Beckett Would Be Proud: Stock Market Is 'Waiting for Greenspan' - TheStreet

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you want to know what's happening on Wall Street these days, it's O.K. to sleep late or take a long lunch. Just make sure you tune in around 3:00 p.m. EST.

Reversing the action of the previous two trading days, stocks stumbled markedly in the final hour, taking blue-chip averages deeper into negative territory and subverting what had been a positive session for the most public face of technology.

Today, at least, traders had some excuse to pare back their exposure.

Federal Reserve

chairman

Alan Greenspan

begins his

Humphrey-Hawkins

testimony tomorrow while January's

producer price index

is released.

"All the stuff coming out tomorrow is keeping people a little bit on the sidelines," said Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst at

Prudential Securities

. "We saw most of the action this morning, everything kind of wavered down

since. But tech remains the place to be."

After a brief move to the upside, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

spent the entire session in arrears before closing down 156.68, or 1.5%, to 10,561.41.

The index was sabotaged throughout by weakness in financial components

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

and

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

, as well as retailers

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

and

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

.

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

fell 1.6% while the

S&P Retail Index

shed 4.6%. The retail sector was further damaged by

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

, which plummeted 22% after reporting disappointing same-store sales figures last night.

Tech giant

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

was the Dow's best performer. H-P rose 3.7% ahead of its earnings report. After the bell, the company posted first-quarter earnings of 80 cents a share vs. the 23-analyst estimate of 78 cents. However, late-day weakness in

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

also hampered the Dow and coincided with the

Nasdaq Composite Index's

afternoon struggles.

Once as high as 4477.64, the Comp fell below breakeven in the final hour before recovering to close up 6.88, or 0.2%, to 4427.65.

As Intel weakened,

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

surrendered decent early gains and other bellwethers such as

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

extended early losses.

The

Nasdaq 100

closed up fractionally at 3997.96 vs. its session high of 4063.58 while the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

closed off a fraction at 953.92 after trading as high as 974.73.

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

helped the Comp avoid a total reversal, rising 4.3% following

last night's better-than-expected earnings and 2-for-1 split announcement.

Other big names helping the tech-aligned index included

Ciena

(CIEN) - Get Report

and

JDS Uniphase

(JDSU)

.

The Comp was further aided today by huge gains registered by companies a notch (or two) below bellwether status and biotechs were among the standouts. For instance,

Human Genome Sciences

(HGSI)

leapt 21.5% after the company announced it had received a patent for a gene believed to be key in the development of drugs to fight AIDS. The

American Stock Exchange Biotech Index

rose 12.4%.

Another hot group was business-to-business e-commerce providers such as

PurchasePro.com

(PPRO)

, which rallied 13.1% after

Credit Suisse First Boston

initiated coverage with a strong buy recommendation.

Elsewhere,

CheckFree

(CKFR)

leapt 47.5% after agreeing to acquire rival

TransPoint

. First Boston reiterated its buy rating on CheckFree.

"There are these pockets of outperformance and a lot of momentum in those guys

but the divergence seems to be sticking," Piskorowksi said. "Either it's the cyclical story and unloved names" or technology that finds buying interest.

Traditional Internet bellwethers such as Yahoo! and

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

continued to struggle, however;

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index fell 8.77, or 0.8%, to 1126.51.

Meanwhile,

TheStreet.com New Tech 30

rose 19.16, or 2.8%, to 708.24. Unveiled Jan. 5, the TSC New Tech 30 is a market-cap-weighted index focusing on tracking the so-called hot money part of the market. A list of index components is available at

http://www.thestreet.com/newtech/.

The

S&P 500

fell 14.38, or 1%, to 1387.67 while the

Russell 2000

gained 7.52, or 1.4%, to a record 547.76 despite another session of negative breadth.

In

New York Stock Exchange

trading, 1.02 billion shares were exchanged while declining stocks led advancers 1,722 to 1,292. In

Nasdaq Stock Market

action 1.77 billion shares traded while losers led 2,164 to 2,046. New 52-week lows bested new highs 142 to 57 on the Big Board while new highs led 301 to 97 in over-the-counter trading.

Strange Days, Here We Are

"It was just a weird, sloppy day," said Jay Meagrow, vice president of trading at

McDonald

in Cleveland. "Volume was way behind until about 2:00 and then started picking up. We were working things across the spectrum but it's an unsure place. People are willing to buy more of their favorites but they're being more careful,

more choosy."

Opinions are mixed over whether Greenspan will say anything specific about stocks or interest rates tomorrow (or anything new or particularly interesting at all) and Meagrow said anticipation about the event was clearly a factor in today's action.

But more than the testimony, Meagrow said the bigger concern is whether the Federal Reserve is going to continue to raise rates at subsequent

FOMC

meetings for the foreseeable future.

"I wish they'd do a rate move that'd satisfy everyone," the trader said. "I don't know what's going to break the fund but they've got to do what they need to do. The constant talk of 'what's next' is becoming horrible."

Among other indices, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

rose 5.89, or 0.2%, to 2454.79; the

Dow Jones Utility Average

slid 1.31, or 0.4%, to 306.11; and the

American Stock Exchange Composite Index

rose 7.93, or 0.9%, to 902.25.

The price of the 30-year Treasury bond fell 6/32 to 99 27/32, its yield rising to 6.26%.

Market data above are preliminary. For coverage of today's top stocks in the news, see the Company Report, published separately

.