The major indices were dusting themselves off after a brief roll in the red earlier in the session.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average and the

Nasdaq Composite Index lately were making healthy gains.

In recent trading, the Dow didn't have any big leaders taking charge, but had minor pockets of strength coming from a couple of different industries.

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

was one of the blue-chip index's bigger supporters after yesterday's earnings announcement that was in line with estimates, but was tempered with a warning that 2001 earnings would be at the low end of its current growth range. The stock lately was recovering some of what it lost in Monday's action and was up 3.6% to $46.63.

The other pockets of strength came from aircraft manufacturer

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

, chipmaking giant

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

and Post-It note and Scotch tape maker

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

.

Today's drag of the day for the index was pharmaceutical

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

, which posted

fourth-quarter earnings in line with estimates, but

Merrill Lynch

came out and cut earnings forecasts and slashed its rating to accumulate from buy, saying Merck couldn't sustain the outperformance of the last two quarters. The stock lately was dropping 2.9% to $79.94.

Its drugmaking cohort

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

was sliding 1.3% to $93.13, even though it

reported earnings that were a penny better than expected.

Elsewhere, the

New York Stock Exchange's most actively traded stock was

Texas Instruments

(TXN) - Get Report

, which in a post-close announcement yesterday, announced earnings that

missed estimates by 2 cents. The stock lately was down 7.2% to $45.06.

On the Nasdaq, the star of the day has been

Openwave

(OPWV)

, a communications software provider, which was 17.4% higher to $62.50 after it posted a quarterly operating profit ahead of schedule and lifted its forecasts for this year's earnings. Openwave was formed through the merger of Phone.com and Software.com. It was rewarded with a stream of analyst notes raising its estimates.

Also, grabbing some of the positive investor attention was

Vitesse Semiconductor

(VTSS)

, climbing 12.1% to $75.50, after it reported better-than-expected earnings, despite a slowdown in orders from some large customers.

Although volume was fairly active today, direction is definitely missing. Many are sitting on the sidelines or making small moves, waiting to see what comes out of the

Federal Open Market Committee meeting Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. Although the overwhelming feeling on the Street is the Fed's going to raise rates by another 50 basis points.

Sector Watch

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Computer Box Maker Index

was up 0.9% after it suffered yesterday under the weight of

Dell's

(DELL) - Get Report

warning that it would miss fourth-quarter estimates. Dell's news hit its fellow components harder than its own stock. Dell lately was moving up 4.7% to $26.69.

Energy stocks were bouncing today. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index

was rising 2.5%. The

American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index

was up 3% and the

American Stock Exchange Oil & Gas Index

was inching up 0.8%.

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Bonds/Economy

Treasuries have moved sharply lower this afternoon apparently in reaction to a story written by Fed-watcher Steven Beckner in

Market News International

. The article questions whether the Fed will actually move by 50 basis points at its next FOMC meeting or will instead ease rates by just 25 basis points.

The markets will have more to react to in a couple of days when employment data and the latest comments by

Federal Reserve chairman

Alan Greenspan become public. Bond prices were also lifted a bit after the Bank of Canada lowered interest rates by 25 basis points. The yield curve remains steep, with the difference between the two-year note and the long bond yields about 0.8%.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note lately was down 13/32 to 103 15/32, lowering its yield to 5.281%.

In economic news, the

BTM-UBSW Weekly Chain Store Sales Index

(

definition |

chart ) fell 0.7% in the week ending Jan. 20, after a 0.3% drop in the prior period. The loss is attributed to adverse weather on Saturday, considered the week's strongest shopping day, as well as to people staying home to watch the presidential inauguration. The year-to-year sales average is healthier with a 3.1% growth, though it is lower than the 4.9% recorded 12 months ago.

The

Redbook Retail Average

(

definition |

chart ) found January sales running 2.4% ahead of December, narrowly exceeding a target of 2.3%. They were also 3.4% ahead of the previous January. However, this is the month when stores clear inventories, so most of the current sales will probably result in low profit margins. A more accurate reading of consumer spending will be obtained by the second quarter of this year, after the proposed tax cuts, interest rate corrections and rounds of mortgage refinancing have been completed.

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