Steady Focus on Tech Drives Record-Setting Session

Strong earnings are keeping Wall Street happy. Plus, the SEC's Levitt says he'll back extended trading hours.
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Amid further discussion of expanded trading hours, major proxies needed every minute of today's session to close at or near session highs. Overcoming a modest bout of late-day selling, surging tech stocks sent the

Nasdaq Composite Index

and the

S&P 500

to new heights. Meanwhile,

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

almost single-handedly helped the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

end with a modest gain.

The Nasdaq rose 61.36, or 2.4%, to 2652.05, eclipsing its previous high of 2598.81 set

April 12. Since

suffering one of its worst days ever a week ago, the tech-synched index has gained 13.1%.

In less impressive fashion, the S&P 500 rose 3.19, or 0.2%, to 1360.04, besting its previous high of 1358.82, set April 22. The Dow rose 28.92, or 0.3%, to 10,718.59, recovering from a morning slide to as low as 10,649.86. IBM was far and away the Dow's best performer, climbing another 5.2%.

Securities and Exchange Commission

Chairman

Arthur Levitt

today said he believes the SEC will approve extended trading hours for the

Nasdaq-Amex Stock Market

and the

New York Stock Exchange

. (The NYSE has made public its plan to expand trading hours by mid-2000, "or maybe sooner if customers indicate they want it sooner," an exchange spokesman said. Nasdaq officials did not return phone calls; the exchange reportedly wants to offer a three- or four-hour late trading session as soon as this summer.)

"Protecting America's primacy in the global markets is a priority for the SEC," Levitt said in response to a question regarding the SEC's views on extended trading hours. If the exchanges decide extended trading hours are necessary to remain competitive, the "chances are the commission will not stand in their way," he said during the Q&A session following a speech at the

Media Studies Center

in New York.

The chairman expressed a desire to have the change in trading hours take place after the year 2000 transition, but said if the NASD or the NYSE want extended hours before then he is "hoping the commission would be responsive to that."

Tech, Tech and Tech

Farther south in Manhattan, traders focused on resurgent tech stocks while other sectors were generally subdued. Small-caps and transports joined tech favorites on the upswing while energy, financials and drug makers were notable laggards. Despite last-hour histrionics, the dramatic volatility of last week was not in evidence.

Nearly all of the Nasdaq's bellwether names gained on the session, helping the

Nasdaq 100

rise 2.3%. The Comp was further enlivened by telecom equipment makers, which rallied after U.K.-based

General Electric PLC

offered $35 a share in cash to acquire

Fore Systems

(FORE)

, which soared 37.5%. Additionally,

Global Crossing

(GBLX)

rose 6.4% after announcing plans to acquire a unit of Britain's

Cable & Wireless

(CWP)

.

Elsewhere,

3Com

(COMS)

-- itself the subject of persistent takeover rumors -- rose 3.2%,

Ciena

(CIEN) - Get Report

gained 13.2% and

Ascend

(ASND) - Get Report

gained 3.5%. The

Nasdaq Telecommunications Index

rose 2.4% to an all-time high of 700.10.

In NYSE trading,

Lucent

(LU)

and

Nortel Networks

(NT)

each gained more than 3% while

Newbridge Networks

(NN)

jumped 5.6%.

Meanwhile, the online group stayed true to form.

TheStreet.com Internet Sector

index rose 34.66, or 5.1%, to 714.38 behind strength in Net giants such as

America Online

(AOL)

, one of several industry bellwethers due to report earnings this week.

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

rose 4.7% to an all-time high of 209; the online auctioneer was also aided by its intention to acquire

Butterfield & Butterfield

, which subsequently withdrew plans for an IPO. After the bell, eBay reported first-quarter earnings of 5 cents a share, 3 cents ahead of expectations.

Elsewhere,

priceline.com

(PCLN)

gained 37.3% after

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

,

Goldman Sachs

and

Warburg Dillon Read

each initiated coverage with favorable recommendations.

On the blue-chip front, the Dow was restrained by weakness in

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

and

Union Carbide

(UK)

, which fell 6.8% despite besting expectations with its first-quarter results.

Additionally,

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

fell 2.3% despite reporting better-than-expected earnings. Amid concern about core drug sales,

ABN Amro

said Merck may struggle to sustain double-digit earnings growth.

Similarly,

Warner Lambert

(WLA)

shed 1.5% despite beating analyst estimates.

Lehman Brothers

cut its 2000 earnings estimate.

The

American Stock Exchange Pharmaceutical Index

fell 0.5%. Energy service firms suffered a more extensive decline, with the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Service Index

down 4.5%. Meanwhile, the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange/KBW Bank Index

lost 1.7%.

The

Russell 2000

rose 3.24, or 0.7%, to 434.97.

In NYSE trading, a modest 712 million shares were exchanged while losers led gainers 1,593 to 1,399. In Nasdaq activity, 1.06 billion shares were exchanged -- its 15th-straight billion-plus session -- while gainers led 2,148 to 1,923. New 52-week highs led new lows 75 to 14 on the Big Board and by 92 to 41 in over-the-counter trading.

"The first half of the day was quiet, but the afternoon picked up," said Randy Billhardt, co-head of block trading at

PaineWebber

. "Mostly tech and certain other segments picked up because the earnings have consistently been pretty darn good. There's a lot of emphasis of earnings and recovering economies around the world, which makes people convinced low growth low inflation environment continues to be ideal."

Despite the focus on tech, Billhardt, who trades a lot of basic materials, noted chemical concerns such as

Lubrizol

(LZ)

continue to garner interest. Lubrizol rose 1.4% today after posting much-better-than-expected first-quarter earnings.

Meanwhile, equity traders seem immune to developments in the bond market, where the price of the 30-year Treasury bond reversed an early decline to close up 9/32 at 95 8/32, its yield dipping to 5.58%. (For more on the fixed-income market, see today's late

Bond Focus.)

"It didn't seem to be that big a factor," Billhardt said. "The main concern right now and going forward is earnings and they've outperformed people's expectations. That's what people are tending to focus on."

Among other indices, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

rose 20.89, or 0.6%, to 3610.57;

Dow Jones Utility Average

gained 1.32, or 0.4%, to 302.59; and the

American Stock Exchange Composite Index

added 1.24, or 0.2%, to a record 771.60.

Elsewhere in North American equities, the

Toronto Stock Exchange 300

rose 23.61 to 7052.10 and the

Mexican Stock Exchange IPC Index

fell 76.63, or 1.4%, to 5405.15.

Monday's Company Report

By Heather Moore
Staff Reporter

(

Earnings estimates from First Call; new highs and lows on a closing basis unless otherwise specified. Earnings reported on a diluted basis unless otherwise specified.

)

Dow component Union Carbide dropped 3 1/2, or 6.8%, to 48 1/4 even after recording first-quarter earnings of 52 cents a share, 7 cents ahead of the 13-analyst view but behind the year-ago $1.01.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Bridgeport Machines

(BPTM)

soared 3 7/16, or 59.8%, to 9 3/16 after agreeing to be acquired by privately held

Goldman Industrial Group

for $10 a share.

Ahead of its postclose earnings report, eBay lifted 9 5/16 to an all-time high of 209 on news it's acquiring auction house Butterfield & Butterfield for $260 million. Elsewhere in Net strength,

E*Trade

(EGRP)

climbed 15 15/16, or 15.3%, to 120 after saying it has surpassed 1 million customer accounts.

Everen Capital

(EVR) - Get Report

jumped 4 5/16, or 17.9%, to 28 7/16 after

First Union

(FTU)

agreed to buy the company in a deal valued at roughly $1.1 billion. First Union fell 1 7/16 to 53 9/16.

After being halted this morning, Fore Systems surged 9 3/16, or 37.5%, to an annual high of 33 3/4 on news Britain's GEC will acquire the Pittsburgh-based Internet switching equipment maker for $4.5 billion.

Fort James

(FJ)

vaulted 3 3/16, or 9.1%, to 38 3/16 on word it's selling its packaging business to

ACX Technologies

(ACX)

for $830 million. Fort James also announced a buyback program for up to $500 million in stock over the next 18 months. ACX, meanwhile, lost 1 3/4, or 12.8%, to 11 7/8 after posting first-quarter earnings of 34 cents a share, topping the three-analyst forecast for 28 cents and repeating the year-ago figure.

Global Crossing sprouted up 3 3/8, or 6.4%, to 56 5/16 after agreeing to buy Global Marine, a unit of Britain's Cable & Wireless, in a deal valued at about $885 million. Cable & Wireless grew 2 15/16, or 7.1%, to 44 5/8.

Oneok

(OKE) - Get Report

sloughed off 9/16 to 27 1/4 after agreeing to buy

Southwest Gas

(SWX) - Get Report

for $1.8 billion, including debt. Southwest Gas added 1/2 to 28 1/8.

VocalTec Communications

(VOCL)

shot up 2 5/8, or 26.3%, to 12 11/16 after unveiling a deal with

China Telecom

(CHL) - Get Report

that the companies said will grant Chinese customers access to cheaper and more efficient telephone services and will lay ground work for additional services, including those related to the Internet. China Telecom tacked on 2 to an all-time high of 43 1/16.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

Amerada Hess

(AHC) - Get Report

lowered 3/16 to 53 5/16 after posting first-quarter net earnings of 79 cents a share, including a 33-cent gain from asset sales and a 20-cent gain from foreign currency adjustments. The 17-analyst estimate called for an operating loss of 39 cents vs. the year-ago loss of 76 cents.

Bankers Trust

(BT)

closed unchanged at 90 1/16 after reporting first-quarter earnings of $1.30 a share, beating the six-analyst estimate of $1.08 but falling below the year-ago $2.01.

Carnival

(CCL) - Get Report

dwindled 3 7/16, or 7.3%, to 43 3/4 after warning that profits for the rest of fiscal 1999 will be hurt by reduced bookings in the Mediterranean, which the company said are lower due to the conflict in Kosovo.

Mity-Lite

(MITY)

flew up 3 3/8, or 21.6%, to an annual high of 19 1/2 after the company told

Barron's

it's comfortable with 1999 earnings estimates for $1.13 a share, up from the year-ago 94 cents.

Sunstrand

(SNS)

picked up 1/16 to 70 9/16 after posting first-quarter earnings of $1.02 a share, topping the nine-analyst estimate by 3 cents and moving ahead of the year-ago 88 cents.

Warner-Lambert sliced off 1 to 66 7/8 after announcing first-quarter earnings of 45 cents a share, a penny above the 26-analyst estimate and ahead of the year-ago 33 cents.

In other earnings news:

Analyst actions

Abgenix

(ABGX)

rose 1 1/8, or 8.4%, to 14 7/8 after

BancBoston Robertson Stephens

lifted the stock to strong buy from buy.

Hershey Foods

(HSY) - Get Report

dropped 2 5/16 to 52 5/16 after

Credit Suisse First Boston

cut it to hold from buy.

Labor Ready

(LRW)

grew 3, or 11.4%, to 29 3/8 after Credit Suisse First Boston upgraded the stock to strong buy from buy.

Merck gave up 1 3/4 to 74 after ABN-AMRO said the company may struggle to retain double-digit earnings growth in fiscal 2000.

Noble Drilling

(NE) - Get Report

declined 1 3/4, or 9.5%, to 16 5/8 after

Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette

downgraded the stock to market perform from buy.

priceline.com soared 32 13/16, or 37.3%, to an all-time high of 120 3/4 after, as noted above, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter initiated coverage with an outperform and Warburg Dillon Read initiated coverage with a buy. Goldman Sachs started coverage of the stock by placing it on the firm's recommended list -- news of which leaked Friday.

Miscellany

American Express

(AXP) - Get Report

slipped 1 1/16 to 134 5/16 following word that Chairman and Chief Executive Harvey Golub plans to retire as CEO in April 2001. Golub will remain as chairman for a year following his retirement. Ken Chenault, the company's president and COO, will succeed Golub.

Jabil Circuit

(JBL) - Get Report

added 5 1/2, or 13.3%, to 47 1/16 on news it will replace

U.S. Filter

(USF)

in the

S&P MidCap 400 Index

.

Lexmark International

(LXK)

expanded 4 5/16 to an all-time high of 123 1/4 after saying it will sell products and offer technical support on a new Web site. Also, BancBoston Robertson Stephens began coverage of the stock with a buy.

Lycos

(LCOS)

tacked on 2 1/2 to 96 3/4 after launching

Lycos Radio Network

, an online broadcaster featuring music and video.

Senior Writer Alison Moore contributed to this story

.