Around midday, the markets were looking strong and ready to make big gains.

But in the last couple of hours, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average slid up and down, but still ended trading on a high note, while the

Nasdaq Composite Index flipped into the red.

A rumor in blue-chip land weighed on the Dow.

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

took away 35 points from the index on rumors that the company will preannounce missed earnings.

ExxonMobil

(XOM) - Get Report

was the only other Dow components with 10 or more negative points.

Without those drags, the index would have soared, with help from most components. The most support was coming from

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

,

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

and

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

.

The Comp was being hurt by

National Semiconductor

(NSM)

, which yesterday warned that slowing demand may mean its second- and third-quarter earnings fall below its first-quarter results. The company got smacked with downgrades from

J.P. Morgan

and

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

. The company took the Nasdaq-stock riddled

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

, down 7.8%.

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

is one of stocks on the index.

Also, take a look at the most active stock on the Nasdaq --

marchFIRST

TheStreet Recommends

(MRCH)

. It fell 58.7% after

missing third-quarter estimates. In the past 52 weeks, investors have beaten this stock in ways that'd leave the fine folks of Salem, Mass., standing there breathless. At one point, this company, which helps Internet companies develop brands and business models, sat at $81.13, its 52-week-high. It ended today's session at $4.88.

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Sector Watch

Paper stocks were up in the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Forest & Paper Index

, which rose 7.2%. Components

Bowater

(BOW)

and

Smurfit Stone Container

(SSCC)

reported today. Bowater posted earnings of 96 cents a share, matching the 11-broker consensus but below the year-ago 98 cent profit. Smurfit Stone beat estimates by a penny, but then warned about its fourth quarter. The news pushed blue-chip

International Paper

(IP) - Get Report

up 9.7% to $32.56.

Oil stocks sunk today, with the

American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index

down 3.5% and the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index

off 3.3%.

Financials -- which include brokers, bankers and insurers -- were also doing well, with the

American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index

up 1.5%, the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

2.3% higher, and

S&P Insurance Index

up 2.7%.

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Bonds/Economy

After three days of gains, the bond market has pulled back today. Investors were less motivated to move to safe investments as recent Mideast unrest seemed to be easing.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note was down 1/32 to 100 28/32 and yielding 5.633%.

BTM Weekly U.S. Retail Chain Store Sales Index

(

definition |

chart ) fell 0.2% in the week ending Oct. 21 after a 0.5% rise in the previous period.

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