Markets

Investors put earnings and interest rates in the balance again today, and all session long, on thin summer volume, the major proxies went hither and thither. Most individual issues, however, went only thither -- breadth was abysmal on the

New York Stock Exchange

, and just plain bad on the

Nasdaq Stock Market

.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index

was the only benchmark to finish in positive territory, adding 7.97 to 2692.41. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

shed 58.26 to 10,910.96; the

S&P 500

lost 4.03 to 1356.94; the small-cap

Russell 2000

fell 448.38; and

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index inched back 1.90 to 591.85.

NYSE Chairman

Richard Grasso

said today that he expects the exchange to go public by Thanksgiving. The NYSE is currently owned by 1,366 member firms; in an offering, those firms would exchange their seats in return for common stock and a trading permit, Grasso said.

The big European indices all finished lower, led by the London

FTSE

, which lost about 1.5%

Asian markets moved lower overnight, as Hong Kong's

Hang Seng

dropped 275.36, or 2.06%, to 13,093.70 and Tokyo's

Nikkei

sank 195.9, or 1.1%, to 17,534.44..

More markets news and commentary is available in

TSC's

Markets section.

Companies

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

reported second-quarter earnings of 61 cents a share, in line with the 24-analyst

First Call

consensus and up from last year's 54 cents.

Mobil

(MOB)

posted second-quarter earnings of 81 cents a share this morning. That's 8 cents above the 21-analyst call and even with the year-ago figure.

Food and drug chain

Safeway

(SWY)

set plans to buy privately held

Randall's Food Markets

for more than $1.4 billion in cash and stock.

A

Food and Drug Adminstration

advisory panel last night rejected

Sunrise Technologies'

(SNRS)

laser device for treatment of farsightedness. The stock fell 75.4% on the news.

TSC

covered the news in a

story this morning.

Summit Technology

(BEAM)

had better luck -- an FDA panel today recommended approval of a laser it developed for treatment of nearsightedness, with or without astigmatism.

More news on companies and stocks is available in

TSC's

Stock News section.

Tech

Compaq

(CPQ)

yesterday named COO Michael Capellas its president and CEO, replacing Eckhard Pfeiffer, who stepped down amid no fanfare in April.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

upgraded Compaq to outperform from neutral.

TSC

wrote about the move in a

story last night.

Boxmaker

Gateway

(GTW)

yesterday posted second-quarter earnings of 56 cents a share, a penny above the 23-analyst First Call view and ahead of the year-ago 38 cents. Gateway denied talk that it's negotiating to acquire any major Internet service provider. Recent rumors have had Gateway talking with ISPs

EarthLink

(ELNK)

and

MindSpring

(MSPG)

.

Internet insurance quote provider

InsWeb

(INSW) - Get Report

was rocketed up 14 3/4, or 86.8%, to 31 3/4 in its trading debut.

Goldman Sachs

priced the offering at $17 a share yesterday, at the top of its pricing range.

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

posted fourth-quarter earnings of 48 cents a share after the close yesterday, beating the 19-analyst estimate by 2 cents and up from the year-ago 35 cents.

More tech news and commentary is available in

TSC's

Tech Stocks section.

General News

Morocco's

King Hassan

has died,

Qatari Television

reported. Earlier today the official Moroccan news agency had stated that the king, aged 70, had been taken to the hospital with acute pneumonia.

Taiwan invited China to send a representative to discuss its differences with Taiwan over President

Lee Teng-hui's

recent statement that relations between the two countries are "state-to-state."

International

Elf Aquitaine's

(ELF) - Get Report

board rejected rival

TotalFina's

(TOT) - Get Report

$51.4 billion takeover offer. The company said it wanted more time for its shareholders to consider its own Pac-Man defense strategy -- a $53 billion takeover of TotalFina by Elf itself.

Nomura Securities

investment unit

Nomura International

,

Whitbread

and

Alchemy Partners

are ganging up to try to outbid

Punch Tavern's

$4.3 billion offer for

Allied Domecq's

pubs business,

Bloomberg News

reported, citing people familiar with the deal. Allied Domecq accepted Punch's bid earlier this week.

More international news and commentary is available in

TSC's

International section.

Elsewhere

If the tangy taste doesn't kill you, the force of the blast will. Two Illinois women have been victimized by exploding bottles of Col. Johnson's Thermo-Nuclear barbecue sauce, the

Chicago Tribune

reported yesterday. When 45-year-old homemaker Joan Leopold opened a bottle of the sauce, the peppery drench burst forth, covering the walls and ceiling of her kitchen, burning holes in the leaves of a hanging plant and creating a frightening burning sensation about Leopold's eyebrows. The paper quoted Stan Szczap, food program manager at the DuPage County Health Department, as mistakenly noting, "It's never really been very funny."