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Markets in postholiday slump

The U.S. markets prove as lifeless as the Ghost of Christmas Past, with earnings announcements continuing to haunt investors.

    The U.S. markets were as lifeless as the Ghost of Christmas Past on Thursday, as earnings announcements continued to haunt investors.

    The Nasdaq composite index nudged down 10.12 to 2,529.23, and the Standard & Poor's 500 was practically unchanged at 1,328.40 during midday trading. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 24.65 to 10,827.65.

    "The market is sort of directionless," said Peter Coolidge, senior equity trader at Brean Murray. "There's a looming sense that we're going into a slow (earnings) growth scenario."

    The CNET tech index fell 36.83 to 2,017.19. Losers comfortably buried winners, with 66 of the 97 stocks in the index falling, 30 rising and one remaining unchanged.

    Large-cap tech stocks kept the Nasdaq down. JDS Uniphase fell $2.34 to $45.03; Cisco Systems lost $1.25 to $39.50; Microsoft declined $2 to $44.44; and Intel stumbled $1.81 to $30.75.

    "It's hard to garnish much enthusiasm for the market, given all the lingering doubts over if we're going into a recession and how slow the growth rate is going to get," said Coolidge.

    IBM dipped 13 cents to $84.56 at midday. Prudential Securities lowered its estimates for the computer maker's fourth-quarter revenue.

    Prudential also looked on Dell Computer with disfavor. Dell squeaked down 44 cents to $17.56 after Prudential lowered revenue estimates for the January quarter and for fiscal 2002.

    F5 Networks dropped $3.13, or about 23 percent, to $10.63 after the company said it will miss first-quarter numbers because of a slowdown in Internet infrastructure spending.

    The Internet software maker now expects a loss in the range of 48 cents to 50 cents a share on revenue of between $24 million to $26 million for the quarter, before tax and charges. Analysts surveyed by First Call expected the company to post earnings of 17 cents a share.

    Nice Systems also caught some investor wrath, falling $24.13, or almost 54 percent, to $20.88. The Israel-based company now expects to post a loss of zero to 6 cents, excluding charges, for its fourth quarter. Wall Street previously predicted the company would make a profit of 58 cents, the consensus estimate of seven analysts polled by First Call.

    Nice Systems also said revenue will come in between $39 million to $40 million. In the third quarter, the company generated a record-high $46.6 million in revenue.

    The maker of multimedia digital-recording equipment attributed the shortfall to a sectorwide slump in the telecommunications and information technology markets. The slowdown caused a number of order postponements that were due to close in the quarter.

    Blue Martini Software continued its explosive charge upward, rising $4.25, or nearly 32 percent, to $17.56. The software maker said in a statement that it will work with Intel on engineering, marketing and sales activities. The stock has risen 158 percent this week.

    Jabil Circuit received a boost after the Standard & Poor's index said it would add the chipmaker to the S&P 500 index. Jabil rose $2.31, or 10 percent, to $25.31. Companies often rise when they become a member of a widely followed index. Fund managers add the stock to their index tracking funds, which are designed to mirror the performance of a specific index.

    Of the 18 sectors tracked by CNET Investor, Internet e-tailers made the largest early gains, climbing 4 percent. Server hardware and telecom equipment makers posted the sharpest drops, falling 2 percent each.