The biggest deal to hit the IPO market this year, KPMG Consulting's (KCIN) , may serve as a sign that the new-issue market is finally stirring to life after several months in hibernation.

So, despite what

that lousy groundhog said earlier this month, Spring may have come a little early for IPOs.

The big name consulting company's IPO was priced late Wednesday at the top of its $16-$18 range, selling 112.5 million shares at $18 per-share for a grand total of $2.024 billion.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

lead managed the offering. And by early afternoon today the stock was trading at $22.63, 25.7% above its offering price.

"Psychologically this gives a lift to the IPO market," said Joe Hammer, managing director of capital markets at

Adam Harkness & Hill

.

The IPO market has been stalled since early last year, when the

Nasdaq began its long journey southward. But it was particularly dead in January. Six deals have gone to market so far this year, including KPMG, with most pricing pretty conservatively and just two still trading at premiums. Another two deals priced but never went to market.

On the one hand, it's no surprise KPMG's IPO has performed well. After all, the offering gave investors a lot to bite into.

A spin-off of Big 5 accounting firm

KPMG International

, KPMG Consulting is an Internet consulting and systems integration firm with a popular brand name, a solid roster of

Fortune 100

clients and several partnerships with big-time technology companies, including

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

,

Qwest Communications

(Q)

and

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

.

And unlike smaller, suffering e-consultants like

Scient

(SCNT)

and

Viant

(VIAN)

, which have battered stock prices and mounting losses, KPMG has an established and profitable business. The company offers a mix of systems integration with e-consulting. And that's key to profitability in today's Internet world, say analysts, where a nice Web page or streamlined e-commerce setup no longer cut it.

Make Money!

Profitability has become the watchword for success in this IPO market. After getting burned by so many small, untested companies with almost no cash flow and barely a business plan last year, investors are focusing on big, reliable and profitable companies this time around.

Pets.com

, which went public in February of last year, lost 99.4% of its value before being forced into bankruptcy.

KPMG's timing didn't hurt either, said George Nichols, Internet and IPO analyst for

Morningstar.com

. Another large e-consulting and systems integration company,

Electronic Data Systems

(EDS)

had a great Thursday after reporting strong earnings Wednesday night. The company reported fourth-quarter earnings up 15% on the year, and ahead of analyst estimates by 2 cents. Yesterday, EDS shares rose $5.61, to $62.51, the stock's highest level since last June.

But precisely because it is such an attractive deal, investors were watching carefully to see if investors would take the bait.

"This deal is critical because if a profitable company can't come out and do well, then who can," says Nichols.

And while a big deal, with a lot of liquidity, can be attractive to investors, it can also make pricing and selling more of a challenge because of the sheer amount of interest that has to be generated. In fact, the company was initially planning to sell 354.6 million shares at between $6.75 and $8.75, for a whopping total of $2.4-$3.1 billion, but reduced the number of shares if was offering and raised the price.

Still, market analysts remain cautious about how much this issue says about the overall IPO market. "It does lend a positive tone to the IPO market," said Hammer. "But, I can't necessarily say it relates to the smaller companies in the IPO market. It's a high-profile, large deal."

Unfortunately, there aren't any other mega-offerings scheduled until March. Of the ten biggest deals in the pipeline for this year, only two have set time frames, according to financial media and research company

CommScan

. Agere Systems, a provider of optical electronic components and a spinoff from Lucent, expects to file a hair-raising $6.5 billion offering during the week of March 19. Aquila Energy, which sells wholesale energy, plans to go public sometime in March with a $322 million deal.