The markets were searching for direction this morning, and the

Dow Jones Industrial Average hopped between positive and negative territory. Blue-chips were lately on the plus side.

Trying to keep the Dow afloat were shares of

ExxonMobil

TST Recommends

(XOM) - Get Report

,

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

, and

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

.

Market watchers say some of the recent buying on the blue-chip index may be inspired by quarter-end window dressing, as professional money managers tidy up their portfolios to post gains or clean up their list of holdings. On the heels of recent gains, some Wall Street experts are ready to call a bottom, but others think the Dow has further to fall, since there has been no catalyst for the recent rallies.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index was also skipping above and below unchanged. For the first time in almost two months, the tech index finished higher last week, but it has lately been pressured by still

more

profit warnings and a little bit of profit taking.

Vitesse Semiconductor

(VTSS)

, for example, was off 15.5% to $28.75 after it warned Monday after the close of regular trading that its second quarter revenue and earnings forecasts were perhaps a bit ambitious.

In this volatile time, economic data becomes key as investors search for tidbits about the direction of the economy. The latest reading of

Consumer confidence may help sentiment. It rose more than expected in March. This is a key announcement since both economists and the

Federal Reserve worry that weak confidence is putting intense pressure on the slowing economy. The index climbed to 117. Economists polled by

Reuters

were forecasting the index would slip to 104.2 for the month. The index plunged in February to 106.8 from 126.0 in January. It had been trending lower since July, when it was at a high of 143.

Stocks rose and then fell back after the consumer confidence data was released.

Production orders for big-ticket items, such as cars and appliances, fell more than expected in February, the government said this morning.

Durable goods orders fell 0.2% for the month, compared to economists' forecast for a 0.3% increase. But orders were stronger than in January, when they fell 7.3%, according to revised data released today. Excluding transportation, orders rose 0.5% in February. Economists expect durable goods orders to pick up in coming months, but today's report doesn't reflect that yet. A volatile indicator, the report is important to watch since the manufacturing sector has been hit by a sharp falloff in demand in recent months.

Two gauges of the retail sector were also released today, reminding investors of the trouble in this area. The BTM-UBSW Weekly Chain Store Sales Index showed that chain store sales fell for a fifth straight week. The

Redbook Retail Average, however, showed that retail sales rose 0.5% during the month through March 24 compared to February.

TranSwitch

(TXCC)

was down 18.9% to $15.38 after it joined the list of repeat offenders on the warning front, lowering its first-quarter earnings

guidance for the second time in a month.

And mobile phone makers

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

was falling 2.2% to $26.49, while

Ericsson

(ERICY)

was rising 8% to $6.34 after both

announced job cuts

early this morning. Ericsson is rising in part because it has been beaten so badly in recent weeks.