SAN FRANCISCO -- Seems like a long time ago when investors were terrified of anything smacking of "momentum" plays and questioning the sanity of the valuations of most high-tech names. Actually, that was just this past Monday.

Perhaps the collective memory of those recent woes caused major proxies to stumble from some big gains registered in the opening 90 minutes of trading. Or maybe the buying "panic" simply peaked. But in the end, recollections of the big rallies evident mid-week held sway, sending market averages modestly higher into the close, save the most public face of equities.

The

S&P 500

rose 0.11 to 1527.46, squeaking out its fourth-consecutive record. The index had traded as high as 1552.87 early in the session then as low as 1516.83 with less than an hour to go in trading.

The S&P got a boost from technology bellwethers such as

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

,

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

and

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

.

Brokerage stocks also provided a boost, continuing the recent momentum sparked by strong earnings from some of its traditional players.

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

and

Lehman Brothers

(LEH)

were among several on the upswing today; each hitting new 52-week highs. The

American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index

rose 4.4% to a 52-week high of 581.72.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index

rose as high as 5078.86 just before 11:00 a.m. EST, heightening anticipation in some (especially some financial television) circles it would eclipse its previous closing best of 5048.62. But the Comp declined steadily from the lofty levels, trading as low as 4902.83 before recovering to finish up 22.94, or 0.5%, to 4963.55.

Strength in aforementioned bellwethers -- and others such as

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

-- ultimately overcame declines by big-caps like

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

and

Amgen

(AMGN) - Get Report

. The

Nasdaq 100

rose 0.7% to 4691.93 after trading as high as 4816.35.

The Comp was also restrained by weakness in many secondary tech names and recent high flyers such as

Osicom Technologies

(FIBR) - Get Report

. Also,

Xircom

(XIRC)

fell 9.4% and

Power Integrations

(POWI) - Get Report

lost nearly 40%; each issued an earnings warnings.

Conversely, Internet favorites such as

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

were on the rise, helping

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index gain 19.26, or 1.5%, to 1272.53.

The DOT got a boost from

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

and

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

which rose after the

Financial Times

rekindled speculation about a potential merger between the firms.

Also,

E*Trade

(EGRP)

gained 15.3% as online brokers rallied after

Wit Capital

(WITC)

forecast better-than-expected results. Wit rose 29.1%.

Elsewhere,

Ameritrade

(AMTD) - Get Report

rose 10.3% and

Charles Schwab

(SCH)

climbed 6%.

Outside the DOT,

GoTo.com

(GOTO)

leapt 30.7% after the search engine provider announced a big jump in its users and ad pages.

After trading as high as 11,234.65, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed off 7.14, or 0.1%, to 11,112.72. The venerable index was restrained largely by

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

, which fell 9.4% after

announcing it will stop marketing its heartburn drug Propulsid. Additionally,

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

declined 3.3%.

The Dow got its biggest positive boost from IBM and

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

.

The

Russell 2000

rose 0.22 to 574.01.

In

New York Stock Exchange

trading, 1.03 billion shares were exchanged while declining stocks led advancers 1,500 to 1,434. In

Nasdaq Stock Market

action 1.66 billion shares traded while losers led 2,207 to 2,002. New 52-week highs bested new lows 105 to 33 on the Big Board and by 130 to 59 in over-the-counter trading.

"Today's market was definitely hard work," said Doug Myers, vice president of equity trading at

IJL Wachovia

in Atlanta. "The best way I can describe the temperament is

that people with 1200 shares of whatever are not rounding up to 2000 shares. They're rounding down to 1000. That's why you have a zillion shares trading and" the Nasdaq and S&P gaining a hair and the Dow down just 7.

Myers also said both the stock and bond markets acted "exactly opposite" what he expected after the durable goods number was reported. That is, they both went down.

Indeed, the bond market's retreat was one factor helping restrain the enthusiasm, several market players said. Speculation the

Federal Reserve

might consider a 50 basis point tightening at its May meeting, plus an increase in crude prices didn't help either.

The price of the 10-year Treasury note fell 26/32 to 102 7/32, its yield rising to 6.20%.

Slide Sparks Few Worries

The Comp's failed retest of its all-time high "could set up a double-top," said Gary Kaltbaum, chief technical analyst at

GSG Securities

in Orlando, Fla. "But I don't see

many problems here. I believe near-term you're about as overbought as you can be. I think we'll be okay on any pullback. You have to digest the gains."

Kaltbaum observed the leadership within the has reverted from the biotech and more speculative tech names back to bellwethers such as Sun, Cisco and

EMC

(EMC)

.

Rao Chalasani, chief investment strategist at

Everen Securities

, agreed that's a healthy development, noting that "within technology, people are making a distinction between what has quality and history instead of just buying anything that's going up.

"It always happens that way," Chalasani continued. "Everything goes up when there's a frenzy. Afterward, people differentiate between what's good and not so good."

Another factor stemming any disappointment over today's session (of which there was little) was the latest figures for mutual fund inflows.

AMG Data Services

reported $13.7 billion flowed into equity funds for the week ended March 22, the largest weekly increase in over four years.

Among other indices, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

fell 32.61, or 1.2%, to 2688.15; the

Dow Jones Utility Average

slid 1.68, or 0.6% to 287.27; and the

American Stock Exchange Composite Index

fell 3.89, or 0.4%, to 1032.51.

For the week, the Dow soared 5.5%; the S&P 500 jumped 4.3%; the Nasdaq Comp leapt 8.3%; the Russell 2000 shed 0.1%; the DOT was down a fraction; the Dow transportation average rose 2.5%; the Dow utility average fell 0.9%; and the Amex composite gained 2.1%.

Market data above are preliminary. For coverage of today's top stocks in the news, see the Company Report, published separately

.