Off-Hours Trading: Market Waits for Economic Indicators as Futures Point Higher

Clinton's final State of the Union enters its 10th hour.
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Someone wake us when President Clinton wraps it up.

Did anyone else get the feeling that someone was going to have to drag the President kicking and screaming off the rostrum last night? Nah, this guy doesn't really, really like his job. You know, it's possible that setting up some library in Little Rock or campaigning in greater Schenectady, N.Y. may not hold the same allure as being the leader of the free world.

Market watchers spent most of last night and into the morning listening to Clinton's final

State of the Union

address. (Actually, it was only 89 minutes -- his longest yet -- it just seemed longer.)

There was not a whole lot in the address to move the market today, but it was so long it just seemed to be really important.

The market looks to move higher this morning as the

S&P 500

March futures contract was quoted up 4.2 to 1414. With fair value at about -2.4, the market's looking pretty good. The thinly traded

Nasdaq 100

March contract was up 29 to 3665.

This morning, the market will get a double dose of economic news when the fourth-quarter

Employment Cost Index

, an important measure of wage inflation, and the fourth-quarter

GDP

release.

Fed and market sages will be watching the releases carefully for a window into what the

Federal Open Market Committee

may do at its upcoming meeting on Feb. 1-2.

Then, at 9:15, Fed Gov.

Laurence Meyer

is slated to begin speaking at the skiing and schmoozing bonanza known as Davos.

Last night, another major dose of earnings were released as

Aflac

(AFL) - Get Report

,

NBC Internet

(NBCI)

and

Veritas Software

(VRTS) - Get Report

all exceeded expectations.

However,

Gillette

(G) - Get Report

posted fourth-quarter earnings of 32 cents a share, in line with the lowered 13-analyst

First Call/Thomson Financial

estimate but down from the year-ago 39 cents. Fourth-quarter sales were $3.03 billion, down 4% from $3.17 billion in the year-ago period. Gillette said that excluding unfavorable foreign exchange rates, sales were "virtually unchanged" compared with the year-ago period.

Earnings slow to a trickle today, but don't fret, next week they'll be back, and better than ever.

Last Night's After-Hours Trading

By Eric Gillin
Editorial Assistant

What exactly is

I-Link

(ILNK)

, and why is it trading so heavily?

Interesting question.

Based in Draper, Utah, I-Link is an enhanced voice and data service provider that uses Internet protocol, or IP, to help unify communication over its network. Last Thursday, it announced that it has reached an agreement in principle with

Big Planet

, a division of

Nu Skin

(NUS) - Get Report

. Per the deal, which hasn't been signed yet, Big Planet would obtain the distribution rights of I-Link's products and services.

In the week since, investor interest in the company has been building, sending day session volumes skyrocketing. The day after the deal was announced, it traded on a million shares volume. Two days later, it traded on 3.7 million shares. During today's day session, it rose 2 3/32, or 46.2%, to 6 5/8 on 3.6 million shares. That volume is unusually heavy. The company rarely breaks the six-digit volume barrier -- that is, until recently.

So why all the interest in a company with a $152 million market cap?

I-Link's CFO, John Ames, said much of the recent interest was due to the Big Planet agreement, which hasn't yet been formalized in contract form.

"Last Thursday, we made an agreement of principles and terms with Big Planet," Ames said. "A lot of this is just anticipation of that finally closing."

When will this contract be signed?

"We're down to very near-term closure in signing the Big Planet contract," Ames said.

Tonight, investors sent the stock to the top of

Island

ECN's most-active list. It traded on 1.4 million shares and was relatively flat after today's big gain. I-Link gained 5/16 to 7.

PictureTel

(PCTL)

rose 1 15/16 to 7 3/4 on 76,000 shares on Island after announcing a deal with a telecommunications company whose name ends in "T&T."

And if you just guessed

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

, go take a lap.

You're wrong.

The company announced a strategic partnership with

New T&T

, a Hong Kong-based telco and child of

Wharf Holdings

. In the press release announcing the partnership, PictureTel said "the two companies will work together to deliver Web-based application services." For those of you without a jargon-to-English dictionary, think "streaming video."

Business-to-business plays continue to multiply like

Gremlins at a water park.

American Access Technologies

(AATK)

rose 1 121/256 to 9 105/256 on 440,000 shares on Island after announcing that it will start a B2B portal with

Vulcan Microsystems

. The new venture will market communications equipment and "zone cabling" solutions, American Access' pet product.

In many urban areas there are more

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

than street corners to put 'em on.

So it's not shocking to see the caffeine king on Island's most-active chart this evening. It was marginally higher, up 7/8 to 29 3/4 on 50,000 shares, after releasing first-quarter earnings.

Earnings came in at 18 cents a share, surprising no one.

A couple days ago, the company said first-quarter earnings would be 18 cents a share, 2 cents better than the

First Call/Thomson Financial

estimate. The omnipresent coffee slinger also said that fiscal 2000 earnings would be 67 cents to 70 cents a share, much better than fiscal 1999's, which came in at 54 cents.

As a result,

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

increased its rating on the stock to outperform from neutral during yesterday's day session, which was a profitable one for Starbucks. The company rose 3, or 11.5%, to 29.

Tonight's mild gain comes on the heels of a day-session loss of 1/16 to 28 7/8.

Island ECN, owned by Datek Online, offers trading, mainly in Nasdaq-listed stocks, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

.

MarketXT, formerly Eclipse Trading, offers after-hours trading to retail clients of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's (MWD) Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online, Mellon Bank's (MEL) Dreyfus Brokerage Services and clients of Salomon Smith Barney. Clients can trade 200 of the most actively traded New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market issues, 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Thursday.

Confused?

TheStreet.com

explains how the rules change when the sun goes down in Investing Basics: Night Owl, a section devoted to after-hours trading.