Who needs

Cisco Systems

(CSCO) - Get Report

? Apparently not the tech sector. The big gorilla of routers and networking gear posted its lackluster results Tuesday night, which weighed on tech and telecom Wednesday.

But all was apparently forgiven Thursday as oil prices took another dive and speculation grew that

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

would post a blowout quarter after the close. Dell didn't post a positive surprise, reporting 33 cents a share, at the lower end of advance estimates and below the whispered rumor of 35 cents. But investors may not need Dell any more than they needed Cisco with sentiment improving daily and energy prices on the run.

The

Nasdaq Composite

led major averages, finishing with a 1.3% gain at 2061.27, virtually its high for the day. The

S&P 500

added 0.9% to close at 1173.48 and the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

climbed 0.8% to 10,469.84, held back just a tad by weakness in drug and oil stocks. The Treasury market was closed in observance of Veterans Day.

The day's trading was reminiscent of the late summer when the Nasdaq techies and the price of crude were moving in a mirror image pattern. On Thursday, crude futures lost $1.44, or 3%, to settle at $47.42. Black gold is off 15% since hitting its most recent record high of almost $56 a barrel back on Oct. 25.

Oil is falling as investors rethink the approaching winter season and heating oil demand. Temperatures in the Northeast were predicted to be above-average in coming weeks. An Energy Department weekly inventory report released on Wednesday showed U.S. crude supplies increased almost 1% and the International Energy Agency said high prices were already curbing worldwide demand.

Good news also came from Nigeria where a court barred a possible strike by oil workers.

Leaders on the Nasdaq included

Ciena

(CIEN) - Get Report

, up 5%;

eBay

(EBAY) - Get Report

, up 4%; and

Flextronics

(FLEX) - Get Report

, up 5%. Shares of Dell, up 1.1% on the day, were down about 0.5% in recent after-hours trading. Cisco gained almost 2% after falling 7% on Wednesday.

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

brushed off the threat posed by

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

new search service and added 9%. The biggest software company in Redmond lagged the market and rose 0.8%. Also lagging were the hunter and its prey,

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

and

PeopleSoft

(PSFT)

, after PeopleSoft's board rejected Oracle's bid. Oracle fell 1.8% and PeopleSoft slipped 1.6%.

The return of leadership from the tech sector, or more broadly from growth stocks, brought a smile to the face of some strategists who said that such a move could portend a stronger rally ahead.

Ralph Bloch, technical strategist at Raymond James, said the week's action so far had been to fill in after the sharp postelection surge. Leadership from tech, which had been missing, was needed, he said, calling the arrival "a huge boost for the market."

Consumer Clues

Sifting through the results of major retailers for clues on the strength of the consumer can be a convoluted game. Looking at Dell's results, for example, may show strength in demand for computing equipment from both consumers and businesses. Revenue rose 18% and gained across all parts of the globe. But maybe Dell's results are more indicative of market share gains at the expense of competitors. The company shipped 22% more units in the quarter, double the rate of the PC industry as a whole.

One theory making the rounds says wealthy consumers are doing OK, while lower-income spenders are feeling pinched from higher gas prices and the loss of tax cut checks that arrived last year. The investment thesis was to flock to high-end retailers, like

Tiffany

(TIF) - Get Report

. Oops. The high-end jeweler plunged 6% on Thursday after reporting a surprise 26% drop in third-quarter earnings from a year earlier.

Then again, looking below the headline, Tiffany's big miss might still confirm the consumer stratification thesis. The company said sales were less than expected among entry-level items and the number of items sold declined while the average price increased. In other words, the super-wealthy were still buying.

Another retailer geared toward the wealthy, organic supermarket chain

Whole Foods

( WFMI), posted a blockbuster quarter after the close on Wednesday and its shares rose 10%. Same-store sales rose 14% and earnings gained 21%. While operators of standard supermarket chains are getting squeezed by

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

, Whole Foods is aiming for the brie and cappuccino crowd that wouldn't be caught dead shopping at the lower-cost, lower-

panache

store.

In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Pressman doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send

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