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Map: Alabama

The Securities & Exchange Commission's fair-disclosure rule -- "Reg FD" -- levels the field between analysts and investors, but at a cost. Analyst earnings estimates are proving less accurate. The October, 2000, rule was supposed to stop companies from tipping off analysts on important information. It has done that, according to a July update of a study first presented to the American Finance Assn. in 2003. "The effectiveness of SEC enforcement has increased, and so has compliance," says co-author Mark Chen, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

The study compared estimates for about five years before Reg FD with the four years after. The researchers wondered whether secret tip-offs were helping improve analysts' earnings predictions. Sure enough, without the help, the forecasts are no longer as good. They're 2 cents to 3 cents a share less accurate for an average $10 stock, after accounting for such variables as analysts' experience. Perhaps disturbing for Wall Street, the forecasts have worsened over time, Chen says. While the playing field is leveling, the guesswork is growing.

When I whip out a a bottle of sunscreen, my three boys -- ages 7, 5, and 2 -- run the other way. They don't like interrupting their play to let me spread lotion over their skin. That's why I was eager to try Spwipes, a towelette slathered with SPF 30 that comes in easy-to-carry individual packages.

The wipes were too watery for me. But the boys liked them, since the sunscreen went on fast and without a lot of rubbing or mess. As a test, I used the Spwipes on their right sides, and the bottled stuff on the left. A few hours later, the skin on both sides looked the same -- suggesting equal protection.

The convenience will cost you: A 10-pack sells for $8.99 -- and adults may have to use more than one wipe. Plus, since distribution is spotty -- the startup company isn't sure where distributors have placed the product -- you may have to buy the wipes at Of course, that means you'll pay extra for shipping.

Use it or lose it. Inherit an individual retirement account from someone who dies after turning 70 1/2, and you must take your benefactor's required distribution by Dec. 31. Otherwise, you'll face a 50% penalty on the money you should have taken out.

But if you prefer that the money go to the beneficiary next in line, the Internal Revenue Service will now let you disavow all or part of the IRA even after you take that initial required distribution. The only hitch: You have to demur within nine months of the account owner's death.

In Alabama, it seems all roads lead to a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Thanks to funding from Retirement Systems of Alabama, a trail of courses by the famed designer takes in 432 holes at 10 sites (including the new Ross Bridge course opening on Sept. 1 in Hoover, near Birmingham).

Greens fees range from $37 to $75, varying by course and season. Through Aug. 31, three days of unlimited golf cost $120 (

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