Tuesday's Market: Most Investors Stayed Home, but the Nasdaq Still Got Worse - TheStreet

Winding down a lousy year for equities, the broader market squeezed out some gains in the broad

S&P 500, while technology stocks were simply squeezed.

Tech stocks faded in the early afternoon. But proving the market isn't completely dead, the

Nasdaq Composite Index managed a mild recovery in the last hour of trading to narrow its losses for the day. Don't be fooled, however, The index is still in position to log its worst one-year performance in history.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 gained 9.26 to 1315.21, a 0.7% rise, thanks to strength in natural gas and energy stocks. The blue-chip

Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 56.88 to 10692.44. Overall, however, players regarded the session as a bit disappointing because the activity wasn't convincing -- and because the market couldn't capitalize on its strong session from Friday when technology stocks roared higher from recent lows.

Fiber optics and tech giants like

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

, which dropped 4.9% today, were hurting. The second-most active name on the

Nasdaq Stock Market

was

JDS Uniphase

(JDSU)

, which rose 2.3% on nearly 40 million shares. It rose after a see-saw day despite having its rating trimmed to buy from strong buy at

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown

.

PC makers can find little respect since it's become clear their sales are trailing off. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Computer Box Maker Index

, which tracked the sector, dropped 2.4%. The

Amex Networking Index

lost 1%. And the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

, which follows the chip sector, fell 1.4%. Buyers retreated from these tech stocks into the safety of drugs, financials, utilities, and especially energy, which got a boost from rising natural gas prices.

"It's not much of an up market," said Doug Myers, vice president of equity trading at

IJL Wachovia

in Atlanta, understating the situation a tad. "There's no urgency to run out and buy technology stocks, so they continue to languish."

One of the most bizarre stories of the day belonged to

Broadcom

(BRCM)

, the semiconductor equipment company. The stock closed Friday at $94.19 and during the day dropped to a low of $83.81. It was mired around those levels before bouncing in the last hour, rocketing to a close of $92.50, almost where it started. The stock was mentioned as a top pick by one of

CNBC's

guests around 2:45 p.m. EST, and the stock bounced after that. There's no news out today beyond that, however, and a pair of traders we spoke to hadn't heard anything. What a reminder of how low volume can really touch a stock.

Natural gas closed at its highest prices in 10 years. Heating prices have climbed steadily through what has, so far at least, been a cold winter for much of the country. The

American Stock Exchange Natural Gas Index

gained 8.9%, with

Enron

(ENE)

up 2.9%.

Williams

(WMB) - Get Report

rose 13.9% after the company said fourth quarter results were likely to

beat estimates, expected to be reported Jan. 31.

Barrett Resources

(BBR)

gained 16.7% today, and

Noble Affiliates

(NBL) - Get Report

-- both exploration and production companies -- jumped 11.7%. The

Dow Jones Utility Average

finished 3.3% higher.

Other energy indices were strong, though they didn't match the strength of natural gas stocks. The

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Sector Index

leapt 5.7% and the

Amex Oil & Gas Index

gained 3.3%.

Can tech delight investors this week?

It would be surprising to see a significant recovery in technology the last few days of this year. Buyers haven't shown much interest in rescuing tech stocks during the year. Save for short-term trading opportunities, buying the dips has been a horrific strategy during the year. Now, with brokerage desks short-staffed during the holiday week, there's less liquidity and less interest from buyers. Right now, the Nasdaq is off 38.7% from the 4069.31 close at the beginning of the year.

Among the weaker names today was

Dow Jones Industrial Average component

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

, the home improvement retailer. The stock dropped 2.3% after a comment from

Bear Stearns

retail analyst Dana Telsey said the company was in danger of falling short of her forecast for earnings. Telsey had estimated Home Depot would earn 24 cents a share in the fourth quarter.

Market Internals

Breadth was strong on the Big Board on sluggish volume. It was weak on the Nasdaq on average volume.

New York Stock Exchange: 1,747 advancers, 1,172 decliners, 802.2 million shares. 263 new highs, 94 new lows.

Nasdaq Stock Market: 1,706 advancers, 2,320 decliners, 1.53 billion shares. 103 new highs, 383 new lows.

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Most Active Stocks

NYSE Most Actives

  • Lucent Technologies (LU) : 32 million shares.
  • AT&T (T) - Get Report: 21.4 million shares.
  • Nortel Networks (NT) : 13.9 million shares.

Nasdaq Most Actives

  • WorldCom (WCOM) : 49.8 million shares.
  • JDS Uniphase: 39.4 million shares.
  • Cisco (CSCO) - Get Report: 38.3 million shares.

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Sector Watch

Ok, so not everybody hates Internet stocks.

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

reported holiday sales that were way ahead of estimates, and that got the stock running higher today. It gained 5.5%, helping to bolster the beaten-up

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index. Still, the index was off 0.9%.

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

jumped 8.8%.

Retailers were weak. Home improvement retailer

Lowe's

(LOW) - Get Report

lost 1.7% in sympathy with Telsey's report on Home Depot.

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

ended down 3.6%. On this day after Christmas, the

S&P Retail Index

finished off 2.1%. The shopping season didn't go as well as people had hoped, and now retailers are running sales as they try to stir up business in this week before the New Year's holiday.

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Bonds/Economy

Treasuries lost a bit of ground on very light activity as the market reacted to movement in the stock market. With no major economic data due this week, bond traders will continue to keep their eyes on stocks.

The benchmark 10-year

Treasury note ended down 10/32 to 105 7/32, yielding 5.056%.

There were economic releases today.

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International

Markets in London were closed today for

Boxing Day, and other European businesses were also shuttered.

In Hong Kong, the

Hang Seng

was closed. In Japan, where economic troubles continue, the

Nikkei 225

gained 76.24, or 0.55%, to 14007.85. New data out of Japan shows the unemployment rate is rising, while consumer spending is slowing.

The euro was trading at $0.9302. It has been gaining on the dollar recently as perception of the U.S. economy's strength has changed in recent weeks. In contrast, the dollar was recently buying 113.56 yen, a 13-month high for the dollar.

For more information about global markets, see

TheStreet.com's

Global Indices.

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