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Need Advice or a Hot Stock Tip? Check the Web 

by Mike Scott (


So you are one of the millions of individual investors in the United States. Or perhaps you are ready to dive in to the exciting world of online trading. But like me, you aren't ready to just dive into stocks and mutual funds without becoming more familiar with what you are buying. 

There's a world of Web sites out there you can visit to help separate the winners from the losers. Many of these sites are produced by some of the most widely read personal finance magazines. Which sites you place on your ``Favorite Places" list depends on the type of information you desire. 

One of my favorite sites is produced by software behemoth Microsoft. Bill Gates' network of Web sites makes up in substance what it lacks in graphical flair. At moneycentral, you can research everything from finding mortgages to personal banking but the key page is under the ``Investor" heading. 

Until earlier this year, an individual had to join a fee-based community to take advantage of Microsoft's stock-screening service but now visitors can access this information for free. You can research stocks by industry (e.g. technology, retail, utilities), P/E ratio, current price and virtually every other type of characteristic. Once your desired information is entered, the site spits out a list of stocks that match your requirements. 

Upcoming stock splits, along with analyst upgrades and downgrades are other helpful tools at your disposal. These are two important pieces of information since they have a large role in determining the price of a given stock.  

If you're more interested in analysis and stock picks, you can scan recent columns by Jim Jubak, Mary Rowland, Jon Markum and others. Jubak maintains various lists of stock picks, including ``The Best 50 Stocks in the World," ``The Best Stocks for the Next 12 months," and the ``Future Fantastic 50." His columns are well-written and offer sensible conclusions, including how to spot future trends. His various portfolios are updated weekly.

            Rowlund, the self-proclaimed ``Careful Investor" has been moving farther away from her initial conservative nature in recent months. Her columns are geared more toward the beginning investor and she often admits that her emotions and confidence in the market can affect her stock judgment. In addition to giving occasional advice, she also describes various methods of investing, such as DRIPs, dollar-cost averaging and how to get the most out of your 401K.

Markum also maintains various portfolios aimed to attract individuals in various stages of their investing.

For an informative, but slightly more tongue-in-cheek analysis, there may be no one better to visit than the Fool. The Motley Fool that is. You may be familiar with Fool bits that may appear in your local metropolitan newspaper's business section (as they do Mondays in my personal favorite, The Detroit Free Press). But the Fool is first and foremost a Web site designed for the more seasoned investor interested in the art of number crunching. 

To its credit (or detriment depending on your opinion), the Fool offers several newsletters mailed to your email account daily, weekly or monthly. Whether you spend your ``Breakfast with the Fool" or delve into the dynamics that comprise the Fool's unique ``Rule Maker," the site provides a wealth of information that can help you identify stocks that are ready to take off.  

Motley also will highlight a corporation every day and investigate why its stock has behaved in a positive or negative fashion. One piece of advice, choose your Fool newsletters carefully, particularly if you want to reduce the amount of clutter on your account. Even so it's definitely a site worth visiting. 

Certainly there are many ways to obtain information on the market's daily events and news, but Money Magazine produces one of the better ones. You will have direct access and links to the most up-to-date market information, with releases available from the Associated Press, Reuters, PR Newswire and other news services. 

Money, like many of its counterparts in the personal finance publication industry, also provides detailed articles that can parallel the data that appear in its print edition. A daily summary of market activity also highlights the winners and losers and explains the forces behind these movers. 

One of the best ways to invest in the long-term is through the use of DRIPs (direct re-investment programs). The service offers hundreds of stocks for the program but if you haven't yet set up such a program, you may want to wait for its ShareBuilder program to kick off in the coming weeks.

The idea behind ShareBuilder is simple: you can automatically have money drawn out of your personal savings account at regular intervals (i.e. weekly, monthly, quarterly). Your money can be funneled into as many stocks as you want (based on availability) at a cost of $2 per transaction.

For example, if you wanted to deposit $250 every month and have the money split between American Online and Dell Computer, you would be charged $4 every month for the service, not a bad deal for the long-term investor.

            DRIPs are a good tool for long-term investing because it removes the burden of trying to time the market. If the market value of your desired stock or stocks rise, your account continues to increase in value. If the market value of your stock falls, your account continues to rise because periodic payments are being made, plus you are buying stock at a lower price.

One note of warning about DRIPs and ShareBuilder. Unlike online investing services, it can be a difficult process to withdraw your money. As of late December, ShareBuilder was not yet available to consumers, so I would recommend visiting Netstock's Web site and reading more about the service before committing to it.

If you're not ready to jump into the often-treacherous ocean of stocks, you may want to start with mutual funds. Every mutual fund company of record has its own Web site describing its fund offerings and which stocks comprise them. Just type in the name of the company (i.e. Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, Putnam, etc.) into your search engine and surf away!

A couple of final notes: keep in mind that for every stock pick you encounter on the Web, there's probably two or three other analysts who would advise you to move in another direction. The final decision is yours and yours alone.

If you only want advice on how to make your nest egg grow, get a broker and follow his or her advice. Investment research on the Internet should be fun! Almost as fun as making money.

(Note: the mutual fund companies and stocks mentioned above are being mentioned as examples only and should not be construed as advice. The Web sites mentioned are being recommended as a method of improving an individual's knowledge of personal investing. For more information, consult your broker or investment representative.)


Mike Scott lives in Troy, Michigan, and works full-time in marketing communications. He also is a freelance writer for area newspapers and magazines and is an avid investor.


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