Millennial Mark Remains Elusive

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The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

challenged its next millennium mark but never crossed it, instead matching its best intraday level ever and setting the stage for a run at 9000 tomorrow.

The blue-chip index moved steadily higher all session, with little behind it but general positive conviction, and first closed in on 9000 around 3:15 p.m. EST. It hit 8993.37, pulled back to 8964.47 by 3:35, then headed back toward the big round number. Around 3:45 the Dow touched 8997.11 -- precisely the intraday mark it established March 25 -- then retreated again to close up 118.32, or 1.3%, at a record 8986.64.

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

,

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

and

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

led the many advancers, with only

Caterpillar

(CAT) - Get Report

,

Sears

(S) - Get Report

,

Union Carbide

(UK)

and

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

on the downside.

"As we get higher and higher in the market, these 1,000-point increments become less and less significant," said Paul Rabbitt, executive director of equity research at

CIBC Oppenheimer

. "The fact that we've rallied 13% to get here is probably more significant than Dow 9000. We're running at a 50% annualized rate, so there has to be some consolidation."

All of the other major indices set new highs as well. The

S&P 500

rose 11.86, or 1.1%, to 1120.01; the tech-filled

Nasdaq Composite Index

gained 5.29, or 0.3%, to 1852.96; and the small-cap

Russell 2000

added 1.50, or 0.3%, to 486.43.

Those numbers tell today's story of blue-chip-favoring rotation, as does the market internals. Equity breadth was solidly positive on the

New York Stock Exchange

, on which all of the Dow's components trade, but was extremely narrow all day on the Nasdaq. NYSE advancers beat decliners by 1,758 to 1,200 on a hefty 674.1 million shares, with 302 new highs ahead of 16 new lows. On the Nasdaq, 2,240 advancers nudged past 2,217 decliners on a massive 926.1 million shares. New Nasdaq highs topped new lows by 326 to 57.

Big tech indices were anemic -- the large-cap

Nasdaq 100

up 1.77 to a record 1230.18, the

Morgan Stanley High-Tech 35

up 1.59 to a record 551.90 -- but the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

gained a strong 42.31, or 1.2%, to 3620.88. The

Dow Jones Utilities Average

was a bigger standout still, surging 4.87, or 1.7%, to a record 291.18.

Scott Bleier, chief investment strategist at

Prime Charter

, was taken aback at that move. "We're gonna get a slowdown later this year -- why are the utilities up 5 points?" he said.

The action in the once-moribund utility sector plays into Bleier's key themes about the tenor of this marketplace. "Do I call the top? It's not my job to call the top. It's my job to make money in the underlying trend of the market environment that we're in," he said. "I don't want to be a dumper on good times, but I am just trying to offer a reminder that history repeats itself every time."

Although Bleier takes pains to distinguish himself from inveterate bears, he remains highly skeptical of the effect that a vast wave of liquidity has had on several market sectors. "If you look at the action in the Internet stocks, they are completely reminiscent of the biotech boom of the summer of '91," he said. "You have companies like

Lycos

trading at 20 times future sales --

20 times

estimated sales." On spillover from yesterday's news of $30 million in new contracts, Lycos

(LCOS)

today leapt 7 7/8, or 15.4%, to an all-time high of 58 7/8.

The bond market firmed ahead of tomorrow's March

employment report

, with the bellwether 30-year Treasury up 18/32 to 103 30/32. Its yield eased to 5.84%.

Elsewhere in North America, the

Toronto Stock Exchange 300

lost 9.96 to 7517.89 and the Mexican

Bolsa

slipped 7.11 to 4991.99.

Thursday's Company Report

By

Heather Moore
Staff Reporter

(Earnings estimates from

First Call

; new highs and lows on a closing basis unless otherwise specified.)

The market explored both poles of the biotech globe today. North was

Cor Therapeutics

(CORR) - Get Report

, which zoomed up 9 15/16, or 80.3%, to 22 5/16 after the

Food and Drug Administration

indicated it would allow the use of the company's blood-clot-fighting drug

Integrilin

in a much broader group of patients than expected. Rival

Centocor

(CNTO)

fell 2 1/8 to 44 on the news.

TheStreet.com

got to the Cor of the matter in a

story today.

South -- far south -- was

Interferon Sciences

(IFSC)

. The stock plummeted 4 27/32, or 69.2%, to 2 5/32 on news that the FDA has found the clinical trial results of the company's drug

Alferon N Injection

insufficient to file for approval. The drug was intended as treatment for HIV patients.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Security Capital Atlantic

(SCA) - Get Report

soared 1 9/16, or 7.4%, to 22 9/16 and

Security Capital Pacific Trust

(PTR) - Get Report

tripped 15/16 to 23 3/16 after the companies announced that they are merging in a stock swap valued at $1.1 billion. The two REITs are controlled by

Security Capital Group

(SCZB)

, which lost 1/8 to 30 7/8.

Chase Manhattan

(CMB)

closed at an all-time high of 139 5/16, up 4 1/16, after

The Wall Street Journal

reported that the company is in talks to acquire the securities custody and clearing unit of

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

(MWD)

. Morgan Stanley jumped 1 to 73 7/8.

Interstate Hotels

(IHC) - Get Report

climbed 15/16 to 36 11/16 and

Patriot American Hospitality

(PAH) - Get Report

jumped 5/16 to 27 1/4 after the companies announced that a federal court denied a request by

Marriott

(MAR) - Get Report

for a temporary restraining order to block their proposed merger. Marriott gained 1 9/16 to 37 1/2.

Earnings reports and previews

Rogue Wave Software

(RWAV)

dived 6 1/2, or 41.9%, to 9 1/16 after warning that it expects its second-quarter earnings to come in at four to five cents per share -- below the three-analyst estimate of 13 cents and the year-ago seven cents.

Respironics

(RESP)

plunged 10 9/16, or 37%, to 18 3/8 after saying after the bell yesterday that it expects to miss analysts' third-quarter earnings estimates by 15 to 17 cents per share.

Security Dynamics

(SDTI)

dwindled 15 3/16, or 36%, to 26 15/16 after warning that its first-quarter earnings will come in at about 14 cents per share, a nickel below the 16-analyst estimate and above the year-ago 13 cents.

SmarTalk TeleServices

(SMTK)

sank 8 11/16, or 28%, to 22 7/16 after announcing after the close

yesterday that it expects to report a first-quarter loss of a nickel per share.

Applied Microsystems

(APMC)

tumbled 1 3/16, or 16.1%, to 6 1/4 after announcing that it anticipates reporting a first-quarter loss of between 8 and 12 cents per share, compared to the penny profit made last year and predicted by two analysts for this year. The company attributed the performance to sales shortfalls in the Pacific Rim and North America and to unfavorable foreign currency exchange rates in Japan.

Integrated Measurement Systems

(IMSC)

fell 1 5/16, or 10.7%, to 11 on yesterday's news that it expects to post first-quarter results between a three-cent loss and a penny profit per share. The six-analyst estimate is a 15-cent profit.

Videoserver

(VSVR)

lost 1 1/4, or 10%, to 11 3/8 after saying after the bell

yesterday that it expects to break even in its first quarter.

Bed Bath & Beyond

(BBBY) - Get Report

closed at an all-time high of 51 5/8, up 3 5/16, or 6.9%, after reporting fourth-quarter earnings of 35 cents per share, above the 17-analyst estimate of 32 cents and last year's 26 cents.

DSC Communications

(DIGI)

slipped 1 3/16, or 6.6%, to 16 15/16 after announcing late yesterday that it expects to report a first-quarter loss of between 15 and 25 cents per share, significantly below the 22-analyst prediction of a 16-cent profit.

Best Buy

(BBY) - Get Report

dropped 1 3/16 to 70 5/16 despite reporting fourth-quarter earnings of $1.29 per share, two cents ahead of the 15-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 20 cents. The company also said its fourth-quarter same-store sales were up 16.9%.

Rawlings Sporting Goods

(RAWL)

grew 9/16 to an all-time high of 14 1/8 after reporting after the close yesterday second-quarter earnings of 61 cents per share, in line with analyst estimates and up from last year's figures. Today,

SBC Warburg Dillon Read

upgraded the company to outperform from neutral.

Offerings and stock actions

Freedom Securities

(FSI:NYSE) climbed 1 9/16, or 7.8%, to 21 9/16 after its IPO priced above the $20 target.

Analyst actions

Microchip Technology

(MCHP) - Get Report

increased 4 11/16, or 22.3%, to 25 7/8 after

NationsBanc Montgomery Securities

upped it to buy from hold. Last night, the company said it expects to report fourth-quarter earnings 10% below the nine-analyst prediction of 30 cents.

Standard Motor Products

(SMP) - Get Report

soared 3 7/16, or 17.3%, to 23 5/16 after Morgan Stanley Dean Witter upgraded it to outperform from neutral.

Think New Ideas

(THNK)

jumped an additional 3 9/16, or 15.1%, to 27 1/4 after yesterday's strong buy rating from

Volpe Brown Whelan

.

America Online

(AOL)

closed at an all-time high of 74 1/4, up 1 5/16, after

Bear Stearns

began coverage with a buy. Separately, fellow Internet stocks were up on deals announced yesterday. Besides the above-mentioned Lycos,

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

lifted 4 3/4, or 5.3%, to 95 1/16.

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

advanced 6 1/8, or 6.3%, to 103 7/8 even after

Everen Securities

cut it to short-term market perform from outperform.

Apache

(APA) - Get Report

lost 11/16 to 37 1/4,

Enron Oil & Gas

(EOG) - Get Report

lost 3/16 to 23 3/8 and

Union Pacific Resources Group

(UPR)

lost 5/16 to 24 after

Salomon Smith Barney

downgraded the oil exploration stocks to neutral from outperform. The firm also began coverage on

Houston Exploration

(THX)

, which gained 7/8 to 23 1/2, with an outperform and a 12-month price target of 26 1/2.

Brightpoint

(CELL)

added 1/16 to 16 15/16 after Bear Stearns began coverage with an attractive.

Miscellany

RJR Nabisco Holdings

(RN)

dropped 3/8 to 30 5/8 after reports circulated throughout the market that the company withdrew from the

Senate's

proposed tobacco bill. Just before the close, however, an RJR spokeswoman denied any withdrawal, saying the company stands by the industry's $368.5 billion agreement with Congress. "We have no clue where this is coming from," she said.

Strategia

(SAA) - Get Report

swelled 1 7/8, or 24.2%, to 9 5/8 after signing an alliance with

Computer Associates International

(CA) - Get Report

to jointly provide Year 2000 compliance services to clients of both firms. Computer Associates lost 1 1/2 to 55 1/2.

Zygo

(ZIGO)

climbed 3 1/4, or 20.8%, to 19 3/16 after announcing a reorganization of the company into "a single worldwide organization."

CheckFree Holdings

(CKFR)

grew 2 5/16, or 9.2%, to 27 5/8 after saying it would sell seven of its software products by June 30 to focus on its core electronic commerce business.

Chrysler

(C) - Get Report

fell 7/8 to 41 after reporting a 1.8% decline in U.S. March vehicle sales, which resulted from a 16.8% drop in car sales.

Ford

(F) - Get Report

, which slipped 1/2 to 63 5/16, and

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, which added 1/16 to 67 7/16, are scheduled to report March sales tomorrow.

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

slipped 1/16 to 46 3/16 after saying its March same-store sales rose 7%.