My broker has me well diversified. But do I have any say as to whom I invest with?

Q: My broker has me well diversified, but I hold stocks in two pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer and Pharmacia – that I want nothing to do with. I read that these two may soon merge. Do I have any say as to whom I invest with? Or whom I do not invest with? Do you know of any screening process that point out firms I prefer not to buy?
J.C.R., via e-mail

A: The Pfizer/Pharmacia merger has yet to be approved by federal regulators. But you can simply direct your broker not to buy them. That's easily done with individual stocks.

For mutual funds, check out socially responsible mutual funds. Contact the SRI World Group at and ask for their new free booklet "Investing In Socially Responsible Mutual Funds."

SRI funds use tight selection screens to pick stocks. Check with individual SRI mutual fund companies to see if they carry drug company stocks.

Q: With the stock market falling so sharply, I am wondering about buying gold, either a gold fund or gold jewelry. Are they good investments?
R.H., New York

A: "Investors over and over seek the hot returns from a sector, often just as the sector is peaking," says Christopher Davis, an analyst with financial information firm Morningstar, Inc., in Chicago.

Many gold funds have done well this year, especially in the first quarter, Mr. Davis says.

But gold funds are now starting to lose their luster, which is somewhat surprising given the turmoil in the stock market, as well as the sagging US dollar.

"The typical precious metals fund was down 13 percent in June," Davis notes.

He believes that it will be harder to eke out gains in gold in the months ahead.

As for gold jewelry, Davis says that you would need to know a lot about jewelry and gold before buying, as well as what it takes to compete with gold professionals. There is also the matter of storage costs and liquidity – selling the jewelry.

Most precious metals funds do not buy gold bullion, just to avoid liquidity issues, he says. Rather, they buy gold-mining stocks.

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