Monday, January 22, 2007

Suddenly, January's No Sure Thing

There was not much in the way of jubilation on Wall today. Rather, like the weather, investors have tuned cold on stocks they seemingly could not get enough of just a few sessions ago. The buoyant feelings that usually complement a new year have given way to doubt and indecision. Stocks soured. The Dow lost 88 points, closing a scant 14 points above the 2006 finale.

The tech side didn't fare any better, dropping 20 points on the day. The hangover from last week's deflating comments from analysts covering the likes of Apple, Intel, Cisco, Motorola and others had a continuing effect on the day's trade.

But the real news was in the Dow components. Pfizer, while beating earnings expectations, announced a restructuring, calling for a 10% workforce reduction and the closing of some plants. Boeing was downgraded and both stocks took a hit. Pfizer lost only about 1%, but investors bailed on Boeing, dropping the aircraft manufacturer by 3 points (3.42%). With the Dow leading the way, the rest of the market marched to the sour notes. Declining stocks led advancers by a nearly 2-1 margin on both the NYSE and NASDAQ.

One could say that this kind of dip was overdue, but whether its a one-off or indicative of a longer term trend is not readily apparent. The markets - despite fairly benign economic data - are in a trendless phase, though if a consensus were to be had, it would likely point lower. Right now, earnings are the horse pulling the cart, or rather, the cart pushing the horses... and they're currently heading for a nearby ditch.

Some optimism may come from Yahoo, which reports on Tuesday, and eBay, on Wednesday, though savvy investors aren't likely to pin much hope on either. Yahoo has been a consistent underperformer and eBay is besieged by doubt over the wisdom of upcoming fee increases, their shuttering of operations in China and the effectiveness of new initiatives such as eBay Express.

Shares of eBay have been under some pressure of late, down more than 10% since mid-November. Analysts are seeking an attainable .28 per share for the just-completed 4th quarter, though the future for the company seems very much up in the air. If the company doesn't begin producing better margins and profits, management may take aim on some top executives, notably Bill Cobb, President of eBay North America and quite possibly CEO Meg Whitman, one of tech's most vilified personalities.

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