are basically putting together some judgments about next year,'' said Barry Hyman, chief investment strategist for Weatherly Securities.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 69.01 at 10,872.17 in afternoon trading.

The Nasdaq composite index, which fluctuated in earlier trading, was down 14.07 at 2,525.28, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index inched up 2.36 to 1,331.28.

Dell Computer and IBM suffered on news that Prudential Securities lowered its fourth-quarter sales estimates for the two computer makers. Prudential also reduced its fourth-quarter profit projections for Dell, which was off 31 cents at $17.69. But IBM moved back into positive territory, trading up $2 at $86.69.

The Dow's gains were limited by the latest evidence that less confident consumers are buying fewer computers. Dow component Intel, which makes computer chips, lost $1.88 to trade at $30.69. Microsoft fell $2.06 to $44.38.

An economic report released earlier in the day reaffirmed that consumers indeed have a tighter grip on their pocketbooks. Consumer confidence in December fell to its lowest level in two years, dipping slightly further than analysts' forecasts, according to the New York-based Conference Board.

But retailing stocks, which have suffered as shoppers have become more frugal, were slightly higher. Home Depot rose $1.38 to $44.13, and Wal-Mart was up 31 cents at $52.88.

Blue chip sectors viewed as safer during a moderating economy and bearish market posted gains. Banker J.P. Morgan soared $2.88 to $174.50. Drug maker Merck was up $1.44 at $94.13.

The Dow and Nasdaq struggled with mixed success to maintain slim gains. The reason, analysts said, was many investors also were doing typical year-end tax loss selling.

Another factor was window dressing, an end-of-quarter practice in which mutual fund managers try to make their portfolios appear more attractive by dumping poor performers and picking up hot stocks.

``People are just straightening out their portfolios ... getting rid of their losers,'' Hyman said.

But if Wall Street history repeats, Friday's session will be a sure winner as investors wrap up their tax selling and move on to bargain hunting, said Ricky Harrington, technical analyst for Wachovia Securities.

``Historically, the last day of the year has an 85 percent chance of being an up day,'' Harrington said.

Harrington also predicted that Wall Street won't be deprived of its annual January effect, when money comes back into the market after investors have sold stocks in December for tax purposes. Investors also are likely to snatch up deals in the technology sector, which is down about 40 percent for the year.

``Once we get into January, we might have a whole change of character in the market,'' Harrington said. ``The tax loss selling will be removed and so will the window dressing and portfolio reshuffling... In January, you have a very good chance of a very rigorous technical rebound in so many of these battered stocks.''

Advancing issues outpaced decliners 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange where volume was 677.40 million shares, ahead of 649.45 million at the same hour Wednesday.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks the performance of smaller companies, was up 9.34 at 488.64.

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