Market Searches for Inspiration Ahead of Economic Data

With the PPI release tomorrow morning getting closer, strong bets are few away from the rallying tech sector.
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Technology and oil stocks led an uninspired climb as major proxies lingered in narrow trading ranges ahead of tomorrow's economic data.

A slew of analyst upgrades and positive research injected some fuel into the tech sector.

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

gained 4.1%

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

moved up 3.8% and

America Online

(AOL)

rose 0.5% , after

CIBC World Markets

initiated coverage with a strong buy rating.

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

lifted 3.2% after the stock receiving a buy rating.

The excitement carried the

Nasdaq Composite Index

up 25, or 0.9%, to 2834, while the

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

was up 8, or 1.4%, to 604.

Oil stocks were also enjoying a pop, as signs of economic strength from Britain and Japan stirred up some optimism about potential for improved demand amid a global recovery. Crude oil for October delivery hit a 23-month high, above $23 a barrel on the

New York Mercantile Exchange

. The

American Stock Exchange Oil &Gas Index

was movin' on up 2.8% as a result, powered by gains in

Atlantic Richfield

(ARC) - Get Report

, up 3.6%,

Amerada Hess

(AHC) - Get Report

, up 3.3%, and

Chevron

(CHV)

, up 3%.

Earlier in the morning, the market paused briefly to mull the effects of strong Japanese

GDP

data on the dollar but concerns were quickly shrugged off. "Ordinarily it's really negative when the dollar falls below 110 against the yen, but its being taken in stride," said Peter Cardillo, chief strategist at

Westfalia Investments

. "The market is basically positioning itself for tomorrow's

economic report. Right now we're in a trading range and I don't expect any major gains," said Cardillo, referring to the release of tomorrow's

Producer Price Index

.

Interest rate concerns continued to weigh on the broader market. While tech and oil stocks were enjoying some outdoor fun, financial stocks

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

and

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

were sitting inside sulking, unable to come out and play until the market gets a grip on which way the Fed will lean at its October meeting. After the market digested two interest rate hikes in recent months, investors thought it was okay to kick back and relax for a bit. Now the relief looks a bit premature. J.P. Morgan was down 2.9%.

Tomorrow's PPI, like any other number that has been released in recent weeks, will be carefully watched, said Jim Maguire,

New York Stock Exchange

specialist at

Henderson Brothers

. "People are going to remain focused on interest rates. I wouldn't be surprised to see choppy market between now and the next time the Fed meets."

After enjoying a modest rise, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

returned to the red, down 4 to 11,032. The broader

S&P 500

was also feeling a little burned, off 2 to 1342, while the

Russell 2000

was managing to keep its ahead above water with a rise of 1 to 437.

On the NYSE, decliners were leading advancers 1,454 to 1,331 on 453 million shares, while on the

Nasdaq Stock Market

leaders were edging laggards 1,793 to 1,714 on 607 million shares. New lows were beating new highs 71 to 63 on the Big Board, while new highs were trouncing new lows 124 to 45 on the Nasdaq.

The benchmark 30-year Treasury was down 8/32 to 100 14/32, its yield at 6.09%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's early

Bond Focus.)

Thursday's Midday Watchlist

By Tara Murphy
Staff Reporter

(

Earnings estimates from First Call; earnings reported on a diluted basis unless otherwise specified

.)

Shares of biotech companies

Idec Pharmaceuticals

(IDPH)

and

Genentech

(DNA)

were getting killed today, apparently due to rumors circulating at the

Carson Group and BioCentury Conference

in New York.

The rumor was that Idec CEO William Rastetter talked down numbers for third-quarter U.S. sales of its cancer drug Rituxan. The drug is jointly sold by Idec and Genentech, and the rumor is they would miss the high end of the range and the whisper number. But the company said in fact, the high-end estimate of $80 million in U.S. sales is "achievable," according to a hedge fund analyst who attended the breakout session.

Wall Street's consensus for Rituxan's third-quarter sales rests in the mid-$70 million range, but there was speculation that the drug could hit $85 million to $90 million in sales in the third quarter. The drug had $68 million in U.S. sales in the second quarter. Idec said sales would be higher in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter, according to the hedge fund analyst, who was buying more Idec stock midday.

Rastetter, who spoke at the breakout session, was not immediately available for comment. Idec was recently trading down 20 3/16, or 15%, at 116 1/2, while Genentech was off 7 1/2, or 4.3%, at 167 1/2.

--

Jesse Eisinger

As noted above, CIBC World Markets ignited the Internet sector today, rolling out coverage of America Online, Yahoo! and eBay with strong buy ratings. Shares of AOL were up 1/2 to 94 1/2, while eBay was soaring 5 1/8 to 140. Yahoo shares were also rocketing 6 5/16 to 159 3/4.

CIBC also started coverage of Amazon.com, with a buy rating. Amazon shares were climbing 1 15/16 to 63 1/2.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Hasbro

(HAS) - Get Report

was up 1/8 to 24 15/16 after it announced its plans to acquire the privately held trading card maker

Wizards of the Coast

for $325 million. The deal is not expected to effect Hasbro's 1999 earnings but will contribute to EPS in 2000.

The Wall Street Journal

reported that

NBC

was close to assuming a 32% stake in

Paxson Communications

(PAX)

, giving the network access to a slew of television stations around the country. According to the

Journal

, the agreement carries an estimated value of $400 million. NBC's owner

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

was sliding 1 15/16 to 119.

Viacom's

(VIA.B)

decision to quit its venture with

UPN

could end up costing the company greatly,

The Wall Street Journal

reported. Viacom is breaking ties with UPN in an effort to gain government approval for its acquisition of

CBS

(CBS) - Get Report

. Shares of Viacom were off 3/4 to 45 9/16, while CBS was also down 11/16 to 49 1/2.

Analyst actions

Allstate

(ALL) - Get Report

was off 1 5/16 to 32 5/16 after

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

sliced its rating on the stock to neutral from market outperform.

Alpha Industries

(AHAA)

was increasing 1 7/8 to 58 after

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

raised its price target on the shares to 65 from 56.

Bemis

(BMS) - Get Report

was up 11/16 to 39 9/16 after

J.P. Morgan

began coverage of the stock with a market performer rating.

Gilead

(GILD) - Get Report

was climbing 13/16 to 89 7/8 after

ING Barings

cut its rating to buy from strong buy.

H.J. Heinz

(HNZ)

was falling 1 1/16 to 44 1/16 after

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

lowered its rating to market perform from a buy. Yesterday, Heinz posted first-quarter earnings of 65 cents a share, just missing the analyst estimate of 66 cents.

Helmerich & Payne

(HP) - Get Report

was up 5/8 to 29 3/4 after CIBC World Markets upped its rating to a buy from a hold.

Ingram Micro

(IM)

was up 15/16, or 7.5%, to 14 5/16 after

Credit Suisse First Boston

sliced its third-quarter earnings estimates on the shares to 13 cents a share from 42 cents. Yesterday, Ingram warned investors that it expects to post third-quarter earnings of 10 cents to 14 cents a diluted share, greatly missing the analyst estimate of 41 cents. The company also said that its current chairman and CEO, Jerre Stead, plans to relinquish his role as chief executive as soon as a successor is found.

Hershey

(HSY) - Get Report

was down 1 15/16 to 49 13/16 after

Lehman Brothers

reduced its fiscal 1999 estimates to $2.32 from $2.36.

Host Marriott

(HMT)

was declining 3/16 to 9 9/16 after

PaineWebber

downgraded its shares of to neutral from attractive.

Kerr-McGee

(KMG)

was up 3/4 to 59 7/16 after DLJ sliced the shares rating to market perform from a buy.

Nextel

(NXTL)

was hopping 3 5/16, or 5.1%, to 67 15/16 after ING Barings raised its rating to a buy from a hold.

Standard Automotive

(AJX) - Get Report

7/16 to 12 3/16 after ING Barings cut its rating to a hold from a strong buy.

Superior Telecom

(SUT)

was plummeting 7 7/8, or 30.5%, to 17 7/8 after Merrill Lynch cut its near-term opinion to accumulate from a buy. Yesterday, the company warned investors to expect third-quarter earnings in the range of 52 cents a share to 58 cents, greatly missing the three-analyst estimate of 88 cents and the year-ago 59 cents. ING Barings also downgraded its shares to a hold from a strong buy.

UTI Energy

(UTI) - Get Report

was up 3/4 to 22 1/2 after CIBC World Markets upgraded the shares to buy from hold.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

CKE Restaurants

(CKR)

was off 1/4 to 8 1/4 after it reported second-quarter earnings of 20 cents a share, in line with the 11-analyst estimate of 20 cents but down from the year-ago 42 cents. The company said it plans to sell 350 of its restaurants over the next year.

Dave & Busters

(DAB)

was up 1/4 to 12 3/16 after it posted second-quarter earnings of 15 cents a share, in line with the eight-analyst estimate of 15 but down from the year-ago 21 cents.

1-800-Flowers.com

(FLWS) - Get Report

was slipping 2 1/8, or 10.9%, to 17 5/8 after it posted a fourth-quarter loss of 8 cents a share, better than the two-analyst estimate for a 9-cent loss but reversing the year-ago 5-cent profit.

Quiksilver

(ZQK)

was declining 2 7/16, or 12.9%, to 16 7/16 after it reported third-quarter earnings of 24 cents a share, beating both the seven-analyst estimate of 23 cents and the year-ago 18 cents.

Offerings and stock actions

LTX

(LTXX)

was down 1 11/16 to 13 after it set an initial public offering of 4.7 million shares. Morgan Stanley,

Needham

and

Gruntal

will be underwriting the deal.

RSL Communications

(RSLC)

was unchanged at 19 7/8 after it set an initial public offering of its Australian unit.

Miscellany

The

FBI

is questioning

Food and Drug Administration

regulators to determine how

American Home Products

(AHP)

received approval in 1996 for its controversial diet drug

Redux

,

The Wall Street Journal

reported. American Home Products was off 1 5/16 to 126 15/16.

Bankrupt

Boston Chicken

said that its executive vice president and CFO, Lawrence White, has left the company to assume a similar role at

CBRL Group

(CBRL) - Get Report

. Shares of CBRL were down 1/16 to 13 1/4.

Electronic Data Systems

(EDS)

was hopping 1 7/16 to 59 7/16 after it said it would implement changes along a few of its service lines in an effort to boost slow growth. EDS said it would consolidate the organization into four groups which include

A.T Kearney

, its business consulting and executive search division,

E.solutions

, its Internet business subsidiary,

Business Process Management

, its customer service unit and

Information Solutions

its outsourcing business. The company has faced stiff competition for

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

and is now being rivaled by new Internet service consultants. Tomorrow, EDS plans to discuss their new strategy with industry analyst in New York.

Payless ShoeSource

(PSS)

was off 1/8 to 49 5/8 after it announced plans open 10

Parade of Shoes

stores to its chain by the end of the year and an additional 50 in 2000. Payless also said that

Payless.com

, its online store, has surpassed management's sales expectations.