Market's Gains Hold and Build at Midsession

The tech-led rally is firmly in place. Plus, a look at the debut of the OptiMark trading system.
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After a herky-jerky start

Barry Sanders

would be proud of, stocks were on the rise as lunchtime approached on Wall Street.

A report showing fourth-quarter

gross domestic product

rose 5.6%, well above the 4.4% expected, provided the backdrop for market players to push the forward momentum further. Technology stocks were again setting a blazing pace blue-chips struggled to match.

The

Nasdaq Composite Index

was pushing deeper into record territory, lately up 17 to 2494. A bullish report on fourth-quarter PC sales and news of the

Uniphase

(UNPH)

-

JDS Fitel

merger was helping the index overcome a 16% decline in

PeopleSoft

(PSFT)

, which

last night posted disappointing fourth-quarter results.

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

was the best performer among traditional tech bellwethers, up 5.8% after research firm

International Data

reported PC sales grew 15% in the fourth quarter and 12% in 1998.

Gateway

(GTW)

was up 5.7% in

New York Stock Exchange

trading.

Beyond tech, the Nasdaq Comp was aided by

Amgen

(AMGN) - Get Report

, lately up 7.7% after posting better-than-expected earnings and setting a stock-split last night.

Other major proxies were higher, although none were sharing the Nasdaq's jaunt into history. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was up 63 to 9344, the

S&P 500

was higher by 7 to 1272, the

Russell 2000

was higher by 1 to 425; and

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index was up 5 to 558.

In NYSE trading, declining stocks were leading advancers 1,393 to 1,385 on 493 million shares have traded while. In

Nasdaq Stock Market

activity, 587 million shares have traded while losers were leading by a slim 1,829 to 1,813.

Despite gains today and so far this month (traditionally a proxy of how stocks will fare for the year), some players remain dubious.

"Preliminarily, the earnings have been coming in pretty good, but that's relative to expectations I'm pretty sure had been ratcheted down," said Lisa Cullen, equity analyst at

Merrill Lynch

, in an interview conducted late yesterday. "But the last three quarters you've had down year-over-year comparisons. The fact we've had corporate earnings so weak while the economy has been strong makes us concerned the virtuous cycle could be about to come to an end."

Cullen admitted being surprised by the economy's resilience (and this was

before

the blockbuster GDP figures were announced), but remains concerned about the sustainability of U.S. economic growth "with the rest of the world expected to be weak to weaker in 1999. Europe is slowing and with a potential slowdown related to Latin America, it could get a little rocky."

Among other indices, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

was up 3%, the

Dow Jones Utility Average

was off 0.8% and the

American Stock Exchange Composite Index

was down 0.7%.

The price of the 30-year Treasury bond was down 6 to 102, its yield rising to 5.11%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's early

Bond Focus.)

Gentlemen, We Have Ignition. We Have a Launch

Meanwhile, the electronic trading system

OptiMark

went "live" this morning on the

Pacific Exchange

with one stock,

3M

(MMM) - Get Report

.

OptiMark is designed to allow institutions to trade big blocks of stock with anonymity by electronically scanning existing bids and offers from any exchange to find the best match. The system seeks to end so-called market structure inefficiencies (or the perception thereof) resulting when smaller traders seek to take advantage of a big buyer or seller entering the market. (

TheStreet.com

wrote about the system in a

Nov. 2 story.)

In a mid-morning conference call, OptiMark CEO Phillip J. Riese said more than 300 "profiles" were submitted at the open to trade 3M shares. After the first four 10-minute cycles, during which the system seeks to match buyers and sellers from the P-Coast specialists' book and anywhere within the Intermarket Trading System, 12,800 had been exchanged.

Earlier this week, members of ITS, a computer network that links the various exchanges and the over-the-counter market, approved OptiMark's use. The approval came only after the

New York Stock Exchange

and OptiMark reached a compromise on how orders sent through the system would be handled by the Big Board. Access will be provided via the Big Board's own electronic trading system, SuperDOT.

The volume of OptiMark shares handled by the NYSE system will be capped at 10% of ITS, but "once we figured out a way to utilize SuperDot, the percentage cap no longer meant too much," said William Lupien, OptiMark's chairman. "We now have a way to get orders to the New York Stock Exchange through their proprietary system."

With the long-standing logjam with the NYSE cleared, OptiMark officials plan to embark on an aggressive expansion.

3M will be the lone stock trading on the system for four trading days, in order to complete the settlement cycle from today's action, Riese said. Thereafter, four additional stocks will be added --

Black & Decker

,

Campbell Soup

(CPB) - Get Report

,

Allied Signal

(ALD)

and

Eastman Kodak

(EK)

.

Like 3M, the four were chosen because the company was looking for "well-known, highly regarded companies supported on the Pacific Exchange that have relatively low volatility," Riese said.

By Feb. 8, the company plans to have 30 symbols trading and then "fairly rapidly" add blocks of 100 stocks until it reaches 2,600 names traded on the Big Board and the

American Stock Exchange

, he said. The company has an agreement to begin trading Nasdaq-traded securities beginning in the third quarter this year.

The system opened today with 114 security firms "trade ready," including 80 on the buy side and 34 on the sell side, following training by OptiMark and receipt of necessary legal and regulatory approvals, Riese said. All but five firms are connected through OptiMark's own network, with the rest via

Thomson AutEx's

TradeRoute system.

"If you took out a list of major players on the buy and sell side and literally took a dart out and threw it at that list, you'd hit one" of the firms participating in the system, Reise said. But he declined to name any of the firms.

Anonymity of trading is a key element of OptiMark, but so too is anonymity of Wall Street participation. Some traders fear the system -- and others like it -- will eventually eradicate the need for human interaction and perhaps Wall Street firms are loathe to alienate their employees.

But OptiMark does enjoy the support of some of the Street's biggest players. Included among the firm's financial backers are

Goldman Sachs

,

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

and

PaineWebber Group

(PWJ)

. Officials at all three firms declined to comment.

Friday's Midday Movers

By Heather Moore
Staff Reporter

Tut Systems

(TUTS)

-- which develops products that enable high-speed data to travel over copper infrastructure -- was flying 41 11/16, or 232%, to 60 after

Lehman Brothers

priced its 2.5-million-share IPO top-range at $18 a share last night. Earlier this week, the offering's range was upped to $16 to $18 from $14 to $16.

In other offerings,

Entercom Communications

(ETM) - Get Report

, a radio broadcaster, was up 8 5/8, or 38.3%, to 31 3/16 after

Credit Suisse First Boston

priced its 13.6 million-share IPO at $22.50 a share last night. The expected price range was raised to $21 to $23 from $18 to $21.

American Axle & Manufacturing

(AXL) - Get Report

was down 1/8 to 16 7/8 after Merrill Lynch priced its 7 million-share IPO mid-range at $17 a share last night.

In other news:

Inktomi

(INKT)

was up 4 7/8, or 7.2%, to 72 7/8 after the

oft-wrong Inside Wall Street column in

Business Week

said some Wall Streeters are bullish on the stock even after

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

dumped the search service as the primary platform for Microsoft's Web network. And

Cash Technologies

(CHNG) - Get Report

, a company that makes machines that deal with loose coins, was up 7/8, or 8.3%, to 11 1/2 on a positive mention in the column. Casey Stern, an analyst at

Starr Securities

, told the magazine the coming of the euro has produced a big potential market for the company's unusual coin-processing machines.

Uniphase was up 7 5/8, or 9.5%, to 88 after agreeing

last night to merge with Canada-based

JDS FITEL

in a deal valued at $6.1 billion.

Earnings/revenue movers

Tommy Hilfiger

(TOM)

was up 4 5/16, or 6.5%, to 70 13/16 after posting third-quarter earnings of $1.22 a share, beating the 10-analyst consensus by 7 cents and up from the year-ago 82 cents.

Kellogg

(K) - Get Report

was down 1 1/8 to 40 15/16 after posting fourth-quarter earnings of 23 cents a share, in line with the 16-analyst estimate but down from the year-ago 39 cents.

Alza

(AZA)

was up 3 7/8, or 8.5%, to 49 9/16 even after last night missing fourth-quarter earnings estimates by a penny a share.

Amgen was up 9 5/16, or 7.8%, to 128 3/4 after last night recording fourth-quarter earnings of 90 cents a share, 6 cents ahead of the 25-analyst estimate and above the year-ago 67 cents. The company also set a 2-for-1 stock split. Today,

BT Alex. Brown

raised the stock's price target to 136 from 125 a share.

Aspect Development

(ASDV)

was down 3 15/16, or 13.1%, to 26 5/32 despite last night beating fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 4 cents a share.

CEC Entertainment

(CEC)

was up 3 1/2, or 14.1%, to 28 1/8 after last night forecasting fourth-quarter earnings will outpace year-ago results of 30 cents a share as well as the 10-analyst estimate of 32 cents.

Dialogic

(DLGC)

was down 3 1/2, or 12.1%, to 25 3/8 even after last night meeting fourth-quarter earnings projections of 43 cents a share.

FDC

(FDC) - Get Report

was up 2 5/8, or 7.3%, to 38 3/4 after last night reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 48 cents a share, in line with expectations.

FVC.com

was up 2 7/8, or 26.3%, to 13 7/8 after last night reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 8 cents a share, double the three-analyst consensus and up from a loss of 3 cents a year ago. The company also said

Lucent

(LU)

has agreed to act as a buyer and reseller of all of FVC.com's voice, video, and data products.

Gencor Industries

(GX)

was down 3/4, or 9.8%, to 6 15/16 after last night saying it will restate figures for fiscal 1998 due to accounting irregularities and other improprieties at its U.K.-based unit. The company said the accounting irregularities and other improprieties may amount to between $4 million and $6

Lam Research

(LRCX) - Get Report

was up 6 1/2, or 20.1%, to 38 13/16 after last night reporting a fourth-quarter loss 30 cents a share narrower than expected. Today, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter upgraded it to outperform from neutral and Credit Suisse First Boston upped it to buy from hold.

LSI Logic

(LSI) - Get Report

was up 3 1/4 to 28 after last night posting break-even fourth-quarter results, above the expected loss of 3 cents a share. Today, Credit Suisse First Boston raised the stock to buy from hold, setting a price target of 35 a share, and BT Alex. Brown pushed it up to strong buy from market performer.

Mercury International

(MERQ)

was up 3 1/2, or 6.1%, to 61 after last night posting fourth-quarter earnings of 47 cents a share, up from 28 cents a year ago and ahead of the 10-analyst estimate of 41 cents. The company also announced a 2-for-1 stock split.

Micros Systems

(MCRS)

was up 3 1/4, or 11.1%, to 32 5/8 after last night topping second-quarter earnings by a penny a share.

Herman Miller

(MLHR) - Get Report

was down 5 11/16, or 23.2%, to 19 after last night warning it expects third-quarter earnings to fall short of the seven-analyst prediction for 39 cents a share due to weak order entry in December and January. The company earned 36 cents in the year-ago period. Today, Merrill Lynch slashed the stock to near-term neutral from buy.

PeopleSoft was down 3 11/16, or 16.3%, to 19 after last night reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 16 cents a share, a repeat of the year-ago figure and 1 cent below the 25-analyst forecast. The company also said it will cut 430 jobs, or 6% or its workforce, amid competition from

SAP

(SAP) - Get Report

and

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

. Today, Bear Stearns lowered PeopleSoft to neutral from buy.

Reltec

(RLT)

was down 7 1/16, or 27.4%, to 18 11/16 after last night missing fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 3 cents a share.

Scientific-Atlanta

(SFA)

was up 1 7/16 to 31 7/16 after last night beating second-quarter earnings estimates by 4 cents a share.

Sequent Computer

(SQNT)

as down 1 1/2, or 11.1%, to 12 after last night posting fourth-quarter earnings 1 cent below expectations.

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

was up 3 7/16, or 7%, to 52 7/16 after last night announcing its same-store sales rose 25% for the four weeks ended Jan. 24.

Wisconsin Energy

(WEC) - Get Report

was down 2 1/16, or 7.3%, to 26 5/16 after last night falling short of fourth-quarter earnings estimates by 13 cents a share. Today, Merrill Lynch cut the stock to near-term neutral from accumulate and long-term accumulate from buy.

As originally published, this story contained an error. Please see Corrections and Clarifications

.