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Stocks ticked higher at the bell this morning, then dipped into a shade of Valentine's red.

As recent gyrations in stock prices have shown, opening moves are often little indication of what will happen during the trading day. Even when measured against recent trading volume levels -- which have been meager, at best -- today's volume was feather light. Breadth was narrowly to the downside, meaning more stocks were falling than rising.

One trader said he expects basically flat action today. "Earnings season is over. First-quarter and second-quarter forecasts are already out. There are no catalysts. Each sector is probably going to trade on its own laurels for the better part of the next month," said Jay Meagrow, vice president of trading at



On good indication of this sideways movement was optical electronics maker

JDS Uniphase


, the most actively traded stock on the

Nasdaq. It was perky at the open, but had lately turned down. JDS last night

warned about fiscal third- and fourth-quarter earnings. It has been trashed in the past eight months, dropping from $134 in July to $38.5 yesterday. The stock was lately off 1.8%.



was still practicing its voodoo on the market. The networking bellwether has been among the most heavily traded stocks on the Nasdaq for the past six days, and today was no exception. The networking company last Tuesday warned that it saw slowing sales in its future. In reaction, investors sold it off through Friday. It began to rebound on Monday, but was lately on the downside by 1.5%.

So what's gaining today? Chip-equipment maker

Applied Materials

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was adding 4.4% after it said last night that it

beat first-quarter earnings and revenue estimates.

But it may be just as unpredictable as JDS today.

Lehman Brothers



this morning cut their earnings targets on Applied Materials.

The Dow was getting clocked hardest by consumer products giant



. Two-thirds of the index's 30 stocks were moving to the downside this morning. Off the loser list and in the winners circle:



, up 0.4%, and

United Technologies


, gaining 1%.

All the confusion comes from the lack of any catalysts to drive the market as the fourth-quarter earnings season comes to a close. Wall Street didn't get much direction from

Federal Reserve Chairman

Alan Greenspan yesterday. In his speech before the

Senate Banking Committee

, Big Al gave no conclusive signs that another aggressive move to lower interest rates was in the bag. The Fed dropped the benchmark lending target twice in January by a half-point each time, lowering it to 5.5%. Stocks moved higher during Greenspan's speech yesterday, but the gains faded to red as he left the Hill.

They're following suit this morning.

At least

business inventories looked better. Data out this morning showed that December's business inventories rose more slowly than expected, up 0.1%. This pace has not been seen since January 1999. Economists had expected the December number to show that inventories grew 0.2% for the month.

Growth in inventories during November was revised to 0.3% from 0.5%. That's a good sign for tech companies. The chip and PC businesses have been suffering from high inventory levels for months -- a signal of slow demand.

Business inventories measure the sum of inventories at each of the three stages of production: manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing. The report also includes business sales at each of the three stages of production

Stocks have seen some moves to the upside during the trading day over the past few weeks, but overall the trend is simply down. Lasting gains for tech stocks may not happen until there is a clear turnaround in the economy and earnings.

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Sector Watch

The chip sector was one of the few tech sectors with its head above water -- though barely. Gains were lead by the semiconductor equipment makers, but not all chip stocks were faring well.

J.P. Morgan

upgraded several names in this sector. The firm raised its investment ratings on Applied Materials,







ASM Lithography



Varian Semiconductor


. KLA-Tencor was up 7.4%. Novellus was gaining 4.7%. ASM was off 2.4%. Varian was up 1.8%.

Communications chip makers






were lower, while

Vitesse Semiconductor


was gaining 0.5%.

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The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note was pretty flat this morning, unchanged at 99 15/32, yielding 5.068%. Treasury prices slipped yesterday when the Fed did nothing to confirm expectations for some more aggressive interest rate cuts.

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