The battered software sector was pummeled just a bit more Tuesday as a slew of stocks set new 52-week lows amid fears of preannouncements.

Big and small software makers alike suffered in the carnage. Among the companies whose stocks dropped to those new 52-day intraday depths:

Siebel Systems

(SEBL)

PeopleSoft

(PSFT)

BEA Systems

(BEAS)

VeriSign

(VRSN) - Get Report

Autodesk

(ADSK) - Get Report

Check Point Software Technologies

(CHKP) - Get Report

Vitria Technology

(VITR)

.

The Goldman Sachs Software Index fell as low as 100.65, below its previous 52-week low of 101.25, before moving up to 101.64, still down 2.9% from Monday's close.

"The preannouncement week is always typically the worst week for software," said Jason Maynard, an analyst with Wachovia Securities, who lowered estimates on six software makers Tuesday and downgraded his rating on Siebel to buy from strong buy. His firm hasn't done any banking with Siebel.

Siebel shares fell as low as $12.09, below the prior 52-week low of $12.24, before closing at $12.57. That was still down 79 cents, or 5.9%, from Monday's close.

In addition to Maynard's downgrade, Pacific Growth Equities analyst Patrick Mason lowered his Siebel estimates for the second time. Mason, who has a market perform rating on Siebel, went a step further than other analysts in forecasting that third-quarter revenue for Siebel will be sequentially down. The consensus estimate gathered by Thomson Financial/First Call forecasts that third-quarter revenue will rise by a modest 1.7%.

"If our estimates are correct, then expect layoffs at Siebel," Mason said in his note Tuesday. His firm hasn't done any banking with Siebel.

Overall, analysts seem to be bracing for a flat third quarter and anticipating long-needed growth in the fourth quarter for the software sector, which has been reeling from the slowdown in IT spending.

Check Point Software fell even farther below its 52-week low than Siebel Tuesday. Shares of Check Point, which makes firewalls and other security products, dropped to as low as $10.37, from a prior low of $12, before rebounding to close at $12.58. J.P. Morgan analyst Sterling Auty downgraded Check Point on Tuesday to market perform from strong buy.

In his preview of software earnings Monday, Buckingham Research analyst Ken Kiarash said Check Point has a medium to high risk of missing his estimates, which are slightly higher than the Wall Street consensus. The company has been squeezed by saturation in the enterprise firewall market and lower margins in the small-business market.

VeriSign, meanwhile, was hit especially hard Tuesday, falling $1.09, or 15.7%, to close at $5.83. That was below the domain name registrar and security software maker's prior 52-week low of $6.79.

Part of the weakness in VeriSign shares stems from fears of the company preannouncing disappointing results, but that's not the whole story. Telecom concerns also have been weighing on the stock in recent weeks.

Last week the

WorldCom

(WCOME)

mess pushed down VeriSign shares. Through its Illuminet acquisition, VeriSign operates a wireless and wireless switching system that counts WorldCom among its customers. There also have been concerns that two other customers of its wireless billing service could go out of business, according to Bear Stearns analyst Chris Kwak, who has an unattractive rating on VeriSign. His firm hasn't done banking with the company.

Two weeks ago W.R. Hambrecht enterprise software analyst Rich Petersen figured that software stocks were priced in anticipation of a round of negative preannouncements this week. He noted that the average price of nearly 50 software stocks declined about 20% after companies missed first-quarter earnings and have declined another 20% since then.

"It is obviously going even lower than it was," Petersen said Tuesday. "It's a lot of uncertainty about what people are going to say this week. My personal feeling is that most investors have anticipated some pretty bad news, but nobody knows how bad."