A trio of tiny petroleum plays dominated after-hours trading on zero news, raising an eyebrow or two and questions by the fistful.

At the third spot on Island's most-active list lurked

Parallel Petroleum


, a Texas oil exploration outfit with a market cap of just $41.25 million. It traded up 7/16 to 2 11/16 on 536,000 shares on


ECN. Earlier in the postclose session, it was up well over a point. During the day, it rose 7/16, or 24.1%, to 2 1/4 on 686,500 shares. Combining the day and night moves, Parallel was up 7/8 on 1.2 million shares.

Today's movement dwarfed recent activity. February's average daily volume was 23,590 with a high close of 2 1/8. Today's combined volume was roughly two and a half times larger than 471,799, the number of shares traded over the


month of February. And the point gain pushed the stock well past last month's high water mark.

So, what gives? The last bit of news from Parallel is more than a month old, having hit the wires at the very end of January.

Company officials were unable to explain the sudden interest.

"Well, I have no idea," said Eric Bayley, Parallel's engineering manager. "There's nothing particular going on. We're going to announce a couple of new wells next week, but that's kind of a routine sort of announcement."

When quizzed about the possible scenarios that usually send stocks up, such as a merger, strategic alliance or new product, Bayley said none of those situations were in the works.

"No," he said. "The only thing I can think of is that we bought 35% of

First Permian

back in July and maybe someone has finally realized that it's a valuable deal."

Parallel is a fitting name, because the company certainly wasn't alone.

The second-most active of the three was

Miller Exploration


, a Michigan-based oil exploration company, which traded up 1/2 to 1 11/16 on 515,000 shares. Like Parallel, it also had earlier gains of more than a point. That's a phenomenal move in a company that had an average daily volume of 104,125 in the elongated month of February.

During the day session, volume was surprisingly robust as well. Miller traded up 5/32 to 1 1/4 on 458,500, more than four times last month's average. That brings today's total volume to 973,000, roughly nine times February's average. A quick check of the wires revealed that the last news from the company came on Feb. 29, three days ago. Big interest, no news.

Rounding out the oil exploration triumvirate was a company familiar to after-hours denizens. Along with a computer and a cup of coffee,

American International Petroleum


is a veritable staple of the postclose period. Tonight, it was unchanged at 1 1/16 on 145,000 shares following a day session gain of 1/16 to 1 1/16 on 9.4 million shares.

Recently, American International has been a scorcher, destroying previous volume records. On Wednesday, it rose 29/64 to 1 1/4 on 30.65 million shares. The following day, it traded on 16.7 million shares. This week's average daily volume was 13.7 million shares traded -- roughly 1700% higher than 1999's average daily volume.

So, how hot is American International Petroleum? Even the company can't explain why its stock is moving. In fact, the last major news from the company, released yesterday, was a press release titled "American International Petroleum Corporation Comments on the Recent Market Activities Concerning Its Stock"

The back half of the release's first sentence really said it all: that the company "is not aware of any current or pending events that would be causing the high trading volumes and price movements. AIPC is engaged in negotiations and actions that are intended to enhance shareholder value but those negotiations have not been completed."

So, three oil exploration companies with a combined market cap of $140.81 million traded in heavy volume after-hours. No news had been released. No comments have been made. The usually quiet Friday evening remains so.

TheStreet Recommends

Many things can cause activity like this, especially in the postclose period where eager investors comb through microcaps in search of candy in the couch cushions.

Caveat emptor.

Stocks that move on rumor, momentum, innuendo, dinner conversation, ramblings on message boards or the advice of bartenders are simply not the safest play. Without any official word on why a company is trading heavily, especially a company like Miller Exploration, which has a market cap smaller than an all-star's take-home pay, investors are advised to use caution.

No news can be good news. No news can also mean manipulation.

One micro-cap that did move on news was

Value America


. It shot up Island's most-active chart, passing by every other issue in one 10-minute push just after 5 p.m. EST. The company rose 2 7/16 to 6 11/16 on 1.68 million shares after announcing a deal with

Digital River

to allow customers to purchase its products via Value America's Web site.

In the release, Value America said its e-commerce site would be up and running sometime in the first quarter. Customers will be able to pay for software, such as Digital River's numerous e-commerce programs, and then download them, thus bypassing the need for shipping.

If Value America seems familiar, that's because


covered the company's deal with


(IBM) - Get Report


last Friday's edition of The Night Watch.

For the last two days, the fortunes of






have been linked like children on a seesaw. If one decides to jump up, the other will come crashing down.

Today was no different. 3Com recovered a little and swung up 1 1/4 to 83 1/16, while Palm went to the profit-takers and plummeted 14 13/16 to 80 1/4. Tonight was more of the same. 3Com rose 3 1/2 to 86 1/2 on 232,000 shares, while Palm lost 1 7/8 to 78 1/4 on 63,000 shares.

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




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