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The few investors actually playing the market this morning were shedding stocks in most sectors.


Nasdaq Composite Index slunk into the red at the open, weighted down by softwaremaker



and PC giant




The blue-chip

Dow was getting hit by software giant



diversified technology and manufacturing company



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and diversified industrial

General Electric


. And the broader

S&P 500 was lower.

Breadth on the Nasdaq was ugly, with decliners beating advancers by two-to-one, while decliners were matching advancers on the

New York Stock Exchange. But volume was measly.

Now that earnings season is petering out, and without any economic data out there this morning, investors are seriously lacking in catalysts to give them direction. Meanwhile, Wall Street's fortune tellers are becoming more confused and doubtful about their predictions of a hoped-for turnaround in the beleaguered economy. All that's being reflected in erratic and lackluster trading on Wall Street.




was the most actively traded stock on the Nasdaq for the third day in a row today. The company

announced that it missed earnings targets for the first time in three years Tuesday after the market close and gave a murky forecast for the future.

Oracle was the second most popular trade, despite a lack of news on the company and no changes to earnings on earnings tracker

First Call/Thompson Financial

. Oracle was lately off 6.9% to $25.25.

Beleaguered communications-equipment maker



was taking a beating, after the

The Wall Street Journal

reported this morning that it is being investigated by the


for possible fraudulent accounting practices. Regulators are looking at the company's booking sales procedures and software-licensing agreements. Specifically, the SEC is investigating whether Lucent improperly booked $679 million in revenue during its 2000 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The stock was off 9.8%, approaching a low hit in late December of $13.50.

But that news wasn't any huge surprise. Lucent already did its own investigation of the revenue booking and in December restated its financial results to eliminate the $679 million in revenue. And with so much bad news already priced into the stock, investors probably wonder how much further it can fall.

After five disappointing quarters, a string of high-level executive firings and a round of lower-level layoffs, the company's stock price is already down 78% from the highs of last year.

took a look at Lucent's

approach to accounting early on, and has been following Lucent's

other woes.

Boxmaker Dell was also falling after on expectations that it has plans for deep cost cuts, which could involve its first layoffs ever. The company told managers to prepare for cost cuts of 8% to 10%,

The Wall Street Journal

reported this morning. While Dell denied plans for any widespread layoffs, some employees think as many as 4,000 jobs could be cut.

has a

separate story with more details. Dell was off 5%.

And mobile-phone maker



was off 5.7% after

UBS Warburg

removed the mobile-phone giant from its list of top-10 global technology stock picks. That move helped knock down overseas markets.

The good news is that network storage systems maker

Network Appliance


was up a full 8.7% to $38.25 after its earnings report from last night.

The company reported fiscal third quarter earnings that beat estimates after the market closed Thursday. But the company's sales came in a pinch below forecasts, an uncharacteristic shortfall for a company well-positioned in one of the fastest growing technology markets. It is yet another sign that corporations aren't spending as freely on tech gear as they once were. The company's stock was trading higher in extended hours trading.'s

Tom Lepri

took a look at

what the report means for Network Appliance.

The foggy outlook may not clear until the

Federal Reserve next meets on March 20 to decide on its interest rate policy. But market-watchers will certainly be listening next week when Fed chairman

Alan Greenspan speaks to


during his semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins address.

The Fed began cutting interest rates in early January to jumpstart economic growth, and market-watchers have been expecting the cuts to help both corporate earnings and the economy turn around in the second half of this year. But that depends on the economy's ability to react to rate cuts.

After a year and a half of raising interest rates to reign in a runaway economy, the Fed cut interest rates twice last month. Those moves slashed short-term rates by a full point to 5.5%, almost an unprecedented drop in so short a time.

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Sector Watch

Despite the general rout in tech stocks, the semiconductors were stumbling higher. Financials, which have tended to move in step with the semiconductors in the past few months, were down, however. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

was up 1.5% and



was lifting 0.7% to $34.88. And specialty chipmakers






were moving higher together, up 0.2% and 0.3%.


Philadelphia Stock Exchang/KBW Bank Index

was lately down 0.04% and the

American Stock Exchange Securities Broker/Dealer Index

was dipping 1.7%.

Retailers were moving higher after a one-week slide precipitated by the Fed's most recent rate cut. Investors sold off stocks in the sector over worries that they had already had a hearty runup in anticipation of that rate cut. The

S&P Retail Index

was up 1.4%.

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Treaury prices were moving higher this morning. The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note was lately up 8/32 to 99 18/32, yielding 5.056%.

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