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Internet stocks forged ahead at midday, amid general optimism that the strapping tech sector -- unlike some of its blue-chip brethren -- can handle whatever the


decides to dish out.


was still the leader of the pack, rising 11 1/4, or 16%, to 80 11/16. The company's wider-than-expected loss, reported last night, was quickly overtaken by its promise it would start erasing some of the red ink in its quarterly reports as its seemingly infinite expansion starts to pay off.

Skeptics may not wait around to see that happen, but the news obviously sat well with the "What, me worry?" crowd of investors and analysts, whose optimism seems easy to awaken. Henry Blodget of

Merrill Lynch

lifted his near-term rating to buy from accumulate and placed a 12- to 18-month target of 100 on the online behemoth, while

Banc of America Securities

boosted the stock's target price to 130.

Amazon's gains were helping out Internet Sector

index, which was lately up 36 to 1145.4. Bellwether



was also helping the cause, flying 16 9/16, or 5%, to 344 5/8.

America Online


was looking glum though, falling 1 11/16 to 59 1/8.






were also invited to the party today, with uBid up 6.5% and CMGI rising 2.5%.