Stocks Unchanged Ahead Of Key Earnings

Stocks started strong on Monday but ended the day unchanged, as investors awaited key earnings later this week from Intel, IBM and Microsoft.

The Nasdaq slipped 1 to 1446, the S&P 500 was down 1 to 926, and the Dow tacked on a point to 8785. Volume declined to 1.36 billion shares on the NYSE, and 1.6 billion on the Nasdaq. Advancers led by a few issues on the NYSE, but decliners edged advancers on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 50% on the NYSE, and 59% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 100-30 on the NYSE, and 100-18 on the Nasdaq.

After the close, Rambus topped estimates, Varian raised guidance and Photon Dynamics delayed its first-quarter earnings release until later this month.

During the day, AOL Time Warner gained 1% as Chairman Steve Case resigned, the last America Online executive to hold a major post in the combined company.

Dell fell 4.2% on a JP Morgan downgrade based on valuation and PC sales outlook. The company also moved into the electronic cash register market.

Intel slipped 0.2% ahead of tomorrow night’s earnings report, the first of several high-profile earnings reports due out this week. Yahoo and QLogic report Wednesday, and IBM , eBay and Microsoft report Thursday.

Microsoft rose 0.8% after the company offered $1.1 billion to settle California class action suits.

Yahoo , off 1.7%, added free video and audio clips to its personal ads.

Next Level soared 34% on a takeover bid from parent Motorola .

Brocade edged higher on a deal with Sun . Sun, which slipped a penny, unveiled Web services server software.

Palm , up 4.1%, signed a handwriting technology deal with Communication Intelligence , which gained 8.6%.

Microchip fell 6.5% on earnings concerns.

Nextel rose 0.4% as it began nationwide rollout of its Direct Connect service.

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