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(CNET) - Get ZW Data Action Technologies Inc Report

, dividends?

Nestled tastefully in CNet's otherwise raucous first-quarter profitability celebration this week was a curious announcement from the Web's techie hub. Forget the footloose and cash-free Internet-company reputation. CNet is so gosh darn pleased with turning profitable several quarters early, it's opening up its wallet and waving around $100 million.

Not for yoga instructors, staff-wide massage or other careless start-up perks. Not to buy a Web widget, online shopping tool or 12-pack of pricey Web addresses from cybersquatters. CNet is so practical, and royally peeved that its share price was halved in the last two months, it declared it is prepared to buy $100 million of its own stock.

Farewell, bleeding edge.

For CNet, it seems, the buyback rationale is simple. CNet has some $300 million in cash, plus around $350 million in investments. It has the money in pocket, so why watch its little darling stock -- and all those option-holding employees -- demoralized by the market? "As you run public companies, in a financial position, your job is to create a business and create shareholder value. If the balance sheet is strong enough to look at buying back stock, it's another value-creating opportunity," says CNet CFO Doug Woodrum.

Predictably, the show of love prodded the stock up Thursday to 38, 21% above Wednesday's close, but still down more than 50% from its 52-week high of 79 7/8. Eager buyers weren't even daunted by the fine print that explains CNet will have to take a painful charge on its


acquisition if it does a stock buyback.

"It is without question a good idea. The company is seeing a huge amount of momentum in its business, in all sectors," says

Derek Brown

, analyst at

W.R. Hambrecht

, which has no underwriting ties to CNet. "They clearly must feel like they have the wind at their backs."

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Wind blowing wherever, come on, CNet! Where's that old spark? Can't the company do something better, something more creative with the money? Think of all the burn-rate kindling it could gather up: acquisitions, more marketing, research and development. Can 8-year-old CNet possibly be so mature that it's done with the wild ways of the Internet brat pack? Yes, we've wanted Internet companies to grow up, but we weren't talking retirement!

Members of the buyback country club include such esteemed tech stalwarts as


(INTC) - Get Intel Corporation Report



(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report



(IBM) - Get International Business Machines Corporation Report




. Uppity stocks bucking at Wall Street's mocking include


(NCR) - Get NCR Corporation Report


Network Computing Devices










(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

. Steve Jobs' decision to repurchase $500 million in Apple shares best illustrates the concept: Why let investors think Apple was tapped out in the mid-50s in July 1999? Now that the stock has more than doubled, Jobs' move looks like a cocky statement.

CNet's fellow Internet classmates Jim Clark and John Doerr paid their buyback club dues two weeks ago with much-publicized expressions of willingness to buy more than $200 million and $20 million of



nauseated stock on the open market. Healtheon, of course, rallied on that show of support.

So, is this the next "in" thing? Are Internet companies mad enough that they'll stop rolling their eyes over their stock prices and decide to tell the market to go to heck? Will they see this as another way to send those Mt. Everest-like stock charts back into a climb?

Would, say,


do the same? It had $133 million in cash when it reported fourth-quarter 1999 earnings, it is approaching profitability, and its stock is a mere shadow of its 52-week-high of 165 set almost a year ago. Priceline will report first-quarter earnings Monday.

"At the end of the day, it's a return-on-investment question. Is your return on investment going to be higher buying stock back at specific levels?" says

Ryan Alexander


Wit SoundView

, which has done underwriting for He thinks if a company can get a good return off the stock, a buyback makes sense even for a youngster. "I think it's a tradeoff between continuing to build your internal infrastructure and expanding the business model -- in priceline's case, pursuing additional market segments."

It's safe to say most Internet companies are still busy foisting follow-on offerings on the public markets to raise cash and get their shares liquid enough for institutional investors. But maybe the more jaded, Street-tossed stocks will agree with CNet CEO Shelby Bonnie: "It's not an exciting time to use your stock for anything. It's not the time to be extremely aggressive in acquisitions."

Get out the pearl necklaces and tan panty hose! The revolution's here, and we wouldn't want to be underdressed.

Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She breathlessly awaits your feedback at