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Stocks falter again

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

NEW YORK -- Wall Street waded through another disappointing session Wednesday, dropping for the fourth straight day as investors looked in vain for firm indications that business is improving and corporate accounting can be trusted.

Stocks drifted lower on news that federal regulators were looking into Calpine's bookkeeping. The market's mood was also gloomy because of lingering uncertainty about the timing and robustness of a recovery.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 32.04, or 0.3 percent, at 9,653.39 for a total loss of 266 points since Friday.

The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index's drop was more significant. It fell 25.81, or 1.4 percent, to 1,812.71, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 6.51, or 0.6 percent, to e1,083.51.

''This is still a skeptical market, so it's going to be a struggle to rally,'' said Larry Wachtel, market analyst at Prudential Securities.

Wall Street spent much of the session waiting for quarterly results from Cisco Systems. After the market closed, the company reported higher-than-expected profits and sales for its fiscal second quarter.

The company was cautious about the next quarter's prospects, however, saying it hoped revenues would show flat to low single-digit growth. The stock fell $1.39 to $17.22 in extended trading, giving back an 11-cent gain during the day.

Although a more upbeat forecast would have been welcomed by the market, analysts had downplayed the importance of Cisco's results, saying investors have become extremely risk-averse.

''I think the market will care to a degree what Cisco says, but people have had such huge losses in tech stocks that they really don't trust a lot of things that these companies say,'' said Larry Rice, chief investment officer at Fahnestock & Co.

''Someone's always going to say how did they get to those numbers? What math did they do to beat expectations?''

Indeed, investors have been waiting for months for some kind of catalyst to convince them that now is the time to buy. Many had expected upbeat corporate forecasts in January to provide a spark; when those outlooks failed to happen, stocks fell back.

More recently, the Enron accounting scandal, as well as doubts about bookkeeping at Tyco and other companies, have made Wall Street question the validity of earnings reports in general. Those fears have exacerbated concerns that stock prices are too high, given the murky forecast for earnings and the failure of most companies to say that business has turned around.

''If people are not sure of the quality of earnings, then they tend to pay a lesser valuation for them,'' Wachtel said. ''It's tough getting anything going in that kind of environment.''

In trading Wednesday, Tyco managed a small rebound from the selling that has devastated the stock over the last week on questions about its books. It rose $2.82, or 12 percent, to $25.92 after executives said the company would be more forthcoming about its finances and progress in plans announced last month to break the corporation into four separate companies.

But that buying failed to create any broader momentum.

Calpine fell $1.95 to $6.80 on news the company received a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission on Dec. 20 regarding a review of its disclosure practices.

Technology stocks were particularly vulnerable, with Intel dropping 88 cents to $32.92 and Microsoft losing 70 cents to $60.45.

Financials also fell. American Express fell $1.60 to $32.90.

Also Wednesday, the Labor Department reported Wednesday worker productivity in the last three months of 2001 rose by the largest amount in more than a year as businesses cut workers' hours and eliminated jobs to cope with the ailing economy. Wall Street showed little reaction to the news, however, because the information concerns past, not current or future events.

Declining issues led advancers more than 2 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 2.04 billion shares, compared with 2.18 billion shares Tuesday.

The Russell 2000 index fell 6.41 to 462.41.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.6 percent. In Europe, Germany's DAX index dropped 2.7 percent, Britain's FT-SE 100 slid 0.4 percent, and France's CAC-40 lost 0.8 percent.

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