Stocks Look Unsettled Before the Open

Futures have been fluctuating in the past hour, and they're lately indicating a flattish open.
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It looks like a touch-and-go kind of morning for stocks.

At 9:07 a.m. EDT, the

S&P 500

futures were down 1.4, near fair value and indicating a flattish open.

"I think it'll be another choppy day, lacking a catalyst and/or capitulation," said Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst at

Prudential Securities

. "We'll need one or the other to create some change in this market."

It's not clear yet how willing people will be to step in and buy the dip today. But then again, yesterday's dip wasn't really a dip now, was it? The market spent one of its precious oversold bounces yesterday afternoon, when stocks fought back from a furious selloff accentuated by some technical-damage assessment from

Ralph Acampora

and rumors of a nasty unfolding of a

gold-carry trade.

While that

comeback was certainly impressive, it's not clear whether it testified to the resiliency of large-cap leadership or just some large computer buy programs. Predictably, the breadth of that "rally" was dreadful.

"Yesterday's performance was a start, but not the kind of stuff that lets you sleep well at night," said Piskorowski, who added that traders are preoccupied with worries about next week's

Federal Open Market Committee

and any negative preannouncements that may still be in the pipeline. "

Gillette

(G) - Get Report

isn't the most warm and fuzzy thing you could walk into this morning," he said.

Gillette last night told investors to expect unfavorable exchange rates and slack global demand to result in a 1% decline in third-quarter sales.

The bond market was holding steady after yesterday's full-point loss, with the 30-year Treasury up 4/32 to 100 21/32, its yield falling to 6.076%. News that

durable goods orders

increased 0.9% in August wasn't having any clear impact. That number was up from a revised 4% jump in July, confounding the 0.9% decrease predicted by economists in the

Reuters

poll. Excluding transportation, durable goods orders actually fell 0.2% in July from a revised 4.7% increase in the core rate in the previous month.

In Tokyo, it was time for traders to take some profits after yesterday's 504.64-point rise in the

Nikkei

. The benchmark index fell a modest 43.42, or 0.3%, to 17,282.28. Caution ahead of next week's

tankan

survey of business sentiment helped to keep trading thin.

The dollar continued to firm against the yen overnight despite the fact that the

Bank of Japan

left the usual 1 trillion-yen surplus in the money market for the third straight day. Possibly undermining the yen's strength somewhat and bolstering the view that the BOJ will continue to feel domestic pressure to relax its monetary policy were some comments made by a spokesman for Prime Minister

Keizo Obuchi

: "The prime minister respects the function of the Bank of Japan and the role played by its governor, but the Bank of Japan cannot be totally independent of the Japanese government."

The dollar was lately quoted at 106.79 yen.

Hong Kong stocks retread the same path their New York brethren followed yesterday. Down about 140 points with a half-hour remaining in the session, the

Hang Seng

rallied strongly to close 10.04 lower to 12,382.89.

The big European indices were solidly lower around midday. London's

FTSE

was down 24.6, or 0.4%, to 5982.6, while the Paris

CAC

was off 21.23, or 0.5% to 4522.69. Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was 28.12 lower, or 0.6%, at 5090.98.

Tuesday's Wake-Up Watchlist

By

Eileen Kinsella

Staff Reporter

Gillette warned investors that, although third-quarter earnings are in line with analysts' consensus estimates of 32 cents a share, it expects to post a 1% decline in sales, citing slow economic conditions and unfavorable exchange rates in Latin America and western Europe.

Mergers, Acquisitions and Joint Ventures

Mobil

(MOB)

has agreed to sell to

BP Amoco

(BPA)

its 30% stake in their European petrol-stations joint venture in order to win regulatory approval for its merger with

Exxon

(XON) - Get Report

. BP Amoco will pay about $1.65 billion for the stake.

Qwest Communications

(QWST)

agreed to host

Hewlett-Packard's

(HWP)

Internet software push in a three-year deal that could generate as much as $1.5 billion in revenues for Qwest.

Philips Electronics

(PHG) - Get Report

said it was considering a possible sale of a unit of its Component Division, but said there were no grounds for fears about job losses.

Earnings/Revenue Reports and Previews

AgriBioTech

(ABTX) - Get Report

said it expects a 1999 net loss of between $47 million to $51 million, or $1.15 to $1.25 a share. The company said it would delay reporting results due to restructuring and job cuts.

Conoco

(COC)

said it is on target to meet estimated 10% 1999 production growth and said it expects third-quarter earnings per share to be between 4 to 7 cents higher than the 18-analyst estimate of 33 cents a share.

Topps

(TOPP)

reported second-quarter earnings of 21 cents a share, above the single analyst-estimate of 15 cents a share and up from a year-ago 10 cents, including a pretax gain. Topps said the distribution of

Pokemon

cards added about 5 cents a share in earnings in the latest quarter.

Offerings and Stock Actions

Tarrant Apparel

(TAGS) - Get Report

said the company and its CEO Gerard Guez will buy back 2 million of the company's 15.8 million shares.

Analyst Actions

PaineWebber

raised

Sierra Pacific

(SRP)

to buy from neutral.

Miscellany

Bell Atlantic

(BEL)

filed with the

Federal Communications Commission

to provide long-distance service to New York. Approval would make Bell Atlantic the first regional Baby Bell to enter the $80 billion long-distance market since the breakup of

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

15 years ago.

Cummins Engine

(CUM)

said its CEO James Henderson will retire at the end of the year. Henderson will be succeeded by president and COO Theodore Solso, a 28-year veteran of the company.

The

United Auto Workers

and

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. The union also reached a separate tentative deal with

Delphi Automotive Systems

(DPH)

, the former GM parts unit that was spun off earlier this year.

The Heard on the Street column in the

The Wall Street Journal

takes a look at possible further prospects for

Chase

(CMB)

in the wake of its $1.35 billion acquisition of

Hambrecht & Quist

(HQ)

. The story points out a handful of securities firms whose stocks edged higher yesterday after the news, including PaineWebber,

Lehman Brothers

(LEH)

,

Raymond James Financial

(RJF) - Get Report

and

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

.