Skip to main content

The weekend's news that settlement talks between the Justice Department and Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report have broken down will likely send stocks tumbling this morning.

At 9:10 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures were down 4.6, nearly 5 points below fair value and indicating a negative open for the broad big-cap market.

Microsoft was lately trading at 96 3/4 on


, down from a close of 106 1/4 and ready to exert downward pressure on all the major indices. Technology stocks will be getting the worst of it; the

Nasdaq 100

futures were lately down 65.35 points, a negative indication for tech but about 40 points off the


session lows.

Market observers were taking it all in stride. "It's not something that's looming large for the market overall," Peter Coolidge, managing director of trading at

Brean Murray Foster Securities

, said of the Microsoft news. "It's more of a company-specific, and somewhat industry-specific, event."

"All in all, things don't feel too bad."

Especially in the stocks outside the tech sector. The broader market has lately managed to hold up much better than many observers expected it could just a couple weeks ago. Then, the prevailing sentiment was that the rotation into beaten-down NYSE issues was little more than an oversold twitch and that the hot money would soon return to its familiar tech haunts. Against the backdrop of that sentiment, the recently flat performance of the

TheStreet Recommends

Dow Jones Industrial Average

is far from disappointing.

Not Too Shabby
Thoughout the Nasdaq's turmoil, the Dow has bravely hung near 11,000

"It's a healthy thing anytime you can diminish the spread that has been developing between the Nasdaq and the overall market," Coolidge said.

Unfortunately, the news vacuum that exacerbated the market's volatility last week remains in force today. Corporate headlines beyond Microsoft are sparse, and earnings don't start coming in until next week.

The bond market was little changed, with the 10-year note down 2/32 to 103 19/32 and yielding 6.011%.

At 10 a.m., the

National Association of Purchasing Management

will release the

Purchasing Managers' Index

, its survey of manufacturing conditions across the country. Economists are looking for a headline PMI of 56.4 for March, a reading that would indicate expansion but would still be down from the previous month's 56.9.

The large European bourses were selling off in afternoon trade, with the biggest losses in tech. The Paris


was off 125.16, or 2%, to 6160.89, while Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was down 116.58, or 1.5%, to 7482.81. London's


had lost 63.3, or 1%, to 6476.9.

The euro was trading at $0.9574.

Asian markets moved sharply in both directions overnight.

In Tokyo, the


surged 389.67 points, or 1.9%, to 20,726.99 despite news that Japanese Prime Minister

Keizo Obuchi

had suffered a stroke. Chalk up the positive sentiment to a markedly improved


, the

Bank of Japan's

quarterly survey of corporate sentiment. The tankan's diffusion index for large manufacturers came in at negative 9, in line with market expectations and well above the negative-17 reading logged in the previous quarter.

News that Obuchi was in a coma did not surface until after the market closed.

Meanwhile, after watching the yen surge against the dollar on Friday, the BOJ reportedly intervened on behalf of the greenback, which rose to around 105.11 yen before trading migrated from Tokyo to London. The dollar was lately sitting at 105.03 yen.

Stocks got hammered in Hong Kong, where the

Hang Seng

fell below what some in the market consider an important psychological level, 17,000. Heavy selling in technology shares sent the index down 513.61, or 3.0%, to 16,892.93.

For a look at stocks in the preopen news, see Stocks to Watch, published separately.