Amid a sea of earnings reports, a strong showing from Merrill Lynch (MER) (see below) was boosting the financial sector with the American Stock Exchange Broker/Dealer Index lifting 1.5%. Merrill moved up 4 3/16, or 5.5%, to 79 7/8.

Despite heavy lifting from

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

, up 3.4%, and

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

, rising 2.7%, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

was sinking, lately off 40.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Ask Jeeves

(ASKJ)

hopped 4 1/2 to 103 11/16 after saying it is buying

Direct Hit Technologies

, a privately held company based in Natick, Mass. Under the deal, 5.12 million unregistered shares of Ask Jeeves' common stock will be exchanged for all outstanding shares, options and warrants of Direct Hit.

For additional coverage of this

story, check out a separate story from the

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom.

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

,

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

and

PricewaterhouseCoopers

said they are teaming up to offer content management solutions and e-business strategies for the media and entertainment industries. Shares of Sun gained 1 3/16 to 80 5/16 and Oracle gained 2 1/4 to 56 1/2.

For additional coverage of the

alliance, check out a separate story from the

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom.

Williams Communications

(WCG) - Get Report

inched up 5/8 to 35 1/4 after it said it signed a $200 million supply deal with

Teleglobe

(TGO)

. Shares of Teleglobe rose 1 1/8 to 27 1/4.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

(

Earnings estimates from First Call/Thomson Financial; earnings reported on a diluted basis unless otherwise specified.

)

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

slipped 15/16 to 49 9/16 after it said its fourth-quarter operational earnings were 57 cents a share, down from the year-ago 68 cents. It attributed the drop primarily to the impact of its acquisition of

TCI

. Operational earnings came in at $1.84 billion. The 24-analyst estimate called for the company to earn 55 cents.

For additional coverage of AT&T's

earnings, check out a separate story from the

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom.

Avery Dennison

(AVY) - Get Report

added 1/4 to 67 9/16 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 67 cents a share, beating the nine-analyst estimate of 63 cents and up from the year-ago 54 cents.

Burlington Northern

(BNI)

gained 3/8 to 23 13/16 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings of 69 cents a share, beating the 11-analyst estimate of 67 cents and the year-ago 63 cents.

Coca-Cola Enterprises

(CCE)

gained 1 5/8, or 7%, to 24 13/16 after it reported a fourth-quarter loss of 4 cents a share, narrower than the 18-analyst estimate of a 7-cent loss and the year-ago 9 cent loss.

Convergys

(CVG)

lost 1/8 to 35 5/8 after it reported earnings of 28 cents a share, a penny better than the 13-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 22 cents.

Cypress Semiconductor

(CY) - Get Report

, down 1, or 2.7%, to 35 9/16 posted fourth-quarter earnings of 32 cents a share, beating the 12-analyst estimate of 30 cents and up from the year-ago 2-cent loss.

Equifax

(EFX) - Get Report

gained 3 3/16, or 16%, to 23 1/16 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 45 cents a share, in line with the eight-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 31 cents.

ExxonMobil

(XOM) - Get Report

rose 9/16 to 84 3/4 after it posted fourth-quarter operating earnings of 77 cents a share, ahead of the 24-analyst estimate of 75 cents and up from the year-ago 58 cents.

ITT Industries

(IIN) - Get Report

rose 5/8 to 31 1/4 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings of 77 cents a share, in line with the 10-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 59 cents.

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

rose 2 11/16 to 86 3/8 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 56 cents a share, a penny better than the 23-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 50 cents.

Marine Drilling

(MRL)

edged down 7/16 to 23 9/16 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings of 4 cents a share, missing the 27-analyst estimate by a penny and down from the year-ago 13 cents.

Merrill Lynch posted fourth-quarter earnings of $1.80 a share, well-ahead of the 11-analyst estimate of $1.39 and up from the year-ago 86 cents. The Heard on the Street column in

The Wall Street Journal

said that while Merrill's online trading program, Unlimited Advantage, has attracted a lot of money -- as much as $65 billion -- analysts say the growth may be less impressive because more than two-thirds of total assets aren't coming from new clients but from existing Merrill customers.

For additional coverage of Merrill's

earnings, check out a separate story from the

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom.

Neuberger Berman

(NEU) - Get Report

lost 1/4 to 25 5/8 after it posted fourth-quarter pro forma earnings of 64 cents a share, beating the seven-analyst estimate of 62 cents and up from the year-ago 61 cents.

Pepsi Bottling Group

(PBG)

inched up 1/4 to 18 3/8 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 6 cents a share, which included a 25-cent gain. The 17-analyst estimate was a 22-cent loss. The report was up from the year-ago pro-forma loss of $1.34.

Praxair

(PX)

lost 5, or 10.3%, to 43 3/4 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 70 cents a share, in line with the 12-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 66 cents.

Quorum Health Group

(QHGI)

slipped 3/16 to 10 11/16 after it reported second-quarter earnings of 18 cents a share, in line with the 14-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 5 cents.

Rayovac

(ROV)

lost 5 1/16 to 22 1/16 after it reported first-quarter earnings of 48 cents a share, beating the seven-analyst estimate of 46 cents and up from the year-ago 34 cents.

Technitrol

(TNL)

lost 5/8 to 47 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 80 cents a share, beating the four-analyst estimate of 77 cents and up from the year-ago 50 cents.

Tellabs

(TLAB)

shed 9, or 13%, to 60 1/8 after it posted fourth-quarter earnings of 41 cents a share, a penny better than both the 27-analyst estimate and the year-ago report.

Textron

(TXT) - Get Report

was unchanged at 60 7/8 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.12 per share, a penny better than the 10-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 74 cents.

Xerox

(XRX) - Get Report

tacked on 1/4 to 22 after it reported fourth-quarter earnings of 41 cents a share, a penny ahead of the lowered 13-analyst estimate, in the wake of the company's profit warning last month. In the year-ago period, Xerox earned 84 cents.

The company also said it will take a "substantial" restructuring charge, most likely in the first quarter. Xerox also reiterated its previous outlook "that some issues could reduce earnings in the first quarter proportionately to the fourth-quarter decline and, to a lesser extent, in the second quarter, followed by meaningful growth later in the year."

For more on Xerox's earnings, take a look at the

story written by

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com's

joint newsroom.

Offerings and stock actions

Rex Stores

(RSC)

gained 7/16 to 13 3/4 after it said it added 1.5 million shares to its current share buyback plan.

Regent Communications

(RGCI)

was rising 3 1/16, or 36%, to 11 5/8 after

Prudential Securities

priced a 16 million-share IPO at $8.50 a share.

Sawtek

(SAWS)

said it is offering four million shares of its common stock at $72.875 a share to the public market.

Analyst actions

J.P. Morgan

rolled out coverage on

Aracruz

(ARC) - Get Report

with a buy rating. Shares of Aracruz were slipping 1/8 to 77 5/16.

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

raised its price target on

About.com

(BOUT) - Get Report

to 150 from 100. The firm also upped its 2000 earnings estimate to a loss of $1.85 from a loss of $2.94. Shares of About.com were lifting 18 1/4, or 29%, to 81.

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown

upgraded the shares of

Bemis

(BMS) - Get Report

to buy from market outperform. Shares of Bemis were shedding 1/4 to 30 1/4.

Credit Suisse First Boston

upped its rating on

Carnival

(CCL) - Get Report

to strong buy from buy. Shares of Carnival were adding 1/4 to 43 3/8.

PaineWebber

sliced its price target on

Compuware

(CPWR)

to 32 from 41. Shares of Compuware were declining 3 7/8, or 14.6%, to 22 5/8.

Merrill Lynch raised its intermediate-term rating on

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

to accumulate from neutral.

Goldman Sachs

raised its fiscal 2000 estimates on the stock to 76 cents a share from 68 cents and added it to its purchase list. Shares of Disney were advancing 3 3/4, or 11.2%, to 37 1/16.

Wachovia Securities

rolled out coverage of

Eltrax Systems

(ELTX)

with a strong buy rating. Shares of Eltrax were mounting 1 5/16, or 12.9%, to 11 1/2.

Credit Suisse First Boston

initiated coverage of

Engage Technologies

(ENGA)

with a buy rating and a price target of 170. Shares of Engage Technologies were tacking on 7 1/2, or 6.8%, to 117 1/8.

Gentex

(GNTX) - Get Report

reported fourth-quarter earnings of 23 cents a share, a penny better than the 13-analyst estimate and in line with the year-ago 23 cents. Shares of Gentex were skidding 2 1/8, or 6.6%, to 30.

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown upped its rating on

Heartland Express

(HTLD) - Get Report

to buy from market perform. Shares of Heartland Express were moving up 1/2 to 14.

Lehman Brothers cut its price target on

Homestake Mining

(HM)

to 6 1/2 from 8. Shares of Homestake Mining were sliding 1/16 to 6 1/2.

Bear Stearns

upped its rating on

Lexmark

(LXK)

to buy from attractive. In addition, Salomon Smith Barney upped its rating to outperform from hold. Shares of Lexmark were adding 1 1/4 to 93 3/4.

Merrill Lynch upgraded shares of

Magna International

(MGA) - Get Report

to accumulate from neutral. Shares of Magna International were dwindling 3/4 to 42 3/8.

Robertson Stephens

started coverage of

Mechanical Technology

(MKTY)

with a buy rating. Shares of Mechanical Technology was jumping 7 1/16, or 13.3%, to 60 1/4.

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown upgraded its rating on

Mirage Resorts

(MIR)

to buy from market perform. Shares of Mirage Resorts were shedding 1/2 to 12 5/8.

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown sliced its rating on

PSS World

(PSSI)

to market perform. Shares of PSS World were retreating 3 1/16, or 31.9%, to 6 5/8.

Warburg Dillon Read

downgraded its rating on

Sola International

(SOL) - Get Report

to hold from strong buy. Shares of Sola dropped 3 7/8, or 36.9%, to 6 5/8.

PaineWebber

raised its fiscal 2000 EPS estimates on

Texas Instruments

(TXN) - Get Report

to $2.35 from $2.28 a share. Shares of Texas Instruments were mounting 3 9/16 to 114 9/16.

Credit Suisse First Boston

rolled out coverage of

24/7 Media

(TFSM)

with a buy rating and a price target of 90. Shares of 24/7 Media were climbing 9/16 to 59 1/2.

Deutsche Banc Alex Brown raised its rating on

Univision

(UVN)

to strong buy from buy. Shares of Univision were bouncing 3/16 to 104 3/16.

Wachovia Securities

upped its rating on

Waters

(WAT) - Get Report

to a strong buy rating from a long-term buy. Shares of Waters were advancing 13 3/8, or 26.6%, to 63 9/16.

Miscellany

DaimlerChrysler's

(DCX)

senior vice president of sales and service, John MacDonald, told DaimlerChrysler dealers Sunday that he expects that the company's new minivan will not obtain the highest crash-survival rating from the

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

. Shares of DaimlerChrysler were skidding 1 7/8 to 67 13/16.

Standard & Poor's

said

Harley-Davidson

(HDI)

and

Biogen

(BGEN)

will join the

S&P 500

after the close of regular trading on Friday, replacing

Fleetwood Enterprises

(FLE)

and

Foster Wheeler

(FWC)

.

Shares of Harley-Davidson were adding 4 1/4, or 6.2%, to 75 13/16 and Biogen was mounting 9 1/4, or 10.8%, to 94 1/2, while Fleetwood Enterprises was sinking 1 1/16, or 5.5%, to 18 1/4. Foster Wheeler was losing 1 1/8, or 12.2%, to 8 1/16.

Ticketmaster.com

, which is part of

Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch

(TMCS)

, said consumers coming to its Web site will soon be able to buy, download and print bar-coded event tickets from their PCs. Shares of Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch were lifting 1/4 to 41.

The nation's biggest retailers, led by the biggest retailer in the world,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

, will seek $8.1 billion in damages from

Visa USA

and

MasterCard International

for alleged antitrust violations in the debit card industry, the

Journal

reported. Shares of Wal-Mart were gaining 3/4 to 60 1/8.