Knowing when to join in the action

Pretty raucous party. Everybody slam dancing with a confident, five-digit Dow that looked - right through mid-January - like it would never quit raising the roof.

And how about that wild, show-off little sibling, Nasdaq? Big fan of the techno craze, that one.

Add the strobes and lasers of advertisers touting discount brokerages like Datek and Ameritrade - those doyennes of desktop dividends. It's enough to make garden-variety 401(k)-type investors feel like wallflowers.

You want to join the action.

But how? Plodding along with some mediocre mutual fund just seems so ... unimaginative.

Anyway, after expenses, 80 percent of mutual funds - built after much research by seasoned pros - underperform the market as a whole over the long haul.

You could try chasing the hot stocks of the moment. Get a Yahoo! or Qualcomm by the tail.

But by the time they're hot, they're often overvalued.

Plenty of no-name dotcoms are out there for the truly speculative. But do you really want to fool around with dotcoms peddling no real product, just hoping to be absorbed by one of the big guys?

Stare at your dance card long enough, and the party may just wind down. Maybe that's OK.

What looked like the start of a little market correction sobered things up last week. Some experts are already shifting to heavier cash positions, anticipating a wider selloff this spring.

Some sectors will keep rocking.

And it's possible for conservative investors to get better performance out of their portfolios. They needn't risk the nest egg or become bleary-eyed online traders. For a simple blueprint, take a look at today's lead story.

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