Market Watch

The Associated Press
Saturday February 24, 2001

NEW YORK — Speculation about an earlier-than-expected interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve helped technology stocks stage a last-minute comeback Friday, giving the Nasdaq composite index its first positive finish in more than a week. 

The moderate gains staunched a dramatic selloff sparked earlier in the session on earnings warnings by Motorola and Sun Microsystems. But analysts cautioned that the upturn might be temporary and stocks will likely fall farther, noting that corporate profits won’t improve anytime soon and more earnings warnings are on the way. 

Blue chips’ prospects also improved late in the session, but not enough for a positive finish. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 84.91 at 10,441.90, a 0.8 percent loss, recovering from a 232-point loss. It fell 3.3 percent for the week.All three indexes are down for 2001. The Nasdaq has been the hardest hit, trading more than 55 percent off of its all-time high of 5,048.62, reached last March.“Investor confidence continues to get shaken to the bone” by these profit warnings, said Tom Galvin, chief investment officer at Credit Suisse First Boston. The Nasdaq’s positive finish marked a surprising end to trading session that started on a sour note. 

— The Associated Press 

Investors had begun selling immediately Friday after Motorola reduced its first-quarter earnings outlook before the market opened citing soft demand for its cell phones and computer chips. 

The news compounded a warning late Thursday from Sun Microsystems that the weak economic environment would hurt the network server manufacturer’s third-quarter results. 

Motorola ended the session down $1.04 to $16.25 and Sun Microsystems was unchanged at $20.81 after spending most of the day down. 

The announcements sent several other technology stocks reeling, including IBM, a Dow component, which dropped tumbled $4.90, or more than 4 percent, to $104, after investment firm Salomon Smith Barney reduced its earnings estimates for the computer maker. 

Another big loser: Texas Instruments, which dropped $2.55, or 8 percent, to $30.15. 

But by late in the session many stocks had recovered at least some of their losses. Tech stocks ending higher included Ciena, up $5.38 at $74.50, and Dow component Microsoft, up $1.25 at $56.44. 

Financial and pharmaceutical stocks remained weak, however. Banker J.P. Morgan Chase dropped $1.25 to $47.05 and Johnson & Johnson lost $1.03 to $95.49. 

The volatility was the latest indication of investors’ worries that a better economy, and stronger corporate profits, may be a long ways off. 

Analysts say the increasing signs of an economic slowdown — ranging from economic data to incessant corporate profit warnings — have made many on Wall Street hesitant to buy stocks. 

“The mood of the market is that any bad news is going to be overreacted to,” said Brian Belski, fundamental market strategist at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, who remains unconvinced that stocks have hit bottom. 

The Federal Reserve, which has already cut interest rates twice since Jan. 1, is expected to lower rates again at its meeting in late March. Wall Street was awash with speculation Friday that another cut might come sooner, a theory supported in a research note by Bear Stearns chief economist Wayne Angell, who is also a former Federal Reserve governor. 

“We need the Fed and fast. I don’t think we can wait until the March meeting,” said Matt Brown, head of equity management at Wilmington Trust. “You’re not going to get any relief from corporate earnings. The only possible hero here is the Fed.” 

Trading volume was moderate. Declining issues outnumbered advancers by nearly 9 to 7 on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated volume came to 1.45 billion shares, compared with nearly 1.60 billion Thursday. 

The Russell 2000 index was virtually unchanged, rising 0.19 to 477.45. 

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 1.3 percent. Germany’s DAX index closed down 3.2 percent, Britain’s FT-SE 100 was off nearly 1.0 percent, and France’s CAC-40 dropped 2.4 percent. 


On the Net: 

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com 

Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com