A high-tech reality check

Bought or sold any stock with your home (or workplace) computer in the past, say, hour?

Me neither.

If you're a buy-and-hold investor who checks her holdings when fund statements arrive by mail, you may be forgiven for thinking the whole high-tech world is always hunkered down making portfolio adjustments.

Every third city bus seems to bear one of those brash electronic-trading-service ads. ("Somebody's going to win the lottery," reads one. "Just not you.")

Internet-based trading has generated quite a buzz. New developments, like extended trading hours, get more people talking. So do tales about professional day trading, a high-octane cousin.

It's a big issue. Mercurial investors help create the exaggerated peaks and valleys in the market which rock the economy.

Individually, such traders sometimes end up ahead. More often they're like the guy on the highway who tries passing on the right, gets boxed in, passes on the left - and still winds up nose-to-tailpipe with you on the off-ramp.

Still, as fast-trackers we keep gulping technology. Capitalist fuel.

Or do we? Not many investors have rushed to their keyboards yet. The numbers may be climbing (see story at right). But only 3 percent of all US households did any stock trading by computer during all of 1998, says the consumer-finance division of SRI Consulting, in Menlo Park, Calif. Only 1 percent, says SRI, made more than 20 trades.

In other words, if you've so much as checked a fund quote online, you're better than on pace. So relax and enjoy the ride.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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