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With Data in Rearview Mirror, Dell Looks Like the Tell

The boxmaker's strong earnings should boost the Nasdaq this morning.

Stocks are going to have to find their own way this morning.

So much of the market's action lately has been about waiting for the next piece of data. That period ended yesterday with the

Consumer Price Index

. A lot of what happens today will reflect the bets investors will be making -- or not making -- ahead of next Tuesday's long-awaited



With earnings expected to be even juicier than the last quarter, a 25-basis-point hike, with no suggestion of another to come in October, could set up a serious fall rally. On the other hand, if the Fed hints of more hikes to come by adopting a tightening bias, things could get a bit ugly.

"The market definitely has a better tone" now that the inflation data have come in benign, said Jim Volk, co-director of institutional trading at

D.A. Davidson

. But with that data out of the way, "company specifics are ruling here."

Look for



to put some upward pressure on the

Nasdaq Composite Index

after last night's upside earnings report. And Net stocks should get a boost from word that

Merrill Lynch

analyst Henry Blodget has upgraded





to near-term buy from buy.

"We're leaning toward positive," Volk continued. "But the futures are down, and I think we'll see some normal profit-taking"

At 9:10 a.m. EDT, the

S&P 500

futures were down 2, 3.5 points below fair value and indicating a mixed open. The 30-year Treasury was giving back some of yesterday's gains, lately off 9/32 to 101 11/32, its yield rising to 6.028%.

In Tokyo, some early gains in the


turned tail as the yen continued to pick up ground against the dollar. Rumor has it that former Vice Finance Minister

Eisuke Sakakibara

, also known as "Mr. Yen," was endorsing a stronger yen -- as strong as 110 to the dollar -- as long as it didn't hurt domestic stock prices. Current Vice Finance Minister

Haruhiko Kuroda

declined to comment, merely telling reporters that Japan's forex policy had not changed.

The Nikkei gained 32.17 to 17,892.26. The dollar was lately just above 112 yen, a six-month low. The euro had fallen to nearly 119 yen, its weakest level since its inception this year.

Early on, the Nikkei had risen as high as 18,082.47, largely on buying inspired by a rebalancing of

Morgan Stanley Capital International's

standard index.

That's the second time in a week MSCI has moved Asian markets, having taken Hong Kong stocks lower last Friday with the news that it will lower that country's weighting in its benchmark indices. Overnight, the

Hang Seng

advanced 209.94, or 1.6%, to 12,993.10, cued by the benign CPI and New York's heartening reaction to that data.

In London, England's weakness has been the


strength so far today. The benchmark index was up 31.8 to 6198.2 as U.K. retail sales came in much weaker than expected, rising an anemic 0.1% in July. Also helping the market were the newly released minutes from the last

Bank of England

monetary policy meeting, which revealed a unanimous vote not to raise interest rates.

The other big European bourses were mixed. In Paris, the


was up 7.62 to 4487.37, while Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was 12.76 lower to 5247.15.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

Applied Materials


after the close yesterday reported third-quarter earnings of 61 cents a share, 8 cents ahead of the 29-analyst estimate.

Bonton Stores


reported a second-quarter loss of a nickel a share, in line with the three-analyst estimate.



reported a break-even second quarter, in line with the two-analyst estimate.

Consolidated Stores


reported a second-quarter loss of 4 cents a share, in line with the 14-analyst estimate.

Dell after the close yesterday reported second-quarter earnings of 19 cents a share, 2 cents ahead of the 30-analyst estimate.



last night reported fourth-quarter earnings of a penny a share, slightly better than the 21-analyst expectation that the company would break even.



reported second-quarter earnings of 11 cents a share, in line with the 18-analyst estimate.



reported second-quarter earnings of 12 cents a share, in line with the 12-analyst estimate.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures


agreed to acquire

Olsten Staffing


in a deal that calls for Olsten to split off its health services unit.



agreed to invest $50 million in


, which produces technology that makes Web sites operate more quickly. Cisco will take a roughly 4% stake in the company.



agreed to acquire

Excel Switching


for $1.7 billion in stock. Lucent will issue 0.5580 share for each Excel share, or $37 a share based on Lucent's closing price yesterday. That's a 34% premium to Excel's closing price of 27 9/16.

Food Lion


plans to acquire

Hannaford Brothers


in a deal that could be worth as much as $4 billion. Food Lion also set a 1-for-3 reverse stock split and said it would form a holding company to facilitate acquisitions.

Offerings and stock actions

NovaMed Eyecare's

(NOVA:Nasdaq) 4 million-share IPO was priced at $8 a share last night by lead underwriter

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

, below its already lowered pricing range of $9 to $11 a share. The IPO was originally scheduled for 7.1 million shares at an expected $11 to $13.

Analyst actions


cut Applied Materials to buy from strong buy.


raised Lycos to buy from neutral, and cut



to neutral from buy.

Lehman Brothers




Procter & Gamble


to its Global Recommended Portfolio.



foreign creditors, including

Chase Manhattan




, pledged not to sue the troubled South Korean


to recover $6 billion in debt owed to them. Daewoo said it will keep paying interest on the debt.