SAN FRANCISCO -- Blue-chip gauges did a slow waltz to nowhere today as benign economic data failed to inspire. Meanwhile, the

Nasdaq Composite Index

soared back into the history books as investors chose to focus on

Intel's

(INTC) - Get Report

positive outlook vs. its disappointing quarter.

In economic news, both the

Producer Price Index

and

retail sales

figures released today came in below expectations. But the inflation-friendly data failed to entice bond buyers, providing a restraint to blue-chip stocks in the process. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond fell 4/32 to 90 24/32, its yield rising to 5.92%.

Meanwhile, Intel rose 4.1% after posting second-quarter earnings 2 cents shy of expectations

last night but providing a bullish preview for the second half. The chip giant helped lead the Nasdaq Comp up 39.66, or 1.4%, to 2817.89, its seventh record in the past 10 trading days (a pretty heady batting average for any league, much less the majors). Intel also helped the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

rise 4.2% to an all-time best of 525.06.

Fellow tech bellwethers such as

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

, and

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

joined Intel on the upswing, lifting the

Nasdaq 100

1.8%.

The Comp also got a boost from Internet stalwarts such as

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

, up 7.1%;

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index rose 4.10, or 0.6%, to 657.20.

Much of the focus in Netland was on the recent spate of mergers, today featuring two online players (vs. those in recent days featuring online and "traditional" media companies).

Egghead.com

(EGGS)

slid 3.6% while

Onsale

(ONSL)

declined 6.4% after the firms agreed to merge; both are DOT components.

Among blue-chips, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed down 26.92, or 0.2%, to 11,148.10 after trading as high as 11,209.21 and as low as 11,112.01.

Despite Intel's outlook,

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

and

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

were among the Dow's big negatives (

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

was the biggest as financials suffered another tough session), though neither suffered outsized losses. Despite their declines, and a 1.7% loss at

Motorola

(MOT)

, the

Morgan Stanley High-Tech 35

gained 2% to an all-time best of 1231.80. Motorola posted better-than-expected profits but got saddled with concerns about its relationship with

Iridium World Communications

(IRID)

Dow gainers featured

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

as well as cyclicals such as

United Technologies

(UTX) - Get Report

,

AlliedSignal

(ALD)

and

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

. The

Morgan Stanley Cyclical Index

rose 0.5%.

Thanks largely to those cyclicals and its heavier emphasis on tech, the

S&P 500

outperformed the Dow, rising 4.61, or 0.3%, to 1398.17. Meanwhile, the

Russell 2000

gained 3.35, or 0.7%, to 461.46.

"Nasdaq is having a nice day but bonds are down, the Dow is down. It's never all tied in," said Sam Ginzburg, managing director of equity trading at

Gruntal

. "You still have bulls saying

Dow 12,000 and on from there, but I don't buy it. I'm not shorting the world, but not taking big bets either."

Ever cynical, Ginzburg foresees stocks getting "whacked" by the end of the month because strong earnings are expected so there's no "catalyst" for more substantive gains. Meanwhile, he noted "problems" exist in Argentina and China (where there's rumblings again about a possible devaluation, de facto or otherwise).

"I might miss some of the upside, but I could daytrade in and out and make money," he said. "I don't need to tie things up. I think we're going to be able to buy 'em cheaper. I really think that."

Meanwhile, the trader again lamented the lack of action.

"This is worse than a traditional summer slowdown," he said. "Our retail guys say they're still doing some business but hedge funds and other real big accounts are telling me they're looking for ideas but they're not actively trading the market. It's tougher to get them to pull the trigger. Plus, half the people aren't in, and the other half are asleep."

In

New York Stock Exchange

trading, 749.9 million shares were exchanged while advancers edged declining stocks 1,528 to 1,394. In

Nasdaq Stock Market

action 1.08 billion shares traded while gainers led 2,273 to 1,726. New 52-week highs bested new lows 88 to 42 on the Big Board and by 208 to 27 in over-the-counter trading.

Don't Look Back

Immediate as the trading day ended, market players began looking ahead to today's round of post-close earnings news. The most prominent company reporting this evening is

Apple

(APPL)

, which rose 4.2% ahead of reporting third-quarter earnings of 69 cents a share vs. the 19-analyst estimate of 64 cents and year-ago results of 50 cents.

But "I don't think Apple means whole helluva lot," said Jim Volk, co-director of institutional trading at

D.A. Davidson

in Portland, Ore. "More important is if smaller companies continue to have numbers coming in better-than-expected along with big companies.

If so I think the market is going to be all right."

While acknowledging "there are 62 million stories in the Nasdaq city," Volk noted

Rational Software

(RATL)

and

IDT

(IDTI) - Get Report

each posted better-than-expected results shortly after the close.

As for today's action: "The problem was the way the bond market acted after the good economic numbers came out," he said. "At highs of markets people look for any excuse to take profits. It looks like the early line

on earnings should set a decent tone but that doesn't mean you can't have a slight correction" off all-time high levels.

Among other indices, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

rose 15.91, or 0.5%, to 3421.51; the

Dow Jones Utility Average

added 0.06 to 320.36; and the American Stock Exchange Composite Index rose 0.67, or 0.1%, to 813.00.

Elsewhere in North American equities, the

Toronto Stock Exchange 300

rose 114.15, or 1.6%, to 7253.10 while the

Mexican Stock Exchange IPC Index

fell 8.80 to 5835.80.

Wednesday's Company Report

By Heather Moore
Staff Reporter

(

Earnings estimates from First Call; new highs and lows on a closing basis unless otherwise specified. Earnings reported on a diluted basis unless otherwise specified.

)

As noted above, Intel grew 2 11/16 to 68 following last night's bullish forecast for the chipmaker's second-half and despite last night's second-quarter earnings report of 51 cents a share, 2 cents below the 31-analyst estimate.

Merrill Lynch

reiterated its short- and long-term buy on the stock and

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

upped its price target to 80 from 75.

Salomon Smith Barney

upgraded Intel to buy from outperform, lifted the stock's price target to 85 from 73 and increased its 2000 earnings estimates for the company. In a research note, Solly analyst Jonathan Joseph listed reasons for the upgrade: "1) a reversal of the recent price declines the company has experienced, 2) no evidence of Y2K mishaps in the second half

and 3) a stronger than normal outlook for the second half." Salomon also upgraded Micron Technology -- to buy from neutral -- pushing up the stock 2 7/16 to 56 5/8.

Meanwhile, things went the other way for

Polaroid

(PRD)

, which slouched 5, or 17.4%, to 23 3/4 despite meeting the nine-analyst earnings forecast of 33 cents a share in its second-quarter. Last year, the company earned 3 cents a share. And

State Street

(STT) - Get Report

skidded 6 1/16, or 7.4%, to 75 9/16 after saying it earned 75 cents a share in its second quarter, matching the 15-analyst prediction and moving up from last year's 66 cents. Expecting more, Merrill Lynch cut State Street to long-term accumulate from buy.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Egghead.com and Onsale set plans to merge in stock deal valued at about $400 million. Onsale will exchange 0.57 of a share for each Egghead.com share, a ratio that values Egghead at about $12.71 a share, a slight premium to its closing price yesterday of 12 1/16. Today, Egghead cracked down 7/16 to 11 3/4 while Onsale declined 1 7/16, or 6.4%, to 21.

iVillage

(IVIL)

gathered 2 3/4, or 5.3%, to 54 7/8 after agreeing to acquire

Lamaze Publishing

in a stock deal valued at $86.7 million.

QRS

(QRSI)

advanced 6 5/8, or 13.7%, to 55 after yesterday announcing an obscure deal to distribute its

QRS Keystone

electronic catalog to Korean retailers through the information and communications unit of department and discount store operator

Shinsegae Group

. Retailers use the catalog, which list manufacturers' products by universal product codes, to manage their inventory.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

The first of the big auto companies reported second-quarter earnings with a bang. But investors apparently were wearing ear plugs:

Ford

(F) - Get Report

slid 9/16 to 52 15/16 after announcing earnings of $2 a share, 4 cents above the 16-analyst consensus and up from last year's $1.91.

In other earnings news:

Offerings and stock actions

Pan-Asian Web portal

China.com

(CHINA:Nasdaq) lowered 6 11/16, or 10%, to 60 1/2 after its extraordinary trading debut yesterday.

Tibco Software

(TIBX:Nasdaq) rocketed 17 3/8, or 115.8%, to 32 3/8 on its first day of trading. The company, which is majority owned by

Reuters

(RTRSY)

, was priced yesterday at $15 a share by lead underwriter

Goldman Sachs

at the top end of its pricing range.

Analyst actions

Alpha Industries

(AHAA)

swelled 6, or 12%, to an all-time high of 55 15/16 after Prudential Securities raised it to strong buy from accumulate with a 12-month price target of 64.

Live virus vaccine firm

Aviron

(AVIR)

sliced off 4 5/8, or 14.3%, to 27 3/4 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter cut it to outperform from strong buy, citing, in part, the stock's recent weakness.

Crown Castle

(TWRS)

climbed 2 9/16, or 11.5%, to an all-time high of 25 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter lifted its price target to 28 from 25. The firm said it has renewed confidence in the company's ability to increase utilization of its communications towers and consolidate the fragmented tower industry.

GoTo.com

(GOTO)

flew 14 1/2, or 26.9%, to 68 5/8 after

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

,

Thomas Weisel Partners

and Salomon Smith Barney started coverage of the stock with buy ratings. Salomon, one of GoTo.com's underwriters, also issued a price target of 71.

Banc of America Securities

started

Exodus Communications

(EXDS)

,

Inktomi

(INKT)

and

Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch

(TMCS)

with buy ratings, setting price targets of 170, 170 and 55, respectively. Exodus rose 10 13/16, or 8%, to an all-time high of 146 7/16; Inktomi rose 3 5/16 to 128 7/8; Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch slipped 11/16 to 34 1/4.

International Paper

(IP) - Get Report

tacked on 1 1/16 to 54 1/16 after

Warburg Dillon Read

upped it to buy from hold, lifted its price target for the stock to 65 from 60 and increased earnings estimates for the next three years.

Matsushita Electric Industrial

(MC) - Get Report

surged 31 11/16, or 15.8%, to an all-time high of 232 on word Morgan Stanley Dean Witter plans to add the Japanese consumer electronics giant to a list of 40 recommended global stocks.

Symbol Technologies

(SBL)

vaulted 4 1/2, or 12.5%, to 40 1/2 after Merrill upgraded it to long-term buy from accumulate and set a 12-month price target of 43.

Miscellany

Ask Jeeves

(ASKJ)

jumped 5 5/16, or 10.4%, to 56 3/4 for no particular

reason at all.

Hitachi

(HIT)

picked up 6 7/16, or 6.6%, to an annual high of 103 15/16 after it set plans last night to create an asset management business to coordinate investments for its group-wide pension plans. The company has more than 700 subsidiaries worldwide.

Iridium sank 1 13/32, or 17.4%, to 6 3/4 after Motorola said that it won't bankroll the struggling satellite phone company any further unless financing partners

Lockheed Martin

(LMT) - Get Report

and

Raytheon

(RTNA)

help restructure it. Motorola listed Iridium's three options as out-of-court restructuring, Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and, finally, liquidation.

Marine Drilling

(MRL)

declined 1 3/16, or 7.9%, to 13 7/8 on news that

Esso Exploration

, a division of

Exxon

(XON) - Get Report

, rejected delivery of the

Marine 700

, a semisubmersible rig capable of drilling as much as 7,500 feet underwater.

Network Associates

(NETA)

hopped 1 5/8, or 8.3%, to 21 3/16 after it and

ISS Group

(ISSX)

settled a patent infringement lawsuit out of court. ISS added 1 to 38.

United Technologies rose 1 1/2 to 69 7/8 after saying its

Sikorsky Aircraft

subsidiary will consolidate its Connecticut operations and cut its workforce by 1,100 people. Separately, UTX's

Pratt & Whitney

unit said it received a $235 million order to provide additional aircraft engines to

UAL's

(UAL) - Get Report

United Airlines

.

ViroPharma

(VPHM)

stormed up 6 3/8, or 50%, to 19 1/8 on yesterday's news that its common-cold drug,

pleconaril

, showed promising results in midstage trials.