Investors have a new tool they can use to predict whether following a Wall Street analyst's stock recommendations will earn them money. An online ranking service called Caps (caps.fool.com) and launched by The Motley Fool, an investment advisory site, tracks the success rate of predictions made by professional stock pickers. Caps also lets amateurs pick stocks, giving them the same kinds of ratings. Amateurs and pros get a jester cap symbol (The Motley Fool logo), in one of several different colors, indicating their rankings.
Shareholder proposals on social and environmental issues are getting more respect. Of 177 resolutions filed by stockholders on social issues that came up for a vote this year, 27 percent were supported by at least 15 percent of the shares voted, says Institutional Shareholder Services, which provides corporate proxy voting services. While that doesn't sound like much, it's an increase over the 15 percent of social proposals that received that much support in 2004 and 2005. The proposals asked companies to disclose political contributions, report on fair employment policies, and issue reports on sustainability, among other issues.
You can dabble in trading stock options or foreign currencies without taking any financial risks by trying out a virtual trading program. OptionsXpress (www.optionsxpress.com) will let you get some experience at making fancy trades in stocks, options, futures, spreads, straddles, and covered call trades by using their virtual trade screens. Trades are made in virtual dollars, instead of real money, so bad calls won't hurt. You'll need to open an account, but there is no minimum deposit required.
You can also practice trading foreign currencies with FX Solutions (www.fxsol.com) or Forex.com (www.forex.com). Both offer 30-day practice accounts.
Side airbags that protect occupants' heads cut driver deaths by 37 percent when cars are struck on the driver's side, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Airbags that protect only the chest and abdomen reduce deaths in cars by 26 percent. The results are even more dramatic for drivers of SUVs only: The fatality risk goes down 52 percent for head-protecting side airbags and 30 percent for airbags that protect the chest and abdomen. About four out of five new car and SUV models have standard or optional side airbags that include head protection.