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Slow drift back near unchanged levels

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Since our 01:00 Update, its been a rather slow drift lower back near the unchanged level for the major indexes with the Dow Industrials now holding a 31-point gain at 8,086, while the NASDAQ-100 Index's (NDX.X) 986 +0.38% earlier afternoon gain of 12-points as been trimmed to a more marginal 3-point gain.

The Semiconductor Index (SOX.X) 272 +0.17% dipped red in that latter part of this afternoon's session, with some weakness being seen in the semiconductor-equipment components. Novellus Systems (NASDAQ:NVLS) $29.29 -0.67% was the first "major" semi-equipment name to turn red, with KLA-Tencor (NASDAQ:KLAC) $32.56 -0.24% quickly following the downside move. Early Friday, Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) $12.07 +0.83% jolted the semi-equipment arena, when it said quarterly order booking had fallen below prior guidance.

Shares of tax-software maker Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) $42.03 -4.6% are seeing a week trade and bucking a more bullish sector tone of the GSTI Software Index (GSO.X) 105.78 +0.84% after Wall Street Journal reporter Walt Mossberg said in his technology column that Intuit "has decided to treat all its Turbo Tax customers like potential criminals, and to limit the ways that even honest people can use the product." Mr. Mossberg added that he recommend H&R Block's (NYSE:HRB) $37.84 -0.13% TaxCut instead.

Mossber's article has brokers Prudential and Salomon Smith Barney discussing the stock during today's trade. Salomon upgraded the shares of Intuit (INTU) to "outperform" from "inline" in response to today's weakness in the shares, in the light of recent data points coming from weekly NDP retail sales data, which the firm believes the market's reaction to is overblown. Conversely, Prudential says that NPD Data continues to show weakness in Intuit's retail sales in both its tax software and popular QuickBooks software package.

January sales have been released by the "Big 3" automakers and have General Motors (NYSE:GM) $36.72 +1.04 saying January sales fell 2%, Ford (NYSE:F) $9.18 +0.76% reported a 4.1% rise in January sales, while Daimler/Chrysler (NYSE:DCX) $31.44 +2.74% reported a 12% decline in monthly sales for January. Sales increases/decreases are based from December's levels.

Volume levels at both the NYSE and NASDAQ are running light as we approach the final 45-minutes of trade, with just over 1 billion shares traded at each exchange.

A quick look at the market internals has NYSE showing advancers having a slight 17 to 15 edge over decliners, while NASDAQ breadth is negative with decliners outnumbering advancers by a 17 to 14 margin.

New highs versus new lows is showing a reversal at the NYSE compared to last week's numbers, with 73 stocks able to trade a new 52-week high, compared to 36 stocks trading a new 52-week low. Market makers don't appear to be as kind at the NASDAQ with just 57 stocks trading a new 52-week high compared to 64 stocks trading a new 52-week low.

Jeff Bailey

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