TSC Weekender: The Tech Sector To-and-Fro, Interest-Rate I.Q. and Congress Kicks Glass

Plus Pulse asks, Do you know the secret missions of sexy companies? Test yourself with our quiz.
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gets a face-lift this weekend, and as a result, TSC Weekender has never looked younger and more refreshed. What's wrong with a little self-improvement, especially when it helps readers more easily track their portfolios, get the latest news and navigate the site? Weekender has scheduled a few nips and tucks of its own, but for now we're being coy. In the meantime, read this weekend's Easy Money, in which Katie Hobson reveals the mysteries behind corporate art, John Neuffer peers into Japanese politics and Gary B. Smith visits The Cutting Room. Is there something you'd like to see over the weekend but haven't? Tell us about it.

Tech Out of Step

The big boys in the tech sector looked like a second-rate dance troupe this week -- now performing high kicks, next taking a spill and intermittently leaving the rest of the group behind.

IBM's

(IBM) - Get Report

feet flew out from under it on Thursday when its earnings report warned of Y2K slackness in coming quarters. The stock ended the day down 16, or almost 15%, at 91. Like a nail-biting stage mother, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

reacting by swooning -- an action inspired almost entirely by IBM alone. Yet the

drama made barely an impact on the sector.

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

likewise tripped up Tuesday when the CFO's notice on Monday that next quarter earnings will miss forecasts by 3 cents. So as the Nasdaq closed even on Tuesday, Dell relieved its investors of 3 bucks a share. Again, the sector blinked, and turned away.

What did catch the attention of tech in general was

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

bound Tuesday upon Mister Softee's beating the

First Call/Thomson Financial

earnings consensus number of 34 cents a share for its first-quarter 2000 results. The entire sector enjoyed the upbeat mood. And, as is its wont, Microsoft was again the prima donna act.

The Rates' Fate

Old joke:

Alfred Binet

, grandfather of the modern I.Q. test, dies and goes to Heaven. Looking for companionship, he asks three angels what their I.Q.s are. The first angel says "150," and Binet replies, "Great, we can discuss astrophysics!" The second angel says, "100," and Binet replies, "Great, we can talk about pulp fiction!" The third angel says, "50," and Binet says, "So, which way do you think interest rates are going to go?"

Everybody was an expert this past week when it came to parsing the Fed's possible reaction to contradictory economic reports. Gloom reigned on Monday after the previous Friday's

Producer Price Index

number for September

rose 1.1%, more than double the forecast. The G-Man's going hiking, the market surmised grimly.

But Tuesday brought

relief -- or at least confusion -- when the September

Consumer Price Index

was in line with expectations, gaining only 0.4% overall and 0.3% at its core. (As the broader measure of inflation, the CPI number theoretically trumps the meaning of the narrower PPI.) But before the day was out, investors were flummoxed again, as the market reacted to

nasty rumors that the Fed and the

European Central Bank

rate hikes were still looming.

When investors' heads stop spinning, they can resume the argument over which way the rates are headed. May the

brightest angel win.

Broken Glass

After pulling an all-nighter, administration officials and Republican leaders finally managed to sew together a compromise to update moth-eaten U.S. banking laws. The bill would repeal parts of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, removing barriers between banks, insurance companies and brokerages.

Some say in the new marketplace those distinctions as hard-and-fast rules had already fallen away and that the Glass-Steagall change is more symbolic. Nevertheless, the agreement caps an effort two decades long. Reports of the process grinding to a halt Thursday with the threat of a presidential veto therefore made for particularly vigorous teeth gnashing.

The sticking point for the White House was the issue of giving banks with unsatisfactory ratings under the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act diversification privileges. CRA, as it's known, basically encourages banks to lend in poor areas. But today a spokesman described the White House as being "very pleased with the results," according to

Reuters

.

Now there are just the final hurdles of democracy: drafting formal legislative language, obtaining the support of the majority of lawmakers in committee, approval votes by the House and the Senate, and the signature of the prez. Cheers.

Staff reporters Thomas Lepri, Brian Kennedy and George Mannes contributed to this article.