Market Set for Quiet Premillennium Session

The futures are indicating some modest strength; in Russia, Boris Yeltsin abdicates the presidency.
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The last trading day of the last week of the last month of the last year of the millennium looks like it will start off quietly.

While the South Pacific rings in the New Year seemingly without a hitch, here in the U.S., at 9:05 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures were up 1.8, a couple of points above fair value and indicating some modest strength for the open. That outlook is a bit more positive than it was an hour ago.

But don't expect much action today. After weeks of defying expectations of a holiday downturn, liquidity has finally dried up somewhat. Volume has been relatively muted this week and today will be even more muted. Both the stock and bond markets close at 1 p.m.

"I'm looking for absolutely nothing," said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at

Miller Tabak

. "People will manipulate the stocks they can manipulate."

As Boockvar suggests, the lack of liquidity could subject stocks to some exaggerated swings, particularly in the case of small stocks or stocks in the market's more volatile sectors. It doesn't take much -- a quick change in sentiment or even one large buyer -- to turn a thin market.

"Today's a crap shoot," Boockvar said.

The bond market was selling off in razor-thin trading, with the 30-year Treasury lately quoted off 12/32 to 95 19/32, putting the yield at 6.461%. No data of note are scheduled for release.

Outside the U.S., with European and Asian markets shut down for New Year's, the biggest news has come out of Russia, where President

Boris Yeltsin

announced his resignation in a televised address to the Russian people. Yeltsin abdicated his presidential powers to Prime Minister

Vladimir Putin

, and Russia's presidential election, originally scheduled for June, will be moved forward to March 26.

With characteristic melodrama, Yeltsin said: "Today, on the last day of the outgoing century, I resign ... I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes."

The

Russian Trading System Index

jumped 7% to 176.9 points, a 15-month high.

With forex markets virtually deserted overnight, the dollar is little changed against the euro and yen. The greenback was lately sitting at 102.53 yen, while the euro was hovering at $1.0075.

Friday's Wake-Up Watchlist

By

Brian Louis

and

Eileen Kinsella

Staff Reporters

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Halliburton

(HAL) - Get Report

said its

Dresser Industries

unit completed the $515 million sale of its stake in

Ingersoll Dresser Pump

to its joint venture partner,

Ingersoll-Rand

(IR) - Get Report

. Halliburton said the sale of its 49% stake in Ingersoll Dresser Pump would result in a fourth-quarter aftertax gain of about $165 million, or 37 cents a share.

Miscellany

Lockheed Martin

(LMT) - Get Report

has been awarded contracts totaling $1.6 billion to produce six test models of the F-22 fighter jet and to begin initial work on 10 planned production jets, the Air Force said.

Waste Management

(WMI)

, in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Delaware, alleged it overpaid in its $1.15 billion takeover of

Eastern Environmental Services

,

The Wall Street Journal

reported.

The Inside Wall Street column in Business Week this week, penned by Gene Marcial, offers up a bullish story on

Talk City

(TCTY)

, which money manager Kai-The Tao of

Watson Investment Partners

, which is long the stock, thinks is worth 40.

The column also includes a positive item on

Safeguard Scientifics

(SFE) - Get Report

, a holding company of Internet-related companies, which Stuart Rudick of

Rudick Asset Management

thinks is still undervalued.

Gene Logic

(GLGC)

, which is building a database of gene profiles from animal and human tissues and has been on fire since June, also garners positive mention in the column.

The Heard on the Street column in the

Journal

says some market watchers are keeping an eye on margin debt as the

Nasdaq Stock Market

continues its record rise. The use of margin debt, or borrowing to make stock-market investments, has historically been viewed as a warning sign of the level of speculation in the market. Unlike the

New York Stock Exchange

, the story says, the Nasdaq does not report margin debt levels. However, online trading firms, whose customers have had a big hand in the Nasdaq's rise, report large increases in margin debt.