Market Update: Nasdaq Sinks Under Weight of Semiconductors - TheStreet

Despite some disastrous downgrades on some semiconductor names this morning, the major indices wriggled into the green shortly after the open -- but the

Nasdaq Composite Index slid down, unable to resist the weight of semiconductors. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average, though, was still up.

Semiconductor stocks were a tangled mess after

Salomon Smith Barney

and

Lehman Brothers

downgraded semiconductor-equipment makers

Altera

(ALTR) - Get Report

and

Xilinx

(XLNX) - Get Report

.

Salomon said it downgraded the stocks because of a continued deterioration in the market for general-purpose semiconductor chips. Lehman said that, while it expects both companies to report better-than-expected EPS from revenue growth, it predicts that revenue growth for the next two quarters is likely to slow noticeably as inventory levels rebalance.

Altera was lately down 27.7% to $29.56; Xilinx was lower by 27.2% to $57.63.

Other sector names were suffering, including

KLA-Tencor

(KLAC) - Get Report

, down 10.4% to $32.13, and

Lattice Semiconductor

(LSCC) - Get Report

, down 11% to $42.63.

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

was down 9.9% to 708.1. Bellwether

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, however, was inching upward after a month of free fall during which its market capitalization was cut almost in half.

But it's a very mixed market and it's hard to say where stocks will end the day.

After over a month of slogging lower through the nastiest earnings

preannouncement season in a

long

time, today kicks off

earnings season, with Internet bellwether

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

and telecom and electronics firm

Motorola

(MOT)

scheduled to report after the close today. Yahoo! was lately rising, while Motorola was unchanged.

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

was one of the NYSE's heroes after the European Union said it had approved the automaker's plans to buy diesel-engine manufacturer

Detroit Diesel

(DDC)

.

"There's a reason why investors are going to hold tight and sit tight. They're not going to make any strong commitments, because you've got earnings from Motorola and Yahoo! after the close and a rise in oil prices," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at

First Albany

.

Other companies scheduled to report earnings today include

Biogen

(BGEN)

, a biopharmaceutical company that makes health care products, and forestry products firm

International Paper

(IP) - Get Report

.

A few companies that warned of earnings warnings last night, such as

Central Parking

(CPC)

and

Silicon Graphics

(SGI)

, were catching hell from investors. Central Parking was down 8.7% to $17.75, and Silicon Graphics was down 6.5% to $3.63.

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Sector Watch

Brokerage stocks were seeing a third day of weakness after getting badly hit Friday by concerns of margin calls and chatter over rumored losses on junk-bond trading. Investors are worried that trading-related losses will hurt the revenues of the big brokerages.

TheStreet.com

wrote about one brokerage's

denial of the rumors as well as a

preview of financial services sector earnings. The

American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index

was 1.4% lower to 593.5.

Banks and insurance comapnies were also weaker. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Index

was down 2.6% to 835.2 and the

S&P Insurance Index

was off 0.2% to 755.2.

Oil and gas stocks were once again flying on oil prices rising. The

American Stock Exchange Oil & Gas Index

was up 2.7% to 545.1, while the

American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index

was 3.97% higher to 231.3.

Cold weather and escalating tensions pushed oil prices about 65 cents higher overnight. U.S. oil reserves are already at a 24-year low, and a number of refineries are reducing their capacity this month for maintenance. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's decision last night to lift his suspension of peace talks should give oil fears some respite. Barak is giving Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat another chance to quash rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before imposing sanctions.

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Bonds/Economy

Bond prices were under pressure as oil was trading at a two-week high in response to Middle East strife and falling temperatures. Rising oil prices alarm bond investors because they threaten to lift the overall inflation rate. There are no major economic releases today.

Investors in

Treasury Securities are also concerned about a possible onslaught of new corporate bonds, which compete with Treasuries for investor dollars.

Unilever

(UN) - Get Report

,

Telecom Italia

(TI)

,

France Telecom

(FTE)

and

British Telecom

(BTY)

are all expected to float multi-billion dollar bonds before the end of the year. The Unilever deal is expected by the end of next week. The timing of the rest is uncertain, but they are considered likely to come this month.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note lately was down 4/32 to 99 11/32, lifting its yield to 5.837

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