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Handspring IPO jumps 35 percent in first-day trading

The handheld maker's shares jump out of the starting gate, further evidence of renewed investor confidence in tech shares and initial public offerings.

Handspring shares jumped in their first day of trading, a sign that investors are regaining confidence in what has been a volatile market for initial public offerings.

Shares in the maker of handheld computers climbed as high as $28.25 in early trading today before closing at $27.13, a gain of 35 percent that gives the young company a market capitalization of about $3.4 billion. Volume topped 10 million shares.

Yesterday, the company raised $200 million when it sold 10 million shares for $20 to large investors such as mutual and pension funds. The initial price was slightly more than the $17 to $19 range that was expected.

The early gain in the shares pales in comparison to the first-day surge by Handspring competitor Palm, whose shares initially priced at $38 and soared to $165. Nevertheless, Handspring's debut was considered impressive considering the soft market for IPOs and tech stocks in the past several months.

"It's a solid debut--not a moon shot like we used to see," said Jeff Hirschkorn, a senior market analyst with IPO.com. "In this marketplace we're starting to rebuild."

Mountain View, Calif.-based Handspring is entering a market that may be regaining steam since the Nasdaq sell-off of the past few months. Yesterday the Nasdaq composite index passed 4,000 for the first time in more than two months, and 12 companies are scheduled to begin public trading this week, compared with an average of five per week in May and June, according to market research firm CommScan.

This week's deals are expected to raise $8.5 billion, compared with an average of less than $1 billion raised during each of the last 10 weeks, said Richard Peterson, an IPO analyst with Thomson Financial Securities Data.

"The market is coming back," said Mary Lupo, an analyst with Renaissance IPO Plus Aftermarket Fund. "And this company has attracted a lot of attention because the product has become so popular."

Handspring makes the Tune in to CNET News.com TV's IPO ForecastVisor personal digital assistant, which runs the operating system of its chief competitor, Palm. The devices include expansion slots that can add capabilities such as playing MP3 files or taking digital pictures.

Start-up GeoDiscovery announced yesterday that it will release products, including a global positioning system, that use the Visor's Springboard expansion slot.

Consumer demand for handheld computers is predicted to grow sharply in the next few years. Thirty-six million gadgets are expected to be in use by 2003, according to International Data Corp.

Handspring was launched two years ago Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, also the founders of Palm. A spinoff of 3Com, Palm's shares priced at $38 in March, peaked at $165 their first day, and now trade around $27.

Palm holds three-quarters of the market for handheld computers, according to IDC. In addition to proceeds from the sale of its popular device, Palm collects revenue from licensing the Palm OS to other makers such as Handspring, and it earns fees for its ISP service. Handspring derives the majority of its revenue from the sale of its products.

"Palm is getting more into being an operating system for handhelds, while Handspring makes the actual personal digital assistant," Lupo said.