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InsWeb gains on upgrade

InsWeb snapped out of its recent slide Thursday, picking up 1 3/16, or 9 percent, to 13 13/16 after Robertson Stephens upgraded the online insurance service from a "buy" recommendation to a "strong buy."

Analyst Scott Appleby also raised its 12-month price target to $32 a share.

"We believe the company is misunderstood as just a referral model," Appleby said in a research note. "InsWeb has aggressively moved to the agency model with ongoing investments in personnel, technology and customer service. Further, we view InsWeb as a natural insurance enabler allowing carriers to sell insurance over the web, drawing 100 percent of revenues from carrier clients."

InsWeb competes with the likes of Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU) and Quotesmith.com (Nasdaq: QUOT).

In its latest quarter, InsWeb posted a loss of $11 million, or 32 cents a share, on sales of $6.4 million. That $6.4 million in sales marked a 218 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it lost $10.3 million, or 42 cents a share, on sales of $2 million.

For the fiscal year, it lost $36.2 million, or $1.17 a share, on sales of $21.8 million.

First Call consensus expects it to lose 38 cents a share in its first quarter and $1.34 a share in fiscal 2000.

After its strong initial public offering in July, InsWeb shares moved up to an all-time high of 44 in August. The stock bottomed out at 12 5/8 earlier this month.

Five of the six analysts covering the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.