Well, it was mostly higher.

After yesterday's giddy gains and today's triple witching--the simultaneous expiry of index futures and options on indexes and individual shares--traders were reluctant to sweep shares much higher.

The

Dow Jones Industrials Average

erased most of an early 75-point gain to close a mere 10.76 points higher at 6,484.40. The broader

S&P 500

rose 3.11 points to 748.87. By comparison, the

Nasdaq Composite

gave up 7.30 points to 1,288.56, while the

Russell 2000

, which measures small-cap stocks, dipped 0.07 to 356.03.

The lackluster finish belies what was a wild day. A whopping 655.5 million shares changed hands--the second busiest day in history.

Interest rates behaved even after the government said the economy grew a revised 2.1%, slightly less than expected, in the third quarter. Bond traders were reluctant to celebrate. They were still waiting to pore over the

FOMC minutes

, released in the late afternoon, for evidence of whether a rate hike may be in the making. The yield on the long bond was little changed at 6.59%.

With just a week of trading left in 1996, those not too busy counting profits were optimistic--if cautious--about the prospects for the New Year. "1997 will be a good year but not necessarily a great one for U.S. equities," was the modest appraisal from

Goldman Sachs

stock seer

Abby Joseph Cohen

in a report this week. Her 1997 year-end targets: 815 on the S&P, and 7050 for the Dow subject to the self-preserving caveat: "These targets are given to provide direction, not precision."

Nonetheless, most sectors posted a modest rise as traders looked for pre-holiday sales. Banks, in particular, benefited from stable bond yields and a

Federal Reserve

decision allowing them greater access to investment banking. The Fed caught commercial banks under the mistletoe, giving the okay for them to collect as much as 25% of their revenue from securities underwriting and trading.

"This helps banks provide one-stop shopping in a world where consumers increasingly demand that kind of convenience," said

Robert Becker

, an analyst at

Argus Research

. Among those benefiting:

J.P. Morgan & Co.

(JPM:NYSE), up 5/8 to 98 5/8;

BankAmerica

, up 2 1/2 to 103 1/8; and

NationsBank

(NB:NYSE), up 3/8 to 98 7/8.

Coca-Cola

shareholders unwrapped an early gift from

Salomon Brothers.

The investment house raised the drink maker to buy from hold on improved earnings expectations. Coke was up 1 3/4 to 52 7/8.

Most tech stocks didn't rise with the rest of the market.

IBM

(IBM:NYSE) slipped 3 1/2 to 154 5/8 and

Compaq

fell 1 7/8 to 76 5/8.

The shining exception:

Apple Computer

(AAPL:Nasdaq), which jumped 1 1/4 to 23 1/2 on reports founder Steve Jobs will rejoin the company.

Finally, investors took the fizz out of

Redhook Ale Brewery

(HOOK:Nasdaq) on expectations that earnings will be disappointing. The company slid 4 to 9 3/4.

By Andrew Morse