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POSTCARD FROM CYBERSPACE / DANIEL AKST

The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Internet Contains a Wealth of Personal Finance Assistance

March 22, 1995|DANIEL AKST | Daniel Akst, a Los Angeles writer, is a former assistant business editor for technology at The Times

Information about personal finance abounds in cyberspace. It's all over CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy. But many on-line denizens don't realize the extent to which it's busting out on the Internet as well. The other day, for instance, I was wondering whether closed-end municipal bond funds might still be a good deal, so I posted that question to misc.invest.funds.

Don Katz, botanist by training, university administrator by trade and mutual fund investor by avocation, provided a detailed and knowledgeable response from deep in the heart of Wisconsin. Hey, pretty good, I thought. Let's poke around a little further. What I found was an astonishing array of investment resources on the Net.

The key to tapping into many of these is the World Wide Web, which many Internet and Prodigy users can easily access. Web access is coming to CompuServe and America Online soon. (Internet users with no Web experience might try typing lynx at the UNIX prompt, followed by one of the long addresses given here.) One of the most useful Internet investment resources is NetWorth (at the Web site http://networth.galt.com), whose founders had the insight that mutual fund companies would pay them to make prospectuses and other information available on line. Although the companies pay, users get the benefit for free. So far, NetWorth has signed up a number of prominent fund families, including Benham, Calvert, Dreyfus, Gabelli, IAI, Montgomery, Twentieth Century and others. You can visit this site and read fund prospectuses on the spot, or download and print them. The funds will send you a paper version shortly afterward, using the address you enter when you register to use NetWorth. Founder Robert Frasca promises not to sell your name to a lot of junk mailers. But I never get much out of fund prospectuses. If that's how you feel too, NetWorth also offers information on more than 5,000 funds from the fund-tracking firm Morningstar, with a powerful search feature that lets you narrow your hunt by performance over any one of several periods, as well as assets, yield, fees, the type of fund you're after, and more. (Morningstar is also on America Online, and CompuServe's basic service includes a rival database with equally powerful searching.) Finding the Morningstar reports was confusing. The entry with the word Morningstar in it actually leads to Morningstar's promotional area, where you can find out about Morningstar's various offerings. To tap into the Morningstar database , you actually need to look under Fund Search.

Still, this is a nifty site, and the good stuff goes beyond Morningstar. For instance, NetWorth will let you establish a portfolio for yourself, so you can keep track of your funds' activity as often as you wish. One of my favorite things about NetWorth is that you don't need Web access to use it. You can use electronic mail to submit a portfolio of funds you're tracking and receive periodic reports by return e-mail. You can even subscribe so that you receive daily or weekly closing prices in a format that enables Quicken, the popular personal finance software, to import them. (For general information, send e-mail to info@mfunds.com.)

NetWorth also offers hypertext links to a host of other investment-related or financially oriented Web sites, including a keen one on closed-end mutual funds, which is what got me started in the first place.

To visit the Internet Closed-End Fund Investor, cruise over to http://www.icefi.com some evening (it's unavailable during the day, evidently). Says Katz: "Best Internet service I've ever run across in investments." Besides prices and graphs, it offers midweek estimates of net asset value, normally published weekly for such funds. This is important for investors wanting to play the difference between NAV and market prices. Looking for stock quotes? NetWorth provides them, as does QuoteCom, which offers up to five free quotes daily on stocks, mutual funds and some other securities. Sent e-mail to info@quote.com or visit http://www.quote.com.

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