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MIDDAY MARKETS: Techs cautious ahead of Fed meeting

Techs edged ahead at midday Tuesday, though economic data and the upcoming FOMC meeting was holding big gains at bay. The Nasdaq rose 37.31 to 3977.66, and the Dow Jones industrial average gained 3.11 to 10,943.64.

The Inter@ctive Week @Net Index gained 9 to 542.72.

With investors assuming a quarter-point rate increase at the conclusion of the Fed's two-day meeting Wednesday, it may have been futile to gauge the width of Alan Greenspan's briefcase as he strolled into the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this morning. The bulk of Greenspan's briefcase is usually seen as an indicator of whether an interest rate hike is coming, as he needs more documentation to justify the decision of a rate increase.

U.S. manufacturing activity and construction spending more accurately gauged the state of the economy. Stocks retreated slightly after the economic reports both showed the economy is still going strong enough to merit a rate hike. Manufacturing activity eased for the fourth consecutive month in January, though the cost of materials rose, a trade association report said.

Construction spending dipped to 56.3, but was advancing at a slightly faster-than-expected pace, according the National Association of Purchasing Management. The "prices paid" component -- a key measure of costs -- rose to 72.6 from a revised 68.3.

On the IPO front, Turnstone Systems (Nasdaq: TSTN) jumped 67 1/2 to 96 1/2 after it priced its 3 million shares at $29 a piece for trading Tuesday, well above their range of $23 to $25 each.

SkillSoft (Nasdaq: SKIL) looks like any other IPO - losses, little revenue, and big plans. But the company's executives may have to pay $810 million if found guilty of stealing trade secrets from their former employer. Shares rose 5 1/8 to 19 1/8 in its debut nevertheless.

Quantum Effect Devices (Nasdaq: QEDI) jumped 27 3/4 to 43 3/4 after it priced its 3.72 million common shares at $16 each, above their projected range of $10-$12 a share for trading Tuesday.

Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) shares surged 10 to 137 after the wireless equipment maker confirmed a deal with China Unicom to license its trademark CDMA technology.

Sprint (NYSE: FON) lost 15/16 to 63 11/16 after it reported fourth quarter earnings of 47 cents a share. Sprint PCS reported a fourth quarter operating loss of 75 cents a share.

VerticalNet (Nasdaq: VERT), up 10 1/4 to 248 1/2, will be the majority shareholder in a new Europe B2B venture with British Telecom and Internet Capital Group (Nasdaq: IDGE), down 2 3/4 to 116 1/4. Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) rose 5 3/8 to 69 15/16, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) rose 15/16 to 323, and America Online Inc. (NYSE: AOL) lost 15/16 to 56.

Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) rose 7/16 to 38 7/8, Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ) rose 7/16 to 27 7/8 and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) rose 1/4 to 112 1/2.