At the close of trading Wednesday, Utah-based Iomega was worth more than Hershey Foods and had twice the market value of Apple Computer.

In fact, Iomega's value is greater than Utah's $5.4 billion state budget.So why is Iomega the hottest stock in America?

One reason is clearly the positive earnings report.

Another is literally thousands of messages over The Motley Fool, an online bulletin board through America Online.

Some of these hip, if incorrectly punctuated, missives are informative; some are financial trash talk-people who own the stock, and short-sellers betting on it to drop, trying to frighten the wits out of each other.

The positive earnings are clearly the result of some people's belief that Iomega's little blue Zip drives could replace 31/2-inch disk drives and become a new standard for data storage in personal computers.

Whether it can fulfill that promise remains to be seen, but there's no doubting the demand for Iomega's product and its stock.

Wednesday the surge continued. Iomega shares soared 24 percent, leaping 105/8 to close at 54. With nearly 17 million shares changing hands, it was the most active Nasdaq issue for the second straight day.

The big gain was sparked by news that Taiwanese PC giant Acer will include Iomega's Zip storage device in a new line of ultra-low-cost computers.

Wall Street's infatuation with Iomega has carried it to dizzying heights.

Its stock has more than quadrupled in price since early April, and is up more than 1,000 percent since the beginning of last year.

As a result, the market value of Roy-based Iomega has risen to $6.4 billion. That's an astronomical figure for a company that last year had revenues of $326 million and profits of $8.5 million.

"The surge in Iomega's stock has been extraordinary, but you have to wonder how much higher this can go," said analyst Scott Butler of Jensen Securities in Portland, Ore.

For Iomega, the timing could not be better. Its high-capacity portable disk drives have hit the market just when people are starting to need bigger disks on which to store their "stuff," as Iomega says in its hip ads.

Many of today's complex graphics and multimedia files, as well as programs that you can transfer off the Internet, are too large to fit on a standard 31/2-inch floppy disk.

Disks for Iomega's Zip drive can hold 100 megabytes. (One mega-byte equals 1 million pieces of information). A floppy disk holds 1.4 megabytes.

Zip drives, which are a little bigger than a Walkman stereo cassette player, plug into the back of a PC. The drive itself costs $199, and disks, which are about the same size as floppies, cost $19.95 each.

Iomega introduced its first Zip drive in March 1995. It uses 100-megabyte removable disks. One Zip disk can hold as much stuff as 71 floppy disks.

"We think Zip has got the chance to be the floppy for the multimedia age," Edwards said. "As we hear of people downloading off the Internet, we just drool. We consider ourselves the catcher's mitt for the In-ter-net."

That's because a lot of the stuff on the Internet is data heavy; files loaded with sound and photos and even video can't be squeezed onto a floppy disk with a meager 1.44 megabytes of space.

The Zip received lots of attention from the computer industry, winning accolades and awards. It was even listed as one of the 10 most-wanted objects of desire.

In December, Iomega began shipping the Jaz drive, which uses disks that store a gigabyte - 1,000 megabytes - of data.

In the year following their introduction last spring, 1 million Zip drives were shipped, and retailers have reported difficulty keeping them in stock.

Iomega's stock also is being fueled by speculation that the Zip drive could be included as an option or even a built-in component in the $500 "network computers" planned by Oracle and others.

But the Motley Fools aspect has some people worried.

The Fools' typical in-your-face pleasantries differ from the trash talk heard in other venues, such as in basketball arenas, in one important respect. Many of the opinion-makers on the Fool announce their tidings under a "screen name," such as "Heyrubes" or "Total21."

According to Iomega and Hambrecht & Quist, some of these cyberscribes, both bulls and bears, are taking liberties with the truth, adding to the stock's "volatility."

Of course, just about all the volatility has been upward. Short-sellers have taken a huge bath, with paper losses estimated at $1 billion. The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a probe into trading in the stock, as part of which the Fool has turned over thousands of postings.

The SEC won't discuss Iomega. But Kenneth Israel Jr., the SEC's district administrator in Salt Lake City, says, "Obviously there is some concern with what is going on over the Internet generally - not to say there is anything illegal going on. This is a new world for everybody." What should the SEC look at? For starters, is aggressive and possibly manipulative promotion - an activity rightly regulated in traditional "public" forums - getting a free ride on the info highway?

Deseret News staff writer Brooke Adams contributed to this report.