Updated from 4:58 p.m. EDT
Investors were embracing downtrodden Internet stocks Wednesday, but it's too early to tell if they're serious about the relationship or if it's just a spring fling.
Numerous single-digit Net stocks registered double-digit percentage increases on Wednesday, though the stocks are down low enough that the monetary value of many per-share gains wouldn't cover an order of French fries from
Rob Martin, digital media analyst at
Friedman Billings Ramsey
, says he took a lot of calls Wednesday from clients quizzing him about Net stocks. "People are looking for stuff to buy, because they perceive it's a market bottom," he says. Including Wednesday's 2.4% advance, the
has risen some 36% off its April 4 low.
The Dumb Money?
John Corcoran, Internet/digital new media analyst at
CIBC World Markets
, says sentiment has obviously improved since early April. But, he says, recent gains at
and other, smaller pure-play Net stocks mostly reflect day-trader and retail demand, not votes of confidence from institutional investors.
In any case, the big money flow appears to head from Wall Street to Andover, Mass., home of beaten-up Internet empire
. On Wednesday afternoon, David Wetherell's plucked Internet incubator rose $1.67, or 40%, to close at $5.82 -- way up from Monday's close of $2.99 but well below the 52-week high of $75.13. The company's Internet advertising subsidiary,
, up 53 cents to $1.37, registered a 63% gain. CMGI's publicly traded Web-hosting play,
, rose 44 cents to close at $2.29.
Interactive TV firm
was another big gainer, up 45% to end the day at $4.50. The company is scheduled to release its results for the quarter ended March 31 on Thursday morning before the market's open.
Other big winners were customer relationship management firm
, reporting after the market's close Wednesday, and double-digit-dollar stocks
, a content delivery firm, and business-to-business market company
Martin says he's generally shying away from single-digit stocks, and is more likely to steer people toward companies that don't face large capital expenditures; can vary their marketing budgets; and have a franchise or strong brand in a given sector. These include pay-per-click search engine
and real estate portal
. Martin has no rating on either, and his firm hasn't done underwriting for them.
But Martin cautions that the current Internet rally reminds him of 1999, when stocks rallied in April, then fell back, and rallied again in July, only to fall back again before the Big One that peaked in early 2000. "Is it another head fake reminiscent of the summer runup of '99?" asked Martin. "My suspicion is it is a little bit of a head fake."
Corcoran agrees that it's dubious that Net stocks are heading straight up from here, in part because he and his firm's trading desk perceive the minirally to be an individual investor phenomenon. "You want to tell me an institution is building a big position in CMGI?" he asks. "I say, 'Why? Who? On what basis?'" Corcoran doesn't cover CMGI, and his firm hasn't done banking for the company.
"What we don't see at this stage is some kind of major institution stepping in to take a position in pure-play Internet stocks that have been beaten up terribly," says Corcoran. Once a stock goes below $5, he adds, it's an unwritten taboo, or a violation of Money Management 101, for professionals to buy it.