On-Line Services Awash With Resources Providers Can Track Or Trade For Everyone From Novices To Sophisticates

If you’re overwhelmed by the ocean of stock and investment advice in the print world, don’t expect much relief from the commercial on-line services.

In making investments, the more information you have, the better. But you’ll have to do just as much sorting, reading and the PC equivalent of page-turning on America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy as you would with the paper versions.

Still, doing it on-line can be faster and more convenient than in your public library.

And once you have a portfolio, you can check its value any time of day or night with an on-line click or two.

If you’re a real beginner in investing, the on-line services have the stuff you can find on newsstands: Forbes, Money and Fortune magazines are on CompuServe; Business Week and Investors Business Daily are on America Online; Prodigy has Kiplinger’s.

Hungrier learners can go on to newsletters and other less accessible publications, but it can cost. CompuServe’s Business Database Plus searches five years of articles from 750 publications and two years of newsletter stories from 500 titles, at charges of $15 an hour and $1.50 for each article.

Or ask companies like Dreyfus Corp. (CompuServe), Fidelity Investments (Prodigy and AOL) and Vanguard Technologies International Inc. (AOL) directly for prospectuses; you’ll get the documents by snail mail.

Most of the individual firms also offer free investing guides.

Once you have a feel for the general, you can spend some time reading specific Q&As; from fellow novices and posting some of your own. Prodigy’s main message area is Money Talk BB; the other two have numerous message centers, depending on the topic.

All have searchable databases and company profiles.

Hoover’s Business Resources (American Online) ranks companies, profiles them and gives industry facts and figures. Morningstar on America Online gives you quick rankings of mutual funds. Securities and Exchange Commission documents from Disclosure Inc. of Bethesda are on CompuServe and America Online.

Maybe you’re already interested in some particular stocks or mutual funds. Try tracking them for a while before you invest. You can get nearly real-time quotes (a 15-minute delay) on each service and follow your own set of stocks over time, with returns automatically calculated for you. CompuServe’s and Prodigy’s quote services tell you if there’s news on each company you select.

But now you’re into an area where information overload takes hold. You can look up price-earnings ratios, executive salaries, historical price data, annual income statements, SEC documents, Standard & Poor’s ratings, five-year returns and other technical numbers.

For starters.

And if you want to get a quote on a British, Dutch, German or French company, you can do that too - on CompuServe.

In other words - stop the market, I want to get off!

While these are remarkable databases, you have to make some smart decisions about what you want to know and how much weight to give each statistic in your investment choices. You can waste a lot of money on-line looking at numbers and charts that have no meaning to you, so invest your time building a strong knowledge base first.

When you really feel ready to take the plunge, all three commercial services have on-line trading that works with moneymanagement software (which is a topic for another day altogether). America Online and Prodigy have PC Financial Network. On CompuServe, look into E-Trade.

In general, the investment resources available on all three services can generally pass tests of thoroughness and simplicity.

Timeliness, is a little harder to gauge and a little less critical for the bulk of us poking around looking for the odd insight or stock chart. A series of random requests for quotes on all three turned up current data almost all the time.

But if you’re a frequent trader relying on up-to-the-minute information, you might need a more sophisticated, expensive service.

For the learners among us, though, the commercial services are ample. To paraphrase those ads, there’s plenty to read before you invest.

Tags: computer

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