One Wild Day on the Web

The day is Monday, Oct. 27. Hong Kong's market has crashed. The Internet is abuzz. Dozens of sites spread the news about the 10.4 percent drop. The Asian currency crisis is the topic of an early morning report on PrimeSquawk (, although company plans to discontinue the service), which provides sophisticated market commentary.

As the Hong Kong hot seat starts to torch markets in Europe and the United States, investor Michael Sleight takes notice. Volatility is his signal to enter the market. Contacted midmorning, Oct. 27, he says, "I'm in watching mode right now."

Mr. Sleight tracks the action hundreds of miles away from Wall Street, in his third-floor home office in Alton, Ill. He trades options, a highly speculative security, and he must enter and exit the market with pinpoint timing.

Five years ago, the technology to keep him current would have cost several hundred dollars a month. Now, it's virtually free.

A TV screen beams him the latest news from CNBC, the business-news cable-TV network, while a computer displays real-time quotes from a free dial-up service from his broker.

"Without these two information feeds, I couldn't do any of it," he says. "I'm trading against the best people in the market. [But] I watch the barges go down the [Mississippi] river, and I'm not in New York. To me that's very civilized."

Several hundred miles away, in Pittsburgh, retired engineer Walter Hopkins is on the edge of his seat. The Dow is plunging, and he dials up CompuServe from his home and downloads quotes for 27 stocks.

The news isn't good. But he's a long-term investor and sometimes goes a year without making a trade. He won't take action today. "I looked at them, and I still believe in them," he says.

Both investors still make their trades through brokers. Sleight says his trades are too complicated for a computer to execute, and Mr. Hopkins is a traditionalist. "I think I'm smarter than the broker. But you should spend more effort selecting stocks" than trying to save a few dollars on a discount broker.

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