Tech Stocks Lagging Behind

Investors warily eye reports from Dell and BEA Systems.
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Updated from 12:14 p.m. EDT

Stocks were mixed Friday, but showing signs of another afternoon rebound, after investors greeted news from

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and

BEA Systems

(BEAS)

with skepticism and puzzled over the latest data on inflationary trends in consumer prices.

The

Nasdaq Composite

led declines, dropping 18 points, or 0.9%, to 1908. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was up 4 points to 10,015, and the

S&P 500

had risen a fraction to 1097. The 10-year Treasury note traded up 19/32 to yield 4.78%, while the dollar remained higher against the yen and euro.

Overseas stocks were broadly lower, with London's FTSE 100 down 0.3% to 4442 and Germany's Xetra DAX off 0.6% to 3803. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2% to 10,850, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.1% to 11,279.

Dell was down over 3% as investors couldn't muster any enthusiasm for its first quarter, in which earnings jumped 22% and revenue beat estimates. Dell's stock is one of the few major technology shares still in the green for 2004, so the computer maker's inability to beat estimates on the bottom line or significantly raise guidance was treated harshly.

Also, BEA Systems tumbled 20.3% despite having posted a 3.6% jump in profits after Thursday's closing bell. Investors were troubled by a decline in software sales, and a host of analysts cut their ratings on the business software maker Friday morning.

"These are two strong players, and now both of them are missing and lowering guidance," said Richard Williams, equity strategist at Garban Institutional Equities. "This was the quarter that we were supposed to see the big IT spending boom, and it really starts getting to the point where you have to ask, where is this tech boom? The government has shown us great numbers, but we haven't seen evidence of it when you look at all the big companies."

"If they're not growing meaningfully, something is wrong," he added. "And if you take the currency factor out of their most recent reports, you see that they're only growing in low single digits."

On the economic front, the consumer price index posted its lowest reading in four months, rising 0.2% in April. That data could temper the recent concerns in the market about inflation, but excluding food and energy prices, the core index came in higher, at 0.3%. Paul Mendelsohn, chief market strategist at Windham Financial, said he expected the core CPI reading to come in where it did, but he was baffled by the fact that it was higher than the overall reading given the recent uptick in gasoline prices.

"I think people, like myself, are just going to scratch their heads and say this doesn't make any sense, and I would suspect the figure will either be revised next month, or the next month is going to make up for the higher gas and energy prices that are not flowing through to this report," he said. "The market is looking six to eight months forward as it always does, and I'm not sure it likes what it sees out there."

"Given where we are on gasoline inventories at this point in time, I'm really concerned as to whether we have enough to get through the summer at these levels of demand, particularly if there's a shock out there," he added.

Oil futures trading on the Nymex hit new highs again, reaching $41.37 a barrel, as concerns about oil supplies in the context of burgeoning unrest in the Middle East continued to push the price up in the face of high demand around the globe.

In other economic news, industrial production jumped 0.8% in April, beating Wall Street's consensus estimate of 0.5%, after falling the month before by a revised 0.1%. Factories operated at 76.9% of capacity, according to the

Federal Reserve

, up from last month's 76.5%.

Growth cooled in business inventories in March, from 0.8% to 0.7%, but the figure was higher than the expected 0.4% increase. Also, the University of Michigan said the preliminary reading of its consumer sentiment index for May stayed flat at 94.2 after economists predicted it would rise to 96.

In other corporate news, shares of

Nortel

(NT)

dropped 5.5% after the telecommunications company received a federal grand jury subpoena to produce documents, including financial statements and corporate, personnel and accounting records, for the periods from Jan. 1, 2000, to the present. News of the probe comes two weeks after Nortel fired Chief Executive Frank Dunn, CFO Douglas Beatty and Controller Michael Gollogly. At that time, the company said it would again have to restate earnings for the past year.