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The rules of the game: Do try this at home

Want to join the fun?

You can play the St. Petersburg Times Off-Wall Street Challenge at home and compare your results with those of the official contestants.

Trading begins this Friday and ends Thursday, April 30.

Here are the rules:

Assume you have $100,000 to invest in common stocks listed on the New York or American stock exchanges or the NASDAQ National Market System and priced at $5 or more per share.

Included in the definition of common stocks are shares of those closed-end mutual funds that are listed on one of the exchanges. However, you may not buy bonds, options, warrants, futures or any mutual funds that appear under the "mutual funds" heading in the newspaper.

It is very important to keep a careful record of all your trades and the prices at which they were executed.

You may buy or sell any day the stock market is open. Any transaction after 4 p.m. should be dated the following day. All transactions should be based on the closing price of the day, which you can find listed in the following day's paper. However, you cannot wait until the next day to write down your buy or sell orders. Retroactive trading is strictly forbidden!

Your orders may be "at the market" _ meaning you will accept whatever the closing price turns out to be _ or you may set a price limit. If you set a price limit, don't execute your order unless the closing price is within your limit. Price limits are good for one day only.

All trades must involve at least 100 shares unless you are liquidating your entire position in a stock. Participants in the stock challenge also are required to start the game by investing in at least three stocks.

Charge yourself a 2 percent commission every time you buy or sell, with one exception: Liquidate your position without commission if a stock you own is de-listed from an exchange or moved from one exchange to another.

Credit your portfolio with any stock splits or stock dividends, but not with any cash dividends paid on shares you own. Do not credit yourself with any interest on the cash you have not invested.

If you wish, you may buy more stocks by going on the margin _ borrowing money. You may borrow an amount equal to the equity in your portfolio.

However, you must charge yourself interest at an annual rate of 10 percent on the average daily balance in your account.

You also may short sell _ sell borrowed stock, betting it will go down and you will be able to cover your position (replace the stock) at a cheaper price. Once you have sold a stock short, you may cover your position at any time. The 2 percent brokerage commission also applies to these transactions.

Each week, if you have made money on your short position because the stock price has fallen, the gain should be added to the equity in your portfolio. If you have lost money, the loss should be subtracted.

If you are on margin or you short sell, you have to make sure that the equity in your portfolio is always at least 30 percent of the total value of the stocks you own (both long and short positions). If it drops below the 30 percent requirement, you must sell enough stocks to bring it back up to that level. If you do not buy on the margin or short sell, you do not have to worry about this requirement.

Calculate the equity value of your portfolio every week using Thursday's closing prices and compare your results with those we will be publishing in the Times, beginning March 2. Do not sell your stock at the end of the game. Use the closing prices April 30 to determine the final value of your portfolio.

When the game ends, drop us a postcard or letter and tell us how you did.

About the reporter

Helen Huntley is a business writer for the St. Petersburg Times who specializes in investments, taxes and personal finance.

A native Floridian, she grew up in Dunedin and has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida and a master's degree in political science from the University of South Florida. She also is a fellow of the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Huntley, 42, joined the St. Petersburg Times staff in 1970, covering education, politics and general news before moving to the business department in 1985.