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Inquisitive investors inundate Internet

Investors looking for information, advice and maybe some consolation went to Web sites in record numbers this week as the stock market fell Monday and then rebounded Tuesday.

Monday "was the biggest day ever for our Web site," said Chris Hill, a spokesman for Motley Fool, a popular personal finance and investment Web destination (http://www.motleyfool.com).

Between 450,000 and 500,000 pages were viewed Monday, about 30 percent more than a normal day. Tuesday's traffic also was high, Hill said, but he couldn't predict whether it would match Monday's activity.

While brokerages are offering more online services, investors are also using the Web for research and the exchange of information, an area of online activity growing in popularity.

Motley Fool provided special content, updated its news offerings more frequently and had special chat rooms for people to exchange ideas, Hill said.

"As a new investor in '87, it was at this moment that I sold. I'll not repeat that mistake this time. Hang on till the dust settles," one message said on the Motley Fool board.

Another investor saw a silver lining in this week's sell-off, posting this on Motley Fool's board:

"It's like being a kid in a candy store, as I can't wait till things shake out a little more (might take some time), and then I'm a goin' shopping . . ."

More people are using online services not only for information but for investing as well. According to a study released by Forrester Research, more than 3-million Internet-based investing accounts are expected by the end of the year. By 2002, that number will grow to 14.4-million. Assets managed online will grow from $120-billion this year to $688-billion during that time, the report said.

And the world of online finance was busy this week:

+ At e-Schwab, Charles Schwab's online service, usually 150 to 175 people are logged on at any one time, according to spokesman Michael Van Dam. Tuesday morning it started at 5,000 and its peak was up to 9,800.

+ At America Online, the largest online service provider, reported chat rooms were full Monday, with four times as many people chatting in the afternoon as during a normal day, said spokeswoman Janine Dunn. Tuesday's activity in the chat rooms was steady, she said, but it wasn't known whether it would reach Monday's levels.

+ At CNBC's Web site (http://www.cnbc.com), more than 36,000 visits were recorded Monday, up from a normal day's 10,000, according to spokesman Philip Recchia. CNBC's cable TV ratings set a record for the channel, topping 1-million households Monday.

None of the services contacted by the Times reported slowdowns because of the increased activity, but attempts to reach some other sites Tuesday met with mixed success.

_ Information from Times staff writer Helen Huntley and the San Diego Daily Transcript was used in this report.

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