Earnings Help Net Stocks Minimize Losses

Stocks fell across the board Wednesday as investors remained cautious ahead of key economic numbers due out Thursday. However, better-than-expected earnings from several Net plays minimized damage across that sector.

internet.com’s Internet Stock Index lost 13.27, or 1.83 percent, to 710.28, the Nasdaq Composite ended off 81.06 to 3,630.17 and the Dow Jones industrials tumbled 179.32 to 10,945.50.

Behind much of the drop was nervousness ahead of the employment cost index numbers, due out Thursday. The key inflation indicator is expected to gain 0.9 percent for March, according to a Reuters poll of several leading economists.

Drkoop.com (KOOP) jumped 1-1/4 to 3-19/32 after announcing several steps to improve its long-term prospects. On Tuesday, the company warned it will post a bigger-than-expected first-quarter loss following the restructuring of a content deal with America Online Inc. (AOL). The company is giving AOL about a 10 percent stake in lieu of cash as part of a deal to feature its content on the online service. Drkoop.com is also planning a similar deal with Go.com (GO).

Drkoop.com has also retained Bear Stearns & Co. to explore several strategic alternatives, although it did not say if those would include a sale.

CheckFree Holdings Corp. (CKFR) jumped 7-1/16 to 39-9/16. The online bill payment firm reported a fiscal third-quarter loss of 7 cents, 4 cents better than expected.

VerticalNet (VERT) gained 7/8 to 46. The company, which is due to report earnings later Wednesday, received positive comments from Merrill Lynch’s Henry Blodget. Blodget expects revenues to climb 79 percent sequentially to $18 million.

EarthWeb (EWBX) soared 4-3/16 to 15-1/4. The portal signed a content sharing deal with Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO).

About.com Inc. (BOUT) gained 1/4 to 33. The company, which is set to report earnings later this week, was reiterated a “buy” by E*Offering.

Medscape (MSCP) ended off 1/16 to 4-1/8 after hitting 5. The online medical publisher reported first-quarter revenues jumped to $6 million from $1.65 million a year ago. The company lost 46 cents a share, meeting analyst expectations.

Marimba Inc. (MRBA) tumbled 11-1/4 to 18-5/8. The company, whose product distributes software updates over the Internet, announced the resignation of Chief Financial Officer Fred Gerson, who will step down in October. The company also reported a first-quarter loss of a penny, excluding one-time items. Analysts had forecast a 2-cent loss.

eBay Inc. (EBAY) closed off 4-5/16 to 149-1/4 after hitting 161-5/16 earlier in the session. The online auctioneer late Tuesday reported first-quarter profits of 6 cents a share, 3 cents better than expected.

Dain Rauscher Wessels upgraded the online auctioneer

to “buy” from “neutral” and increased its target to $250. Also, CIBC hiked its target by $70 to $250, maintaining its “buy.”

Internet design and consulting firm Razorfish Inc. (RAZF) lost 5/16 to 18-13/16. The company’s first-quarter net income rose to 5 cents a share. Excluding special items, the company earned 7 cents, a penny better than estimates.

CMGI Inc. (CMGI) lost 3-15/16 to 58 after reaching 65. The company said its AltaVista unit had signed up 2.5 million subscribers for its free Internet service.

F5 Networks (FFIV) plunged 14-37/64 to 44-1/8. The company, whose products optimize Internet content delivery, reported second-quarter earnings of 18 cents a share, in line with analyst estimates.

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