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MARKET PREVIEW: Economic news could overshadow Oracle, Compaq news

Key economic reports will contend with the latest Oracle and Compaq debacles to finish off a wild week. Asian markets were mixed, Europe was down, and the Dow is set to open slightly higher.


In a week when the Nasdaq closed below 2,000 and the Dow slumped below 10,000, it seemed there was nothing left to shock investors. But the week will go out with a bang Friday, as a warning from Oracle and layoffs at Compaq add new spins to the Nasdaq's rocky ride.

Investors were already expecting bad news from Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), after it warned about a disappointing quarter. But the business software maker not only reported slow third-quarter results, it also slashed fourth-quarter forecasts.

Compaq Computer (NYSE: CPQ) became the latest tech to warn that its March quarter will be a disappointment. The PC maker said late Thursday that it expects to report earnings of 12 to 14 cents a share, compared with the 18 cents analysts surveyed by First Call were expecting. The company also said it will cut up to 5,000 jobs.

Economic data on inflation, consumer sentiment, construction and industrial activity will also grab attention Friday--they're the last pieces of data that Federal Reserve policy makers will evaluate before meeting next Tuesday to decide whether to cut interest rates.

The Labor Department's Producer Price Index, which measures inflation at the wholesale level, is expected to show a 0.1 percent increase for February.

The University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment, a gauge of consumer spending, is expected to fall to 87.0 from 90.6 in February.

February housing starts and industrial production are expected to show an annual rate 1.6 million, down from 1.65 million in January. Industrial production is expected to have declined again, down 0.2 percent compared with a 0.3 percent dip in the prior month.

Expect the following technology stocks to be among Friday's most actively traded issues: Alloy Online, Oracle and Tektronix.

Blue-chip stocks managed to regain their equilibrium Thursday, but tech issues continued their unceremonious decent as the Nasdaq composite fell 31 points to close at 1,940.78. Fresh off yesterday's 317-point plunge that knocked it below 10,000 for the first time since October, the Dow Jones industrial average picked up 58 points to finish at 10,031.28.

At the Bell

The Dow Jones industrial average may open 9 points higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index for June futures contracts was up 1.3 points to 1185 at 7:25 a.m. EST in 24-hour electronic trading.

The Inter@ctive Week @Net Index fell 2 to 186.03.


Trading in Asia was mixed. The Nikkei 225 rose 80.15 to 12,232.98, Singapore's Strait Times index fell 21.74 to 1,772.10 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 17.87 to 13,522.04.


European markets were down. London's FTSE 100 fell 142.40 to 5,586.80, the CAC 40 in Paris lost 29.43 to 5,148.23 and the Xetra DAX in Frankfurt was off 61.57 to 5,828.38 at 7:09 a.m. EST.

Reuters contributed to this report.