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JetBlue in the Clouds on First Day

Updated from 12:32 p.m. EDT

JetBlue's (JBLU) IPO soared in its debut of trading on Friday, providing more evidence that the stock market is finally ready for new shares.

The airline stock closed up $18, or 67%, at $45 after being priced Thursday night at $27 a share. That was up from initial price talk of $22-$24 a share.

"The revision was a very good sign of demand," said David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com.

The company also upped the number of shares it sold to the public to 5.87 million from 5.5 million on Thursday. At the new price range, JetBlue should raise $158.5 million for the deal. It will use the proceeds for capital expenditures, such as purchasing new airplanes for its fleet.

JetBlue's pop compares to an average first-day gain of 10.5% for IPOs in 2002, with online bill-payment provider PayPal (PYPL), which rose 55% in its debut, an exception.

Still, JetBlue's performance may owe as much to its profitability than to a revival in the IPO market. While the airline industry suffered steep loss in 2001, JetBlue posted net income of $38.5 million.

The carrier's strategy has been to focus on underserved markets in metropolitan areas that have high average fares. In its two-year existence, JetBlue has built a reputation for offering quality service, flying a fleet of new Airbus A320 airplanes and providing free television at every seat.

JetBlue is the first of four planned airline offerings, which include Continental Airline's (CAL) ExpressJet, Northwest's (NWAC) Pinnacle Airlines, and independent regional carrier Republic Airways.

Street hype was not as strong for Ribapharm (RNA), maker of the hepatitis C drug ribavirin, however. Unlike JetBlue, the stock tacked on a more modest 80 cents, or 8%, to $10.80.

Ribapharm priced at $10 a share, well below its $13 to $15 a share range, and raised $260 million.

"The market has been very challenging for the biotech sector, which is off 15% since our road show a few weeks ago" said Johnson Lau, CEO of Ribapharm. "We thought $10 was an appropriate price."

In 2001, Ribapharm had net income of $72 million and sales of $139 million. Lau says he is optimistic about the market for ribavirin: "There are 170 million people infected with the Hepatitis C virus worldwide," he said. "And less than 10% to 15% of them have been treated."

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