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FOR INVESTORS OF ALL STRIPES, A CORNUCOPIA ON THE NET

Remember when you would bug your broker for stock quotes or intelligence about companies that you were thinking of investing in? Seems passe now--at least to the legions of investors who get the scoop off the Internet.

A wealth of Web material is aimed at seasoned day traders, tyros, and just about every investor in between. In this story and the one that follows (page 104), we give you a rundown on the astonishing amount of financial news, quotes, charts, company gossip, analyst recommendations, financial calculators, screening tools, and Securities & Exchange Commission filings available on the Internet. If you're an international investor, you can follow world politics, economics, and markets just as easily. Better yet, a good chunk of what you'll find out there is free.

GABFEST. Let's say you're just getting started as an investor. Go to Wall Street City. While this site provides sophisticated stock-screening tools for as much as $34.95 per month, it can also help a newcomer learn investing skills for free. For example, you'll find articles on using relative strength as an analytical tool. At the American Association of Individual Investors site (www.aaii.org), you'll be able to read primers on stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. And you can bone up on options at the Chicago Board of Trade (www.cbot.com).

Want to gab online about the market? Plug into the lively message boards at Motley Fool (www.fool.com), one of several places on the Net where investors trade wisdom and rumors. You'll find Fool members ruminating on every possible subject, from how to beat the Dow Jones industrial average to retirement planning. If high-technology stocks are your interest, try browsing through the more than 70,000 postings each week at Silicon Investor (www.techstocks.com).

No doubt you'll have to wade through idle prattle in cyberspace, just as you would anywhere else you poke around for investment ideas. But plenty of online grist comes your way from Wall Street professionals, brand-name financial institutions, and top-notch journalists. Briefing.com ($6.95 to $25 a month) provides commentary on stocks, bonds, and Fed policy. It's largely staffed by former managers of Standard & Poor's MMS International, the world's largest real-time analysis firm. Overall, banks, brokerages, software powerhouses such as Intuit and Microsoft, and media companies such as Bloomberg, CNNfn, Dow Jones, Time Warner, and The McGraw-Hill Companies (which owns BUSINESS WEEK and S&P) all boast substantial investment Web offerings. On Jan. 12, S&P will launch its Personal Wealth service (www.personalwealth.com). For $9.95 a month, it will include S&P's stock, bond, and industry research. Its portfolio tracking feature will let you know when S&P changes the rating on one of your holdings.

For a general directory of financial sites, try checking out www.onlineinvestors.com. Many sites let you construct portfolios that are updated automatically as the market labors through its daily gyrations. In some places, you can arrange E-mail alerts on companies or industries of interest. Quote.com recently launched ''live'' real-time dynamic charts on the Web, so subscribers ($9.95 to $99.95 a month) can faithfully watch individual securities (or the entire market) move tick by tick. If you don't need something quite so elaborate, Thomson Investors Network (www.mar ketedge.com) recently began offering users up to 50 free real-time stock quotes a day.

When you're ready to spring into action, many brokers are a mouse click or two away. Once you arrive at their sites, you can typically trade at commission rates cheaper than you would pay offline. But given the balkanized nature of the Web's countless investment sites, it's still a chore to go back and forth between gleaning information and trading, maintains Julio Gomez, president of Gomez Advisors, a consultancy that tracks online brokerages. Ultimately, he believes, you'll be able to obtain research from several sources and execute your trade at one site.

GROWING PAINS. Bookkeeping should also become easier. CheckFree, Intuit, and Microsoft are backing a technological specification known as OFX (for open financial exchange). It lets you download brokerage statements directly into Web portfolio managers that will track your assets. Charles Schwab & Co.'s customers recently became the first to be able to do just that at the Microsoft Investor site. But there's much room for improvement. ''It's a good start, but anyone who expects it to work without a hitch is in for a frustrating experience,'' says Gomez.

At the moment, you can find basic news and commentary from such electronic brokerages as Schwab. SchwabNOW!, for example, (www.schwab now.com), gives you access to delayed stock quotes from Quote.com, charts from BigCharts (www.bigcharts. com), company capsules from Hoover's Online (www.hoovers. com), and stories from a variety of sources, including BUSINESS WEEK Online (www.businessweek.com). Among its offerings, Fidelity's site (fidelity.com) has short news stories from Reuters. Such investment sites serve as ''aggregators'' in Web-speak, meaning they assemble data culled from a variety of outside sources. Take Yahoo!. When people surf the Web, they often visit what's probably the best known of the Net's search engines. But Yahoo! Finance is a splendid--and free--investment site in its own right. Although not all that slick-looking, Yahoo! Finance is conveniently laid out in a manner that lets you find information you want on the quick. In the features section, you can click on various topics such as currency exchange rates, earnings surprises, and upgrades and downgrades to bring up relevant resources. In the reference area, you'll find a stock-splits calendar and financial glossary. Yahoo! lets you set up numerous portfolios with up to 200 symbols each. Financial results are updated automatically and accompanied by news headlines pertaining to your holdings.

Microsoft Investor pulls in information from outside sources as well, but the site brought to you by Bill Gates, the man with the world's most enviable portfolio, also offers original content.

THE SKINNY. Investor's opening screen is a model of elegant simplicity. Under a menu bar, the screen is carved in half. The right side displays a short, scrollable list of articles; the left has clickable buttons that take you deeper into the service. The portfolio manager button brings you to an area where you can list all your securities. Investment Finder, one of the premium services ($9.95 or $6.95 if you subscribe to the Microsoft Network), lets you screen through more than 8,000 stocks and mutual funds based on various criteria, including management efficiencies, financial condition, and percentage owned by institutions. Investor's Research Central offers the skinny on companies, as provided by Hoover's, Zacks Investment Research, Morningstar, and others, although you must be a subscriber for access to some of the information. Investor also features original articles by staff or freelance writers.

Several online publications boast articles produced by a network of journalists. A lot of favorable buzz surrounds The Street.com, which aims to break news, and which features pungent commentary from co-chairman James J. Cramer, a hedge-fund manager.

And although some may find its opening screen a bit busy, SmartMoney Interactive is well worth the $49 annual subscription price, especially considering that the online sites of its Dow Jones siblings, The Wall Street Journal and Barron's, are included in the deal. The rate drops to $29 if you subscribe to Smart Money magazine or The Journal. You'll be able to find articles, personal-finance advice, and stock, mutual-fund, and fixed-income recommendations. One nice feature is Pundit Watch, which assesses the batting averages of 10 market soothsayers.

You'll also find solid news coverage at CBS MarketWatch, a joint product of CBS News and Data Broadcasting Corp. Serious traders willing to pay $79 per month (plus exchange fees) get stand-alone software, streaming real-time data, and E-mail or pager alerts on volume, price, bid/ask, and other market changes.

Investors who want access to a wide variety of research reports and investment newsletters without taking on annual subscriptions to each should check out INVESTools. You can search a company or fund name to bring up a list of articles: Depending on the newsletter, you can read them on an a la carte basis for as little as 50 cents. Among the many publications that are available: Hulbert Performance Profiles, Morningstar Mutual Funds OnDemand, and The Options Advisor. Even in the good old days, your broker never gave you all that.

Edward C. Baig
EDITED BY AMY DUNKIN



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Updated Dec. 11, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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