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MARKET MIDDAY: Techs wander aimlessly

Technology stocks drifted with the overall market in the final hour of morning trading to enter the afternoon on a lower note.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index dropped at the opening bell, shot up in the second hour, then staggered again, falling to a noon level of 2691.14, down 21.55 for the session. The S&P 500 was lower by 7.29 to 1316.73, and the Dow Jones Industrial down 55.09 to 10859.04. Inter@ctive Week's @100 Index managed a gain of 5.37 to 4,932.75.

A pair of economic reports suggested U.S. economic growth is moderating. The Conference Board reported the Consumer Confidence Index declined to 135.8, down from 136.2 in July, the second decline in a row.

"Hikes in interest rates, severe drought conditions in the Northeast, and rising gasoline prices have helped dampen overall consumer optimism," said Lynn Franco, Director of the Board's Consumer Research Center.

Also, the Chicago Purchasing Management index, a measure of regional manufacturing activity, fell to a seasonally adjusted 56.1 from 60.5 in July, a level that showed business activity continues to expand but at a slower pace.

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) moved up 1 9/16 to 124 3/4. IBM will supply technology, components and computer services to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in a five-year deal valued at $2 billion. Cisco, the world's largest maker of routers and switches for data networks, rose 3/8 to 67 1/8.

Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) gained 7/16 to 64 3/4 after announcing a three-year, $180 million contract to supply wireless equipment and service to BellSouth Mobility's Georgia and South Florida service areas. The contract is Lucent's second wireless deal in a week.

Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) went up 2 3/8 to 78 as it formally rolled out its StarPortal initiative to offer Web-based office productivity software.

Internet Security Systems Inc. (Nadsaq: ISSX) moved up 1/16 to 23 3/8. Its parent company, ISS Group, Inc., unveiled plans to buy privately-held Netrex Secure Solutions for about $57 million, to extend its reach in the Internet security industry.

Shares of (Nasdaq: FATB) rose 3 3/4 to 18 3/4. The mostly online retailer of books, manuals and other training materials on Monday unveiled a new technology for selling books, magazine articles and other documents over the Internet.

Portal Software (Nasdaq: PRSF) slid 5 1/2 to 47 1/8. The developer of real-time customer management and billing software for Internet companies registered Monday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a secondary offering of up to 5 million common shares.

CompUSA Inc. (NYSE: CPU) dropped slightly, down 1/2 to 6 3/16. The retailer of computers and related products recently announced 1,800 job cuts. The company on Monday also reported a narrower-than-expected fourth quarter loss as cost cutting mvoes boosted gross margins.

Cadence Design Systems Inc. (NYSE: CDN) increased 1 1/2 to 13 5/8. BancBoston Robertson Stephens upgraded the maker of chip design software to "buy" from a "long-term attractive" rating.

Analyst upgrades also boosted Computer Associates Inc. (NYSE: CA), which advanced 2 5/8 to 53 13/16. SoundView Technology Group raised the mainframe software vendor to "strong buy" from a "buy" rating.

Some recent IPOs saw their underwriters begin coverage. Internet Capital Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ICGE) gained 1/4 to 59 1/8 following a new "buy" rating from Robertson Stephens. Banc of America Securities initiated its ICG coverage with a "market perform" advisory.

Among other widely-held technology and Internet related stocks, Dell Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) slipped 1/2 to 45 13/16, America Online Inc. (NYSE: AOL) dropped 1 5/8 to 91 5/8, and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) declined 11/16 to 81 9/16. Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) declined 1 1/16 to 91 3/16, AT&T (NYSE: T) fell back 3/4 to 45 1/4, and (Nasdaq: AMZN) went down 4 15/16 to 114 5/16.>