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Market Update: Semis Drop Nasdaq, Financials Lift Dow

<LI>J.P. Morgan, Citigroup lead financials.</LI><LI>Semis slammed after Micron's negative conference call.</LI><LI>AMAT bucking the trend.</LI>

Some hangover from yesterday's late-afternoon pullback and continuing confusion over the presidential election was keeping a lid on the market this morning. The blue-chip

Dow was fighting its way higher in thin volume, with advancers and decliners narrowly matched.

Financials were showing the most strength, however, with gains lead by

J.P. Morgan

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(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report

. Banks and brokerages have been plagued by concerns over bad loans in recent weeks and were the subject of a

swift selloff yesterday.

But the

Nasdaq Composite Index got an extra dose of negativity from

Merrill Lynch

, which managed to spoil the semiconductors' four-day winning streak and sent the tech-heavy Nasdaq spinning lower.

Citing inventory concerns, Merrill lowered its ratings on a slew of communications-chip makers to near-term accumulate from buy. That list included


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A negative conference call last night from semiconductor

Micron Technology

(MU) - Get Micron Technology, Inc. Report

and some bearish analyst calls on the stock this morning also helped slam the sector.

Prudential Securities

lowered its earnings per share view on Micron to $2.30 from $2.60 for year 2001 and to $4.60 from $5.30 for the year 2002.

Lehman Brothers

also lowered its 2001 earnings view to $2.50 from $3.50.

The communications chip-makers were all lower, led by Broadcom, PMC-Sierra and Transwitch, which were falling 7%, 9% and 7.3%, in that order. Micron was down about 2.9%. These losers were painting the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

crimson, and the measure was lately down 2.6%.

At least one semiconductor-maker was getting a lift, however. It seems investors decided they were pleased with last night's report from

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Applied Materials, Inc. Report

. While the company reported earnings above official analyst estimates by a penny, it also issued a foggy earnings outlook and didn't say much about the so-called inventory buildup.

Lehman Brothers

said in its report this morning that the shares offer "exceptional value." Lehman hasn't done any recent underwriting for this company. Merrill just couldn't smile on a semiconductor this morning, however, and cut its 12-month price target and earning per share view on the company this morning. Applied Materials was rising 0.7%.

The semiconductor sector as a whole, including Applied Materials, has taken a beating in the past few months, but had risen ahead of the company's much-anticipated earnings report.

What Next?

One observer, whose sentiments are probably shared by many on Wall Street, said the market probably won't get anywhere until there is some resolution on the elections.

"If we can get this thing resolved, we can move along. If this ends up in the courts for the next few weeks, it's going to be kind of tough. I'm having nightmares -- it's wearing a lot of portfolio managers thin," Ruffat said.

"For the most part, we'll probably tread water a little bit today," he said.

This morning, the market got another sign of economic slowdown in the October

Consumer Price Index, which came in at 8:30 a.m. The key inflation indicator came in right in line with expectations, and both the headline and core number -- minus food and energy -- hit 0.2% rises.

In September, the headline CPI jumped 0.5% and the core CPI rose 0.3%.

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Bond prices were

edging higher this morning after data was released showing the CPI rose 0.2% in October. The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note was up 2/32 to 100 11/32, yielding 5.702%.

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