Market Takes Prelude to Fed Decision in Stride

A continuing rally in techs and a middling performance by blue-chips are the market's placeholders an hour before the big news.
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Traders and investors seem for the most part to be sloughing off today's

Fed

meeting, the way

Andy Gibb

used to blow off his scheduled shows on Broadway.

Market players right now are just watching the ticks of the clock click off as they await the results of today's

Federal Open Market Committee

get-together in Washington. The FOMC is expected -- how many times you read this phrase lately? -- to raise short-term interest rates by 25 basis points. Results of the convocation are expected around 2:15 p.m. EDT.

While many expected the session to be mostly a sleeper ahead of the results of the gathering of

Greenspan

& Chums -- and in some ways they're right -- technology stocks were enjoying some solid improvement as the semiconductor sector was becoming bloated again with gains. The

Nasdaq Composite Index

was up 34, or 1.2%, to 2753.26.

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

-- the company with the biggest market cap of them all -- was enjoying a solid session thanks to a favorable appellate court ruling.

Semiconductor stocks, which this summer have acted like Gilligan in the

Gilligan's Island

episode when he had that jet pack and was flying all over the place, were soaring. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

was up 2.5%. Positive analysts' comments have helped boost the sector. SOX component

Micron Technology

(MU) - Get Report

was sporting a chunky gain of 7.6%.

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

was up 1.2%.

Computer makers were going the

Orson Welles

route and fattening up. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Computer Box Maker Index

was up 1.5%. The

Nasdaq 100

was up 1.2%. Heavyweights in the NDX other than Mister Softee and Intel --

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

,

MCI WorldCom

(WCOM)

and

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

-- were all higher, although the gains weren't dramatic.

As for the blue-chip

Dow Jones Industrial Average

, it was up 2 to 11,301. The

S&P 500

was up 2 to 1363. The small-cap

Russell 2000

was off a fraction to 437.

Online retailer

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

was leading the

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index higher, up 3.8%. The DOT was up 6, or 1.1%, to 578.

Financials were stepping back a bit from their recent highflying ways. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

was up, but only fractionally, while the

American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index

was down 0.9%.

While major stock proxies were mixed, the majority of stocks in the market were softer.

Dan Marciano, head of trading at

First Albany

, said the market's slip was just a little correction and retracement from its recent rally.

One of the reasons for the market's rally was traders and investors pinning hopes on the conviction the Fed won't raise rates any more this year -- after today of course.

Marciano said he expects the Fed to raise rates today and that it's going to indicate a neutral stance on rates going forward. And he said he's not expecting the Fed to do anything for the rest of the year.

In the Treasury market, the 30-year bond was lately up 8/32 to 102 6/32, yielding 5.97%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's early

Bond Focus.)

Christopher Rupkey, senior financial economist at

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi

, said he expects the bond market to run up over the next two weeks thanks to pent up demand for Treasuries, a further extension of the recent rally and the fact that the August refunding is behind the market and the Fed meeting will be out of the way. Rupkey, however, sees his projected rally in the long bond yield stalling out around the 5.88%-to-5.75% level.

Market internals were poor. And, as one would expect on the day of a Fed meeting, volume was unimpressive.

On the

New York Stock Exchange

, decliners were running ahead of advancers 1,704 to 1,110 on 375 million shares. On the

Nasdaq Stock Market

, losers were leading winners 1,942 to 1,613 on 559 million shares.

On the NYSE, 66 issues had set new 52-week lows while 39 had touched new highs. On the Nasdaq, 84 issues had set new 52-week highs while new lows totaled 47.

Meanwhile, among other indices, the

Dow Jones Utility Average

was up 0.3%, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

was up 0.4% and the

American Stock Exchange Composite Index

was down 0.3%.

On the Big Board,

Time Warner

(TWX)

was most active with 10 million shares changing hands. It was down 7.1% after

Merrill Lynch

cut its earnings estimates on the media giant.

On the Nasdaq, Dell was most active with 33.3 million shares changing hands. It was up 1 3/16 to 46 7/8.

Tuesday's Midday Watchlist

By Tara Murphy
Staff Reporter

(

Earnings estimates from First Call; earnings reported on a diluted basis unless otherwise specified

.)

Net2Phone

(NTOP)

was jumping 9 3/8, or 20.1%, to 56 1/8 after it unveiled a union with

Compaq

(CPQ)

to provide Internet telephony services to new Compaq Presario customers in certain countries. According to the deal, a button on the Presario keyboard would link Net users to a Compaq and Net2Phone joint Web site that includes free computer-to- telephone software, downloading instructions and Net2Phones rates. Compaq has started distributing the keyboards in Canada, Latin America, Japan and Asia-Pacific. Shares of Compaq were off 1/4 to 23 13/16.

Separately, Net2Phone appointed former

Bloomberg New Media

General Manager Jonathan Fram as its president. Earlier today,

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown

started coverage of Net2Phone at buy.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Cyprus Amax Minerals

(CYM)

is facing pressure from shareholders to break ranks with

Asarco

(AR) - Get Report

on their pending get-together in light of

Phelps Dodge's

(PD) - Get Report

unsolicited bids to acquire Cyprus and Asarco for $2.7 billion in stock,

The Wall Street Journal

reported, citing people familiar with the situation. Shares of Cyprus were up slightly to 17 7/8, while Asarco was off 1/8 to 22 3/8. Phelps Dodge shares were off 1/8 to 59 15/16.

Gentner Communications

(GTNR)

was up 9/16, or 9.3%, to 6 5/8 after it set a strategic partnership under which

NextLink Communications

(NXLK)

will distribute Gentner's conference-calling services to its long-distance customers in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. NextLink shares were hopping 2 3/8 to 95.

Nortel Networks

(NT)

was down 3/4 to 42 7/8 after it said it plans to buy

Periphonics

(PERI) - Get Report

for an estimated $436 million in stock. Shares of Periphonics were climbing 2 3/16, or 8.7%, to 27 7/16.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

Brown Shoes

(BWS)

was up 3/8 to 17 1/4 after it posted second-quarter earnings of 58 cents a share, beating both the single-analyst estimate of 54 cents and the year-ago 24 cents.

Cole

(CNJ)

was down 1/16 to 8 after it reported second-quarter earnings of 27 cents a share, beating the two-analyst estimate of 25 cents but down from the year-ago 64 cents.

Just For Feet

(FEET)

was off 9/16, or 10.4%, to 4 13/16 after it reported a second-quarter loss of 83 cents, falling short of the five-analyst estimate of a 73 cent loss and the year-ago 25 cents gain.

Perry Ellis International

(PERY) - Get Report

was up 3/4, or 6.2%, to 13 5/16 after it posted second-quarter earnings of 23 cents a share, ahead of the two-analyst estimate of 17 cents and up from the year-ago 15 cents.

Regis

(RGIS)

was up 1/2 to 19 15/16 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 32 cents a share, which excludes nonrecurring items, in line with the six-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 27 cents.

Smithfield Foods

(SFDS)

was down 15/16 to 28 5/8 after it posted first-quarter earnings of 15 cents a share, missing the three-analyst estimate of 18 cents but up from the year-ago 14 cent-loss.

Offerings and stock actions

Siebel Systems

(SEBL)

was soaring 5 1/8, or 8.3%, to 66 7/8 after its board approved a 2-for-1 stock split.

Analyst actions

Apache

(APA) - Get Report

was up 3/8 to 45 1/16 after

ING Barings

upped its rating on the shares to a buy from a hold and set a new price target of $51 to $53.

Biopure

(BPUR)

was off 3/16 to 7 15/16 despite

J.P. Morgan

starting coverage of the stock with a buy rating.

Creo Products

(CREO)

was up 1/8 to 20 1/4 after Merrill Lynch initiated coverage of the stock with a near-term accumulate and a long-term buy.

Duke Energy

(DUK) - Get Report

was up 19/16 to 57 3/16 after

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

upgraded the stock to a strong buy from outperform.

Dycom

(DY) - Get Report

was advancing 3 3/8, or 8.6%, to 42 1/2 after

Banc of America Securities

upped its rating to strong buy from buy.

Finishline

(FINL)

was off 15/16, or 8.9%, to 9 9/16 after Banc of America analyst Susan Silverstein cut her rating on the stock to a market perform from a buy.

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

was down 11/16 to 41 1/16 after Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown cut the stock to market perform from buy.

IMC Global

(IGL)

was down 7/16 to 18 1/4 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter downgraded it to neutral from outperform.

N2H2

(NTWO)

was unchanged at 11 after

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

initiated coverage of the stock with a strong buy and a price target of 20.

NetIQ

(NTIQ)

was increasing 2, or 8.5%, to 25 1/2 after

Credit Suisse First Boston

initiated coverage of the stock with a buy rating and put a price target of 29 on the stock.

ING Barings gave

Ocean Energy

(OEI)

a boost, raising its rating to a buy from a hold. Despite the upgrade, shares of Ocean Energy were off 1/2 to 11 at the midday.

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

was climbing 2 1/16 to 100 5/16 after

PaineWebber

upgraded it to attractive from neutral.

Robert Mondavi

(MOND)

was off 1 to 37 1/4 after Banc of America lowered its rating on the shares to market performer from buy.

Strategic Diagnostics

(SDIX)

was up 7/8, or 17.9%, to 5 13/16 after Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown started coverage with an initial buy rating.

Salton

(SFP)

was popping 2 1/4, or 7.5%, to 32 3/16 after PaineWebber initiated coverage of the stock with a buy rating.

Time Warner was falling 4 5/8, or 6.9%, to 61 9/16 after Merrill Lynch slashed its 1999 earnings estimates to 35 cents a share from 48 cents and its 2000 view to 80 cents from 82 cents.

Transocean Offshore

(RIG) - Get Report

was off 1/16 to 34 3/4 after ING raised its rating on the shares to a strong buy from a buy.

Triangle Bancorp

(TGL)

was down 1/8 to 21 3/8 after

Wachovia Securities

upped it's the stocks rating to a strong buy form a long-term buy. Yesterday,

Centura Banks

(CBC)

said it plans to acquire Triangle for $608.4 million in stock. Centura shares were down 3/8 to 49 1/2.

Westvaco

(W) - Get Report

was up 1 to 30 3/4 after Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown initiated coverage of the stock with a strong buy rating.

Miscellany

Verio

(VRIO)

said it would extend its marketing agreement with

America Online

(AOL)

Europe

to include a subscription-free British service by AOL unit Netscape. The pact calls for Verio to advertise its e-commerce features, which include Web site set-up and maintenance on the free Netscape service. The latest deal expansion increases the companies established relationship involving ventures in the United States and the AOL UK and CompuServe UK units. Shares of Verio were hopping 2 3/4, or 7%, to 39 3/4, while AOL was up 1 5/16 or 100 3/8.

BioCryst

(BCRX) - Get Report

was jumping 3 1/2, or 15.3%, to 26 3/8 after it said its new flu remedy is both safe and effective, reducing the Influenza A virus in patients tested in preliminary Phase II trials.

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

is developing the flu fighting neuraminidase inhibitor. If approved, BioCryst stands to reap undisclosed future royalties on the drug's sales.

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

was up 15/16 to 125 1/8 after the online auctioneer responded to protests by reduced a new fee and suspended plans to change bidding policies for some items, the

Journal

reported.

SBC Communications

(SBC)

was unchanged at 51 after it announced plans to launch telephone-service "bundles," aiming to compete with similar packages planned by

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

, the

Journal

reported.

Graphics computer maker

SGI's

(SGI)

was sliding 1 3/8, or 11%, to 11 1/16 after acting CEO Richard Belluzzo resigned to accept a position at another company.

TheStreet.com

wrote about the situation in a story

last night.

Waste Management

(WMI)

was off 7/16 to 23 after the company named Donald R. Chappel CFO.