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THE WEEK AHEAD: Waiting game comes to an end

All the hand wringing will come to an end next week when the Fed's Open Market Committee gathers to decide the future of short-term interest rates and, in the process, the near-term health of the stock market.

Although opinions change every day, most analysts are expecting the Fed to raise rates by one-quarter of a percent Tuesday, especially considering the tight labor statistics released last week.

However, there is a small group of analysts who are predicting no change in interest rates. If they're right, look for the market to take off late next week as investors have already discounted the expected rate hike.

For the week, the Dow closed up 127 points to 11,100.61 while the Nasdaq managed to scratch out a 13-point gain to end at 2,648.30.

"It's the kind of market we've been having: two steps forward, two steps back," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp. "Since May, we haven't gone very far."

Saying that, Internet stocks got a nice boost this week after Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget came out with a couple of upgrades and selected a basket of eight Internet stocks that he believes offer considerable value to investors.

The market rallied a bit on strong earnings reports from the likes of Applied Materials Inc. (Nasdaq: AMAT), Lycos Inc. (Nasdaq: LCOS) and Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL).

Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL) strong second-quarter earnings compelled several analysts to upgrade the stock.

In the quarter, Dell raked in $507 million, or 19 cents a share, on sales of $6.14 billion.

First Call consensus expected it to make 17 cents a share.

Analysts were also encouraged by the number of new Internet users logging on during the slowest time of the year.

According to Media Metrix, total U.S. web users climbed more than 250,000 from 62.7 million in June to 62.9 million in July. AOL held down the top spot with 67 percent reach while Yahoo! and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) sites checked in at second and third place, respectively. Lycos remained in the No. 4 spot with 48 percent reach.

Next week, financial software developer Intuit Inc. (Nasdaq: INTU) will report its fourth-quarter results.

First Call consensus expects it to lose 33 cents a share in the quarter. Last quarter, it made $47.2 million, or 73 cents a share, on sales of $239.7 million.

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