Microsoft, GDP Loom Large

Investors fretting about an economic slowdown will be looking to Microsoft and the U.S. Commerce Department for reassurance in the next couple of days.

Microsoft will report its quarterly results after the close on Thursday. Analysts are looking for earnings of 33 cents a share from the software giant, and sales are expected to rise 10.7% from the year-ago quarter to $11.98 billion. With expectations low heading into the report, just meeting expectations and maintaining guidance could be reassuring for the market.

On Friday morning, the Commerce Department will release its preliminary estimate of fourth-quarter GDP. Economists believe the U.S. economy grew at a 2.8% rate in the fourth quarter, which would be the first sub-3% growth rate in three years.

Stocks closed down slightly Wednesday on weaker than expected existing home sales.

The Nasdaq lost 4 to 2260, the S&P 500 declined 2 to 1264, and the Dow slipped 2 to 10,709. Volume rose to 2.62 billion shares on the NYSE, and 2.25 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led 17-15 on the NYSE, and 16-13 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 54% on the NYSE, and 55% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 223-45 on the NYSE, and 200-34 on the Nasdaq.

After the close, Juniper and Qualcomm fell after missing sales estimates.

During the day, SAP surged 9% on its outlook, carrying Oracle along for the ride.

Corning and Sun rose despite posting results that weren’t quite up to Wall Street expectations.

CheckFree , Netflix , RF Micro , Silicon Labs and Plantronics rose on their results.

CA , Entrust and M-Systems fell on their earnings reports.

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