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TheStreet Open House

Market Update: Biotechs Join Tech Losers for Lunch

Stocks opened mixed this morning, with investors shedding tech stocks in favor of blue-chips following a dour analyst note on EMC (EMC) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW). But volume was very subdued, with plenty of trading desks still empty after the long holiday weekend.

The Nasdaq was lately losing about 52 points, or 2.3%, while the blue-chip Dow was rising just 20 points, or 0.2%. Traditional defensive sectors like tobacco, drug stocks, energy and paper were up, while chip stocks and brokerages were the weakest sectors today. Investors pulling cash from tech stocks often rotate their money into defensive areas, as these sectors tend to be more immune to downshifts in economic growth than technology."

Major Indices
INDEX CHANGE % VALUE
Dow 23.17 0.21% 11,028.54
S&P 500 6.62 -0.52% 1271.27
Nasdaq 51.77 -2.30% 2199.26
Russell 2000 2.89 -0.57% 505.73
TSC Internet 13.53 -4.64% 277.98
NOTE CHANGE PRICE YIELD
10-Year Treasury 4/32 96 12/32 5.485%
Market data as of: 11:59 AM ET, Tue May 29 2001




"It's going to be quiet today," said Michael Driscoll, director of listed trading at Credit Suisse First Boston. "Plenty of people are still away the day after a three-day weekend. I don't think we're going much lower today."

Goldman Sachs this morning dropped its earnings estimates on data-storage king EMC and computer-hardware company Sun Microsystems, saying it expects the two to have "trouble meeting forecasts" due to U.S. economic weakness, slowing in Europe and Asia and "fierce pricing." Goldman's note comes just ahead of second-quarter confession season, when companies warn investors if they expect to miss performance targets. Sun was lately off 8.7% to $18.70 -- and the second most-actively traded stocks on the Nasdaq. EMC was shedding 7.6% to $34.30.

Following the Goldman note, EMC said this morning that it plans to cut 1,100 jobs, or 4% of its workforce, in an effort to reach its 2001 revenue growth targets of 20% or more. The job cuts will be implemented over the next several weeks.

Earlier one of the few tech stocks on the rise, telecom-equipment maker Nortel (NT) was lately falling. It was boosted earlier after Lehman Brothers raised its 12-month price target on the company to $20 from $17. Nortel lately was down 0.4% to $14.55.

With first-quarter earnings season a done deal, and with the Federal Reserve's fifth interest-rate cut this year in the rearview mirror, confession season is the biggest event on the near-term horizon. Investors may worry that Goldman's note is a harbinger of what's to come when confession season gets started around the second week of June. Meanwhile, there is little to give rudder to the stock market. Last week, investors took profits on blue-chips and pushed tech stocks higher. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.6% and the S&P 500 shed 1.1%, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 2.4%.

Biotech stocks were falling after market research house Prudential downgraded five sector names and upgraded one. Prudential, which today pared back the number of ratings it uses to three, downgraded Ista Pharmaceuticals (ISTA), ViroLogic (VLGC) and Corvas International (CVAS), among others, to hold from strong buy. Ista was falling 3.5%, ViroLogic was off 12% and Corvas was down 3.3%. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index was still a bit up, though, higher by 0.3%.

Shares of oil mammoth Conoco were slipping this morning following news that the company had agreed to acquire Gulf Canada (GOU) for $4.33 billion plus about $2 billion of debt assumption. The deal would boost Conoco's energy production and reserves in North America and Southeast Asia. Conoco was up 0.3% to $31.56, while Gulf Canada was up more than 33% to $7.90.

British mobile-phone company Vodafone (VOD) was dragging so far today, down 4.1% to $26.72, despite an encouraging earnings report released this morning. The company issued earnings at the upper end of expectations and said it expects margins to improve slightly this year. France's Alcatel (ALA) was also in the red, down 7.1% to $26.12, following news that it and Lucent (LU) are getting closer to tying the knot. Lucent was down 11.9% to $8.28. Under the potential deal, which would exclude Lucent's 58% stake in Agere , the French telecom giant would acquire Lucent for about $23.5 billion in stock. Agere was also having a tough time of it today; the stock was down 10.1% to $7.22.

The market was unfazed by the release of some relatively benign data this morning. Personal income rose 0.3% in April, down from March's 0.5%, and just above the 0.2% that was expected. Personal consumption grew 0.4%, right in line with expectations. The Consumer Confidence Index rebounded slightly in May, rising to 115.5 from 109.9 in April. The index, which measures consumer attitudes about the economy, hit a 4 1/2 year low of 109.2 in February. A mainstay of the U.S. economy, consumer spending has held up relatively well throughout the recent slowdown.

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