Stocks; Online Buying; Credit Cards; Travel
Want to invest abroad? It's become easier and cheaper to buy international stocks not listed in US markets. Two online brokers offer investors the chance to invest directly in non-US companies, such as Nestlé or Porsche, in their home markets. The stocks of foreign companies may not move in the same direction as US companies, which could offer investors a hedge against market fluctuations.
Intltrader.com (www.intltrader.com ) offers investors access to markets in 32 countries and charges a flat $29.99 per trade, with a minimum balance of $2,000. It charges $14.99 per trade for US markets. Orders are executed during US market hours, but Intltrader.com offers live, real-time quotes on foreign stocks.
Globeshare.com (www.globeshare.com) offers entry to markets in 39 countries. In 14 of them, orders are executed during US market hours. In the other 25, orders are completed during local market hours. Trades can be placed online 24 hours a day, Sunday through Friday, and investors can reach a live broker at any time.
Globeshare.com's fee schedule is more complicated, however. The basic commission for a foreign stock order is $25. Globeshare.com adds a fee ranging from 40 to 88 basis points (a basis point equals 0.01 percent of the amount invested) for orders placed in real time. In addition, you'll pay a settlement fee, which ranges from $32 to $115 per trade. The minimum deposit is $1,000. A domestic trade is $29.95.
Both Globeshare.com and Intltrader.com calculate the exchange rate in local currency and execute the trades in dollars.
The newest lure to get you to shop online: cash rebates for purchases that can be automatically invested in mutual fund shares. Two Web sites offer such programs, and the retailers they deal with include such major brands as Lands' End, Barnes & Noble, and Toys "R" Us.
Stockback (www.stockback.com) has more than 85 participating retailers of everything from toys and clothing to pet supplies and cars. After opening an account at Stockback, you follow links to the retailers' sites, where your purchases earn cash rewards ranging from 2.5 to 20 percent; the average is about 8 percent. The big-ticket retailers tend to have the lowest paybacks. Dell Computer offers only 2.5 percent, for example, which means that even if you buy a $1,000 PC, you'll earn just $25. CarsDirect.com caps your reward at $45. But at Sparks.com, a place to buy greeting cards, you'll get 20 percent. Once you accumulate $10 in rebates, you can take the cash or invest the money in the Stockback Fund, which owns shares in the participating retailers and other companies.
Taking the cash might be your better bet, since you can then invest it in the fund of your choice; Stockback is the only fund offered in the program, and it charges a 2 percent redemption fee if you cash out within one year, and 1 percent for pulling out within two years. You'll pay 0.95 percent in annual operating expense fees until August 2001, when the fees will increase to 1.5 percent.
SaveDaily's (www.savedaily.com ) similar program is superior in some ways, not as good in others. On the negative side, cash rewards from its more than 90 participating retailers range from just 0.5 to 11 percent, with an average of about 5.5 percent; and while some retailers participate in both incentive programs, they generally pay less at SaveDaily than at Stockback. Dell Computer offers only 0.5 percent at this site, for instance, which means your reward for a $1,000 computer is just $5. One significant advantage to SaveDaily, however, is that you can choose to invest your rewards in any of several established mutual funds.
If you're nervous about sending your credit card number into cyberspace when shopping online, check out the new "smart cards." They look like ordinary cards, but have a computer chip with a memory, which aims to foil e-theft by protecting your account number. To use the card, you'll need to connect a card reader (similar to those that most merchants have) to your home computer. You then swipe your smart card and enter your password. The embedded chip sends your encrypted billing information to the e-merchant. You never have to enter your account number.
American Express was the first to market the new technology with its "Blue" card, introduced last year (apply at www.americanexpress.com). First USA bank offers the "smart Visa" and supplies the reader at no cost (www.at-once.com/host_pages/fia/0009/details.html ). Fleet's card is called the "Fusion" (www.fusioncard.com). Card readers are $24.95. Providian Financial has its "clear" card (www.aboutsmartvisa.com). Readers will be free to the first 50,000 customers.
Smart cards also store personal information such as your name and address and download it when you shop online. This saves you the nuisance of typing in the data whenever you shop at a Web site for the first time.
The technology won't stop garden-variety credit card theft, however. Like ordinary cards, smart cards have magnetic strips and can be used for old-fashioned shopping at the mall. They also have your name and account number embossed on the front, so a thief can still type those in to shop online.
When you're booking your next flight, don't look only at the big airports. In 11 of the 12 cities served by more than one airport, the smaller one offers lower fares or more convenience, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. Alternative airports are often served by upstart airlines seeking ways to compete.
Consumer Reports rated 42 airports across the country for availability and cost of parking, ease of access to terminals and gates, and availability of services such as restaurants and pay phones. Parking can be an expensive part of a trip, and fees range from $21 for a week in the long-term lots at Long Beach Airport near Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International, to $126 at Seattle-Tacoma International. Parking can also be scarce. There is less than half a parking spot available for every departing passenger at many major airports, including New York's John F. Kennedy International and Los Angeles International. But the survey found more than two spaces for each passenger in Milwaukee; Manchester, NH; Long Beach, CA; and Stewart International in New York state.
Sprinting to a departure gate with heavy carry-ons is nobody's idea of fun, but access to the planes varies among airports as well. Passengers have a mile or more to cover from ticketing counters to the farthest gates in Atlanta and Denver. At Boston's Logan International, however, the farthest trek is only 950 feet. In general, the smaller airports are easiest to navigate.
Source: Consumer Reports
Yvonne Wollenberg. Financial Beat. Medical Economics 2001;2:11.