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June 30, 2004

"Online Investing Hacks": How to Hack Your Portfolio for Fun and Profit

Sebastopol, CA--It's an all-too-common scene, played out in guest rooms/home offices around the world: a would-be investor takes to the computer keyboard, hoping a bit of technical proficiency can help hard-earned savings to grow. A couple of keywords are typed into the search engine...and then the sheer volume of data that comes pouring forth makes any rational person power down and put off investing for another day, or even turn the whole process over to a financial professional (not that there's anything wrong with that). Wouldn't it be great to find a way to stem that bewildering deluge of financial data? To sort out the web sites and stats? To assemble that flood of information--which will only continue to grow--into a sensible spreadsheet from the cost-effective comfort of your own computer chair?

These questions occurred to award-winning financial author Bonnie Biafore. "In 1990, I decided I needed to learn more about my investments," says Biafore, "but I struggled with books that were poorly written, didn't provide examples, and didn't address the questions I had about my specific situation. I made every mistake there was." An admitted type-A personality, Biafore doggedly began to compile and organize online investing essentials. The result? Online Investing Hacks (O'Reilly, US $24.95), a collection of 100 industrial-strength tools and techniques for analyzing and managing online portfolios.

Investment skills and analysis are becoming critical, Biafore points out. "People are more responsible for their finances than they were in the past, but must choose from more complex options: dozens of account types, hundreds of financial institutions, thousands of savings vehicles, stocks, mutual funds, and other types of investments. The Internet provides educational information and tools for the do-it-yourself investor, who needs help understanding what is important and then weeding through the overwhelming supply of online information."

Online Investing Hacks is far from an arid checklist of investment dos and don'ts. A regular speaker on the investment club circuit, Biafore's friendly prose mirrors her affable public-speaking style. "Many people are struggling to manage their investments and want someone to explain the intricacies of the stock market to them in plain words and give them tools to make their job easier," Biafore says of her motivation for writing Online Investing Hacks. "I have a knack for making complex topics seem simpler and sometimes can even make them seem fun."

Biafore was careful to craft each hack as a manageable chunk of information, meant to work as a standalone topic, so investors can pick and choose as needed. The book combines straightforward explanations of the important concepts with online tools for more generic decision-making. It also goes one step further by demonstrating how to customize online tools and Excel spreadsheets to fit specific investment requirements. Divided into nine chapters, Online Investing Hacks groups tools and topics into the most important areas:

  • Screening Investments: test potential investments before giving them attention--or money
  • Hacking Excel for Financial Analysis: learn the ins and outs of how Excel can be used to gather, analyze, evaluate, and track investment data
  • Collecting Financial Data: make the most of information gathering techniques
  • Analyzing Company Fundamentals: measure company performance for a well-rounded view of investment opportunities
  • Technical Analysis: get to know the key players in the online investment arena and build a nucleus of tried-and-true financial web sites
  • Executing Trades: buy and sell with a minimum of effort, overhead, and fees
  • Investing in Mutual Funds: understand mutual funds, stocks, and bonds and where each fits into investment strategies
  • Portfolio Management: discover how to weed and feed an investment portfolio for specific results
  • Financial Planning: connect the dots of goals and investments into a solid financial plan
  • Online Investing Hacks includes timely and real-world information about the mutual fund scandal, how to spot problems, and what to do about them. It also provides some advice for analyzing companies for signs of hanky-panky, using Enron and Worldcom as examples.

    "We need more education, more information, and more assistance with our financial lives, while companies work furiously to remove human interaction from their customer service processes," concludes Biafore. "Fortunately, the Web has grown to fill the gap. Financial information was once expensive, hard to obtain, and available only to those who knew enough to ask their brokers. Now, it's available to everyone, at all hours of the day, and much of it is free."

    Other books for managing online investing are either out of date, are for beginners and don't go beyond the most basic advice, or are dull and boring. Online Investing Hacks dives right into the latest techniques and goes beyond the basics, providing readers with the tools to find joy and satisfaction in hacking their own portfolio.

    Additional Resources:

    Online Investing Hacks
    100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
    Bonnie Biafore
    ISBN 0-596-00677-2, 300 pages, $24.95 US, $36.95 CA
    order@oreilly.com
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

    About O'Reilly

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