Today's Market: After a Wild Few Weeks, Stock Trading Slows and Indexes Slump

Both the Dow and the Nasdaq were lower this afternoon, but volume was thin.
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Today, the markets were looking weary after a week-and-a-half of crazy losses and gains.

The major indices have been up and down all morning, but lately were on the downside.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index got socked in the gut by a negative note from

Merrill Lynch

, which managed to spoil the semiconductors' four-day winning streak.

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

Broadcom

(BRCM)

,

Conexant

(CNXT) - Get Report

,

Exar

(EXAR)

,

PMC-Sierra

(PMCS)

,

Transwitch

(TXCC)

and

Vitesse

(VTSS)

.

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

lately dropped 4.2%.

Blue-chip chipmaker

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

managed to pull out a bit of a rally earlier, but lately succumbed to the pull of the dark side. It was 2.4% lower.

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

, which reported fourth-quarter earnings above analyst estimates by a penny, but also warned that it would miss first-quarter estimates. It was one of the most-active stocks on the Comp and lately was hovering over the flatline.

Still,

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 down 0.4%.

Other big tech stocks on the upside, included

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

,

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

,

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

and

Qualcomm

(QCOM) - Get Report

.

The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Computer Box Maker Index

was down 2%, with drag from semiconductor (surprise!)

Micron Technology

(MU) - Get Report

, which was the victim of a negative conference call last night and some bearish analyst calls on the stock this morning.

Prudential Securities

lowered its earnings 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

Dow Jones Industrial Average was being weighed down by several components, but the heaviest were

DuPont

(DD) - Get Report

and

International Paper

(IP) - Get Report

. None of the blue-chips were adding 10 or more points to the index.

United Technologies

was the closest, with 9.5 points.

But even with all of this red, the volume was light and there wasn't much conviction. Alan Ackerman, market strategist at

Fahnestock

, said, "Essentially most players are sitting out the session rather than putting money to work at this time. Market rallies continue to be brief encounters. There seems to be little conviction and rotating leadership."

Ackerman said aside from the election uncertainty and concerns about slowing growth affecting fourth-quarter results, many were expecting the

Fed to take a neutral stance, which would've been a kickstart for the markets.

"My sense is this is a time to sit out the market a bit more and to wait buying opportunities at a lower level," he said.

Ackerman said many are still feeling the

Nasdaq may not have found a bottom yet. "For now, it appears no certainty but uncertainty."

Meanwhile, 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%.

On a bright note on the

Big Board was

Starwood Hotels

(HOT)

which was added to the

S&P 500 today. It lately jumped 5.5%.

Market Internals

Breadth was negative on active volume.

New York Stock Exchange: 1,164 advancers, 1,544 decliners, 576 million shares. 69 new 52-week highs, 58 new lows.

Nasdaq Stock Market: 1.259 advancers, 2,384 decliners, 894 million shares. 46 new highs, 153 new lows.

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Most Active Stocks

NYSE Most Actives

  • Nortel (NT) : 28 million shares.
  • Cendant (CD) : 23.6 million shares.
  • Starwood Hotels: 18.4 million shares.

Nasdaq Most Actives

  • Oracle: 24.8 million shares.
  • Applied Materials: 22.1 million shares.
  • Intel: 22.1 million shares.

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Sector Watch

Oil prices were lower today, which wasn't helping the

American Stock Exchange Oil & Gas Index

, down 0.3%, or the

Chicago Board Options Exchange Oil Index

, off 0.2%. Still, the

American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index

was pulling out a rally, up 1.8%, and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index was rising 0.9%.

The

S&P Retail Index

was jumping 1.8%, with help coming from groceries

Albertsons

(ABS)

,

Kroger

(KR) - Get Report

,

Safeway

(SWY)

and

Winn Dixie

(WIN) - Get Report

.

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Bonds/Economy

Bond prices were edging higher today after data was released showing the CPI rose 0.2% in October.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note was up 1/32 to 100 15/32, yielding 5.685%.

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International

European markets were mixed at the close.

The

FTSE 100

ended the day up 23.50 to 6455.80.

Over on the continent, stocks were lower. The

CAC-40

in Paris was off 57.55 to 6244.23 and the

Xetra Dax

in Frankfurt was 104.79 lower to 6856.30.

The beleaguered euro was lately trading lower at $0.8527.

Asian

equity markets were a jumble overnight, as regional woes drove most of the markets down. In Hong Kong, stocks moved higher.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Mori faced increased pressure to step down. Many in opposition, and even some of Mori's own ruling party, are concerned over the slow recovery and reform of the economy. The Nikkei 225 closed down 212.1 points, or 1.4%, at 14,587.0.

In Tokyo currency trading, the dollar traded climbed to 108.94 Monday. The greenback was lately trading at 108.97 yen.

Elsewhere, Taiwan's TWSE index tanked 282.9 points, or 4.9%, to 5454.1, as the central bank admitted the country's bad loans were higher than the government had estimated

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index bucked the downward trend, rising 171.0, or 1.1%, to 15,298.4 amid very low volume.

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