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The Stat

Mellon Capital Management, with $79 billion in assets, told private clients in September that its number-crunching models were signaling drastic moves: Invest 100% in stocks. Why? Earnings and cash flows are better than headlines suggest.

Take your business highway trips now. In 2003, the Internal Revenue Service is planning to reduce its federal tax deduction for car use during business travel by half a cent, to 36 cents a mile.

The deduction for using your car for medical purposes and moving expenses will decrease by a full penny, to 12 cents per mile. But the rate will stay at 14 cents if you use your car for charitable purposes. Yet another warning for air travelers: The new, more powerful baggage-screening equipment may damage unexposed and exposed film stored in checked and carry-on bags. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says to keep film with you, and request a hand inspection at the security checkpoint. Better yet, buy your film after the flight and have it processed--or sent to a mail-order developer--before you return home. Stock plunges. Trading volume in the shares soars. CNBC is all over it. You rush to buy in on the cheap. Good move? Probably not, according to economists Brad Barber of the University of California at Davis and Terrance Odean of the University of California at Berkeley. To see if individual investors operate differently from institutional ones, they studied the trading of stocks that were in the news, that traded on unusually heavy volume, or that had big swings in price. Among their findings: On days of unusually high trading volumes, individuals were buying rather than selling by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. By contrast, the pros sold on such days, waiting to buy instead on days when targeted stocks were trading quietly.

That may be an example worth following. Barber and Odean note that the attention-grabbing stocks individuals bought underperformed the market--and also trailed the stocks they sold on the same day. They advocate indexing for most investors. But those who prefer individual stocks would be better off patiently scooping up shares on days when stocks are out of the spotlight.

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