Have you seen Billy Crystal's newest film? Takes about an hour and a half and in my opinion, you come out feeling rather empty. Of course, you can get more with that hour and a half by doing something really constructive, such as looking at a client's (or even your own) stocks with some depth.

According to Harrisdirect, one hour a week should do it and that should be divided into the following segments: 10 minutes for review of market headlines and indices, 10 minutes for sector and industry news, 15 minutes for company-specific news, and 25 minutes to read favorite columnists or research reports.

The bottom line is that if you're like most people, you don’t have a lot of time to devote to portfolios, and looking at the stock market every hour can be rather depressing, especially now. However, you can understand a lot by simply turning to the Internet and using certain online research to craft a more personal investment approach.

For example, daily market activity may not be the single most important factor here but it must be reviewed as part of a regular investment ritual. You can go to a myriad of Web sites to find market news and upcoming economic events. For one, check "Quotes, News & Research" at www.harrisdirect.com .

You can also scan industry and company-specific news using www.briefing.com, CBS MarketWatch, or Dow Jones Newswires to get a handle on what's happening. Is there an impending Federal Reserve announcement about interest rates? Will tech stocks rebound in our lifetime?

Earnings announcements are particularly important, primarily as they relate to any company's stock. Keep in mind that an earnings surprise or disappointment can move a stock by as much as 20 percent--certainly nothing to sneeze about.

It might be well to remember that today's various online tools are quite sophisticated, so much so that they can allow you to create your own screening process to identify growth and value stock candidates or stocks that fit some other criteria. For instance, you can zero in on stocks in a certain price range or companies with a specific market capitalization. Most financial experts believe that an uptick from insider buying can be a strong positive indicator, because it may reflect a need to raise cash rather than a negative sentiment about the stock.

One tip from a very savvy planner: Stay away from chat rooms and online bulletin boards. Why? Because the information there is often difficult to verify and evaluate.

Of course, don't ask Robert DeNiro to analyze any portfolio. From these two films with Crystal, he doesn't have a clue.


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