Choppiness Rules the Day as Wall Street Looks to the Weekend - TheStreet

Choppiness Rules the Day as Wall Street Looks to the Weekend

Multiple uncertainties, from Kosovo to the jobs report, have traders skittish.
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On a day when the market looks like an electrocardiogram of

Nelson Rockefeller

during his last minutes on earth, there are few people around to watch it.

And who can find fault in that? With the stock market closed tomorrow and the weather holding up well, there are all kinds of compelling reasons for cutting out early. "One of my biggest traders, he came in, opened his mail, checked that his accounts were in balance and it was 'Sayonara, fellows,'" said Ned Collins, executive vice president of U.S. stocks at

Daiwa Securities America

.

Had that trader stayed at his desk, he wouldn't have found a heck of a lot to do. Volume at midday was extremely low -- just 393 million shares had changed hands on the

New York Stock Exchange

, 475 million on the

Nasdaq Stock Market

.

"We saw a flurry of activity at the open, and even that wasn't the same as the normal opening activity," said

BT Brokerage

trader Jim Benning. And since then, trading's fallen off considerably.

The lack of volume is making a choppy session choppier. After heading higher on a spate of deals more endemic of a Monday --

BP Amoco

(BPA)

with

Atlantic Richfield

(ARC) - Get Report

,

CBS

(CBS) - Get Report

with

King World Productions

(KWP)

and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

with

broadcast.com

(BCST)

-- stocks quickly turned tail. The most obvious culprit was a strong March

Purchasing Managers Index

, which, in its suggestion of a recovery in manufacturing, killed the bonds. The 30-year Treasury bond lately was off 18/32 to 94, its yield rising to 5.67%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's early

Bond Focus.)

The market recovered from that first downdraft, but has spent much of the day chopping back and forth through the flat line. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was up 11 to 9797 and the

S&P 500

was up 2 to 1288, while the

Nasdaq Composite Index

was up a stronger 16 to 2478. Small-caps were trailing, with the

Russell 2000

down a fraction to 397.

The Yahoo!-broadcast.com merger news wasn't doing much for Net stocks in general.

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index was about unchanged at 643 and

TheStreet.com E-Commerce Index

was about unchanged at 113.

Declining stocks were outpacing advancers by 1,414 to 1,374 on the NYSE and by 1,985 to 1,706 on the Nasdaq. New 52-week lows were leading new highs by 65 to 22 on the Big Board and by 110 to 53 on the Nasdaq.

Even without the adverse bond market, stocks were probably in for a day of nervousness. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the Balkans over the weekend, and tomorrow, though the stock market will be closed, the

Labor Department

will release the March

jobs report

and the bond market will open for a half day. (

TheStreet.com

previewed the jobs report in a

story today.)

"What if something crazy were to happen in Kosovo," asked Collins. "And what if the employment report Friday is crazy? I think that people are just as nervous as they could possibly be."

If anything, traders are amazed stocks have held up this well so far -- with many thinking that the last couple of hours of trading could be dangerous. "Something bizarre could definitely happen this weekend," said Benning. "That has the market sort of sitting on the edge."

Thursday's Midday Movers

By Heather Moore
Staff Reporter

As noted above, broadcast.com was climbing 9 5/8, or 8.2%, to 127 13/16 after Yahoo! agreed to buy it for $5.7 billion. Under terms of the deal, Yahoo! will issue 0.77 of a share for each broadcast.com share. Yahoo! expects to take a charge in the third quarter to cover acquisition expenses.

J.P. Morgan

upgraded Yahoo!, up 6 3/4 to 175, to buy from long-term buy and set a 12-month price target of 250 a share. Elsewhere benefiting from news of the deal were

RealNetworks

(RNWK) - Get Report

, up 14, or 11.5%, to 137, and

audiohighway.com

(AHWY)

, up 1 1/16, or 9.6%, to 12 1/8.

TheStreet.com

wrote about what the takeover would mean for Yahoo! in a story

last night.

BP Amoco confirmed it will buy Arco for $26.8 billion in stock, or 0.82 of a BP Amoco American depositary share for each Arco share. With the takeover, BP Amoco will gain entry to West Coast retail markets where Arco has a leading market share in five states and owns two refineries, BP Amoco said. The stocks weren't doing much on the news, as rumors of the deal nestled their way into the stocks last week. BPA was down 4 1/16 to 96 15/16, and Arco was up 1/16 to 73 3/16. Last night,

TSC

took a

look at what the then-potential deal might mean for

Vastar Resources

(VRI)

, off 5/16 to 47 7/16.

CBS was down 1 9/16 to 39 1/4 after agreeing to buy King World, distributor of

The Oprah Winfrey Show

,

Wheel of Fortune

,

Jeopardy!

and

Hollywood Squares

, in a stock swap valued at $2.5 billion. Shareholders of King World, up 1/8 to 30 11/16, will receive 0.81 of a CBS share for each King World share. CBS said the acquisition will be immediately accretive to cash flow.

In other news:

BioTime

(BTIM)

was up 3, or 18.8%, to 19 3/16 after receiving approval from the

Food and Drug Administration

to market its new blood plasma volume expander used to treat blood loss during surgery.

Trendwest Resorts

(TWRI)

was up 1, or 7.1%, to 15 3/16 after setting a buyback program of up to 500,000 shares.

USX-US Steel Group

(X) - Get Report

was up 1 3/8, or 5.9%, to 24 7/8 after last night saying it disposed of its 5.5 million-share stake in

RTI International Metals

(RTI)

and that it will record a first-quarter charge of $14 million due to the transaction. RTI International was off 11/16, or 6.9%, to 9 5/16.

Vencor

(VC) - Get Report

was down 5/16, or 23.8%, to 1 after last night saying its annual report to the

Securities and Exchange Commission

will be delayed because it's revaluing long-lived assets after significant operating losses in the fourth quarter and lower expectations of future operating results and cash flows.

Earnings/revenue movers

Antec

(ANTC)

was up 3, or 13.9%, to 24 5/8 after

last night saying it's comfortable with the nine-analyst estimate calling for first-quarter earnings of 13 cents a share vs. the year-ago loss of 14 cents. The company also said it completed the combination of

Arris Interactive

, its venture with

Nortel Networks

(NT)

, with Nortel's broadband technology unit.

Balance Bar

(BBAR) - Get Report

was down 2 7/8, or 30.3%, to 6 11/16 after last night warning it sees first-quarter earnings of 5 cents to 6 cents a share due to greater-than-expected seasonality in the sale of energy bars. The four-analyst outlook called for 12 cents vs. the year-ago 11 cents.

Biosite Diagnostics

(BSTE)

was down 15/16, or 9.4%, to 9 after last night saying it expects first-quarter gross margins to be within the range of 55% to 62%, which is less than expected, due to inefficiencies in production of its Triage Cardiac System. The five-analyst forecast calls for a quarter loss of 3 cents a share vs. the year-ago loss of 4 cents. The company also said it will take a $972,000 charge in the fourth quarter that just passed to cover a patent lawsuit settlement.

Documentum

(DCTM)

was down 6 7/8, or 39.6%, to 10 9/16 after saying it expects to post a "significant" first-quarter loss due to an industry slowdown in customer license sales for enterprise software applications. The nine-analyst forecast called for earnings of 14 cents a share vs. the year-ago profit of 3 cents.

Hie

(HDIE)

was down 13/16, or 19.3%, to 3 13/32 after last night saying it sees a first-quarter loss of 5 cents to 7 cents a share due to a shortfall at its health-care software business. The two-analyst view called for earnings of 2 cents vs. the year-ago loss of 2 cents.

Iona Technologies

(IONA)

was down 15 3/4, or 52.3%, to 14 3/8 after saying it sees first-quarter results as low as a loss of 3 cents a share. The five-analyst prediction called for earnings of 18 cents vs. the year-ago profit of 10 cents.

Miller Exploration

(MEXP)

was down 2 11/32, or 76.5%, to 3/4 after last night saying it will record a 1998 write-down of $35 million due to depressed commodity prices and that it's in talks about a potential recapitalization.

NovaCare

(NOV) - Get Report

was down 7/16, or 25%, to 1 5/16 after last night saying it sees its third-quarter loss coming in three times wider -- ouch! -- than the five-analyst estimate of a 9-cent loss. The company cited continued weakness in its long-term care services business, due to a decline in rehabilitation caseload at long-term facilities, and contract cancellations. NovaCare earned 20 cents in the year-ago period.

1-800 Contacts

(CTAC) - Get Report

was up 5 5/8, or 52.3%, to 16 7/16 after last night saying revenue from Internet sales will push its first-quarter results above previous estimates. The company now expects a break-even quarter or a profit. The two-analyst view called for a loss of 12 cents vs. the year-ago profit of 8 cents.

Recovery Engineering

(REIN)

was up 1 1/2, or 16%, to 10 7/8 after last night saying it expects first-quarter earnings to top the two-analyst outlook for a loss of 9 cents a share thanks to strong demand. The company lost 23 cents in the year-ago period.

Secure Computing

(SCUR)

was down 5 13/16, or 50.3%, to 5 13/16 after last night saying it expects to report a first-quarter loss of 30 cents a share because of lower revenue. The seven-analyst prediction called for earnings of 10 cents vs. the year-ago loss of 46 cents.

Silicon Graphics

(SGI)

was down 3 1/4, or 19.6%, to 13 5/16 after last night warning of a third-quarter loss 20 cents to 25 cents a share wider than the 14-analyst forecast for a loss of 7 cents. The company, which blamed transition in its principal product lines for the news, lost 36 cents in the year-ago period.