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THE WEEK AHEAD: 3Com, Cabletron earnings on deck

Better-than-expected Consumer Price Index figures, a hurricane and "triple witching" expiration highlighted an action-packed week of trading. Next week, a couple of network-equipment companies will unveil their quarterly earnings report.

You can't pack much more drama into a single trading week. The New York Stock Exchange was on the verge of closing trading early Thursday thanks to high winds and heavy rain in Manhattan courtesy of Hurricane Floyd.

On Wednesday, investors received some goods news when August's Consumer Price Index, a key barometer of inflation, rose only 0.3 percent while the "core" CPI, which includes food and energy prices, rose only 0.1 percent.

Both figures were much better than most analysts had projected.

Still, trading was nothing if unpredictable.

Stocks actually lost ground following the CPI report, but Internet stocks made gains later in the week even though interest-rate concerns abound.

"It's been a stock pickers' market for some time,"' said Charles Payne, head analyst at Wall Street Strategies, an independent market research firm. "And the whole realm of stocks that are doing well is getting smaller and smaller."

For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average closed off 224 points at 10,803.63 while the Nasdaq shed 15 points to end at 2,869.64.

"The market can't seem to get out of its own way right now," said Alan Ackerman, market strategist at Fahnestock and Co. "No one seems willing to buy and we're seeing selling on any strength."

Looking ahead to next week, a pair of network-equipment firms desperately trying to keep pace with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) will report earnings.

3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) will release its first-quarter results Tuesday with First Call consensus expecting it to earn 24 cents a share.

3Com did beat Street estimates last quarter, earning $87.5 million, or 24 cents a share, on sales of $1.41 billion.

Regardless, analysts weren't impressed with the total revenue growth, fearing 3Com is losing market share to Cisco and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU).

3Com shares ended off 1/8 to 27 9/16 Friday.

The stock peaked at 51 1/8 in December.

Cabletron Systems (NYSE: CS) also will unveil its second-quarter results Monday.

First Call consensus expects it to make 6 cents a share.

Cabletron shares have actually enjoyed a decent renaissance in the past few months, mainly fueled by takeover rumors of one kind or another.

Manugistics Inc. (Nasdaq: MANU) is also scheduled to report earnings this week. Its shares closed up 13/16 to 11 1/16 Friday.