THE WEEK AHEAD: Internets, earnings highlight busy week

Oracle and Infoseek will serve as appetizers for what promises to be an enormous buffet of strong corporate earnings reports in the next few weeks. With the Nasdaq perched at an all-time high and Internet stocks showing signs of life, trading volume should soar.

For the week the Dow Jones industrial average retreated 50 points to 11,028.43 while the Nasdaq charged up 42 points to a record close of 2,886.96.

While most analysts are fixated with interest-rate worries, savvy investors are looking at the strong earnings expected from big-name technology companies.

There were even some rumblings that Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) might preannounce better-than-expected earnings this week. It didn't happen, but Intel's still trading near its all-time high around $88 a share.

More intriguing, the downtrodden Internet sector is finally showing signs of life thanks to some positive comments from leading analysts.

That should help this tech rally continue for at least the next couple of weeks as the hardware guys such as Intel, Applied Materials Inc. (Nasdaq: AMAT), Gateway Inc. (NYSE: GTW) and Apple Computer Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) have done most of the heavy lifting in the past two months.

With Yahoo!, Amazon.com and eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) pulling off double-digit gains this week, it's clear that this sector has finally hit its bottom and should be primed for a revival as we head into the Christmas shopping season.

On the IPO front, at least 5 new tech issues are slated to debut next week.

From a broader standpoint, investors were encouraged by both a lack of negative sentiment from Alan Greenspan this week as well as a better-than-expected Producer Price Index report Friday. Try as they might, leading economists still can't convince Wall Street that inflation is going derail this bull market.

The core PPI rate, which excludes food and energy prices, declined 0.1 percent in August after being unchanged in July. Estimates had called for an increase. The jump in wholesale prices and muted gains elsewhere left the Federal Reserve, and all investors trying to scrutinizing what's on its interest rate agenda, on guard for more economic data.

On the earnings front, Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) is scheduled to report its first-quarter results Tuesday.

First Call consensus predicts it will earn 16 cents a share in what's arguably its slowest fiscal quarter.

Earlier this quarter, analysts were worried that Y2K spending would dampen Oracle's first-quarter sales and profit margins. That may be true, but Oracle has shown an amazing ability to surprise analysts in each of its past two quarters.

Oracle shares closed off 2 5/16 to 46 3/8 Friday, good enough for a new 52-week high. Maybe some of these investors know what they're talking about.

Infoseek Corp. (Nasdaq: SEEK) will also announce its third-quarter results this week. First Call consensus expects it to lose 42 cents a share this time around.

Its shares closed up 1/2 to 31 1/4 Friday.

Assuming Infoseek shows decent traffic and revenue growth, it should easily top the Street estimate and spark another round of speculation buying in the sector.

Mark this down: three relatively new Internet offerings will be on the move this week after their 30-day quiet periods expire over the weekend.

Looksmart Ltd. (Nasdaq: LOOK), Bamboo.com Inc. (Nasdaq: BAMB) and ImageX.com Inc. (Nasdaq: IMGX) all stand to make some nice, albeit unjustified, gains when their underwriters start coverage of the stocks with "buy" recommendations.

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