You know it's a dull day in the markets when normally brutish traders on the floor of the

New York Stock Exchange

start caroling in the middle of the trading day.

Actually, caroling on Christmas Eve is an NYSE tradition stretching back to the 1920s--and it, like that other great pre-holiday tradition, light volume and a slight upturn, were upheld to the letter today. The major indices ambled gently upwards in the absence of major news: The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

climbed 33.83 to 6522.85 on volume of 152 million shares, and the

Nasdaq Composite

rose 8.11 to 1287.61. The

S&P 500

moved up 4.08 to 751.03, while the

Russell 2000

index of small-cap issues stayed rock-steady, twitching up .45 to 355.87.

Traders on the Big Board seemed to struggle for reasons for even this anemic level of activity. Among today's most active NYSE stocks were

AT&T

(T:NYSE),

Motorola

(MOT:NYSE), and

American Express

(AXP:NYSE). Motorola's 1 1/2 point climb to 60 3/8 was precipitated by

Lehman Brothers

analyst Todd Koffman's naming the company his "best idea" for 1997.

AT&T gained 1 1/2 to 41 3/8, apparently as a result of today's

Wall Street Journal

profile of its new president, former printer John Walter. The Street's relief that Walter was doing something--anything--appeared to overwhelm the fact that the article occasionally portrayed Walter in a somewhat unflattering light, prone to impetuous action and episodic crying.

And American Express's 4.8% climb, from 2 3/4 to 59 5/8, seems to have been driven by a rumor, first reported on

CNBC

, that the company was collecting analysts' home phone numbers, not to favor them with holiday greetings from Harvey Golub but in anticipation of a major announcement.

CNBC

did note that no analyst they spoke with confirmed the rumor.

Other NYSE movers included

Compaq

(CPQ:NYSE), up 2 1/8 to 74 3/4 participating in a general rally among PC manufacturers;

Philip Morris

(MO:NYSE), up 112 1/8 to 114 1/2 as big-caps remained in favor; and

KCS Energy

(KCS:NYSE), soaring from 27 3/4 to 37 5/8 on news of the conclusion of its litigation with

Tennessee Gas

.

FAC Realty Trust

(FAC:NYSE) dropped 10%, falling 3/4 to 6 3/4 on news of a management change.

As usual, the Nasdaq provided the bulk of the day's limited store of excitement, even though its usual monopoly on silliness was broken. Among the day's big Nasdaq gainers was Year-2000-software-play

Zitel

(ZITL:Nasdaq). Its stock bounced around maniacally over the course of the day, at one point up as many as 4 1/2 points, before closing up 1 7/8 at 47 5/16. The wild ride was attributed to simultaneous rumors of a short squeeze and a potential investment by hedge fund czar and marijuana-legalization advocate

George Soros

.

Fears of ice melting in Florida's tropical climate did not stop shares of the

Florida Panthers

(PUCK:Nasdaq) IPO from gaining 35% on their first day of trading; they closed at 17.

WorldCom

(WCOM:Nasdaq), the telecommunications service company, climbed 5/8 to 24 on exceptionally heavy volume, following a bullish report from

Salomon Brothers

and persistent though ambiguous takeover rumors.

Dell

(DELL:Nasdaq) rose 2 3/8 to 54 along with the other box makers, and

La Jolla Pharmaceuticals

(LJPC:Nasdaq) climbed nearly 34%, up 1 7/16 to 5 3/4 as news of progress in development of its lupus drug spread.

All was not healthy in the world of development-stage pharmaceutical companies.

Matrix Pharmaceuticals

(MATX:Nasdaq) plummeted 2 1/2 to 6 1/8 after receiving an FDA letter identifying problems in the approval process for their new drug for genital warts. Other Nasdaq disappointments included

Dayrunner

(DAYR:Nasdaq). It preannounced disappointing second-quarter results, sending its shares down 4 5/8 to 19 1/4. The preannouncement parade also hit

Digi International

(DGII:Nasdaq), whose announcement of waning earnings sent its shares into a tailspin, down 3 3/4 to 8 7/8. And

TRO Learning

(TUTR:Nasdaq) found itself in a similar predicament; its preannouncement of disappointing fourth quarter results sent its stock down 6 3/4 to 10 1/2.

While rumors of singing at Nasdaq desks around the country may have been exaggerated, all is now quiet on Wall Street--Quotrons dark, phones silent, tickers shut down. Break out the wassail!

By Ravi Desai