By BRIT HUME and T.R. REID
The Internet, as was noted in this column recently, is a happy hunting ground for ordinary citizens who aspire to beat the market pros by doing their own investing and trading online, taking advantage of the wealth of information available information, it is said, that only professionals used to have in the days before the digital revolution.
Certainly the Web affords many ways to keep track of your investment portfolio, and with an online account at a discount broker you can do your own trading from the convenience of your computer keyboard. Stock quotes, usually just 20 minutes behind the market, are available through nearly every Internet portal and investment site.
If you want to follow the advice of some of the Internet's numerous investment wise men, you can even get some of the work done for you. For example, if you like the various Dow Jones stock investment strategies outlined by David and Tom Gardner in their highly popular "Motley Fool" books and Web site (www.fool.com), they do much of the work for you.
Take their so-called Dow 10 strategy. This involves figuring out which of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones daily average is paying the highest dividend in relation to its stock price, a statistic known as the "dividend yield." The Dow 10 strategy involves buying equal shares of each of those 10 stocks and holding them. Each year, the investor checks to see if the same 10 still have the highest divided yield. The stocks that have dropped out of the 10 are sold, and replaced with the new members of the group.
You don't need to do the math to keep track because the Motley Fools do it for you. That makes it very simple. But what if you're trying, as the "Fools" continually urge you, to bypass such strategies and become a stock picker on your own, looking for companies with a combination of a bargain price, a good business and strong future prospects? The Motley Fools say the Internet gives you all the information you need.
So we gave it a try, looking for a promising stock that we knew something about that appeared to be beaten down and ready for a comeback. The May 15 stock of the month at financial publisher www.ValueLine.com, where you can register for free and gain access to some information, was Symantec, a major PC software company whose products include the Norton family of utility programs, pcAnywhere a program to access your home or office PC from remote locations via another computer and WinFax, a leading PC fax program. Unlike many PC software houses, Symantec has good relations with Microsoft, which has made a deal to bundle WinFax in its Outlook software.
Symantec had traded as high as $32 a share over the past year, but as of mid-September was down to about $13, well below the price when ValueLine recommended it. The question was why. On Excite's (www.excite.com) investment site, we checked for news stories about the company and found that Symantec had recently been hit with a court order in a copyright infringement suit filed by rival CyberMedia, which claimed Symantec had used some of CyberMedia's code in its "UnInstaller" program.
The judge ordered Symantec to stop shipping the allegedly infringing software, and Symantec said it was moving to replace already sold copies with a newly written, non-infringing version.
How much this would cost Symantec was unclear, but the company estimated the cost at about $5 million for the third quarter. In all, an embarrassing episode, but it hardly seemed enough to cause the stock to tank by almost two-thirds from its 52-week high. So we checked the chat rooms over at Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) and found a thread of messages, most of them bullish on the stock, but with one frequent contributor who insisted he was long on the stock, but believed it would never go anywhere and was trading at about what it had five years ago.
Was this true? We visited the popular Big Charts (www.bigcharts.com) site and used their "Historical Quotes" feature to check Symantec's price as of July 30, 1993. Sure enough, it was at $13.38, almost exactly its current price. So we headed for Zacks Investment Research (www.Zacks.com, where we had signed up for a 30-day free trial) to see what stock analysts were saying. We found three Wall Street brokers were recommending a strong buy, three a buy and one a hold. For reasons unexplained, Zacks itself was recommending a hold.
At the end of our surfing, we were still puzzled about this stock, but we knew a lot more than when we started, and it had not cost a cent.
T.R. Reid is London bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at email@example.com and Brit Hume at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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