THE WEEK AHEAD: Cisco, Dell earnings on deck

3 min read

Investors will take the weekend to ponder the ramifications of the Federal Reserve Board's quarter-point bump in short-term interest rates before returning for more earnings reports from the likes of Cisco Systems and Dell.

To absolutely no one's surprise, the Fed raised the fed funds rate for overnight loans between banks to 5.75 percent from 5.50 percent, and increased its discount rate to 5.25 percent from 5.50 percent.

At the same time, the Fed announced that it is worried that excess demand growth could foster inflationary imbalances.

"No major surprise," said Doug Porter, an economist at Nesbitt Burns Securities. "Basically what the market was looking for, so I suspect market reaction will be muted. If there is any concern it might be a sense that the Fed might be falling a little bit behind the curve, but I think they've tried to dampen that concern with this new bias basically priming the market for another rate hike in March."

A little post-Fed relief took hold this week as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 224.93 points for the week to end at 10,963.80. The Nasdaq Composite Index moved up 357.07 to end at 4,244.14.

On the earnings front, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) made the biggest news, posting a wider-than-expected loss in its fourth quarter. However, the stock responded with a decent rally after company officials outlined a somewhat clear path for profitability down the road.

In the quarter, Amazon.com lost $185 million, or 55 cents a share, on sales of $676 million. But a $39 million charge in inventory writedowns was mainly responsible for it missing the 48-cent-a-share loss analysts predicted.

Looking ahead to next week, technology investors will be interested to see how bellwether Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) faired in its second quarter.

First Call consensus expects the network-equipment giant to earn 23 cents a share in the quarter, up from 18 cents a share in the year-ago period.

Last quarter, Cisco beat the Street, raking in $837 million, or 24 cents a share, on sales of $3.88 billion.

Hovering well above $100 a share, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if Cisco announced a stock split, its fourth in the past five years.

Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) already let the cat out of bag, warning that its fourth-quarter earnings will fall short of analysts' estimates.

First Call consensus now expects a profit of 15 cents a share in the quarter, down from the original estimate of 21 cents a share.

Citing an "inconsistent" flow of key semiconductor components, Dell said it will likely post a profit of $430 million on sales of $6.7 billion.

It also said a slower-than-expected rebound in sales to corporate and institutional customers related to the Y2K rollover was responsible for the shortfall.

Finally, there's MCI WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM) will also check in with its fourth quarter results with analysts predicting a profit of 41 cents a share.

Last quarter, MCI WorldCom earned $1.1 billion, or 56 cents a share, on sales of $8.5 billion.