While those already off from work and school went to the malls, the village shops, the Web for last-minute gifts, those still stuck in the trading pits also were doing some last-minute buying. With only two days till Christmas, one might think the bulk of shopping was finished and the buying would be mild. No, ma'am.

As officefolk used the lunch hour to grab any remaining baked goodies prepared by festive co-workers, the market's major indices were displaying solid strength. Leading the upswing were the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

-- of late lagging behind the tech-gifted

Nasdaq Composite Index

-- and the Comp, on pace for another high.

Robust from the get-go, the Dow lately was up 124 to 9168, near its session high. Lending the strongest helping hands to the blue-chip measure were

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

,

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

,

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

and

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

.

United Technologies

(UTX) - Get Report

was the gilded 30's top gainer, up 4 5/16 to 108 3/4.

The broader

S&P 500

, rubbing its hands together at the thought of the arrival of

America Online

(AOL)

shares, was up 16 to 1220. The small-cap

Russell 2000

, wondering if strategists' "I've got plans for you" broken-record refrain might one day come true, was up 2 to 402.

AOL was up 3/4 to 138 3/4 following

last night's news that it will replace

Venator

(Z) - Get Report

in the S&P 500 on Dec. 31. The stock soared in composite trading late yesterday (remember that composite means trading on a non-

New York Stock Exchange

exchange such as the Nasdaq, not after-hours

Instinet

trading) and then reached as high as 140 3/4 in pre-opening trading this morning. AOL closed at 122 3/4 in yesterday's NYSE session. Venator was hurting, down 9/16, or 8.3%, to 6 1/4.

The Nasdaq, which pulled back

yesterday after Monday's new high of 2138.02, was at it again, lately powering up 38 to 2159. The

Morgan Stanley High-Tech 35

was up 2.1% and the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index

was up 1.1%.

Comp star

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

was up 5 to 124 after

Merrill Lynch

analyst

Tom Kurlak

upgraded his near- and long-term rating on the stock to accumulate from neutral. Kurlak also upped his 1999 earnings estimate to $4.25 a share from $3.60, based on expectations for higher revenue.

In his research note, Kurlak said: "Our concerns on several key issues, namely average pricing, unit volume growth and gross margins, have been allayed by steps management is taking on cost reductions, as well as by growing evidence of renewed vigorous growth for personal computers."

Like its older tech sibling,

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index was on pace for a new top, lately blasting up 17 to 427. The DOT's all-time record is 419.97, set Monday.

Something tech bears might point out is that despite today's strength, breadth is only narrowly higher for the Nasdaq. The ups had the downs by only 1,924 to 1,847 on 544 million shares in

Nasdaq Stock Market

activity. Whereas on the New York Stock Exchange, advancers led decliners 1,603 to 1,224 on 392 million shares.

The bond market was shrugging its shoulders to a stronger-than-expected

durable goods report

and a downward revision to

gross domestic product

. The 30-year Treasury was down 26/32 to 101 1/32, sending its yield up to 5.17%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's early

Bond Focus.)

Peter Cardillo, chief market strategist at

Westfalia Investments

, is holding onto his bullish position, calling for a strong January effect, 10,000 for the Dow in the coming months and a near-term small-cap renaissance.

As for today's action, he said: "We're seeing strength in financials, tech -- it's really just scattered across the board. The market is in full swing of the year-end Santa rally. We'll see new highs for the next couple days. The situation is there's low inflation and no threat of it coming back anytime soon."

Yesterday, the

Federal Reserve

voted to leave the federal funds lending rate unchanged at 4.75% and the discount rate unchanged at 4.50%.

"And although the GDP is seen as a little lower, certainly the economy isn't falling off a cliff. With low inflation and low interest rates, there's no place to park your money. The only game in town is the stock market -- for the moment. We'll see some consolidation in January but then we'll hit 10,000 sometime in the first quarter. And I'm saying this based on the inflow, the influx of money, from 401(k) plans, pensions."

While large-caps discover uncharted ground, Cardillo predicts small-caps will be recognized by investors for their value. "The time it has to happen," he said. "The market will have to have problems with large-cap valuations. And I don't see a recession in '99. So the small-caps, with no exposure to currency valuations, will perform better, percentage-wise, than the multinational counterparts."

Wednesday's Midday Movers

By

Aaron L. Task
Senior Writer

Ingram Micro

(IM)

was down 12 3/16, or 26.3%, to 34 1/8 after forecasting

last night its sees fourth-quarter earnings of 48 cents to 50 cents a share because of slower-than-expected PC sales. The 12-analyst estimate called for 56 cents vs. the year-ago 47 cents. Analysts at

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

,

BT Alex. Brown

and

Deutsche Bank Securities

separately cut ratings in the wake of Ingram's warning.

Other computer resellers declined in sympathy.

Tech Data

(TECD) - Get Report

was down 6 1/8, or 14.8%, to 35 7/16 and

MicroAge

(MICA)

was lower by 1 15/16, or 11.4%, to 15 1/8.

Earnings movers

Building One Services

(BOSS) - Get Report

was up 4, or 24%, to 20 1/2 despite forecasting fourth-quarter earnings of 36 cents to 38 cents a share vs. the three-analyst consensus of 42 cents. The shortfall stems in part from a recapitalization, under which Building One will merge with

Boss Investment

, an affiliate of

Apollo Management

. Additionally, the company said it has a record backlog of business, predicting its mechanical and electrical divisions will each generate annual revenues of about $1 billion in the next 18 to 24 months.

Dura Pharmaceuticals

(DURA) - Get Report

was up 2, or 17.5%, to 13 1/2 after saying it will meet fourth-quarter earnings estimates. The 15-analyst view calls for earnings of 16 cents a share vs. the year-ago 37 cents.

Equifax

(EFX) - Get Report

was down 10 5/8, or 24.2%, to 33 7/16 after warning its fourth-quarter earnings would be about 31 cents a share, a dime short of the nine-analyst consensus.

Exabyte

(EXBT)

was down 1, or 15.8%, to 5 3/8 after warning its expects to report a fourth-quarter loss of up to 24 cents a share. The three-analyst forecast was for a profit of 4 cents.

Franklin Resources

(BEN) - Get Report

was down 3 1/2, or 8.4%, to 39 5/16 after forecasting its fiscal first-quarter earnings will by shy of the 10-analyst consensus of 44 cents a share.

Inacom

(ICO)

was down 3 5/8, or 19%, to 15 1/2 after warning last night it sees fourth-quarter earnings coming in at 50 cents to 55 cents a share. The 10-analyst forecast called for 71 cents vs. the year-ago 64 cents.

Goldman Sachs

removed Inacom from its recommended list.

Vanstar

(VST) - Get Report

, which recently agreed to be acquired by Inacom, was down 2, or 18%, to 9 1/8.

Lockheed Martin

(LMT) - Get Report

was down 8 1/2, or 9%, to 86 1/2 after warning its fourth-quarter earnings will be down about 10% from last year's profits of $1.79. The 13-analyst consensus is currently for $2.06.

MagneTek

(MAG) - Get Report

was down 13/16, or 7.2%, to 10 7/16 after warning its second-quarter earnings will be 10 to 15 cents per share, well below the six-analyst consensus of 23 cents.

Manugistics

(MANU) - Get Report

was down 3/4, or 5.7%, to 12 3/8 after reporting a third-quarter loss of 37 cents a share, missing the 11-analyst outlook for a loss of 6 cents and falling below the year-ago profit of 14 cents.

Transaction Network Services

(TNSI)

was down 5 1/8, or 25.5%, to 15 1/8 after warning its fourth-quarter earnings will fall to 10 cents a share. The three-analyst estimate called for 31 cents vs. the year-ago 20 cents.

In other news:

Avanir Pharmaceuticals

(AVNR)

was down 1 9/32, or 61%, to 13/16 on news the

Food and Drug Administration

has said the company's oral herpes treatment is not approvable and has requested more data.

Compaq

(CPQ)

was down 1 5/16, or 3%, to 43 on news it will dissolve its standalone networking division by Jan. 1,

The Wall Street Journal

reported.

Convergys

(CVG)

was higher by 1 1/16, or 5.4%, to 20 15/16 on word it will be added to the

S&P MidCap 400

index.

EEX

(EEX) - Get Report

was up 3/4, or 13.6%, to 6 1/4 on news

Warburg Pincus Equity Partners

has agreed to buy $150 million of the energy company's preferred shares and warrants.

Multiple Zones International

(MZON)

was higher by 16 15/16, or 150%, to 28 3/4 after the direct marketer of computer products launched an online auction site.

Multiple Zone's announcement, along with AOL's inclusion into the S&P 500,

Ameritrade's

(AMTD) - Get Report

robust earnings forecast earlier this week and the general mania around Internet shares were alternatively and collectively lifting a variety of Net names, including:

Internet America

(GEEK)

, higher by 113%;

uBid

(UBID)

, up 35.5%;

Creative Computers

(MALL)

, higher by 27.3%;

E*Trade

(EGRP)

, lately up 17.3%; and

VeriSign

(VRSN) - Get Report

, higher by 18.4%.

Pep Boys

(PBY) - Get Report

was up 1 5/8, or 12%, to 15 1/8 on news it has begun a Dutch auction tender offer for up to 10 million of its shares for between $13.50 and $16 each.

Sharper Image

(SHRP)

was up 3 3/8, or 26.3%, to 16 1/4 after posting a 492% increase in online sales in December vs. a rise of 9% in same-store sales and 27% in mail order sales.

Ziff Davis

(ZD)

has gained 3, or 22.6%, to 16 1/4 after filing with regulators for an IPO of a new series of stock for

ZDNet

, the company's Internet business division.