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Banner Year For Beaujolais

More bad news for brokerage firms. A study by Chicago consultant Spectrem Group shows rich investors moving away from full-service brokers. Instead, households with $5 million or more in assets -- which hold about one-third of the nation's investable assets -- are turning to independent advisers, whom they consider more objective. The trend is especially strong among investors under 50, according to the survey. And -- in a possible indication of more change to come -- those still with brokers are less apt to be satisfied.

Readers of the fine print are sifting through a lot more of it these days. The number of pages devoted to footnotes in filings by major corporations has doubled in the past five years, to an average of nearly 30, as companies try to show they're not the next Enron (ENRNQ). Now, there's a Web site that helps investors snake through the underbrush.

Michelle Leder, author of Financial Fine Print: Uncovering a Company's True Value (Wiley, $29.95), posts a daily blog deciphering her latest footnote find on the Web site she edits, She zooms in on footnotes that explain accounting practices. Because many companies rely on stock options to pump up earnings, she takes a hard look at how the cost of options and their dilution to shareholders decrease the bottom line.

Leder also combs through pension-related footnotes, especially those under "other post-employee benefits." They primarily reflect obligations for retiree health benefits, an area where costs have skyrocketed in recent years. For an enlightening break from the corporate and financial scandals, head to the Renaissance art exhibit at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Gardner, housed in a gorgeous Venetian palazzo, provides the perfect backdrop for works collected by Bindo Altoviti, a 16th century Italian banker and patron. Altoviti had close ties to such Old Masters as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Vasari, and this exhibit includes their works as well as two bronze busts by Cellini of Altoviti himself and his better-known rival, Cosimo de' Medici. The exhibit runs through Jan. 11 and is open from 11 to 5, Tuesday through Sunday. Thank a long, hot summer in France for making this an exceptional year for Beaujolais Nouveau. The 2003 haul, which wine critics believe will be one of the best vintages ever, is set for release at the traditional time, the third Thursday of November, or Nov. 20. The fruity red wine is best when chilled to about 55F.

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