Stocks Still Chilling Along with the Champagne

Big-cap stocks take a well-deserved rest.
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The upbeat final session of 1998 is wearing a downcast face, with the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

and the

S&P 500

on the downside even as market breadth remains positive.

The Dow briefly broke through break-even on either side of 10 a.m. EST, peaking with a rise of 13.13 to 9287.77, but it's spent most of the day under water. The blue-chip measure lately was off 20 to 9255, with

McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

and

United Technologies

among the larger drags.

The S&P 500, getting ready to welcome

America Online

(AOL)

this evening as it kicks poor

Venator

(Z) - Get Report

to the curb, was flat at 1232.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index

was up 11 to 2178, but it wasn't getting a boost from its largest components, for a change.

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

and

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

all were lower. Instead, the Nasdaq's smaller fry were piloting the big boat. The small-cap

Russell 2000

was the best performing major index, up 4 to 416, but it remains down about 5% for the year.

The market's internals bear out the small-cap outperformance.

New York Stock Exchange

advancers were leading decliners 1,930 to 957 on light volume of 306 million shares, with 95 new 52-week highs ahead of 22 new lows. On the

Nasdaq Stock Market

, 2,279 winners were outpacing 1,734 losers on 459 million shares. New highs were leading new lows by 97 to 63.

The startling Internet sector continues to retrench, with

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index off 4 to 402.

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

and

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

were on the plus side, but AOL has traded down ahead of a likely pop later, when index funds snap it up.

Onsale

(ONSL)

,

BroadVision

(BVSN) - Get Report

and

Infoseek

(SEEK)

were among the larger losers.

The bond market was selling off ahead of its early 2 p.m. close, spurred lower in part by a surprisingly strong weekly jobless claims report. The benchmark 30-year Treasury was down 2/32 to 102 12/32, its yield 5.09%.

"There don't seem to be any surprises," said Ken Ducey, director of trading at

BT Brokerage

. "You had the market down a little bit yesterday, market down a little bit today. Nothing dramatic. They'll probably firm 'em up a little toward the end of the day to give everybody a happy New Year."

Ducey said he expects to see liquidity dry up as the afternoon wears on, which could make the thinly traded market a playground for traders trying to game illiquid issues. Still, Ducey doesn't expect to see much of that.

"If any programs come in it'll move the market dramatically," he said. "But other than that, the only people who are in the market today are day traders, and they're probably trying to unwind positions. Everybody's going to be looking toward the 4 o'clock bell more than anything else."

Thursday's Midday Movers

By Aaron L. Task
Senior Writer

We've had the "we're going on the Internet, buy our stock!" moves and even "we're thinking about launching a Web site, buy our stock!" gains for certain stocks. Today launches a new level in the Internet house of cards (Jan, watch that bracelet!).

Geerlings & Wade

(GEER)

was up 1 13/16, or 25%, to 9 1/16 after announcing it will make improvements to its existing Web site. Folks, we can't make this stuff up.

Still, some other recent Internet darlings were suffering again this morning.

SkyMall

(SKYM)

was down 7, or 25%, to 21 on word CEO Robert Worsley has doubled his equity stake to 4.6 million shares, giving him 54% of the company's outstanding shares. To complete the deal, Worsley sold 675,000 shares, then used the proceeds to exercise options to buy out co-founder Alan Ashton and buy shares from other large holders, including half of investor Bert Getz' stake.

Among other e-commerce and would-be e-commerce names,

Active Apparel Group

(AAGP)

was down 3 1/8, or 26.6%, to 8 11/16;

Genesis Direct

(GEND)

was off 2 1/16, or 21%, to 7 3/4; and

G-III Apparel

(GIII) - Get Report

was down 1 1/16, or 22.1%, to 3 7/8.

On the sunny side of the Internet street,

Lycos

(LCOS)

was up 1 3/8 to 54 43/64 on word it signed a deal to sponsor the

National Football League's

Super Bowl site.

Earnings movers

American Coin Merchandising

(AMCN)

was down 2 11/16, or 31.4%, to 6 after saying its fourth-quarter earnings will be "markedly lower" than those of the third quarter and the prior fourth quarter. The two-analyst consensus called for fourth-quarter earnings of 18 cents a share vs. 14 cents in the third quarter and 26 cents a year ago.

Eagle Geophysical

(EGEO)

was down 3/8, or 10.7%, to 3 3/16 after warning last night it expects to report a fourth-quarter loss of 13 cents to 16 cents a share, missing the eight-analyst estimate of a 5-cent profit and reversing the year-ago profit of 14 cents. The company cited reduced spending for seismic services among its oil and gas customers.

Electromagnetic Sciences

(ELMG)

was down 3 5/16, or 20.5%, to 12 13/16 after last night's warning it expects to report "near break-even" fourth-quarter earnings, missing the two-analyst First Call profit estimate of 31 cents a share and the year-earlier 27 cents. The company cited order delays.

In other news:

Amoco

(AN) - Get Report

was up 1 1/16 to 55 13/16 and

British Petroleum

(BP) - Get Report

was up 1 5/16 to 84 1/2 on news the U.S. approved their merger. Both names fell sharply yesterday.

AT&T was down 1 3/8 to 75 7/16 and

Tele-Communications

(TCOMA)

was off 1/2 to 54 1/2 after the

Justice Department

approved their merger. As a condition of approval, TCI must unload its roughly 23.5% stake in

Sprint's

(FON)

Sprint PCS

(PCS)

wireless venture. Sprint was recently down 1 1/2 to 82 9/16, while Sprint PCS was up 1 3/8, or 6.5%, to 22 5/8.

BankAmerica

(BAC) - Get Report

was down 1 3/4 to 59 15/16 after

The Wall Street Journal reported the company could post a loss in the fourth quarter totaling as much as $190 million from its trading relationship with

D.E. Shaw

. Also, BankAmerica next week plans to disclose how many executives chose to take advantage of severance benefits triggered by the merger of the old BankAmerica and

NationsBank

, the newspaper said.

First Banks America

(FBA)

was up 2 3/4, or 16.4%, to 19 9/16 after its majority shareholder,

First Banks Inc.

, said it will commence a Dutch auction tender offer for up to 400,000 shares, beginning Monday.