Got a computer and a modem? Douglas Gerlach and George Chelekis have the welcome mat out for you.
Gerlach's "Investorama" and Chelekis' "Hot Stocks Review" are among the hundreds of options available to investors hunting financial news and information with their home computers. This online treasure chest includes the tedious and boring, the sales pitches and the scams _ and, if you look long enough, the truly useful.
A little more than a third of U.S. households have personal computers, and the number is growing each month. As it does, so does the quantity and the importance of online information. Details once available only to money managers and stockbrokers are now accessible to the smallest of small investors. Financial reports, company news and analyst opinions are all available online if you can figure out where to look.
The hottest spot these days is the World Wide Web, a fast-growing segment of the Internet, that vast computer network linking businesses, universities and homes all over the globe.
Gerlach and Chelekis are both Webmen, but their products are very different. And their offerings illustrate that the Internet is both a rich source of information and a wild and woolly place where it's good to keep an eye out for misinformation and self-serving advice.
An investment amateur, Gerlach spends $25 a month to maintain his Web site, which is a directory/launching pad for anyone seeking investment resources on the Web. It takes advantage of the World Wide Web's most distinguishing feature _ click on a key word and the Web will bring up the requested site even if it is housed in a computer half a world away.
Gerlach, whose paying job is writing grants for a New York theater, says his publishing motives are strictly altruistic.
"It's really tough when you're beginning to get started investing," he said. "Having just been there, I remember what it was like." His Web site contains no advertising and asks for no user fees.
Chelekis, meanwhile, is a Clearwater investment newsletter writer who turned to the Web because it offers a fast and cheap way to reach people. His online "Hot Stocks Review" has been so successful that he's thinking of discontinuing the printed version.
"You can E-mail 100,000 people for 25 cents," Chelekis said. He charges electronic subscribers $108 to $495 a year to find out what he thinks before he puts the information on the Web for all the world to see.
His background is as a freelance fashion writer and celebrity interviewer, not as an investment expert. However, last year Chelekis began writing about mining companies and other speculative Canadian stocks, specializing in those traded on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. He is now widely quoted in the Canadian press and on financial news services.
In fact, his following has grown so large that a thumbs-down can be enough to send a stock into a tailspin, occasionally even generating death threats from shareholders.
Although he considers himself a journalist, Chelekis makes many journalists cringe by accepting thousands of dollars in "research and promotional fees" from companies he covers and trading in some of the stocks he writes about.
Chelekis says he does nothing wrong and that Canadian journalists are jealous because he scoops them on big stories. One of those journalists, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun, is suing him for libel. So far, however, no government agency has made any move to censure Chelekis.
Indeed, there is little regulation in this electronic marketplace: Anyone can publish on the Web, and users who forget that do so at their peril. But of course, conflicts of interest, scams and misinformation are not the exclusive province of the online investment world.
"There is much more of the wheeling and dealing of penny stocks, load funds that underperform, et al., over telephones and in financial offices than in the online world," said Tom Gardner, one of the "Motley Fools" running a popular investment area of the America Online service.
From Gardner's perspective, one of the best things about the online world is that it gives investors a chance to talk with one another and get their questions answered by experts. He said the Motley Fool's forum recorded 600,000 visitors last month and has been growing 30 percent a month.
The forum offers posting areas on about 1,000 U.S. stocks, 20 analysts who answer questions, a "Fool's School," investment games, a real-money portfolio and live online "meetings" every night.
"What becomes so apparent, is just how isolated investors have been from one another," Gardner said. ". . . With tens of thousands of investors around the table here in the digital world, our potential _ if we can keep focused on fundamental analysis _ is awfully high."
Investors who like statistics and performance rankings also can find plenty of those online, both through subscription information services and out on the Web. Getting started takes a computer, a modem and a telephone line.
Two of the best sites on the Web are Galt Technologies Inc.'s NETworth site and Mutual Funds Magazine's online site, both of which have searchable data bases and reams of information.
"Online investors know more and know it sooner than investors using traditional information resources," said Norman G. Fosback, publisher of Mutual Funds Magazine in Fort Lauderdale.
In many instances, online investors can go directly to the source to get information about investments. Many mutual fund companies and public companies have sites on the Web, and Securities and Exchange Commission filings are available for many companies. However, the quality of company sites is spotty, and many are more consumer-oriented than investor-oriented.
Gerlach, the Web publisher, says investors shouldn't be intimidated by the online world.
"You have to have a pioneering spirit about it," he said. "You're going into the unknown, and there are all sorts of things out there, good and bad. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But there are lots of sites and people who are very helpful. Information is what it's all about."
ADDRESS BOOK FOR INVESTORS
If you have a computer with access to the Internet, here is a selection of addresses you can use to find investment information. The addresses must be copied exactly. Be sure slash marks lean to the right. However, don't be surprised if you sometimes have trouble getting through.
A place to read what investors are thinking and to post your own ideas. Similar forums also are available on each of the online services.
WORLD WIDE WEB
A topical index of web sites and a way to search for topics by typing in a key words.
Starting points for investors:
Mutual Fund Magazine
Nest Egg Magazine
More on mutual funds:
Other places to visit:Securities and Exchange Commission electronic filings:
News from Dow Jones and Wais Inc.:
American Stock Echange:
Directory of stocks with dividend reinvestment plans:
Investment amateur Douglas Gerlach, whose "Investorama" site on the World Wide Web takes no ads and asks for no user fees, says his motives are altruistic: "It's really tough when you're beginning to get started investing."
Newsletter writer George Chelekis turned to the Web for his "Hot Stocks Review" as a fast and cheap way to reach people. He charges electronic subscribers $108 to $495 a year to get his advice before the data goes on the Web.
Fidelity Investments has both a site on the Internet's World Wide Web and a section on America Online.
Mutual Funds Magazine's Web site lets investors search for funds and calculate their performance.
Charles Schwab & Co., which has a Web site, is one of many brokerage firms reaching out to online investors.