As anyone trying to keep track of Asian stocks or mutual funds in this time of turmoil knows, investing on the other side of the globe takes more legwork than buying shares in the U.S. Until now, international research was priced out of the reach of small investors. But thanks to the Internet, that's changing. News, stock prices, and brokerage research are available online, in many cases for free.
For a good general overview, stop at the Global Economic Forum run by Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover (table). For a limited time, the investment bank is providing free access to daily commentaries from its forecasters, including Chief Economist Stephen Roach. While much of the analysis is devoted to broad economic conditions, Morgan often shares its opinions about the direction of stocks, bonds, and currencies. At the moment, they are mildly bearish on German stocks and bullish on Peru.
Another good source is the mainstream press. If there's a paper of record for global business, it's London's Financial Times. On the Web, the FT provides selected articles from that day's paper, an archive of special reports on countries including Hong Kong and India, and financial profiles of 8,500 companies worldwide. While access to the FT site is free, you first must fill out one of the most tedious registration forms around. At The Wall Street Journal's site (www.wsj.com), you get the full text of the paper's U.S., European, and Asian editions. The cost is $49 a year, or $29 if you're a print subscriber.
While free quotes for U.S. stocks flow like water on the Web, finding international quotes can be harder. Surprisingly, the most comprehensive source for international quotes is the Web site of The Washington Post--although you have to dig deep to locate them. (Click on "International," then "Stocks.")
SKEPTICISM. Currency crises in Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand have shattered many stock markets and prompted investors to flee Asia. But contrarians argue that the sell-off has created opportunities for investors. If you'd like to sift through the Asian rubble, there are a number of useful sites. At the Far Eastern Economic Review, a Hong Kong weekly published by Dow Jones, you'll find articles organized by country or industry--most with a Western skepticism that's often missing in the local press. Recent articles question whether Asia's upstart carmakers will survive the crisis and say Vietnam's debt problems are worse than believed.
If you're willing to ante up $32 a month, Asia Online Finance provides buy and sell recommendations from Hong Kong's Peregrine Group, plus two years of price charts and five years of financial data for companies listed on three Asian exchanges of your choice.
Unless you're dealing with one of the more than 1,000 foreign companies that are listed on U.S. exchanges, you'll have to buy international stocks the old-fashioned way: by calling your broker, who will place the order manually. But who knows? As the Internet continues to expand, it may be only a matter of time before you'll be able to trade stocks in Tokyo as easily as on Wall Street.