New York Market: Apple leads computer shares surge

COMPUTER stocks rebounded last week on expectations that their earnings will outperform. More gains may lie ahead, at least for some. Advances "will be earnings-driven on a case-by-case basis", said Susan Flischel, at Countrywide Investments in Cincinnati. "Companies reporting positive news will be rewarded."

Apple Computer could be among the winners. The company said last week that demand for the new iMac personal computers, which come in five colours, is exceeding the company's most optimistic forecasts. The iMacs are the best-selling PCs in the US, Japan and France. Gateway 2000, the second- biggest direct seller of PCs, also is expected to have higher earnings.

The PC stocks that lost the most in recent weeks may not share in the renewed enthusiasm for technology issues. Dell Computer is still down 25 per cent since mid-February, when it reported the slowest revenue growth in two years. Compaq is down 23 per cent since warning of slower January sales. There will be "a lot of volatility going on until you get through the first quarter and the bellwethers report in line or above expectations", said Andrew Damm, a fund manager with BlackRock.

Compaq and Dell are both expected to report quarterly profit gains, though less than analysts initially expected. Microsoft may gain on earnings expectations. Stock prices "are driven by earnings, and tech stock earnings growth is still better than in other sectors", said Ted Bridges, at Bridges Investment Counsel. The 61 "technology" companies in the S&P 500 are expected to report 34 per cent earnings growth in the first quarter compared with an expected 6.4 per cent growth for the entire index.

The S&P's 500 Index dropped 1.3 per cent and the Nasdaq was little changed, falling less than 0.1 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 9822.24, down 175 points from the previous week.

After early stumbles, internet-related shares recorded some of the best gains. Some investors expect more to come. AboveNet Communications, which helps businesses use the net, added 70 per cent for the week. InterVU, which helps companies broadcast over the net, gained 36 per cent.

Some investors are sceptical that the gains can last. "It's a lot of value investors getting into stocks they wanted to own at lower prices," said Scotty George, at Corinthian Partners Asset Management. "They are so overvalued, the rally can't be sustained."

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