THE WEEK AHEAD: Conferences, earnings reports on tap

3 min read

Faced with the reality of no immediate help from the Fed, Wall Street turns its attention to a handful of earnings reports and a pair of technology conferences next week.

For the week, the Nasdaq composite shed 143 points to finish at 2,117.62 while the Dow Jones industrial average inched up 26 points to close at 10,466.31.

Much of this week's decline can be attributed to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan's comments suggesting that while the U.S. economy is still slumping the Fed will hold off on any interest-rate cuts--at least until its scheduled meeting March 20.

Some traders were hoping the Fed would deliver a preemptive strike this week to spark the anemic equities market.

"The optimism that we had earlier this week that we might get a preemptive cut is going away," said Todd Clark, head of listed trading at WR Hambrecht. "The market is looking at everything being negative right now, so we're going to sell off."

The market got even more negative news this week when both Gateway (NYSE: GTW) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) issued profit warnings, confirming tech investors' worst fears.

There's a good chance that more profit warnings are in the offing next week either during or ahead of a pair of investment conferences.

Merrill Lynch will hold its Internet Conference in New York next week in effort to resuscitate the moribund sector.

The conference will feature presentations and speeches from leading e-commerce, new media and Internet infrastructure software and services firms.

Merrill Lynch says the theme of the conference will be to focus on the underlying fundamentals and long-term outlooks for Internet companies that have "just experienced a brutal end of the beginning."

Credit Suisse First Boston will hold its Global Telecommunications CEO Conference in New York with executives from telecommunications firms such as Qwest (NYSE: A), XO Communications (Nasdaq: XOXO) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) scheduled to appear.

Investors will also be on the lookout for what figure to be another disappointing round of earnings reports.

 National Semiconductor (NYSE: NSM) will report its third-quarter earnings next week after issuing two profit warnings earlier in the quarter.

Analysts are now expecting a profit of 20 cents a share on sales of between $475 million and $480 million.

Last quarter, the chipmaker managed to slip past analysts' reduced estimates when it pocketed $106.7 million, or 56 cents a share, on sales of $595 million.

Trading near $24 a share Friday, the stock is well off its 52-week high of $85.94 set last March.

 J.D. Edwards (Nasdaq: JDEC) will check in with its first-quarter results after it also issued a profit warning earlier in the quarter.

First Call consensus now expects the business software developer to lose a penny a share on sales of $233.6 million.

J.D. Edwards beat the Street in its fourth quarter when it earned $12.3 million, or 11 cents a share, on sales of $277.6 million.

Its shares fell below $10 a share Friday, down from a peak of $45.75 last March.

 Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT), the provider of Linux-based software and services, is expected to post a loss of a penny a share in its fourth quarter on sales of $27.8 million.

Red Hat hurdled analysts' estimates last quarter when it posted a loss of $900,000, or 1 cent a share, on sales of $22.4 million.

The stock slid to $6.75 Friday afternoon after soaring to a 52-week high of $79.56 last March.