NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Wall Street's crisis of confidence produced its share of losers Wednesday, with companies reporting less than perfect profits taking the brunt of the retreat.
Computer systems contractor Atlantic Data Services (ADSC) fell 4-3/8 to 5 after warning that a weak market climate would push fiscal fourth-quarter earnings far below expectations.
Shareholders punished construction firm Fluor (FLR) for its own slightly disappointing profits, knocking shares down 1-1/16 to 35-1/2. The company also warned of "challenging" conditions in many of its markets, but offered reassuring hints of a strategic retrenchment to come next month.
Orbital Sciences (ORB) fell 2-1/4 to 27-3/8 after one-time accounting charges caused the company to report fourth-quarter earnings that, in the words of Chairman and CEO David W. Thompson, were "plainly disappointing." Morgan Stanley downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "outperform."
Seed supplier AgriBioTech (ABTX) fell out of favor on its own sharp earnings disappointment, in this case a fiscal second-quarter loss of 26 cents per share when analysts had expected a per-share loss of 6 cents. Despite company vows to lay off up to 40 percent of its work force, shares still fell 1-3/16 to 4-13/16.
Chip maker Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) slid 1/8 to 30-3/4 after it announced sharply higher fiscal first-quarter profits of 18 cents per share. Wall Street had expected per-share earnings of only 17 cents, but fickle investors backed away from news that the profits had come alongside dented revenues.
Computer Horizons (CHRZ) and Pulaski Furniture (PLFC) also were among the day's casualties, driven lower by two separate analyst downgrades. Jefferies & Co. knocked Computer Horizons shares to "accumulate" from "buy," sinking the stock 1-1/2 to 13-1/2, while Interstate/Johnson removed its "strong buy" recommendation from Pulaski, driving shares down 2-3/8 to 20-1/8.
Mixed tone for oil
Remarkably, oil stocks remained firm, buoyed by continuing profit strength at global giant BPAmoco even though the price of crude oil plunged overnight to less than $10 per barrel.
BPAmoco (BPA) shares crept up 1/8 to 82-3/8 in New York, while Exxon (XON) climbed 1 to 69-9/16 and U.S. receipts of French industry player Total (TOT) surged 15/16 to 52-7/16.
However, oilfield service firms found stark comfort in the news, falling instead with crude prices. Halliburton (HAL) lost 7/8 to 29-3/8 and exploration supplier Smith International (SII) fell 1-1/16 to 24-1/4, while Diamond Offshore Drilling (DO) shed 1/4 to 21-3/4. Noble Drilling (NE) fell 1/2 to 12-3/16 and marine oil rig operator R&B Falcon (FLC) sank 3/16 to 5-3/4.
The bright side of technology
Despite the day's stumble led by big name computer makers like Dell (DELL) and Hewlett Packard (HWP), many stocks in the technology sector provided Wall Street with some good news.
Communications equipment powerhouse Lucent (LU) surged, gaining 1 to 99 on the strength of a 2-for-1 stock split announcement.
Techs benefiting from high-profile tie-in buzz included online auctioneer eBay (EBAY), which climbed 1-7/8 to 233 as investors bought the rumor of a possible alliance with Internet services giant America Online (AOL). AOL shares slid 2 to 157-1/2.
Internet-via-wireless provider Geoworks (GWRX) soared on a firmer deal, rocketing 2-1/16 to 5-13/16 after electronic retailer Amazon.com (AMZN) bought a 7 percent stake in the company.
However, both of these tie-ins were dwarfed by the $48 billion broadband merger between AT&T and TCI, which neared consummation Wednesday when shareholders of first AT&T and then TCI approved the union. The votes sent AT&T (T) shares up 1 to 85-5/8 and TCI (TCOMA) shares up 7/8 to 13-5/8.
Expert Software (XPRT) climbed 5/16 to 2-3/8 after announcing that it, too, would join the ranks of e-commerce companies by opening an online store selling consumer software.
In less aggressively high-tech stocks, vitamin company Mannatech (MTEX) surged 5-1/2 to 28 in its second day of public trading after touching an intraday high of 44-1/2, while chemical manufacturer Great Lakes Chemical (GLK) gained 4-1/2 to 40-1/8 after getting a "buy" recommendation from Deutsche Bank.