If anyone on your holiday list is an avid investor, here's a way out of the gift rut: Think stocks, not socks. Whether you're giving to novices who are eager to hone their Street smarts or to a raging bull looking to gain an edge, a wide range of software, books, and electronic devices can help investors determine whether to buy, sell, or hold. Other items simply celebrate an interest in things financial.
Since successful investing is as much an art as a science, let your loved ones put their passion on display with vintage stock certificates. One of the best sources is Anderson Investor's Software (800 286-4106), which, for $29.95, sells six certificates, all of them guaranteed to be at least 25 years old and in mint condition, with the original watermarks. All of the companies involved are defunct, but many people may still like seeing famous names from the past, such as Pennsylvania Railroad, Howard Johnson, and United Whelan (once a public subsidiary of E.F. Hutton).
FRAME-UP. For art that has real potential for appreciation, San Francisco's One Share of Stock offers a framed certificate--for a real share of stock--for nearly 100 active companies, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and publicly traded pro-sports franchises. For the younger set, One Share offers shares of Walt Disney, Marvel Comics, and Toys `R' Us mounted in a special "My First Stock" frame. The price: $80 to $99, depending on frame style, plus the current cost of a share (which, for Coca-Cola, is about $73). One Share requires three to eight weeks to obtain the certificates from the issuing companies. But up until Dec. 23, the company will ship overnight a laminated "presentation certificate," which the donor can wrap to alert the recipient that the gift is on its way.
It's hard to make real money one share at a time. So if you know someone who would appreciate getting investment advice from a master, you could bundle up paperback copies of Peter Lynch's three best-selling books, One Up on Wall Street (Penguin USA, $13.95), Beating the Street (Fireside, $14), and Learn to Earn (Fireside, $13). Each builds on the former Fidelity Magellan Fund manager's mantra: People can pick winning stocks by exploiting their knowledge of the industry they work in or the products that they use every day. Lynch's books are written mostly for lay people: Market sophisticates would better appreciate Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor (Harpercollins, $30), a classic that offers an in-depth study on valuing stocks.
Of course, any serious stock-market investor will need to used the World Wide Web to stay abreast of current conditions. While countless investment sites are free, you get what you pay for when it comes to the Web. At $6.95 a month or $69.95 a year, you can give a year's subscription to The Street.com (www.- thestreet.com), one of the best sites for understanding how Wall Street works. Acerbic columnist Herb Greenberg skewers highfliers, while hedge fund manager James Cramer files daily dispatches from the trenches.
Street.com is mostly a stock-picker's haven, however. Mutual-fund mavens will get more out of Morningstar.Net. While some content is free, the real gems are found in Morningstar's premium service ($9.95 a month or $99 a year) that lets you screen for funds that meet your standards. Like most other investment sites, Street.com and Morningstar shy away from offering advice. One site that doesn't is S&P Personal Wealth (Standard & Poor's, like BUSINESS WEEK, is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies). Personal Wealth not only provides specific buy, sell, or hold recommendations for thousands of stocks and mutual funds but also helps subscribers build their own asset-allocation plans. It costs $9.95 a month; $7.95 for America Online subscribers.
QUOTES ON THE GO. If your recipient knows more about computers than convertible bonds, the perfect cybergift may be a Value Line Investment Survey for Windows (800 535-8760, $55 for a two-month trial). Describe your dream stock--say 20% annual growth and a steady 2% dividend yield--and Value Line will churn through its 1,700-stock database to find those that meet the standard. Value Line also offers a similarly priced screening program called Mutual Fund Survey for Windows.
For the on-the-go investor, a number of wireless devices let you track your portfolio no matter where you are. One of the more affordable is the $195 Link II device from SkyTel Communications and DataLink Systems. For $35 to $50 a month, you can receive real-time quotes and news headlines for stocks. The Link II's strength is retrieving quotes for a portfolio you've established on DataLink's Web site. To grab quotes for other stocks, you need WolfeTech's $300 PocketGenie. For roughly the same monthly access fees as the Link II, it allows you to request real-time quotes and news on the fly using the Motorola PageWriter 2000. But beware: Many of the headlines are too cryptic to be of value. A search for news on Intel drew "Symantec completes Quarterdeck tender offer." For that to make sense, you would have to know that Intel has a joint venture with Symantec.
For many investors, a big mystery is determining the returns they're making--something stockbrokers are sometimes loath to divulge. For that complex task, you need the Electronic Investment Organizer, a specialized calculator ($69.95 at the Safety Zone, 800 999-3030) that lets you determine how your portfolio is performing. Punch in your purchase price for up to 80 stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or certificates of deposit, then enter the current price. Toltek updates the value and performance of each and cost-averages reinvested dividends as well.
SAIL AWAY. The perfect gift, perhaps, is one you can share in enjoying. If your spouse has been promising to invest your profits for a vacation, consider booking two berths on the 13-day Louis Rukeyser Investment Cruise, which will sail into Copenhagen, Oslo, and six other European ports next summer. Each day, passengers get investment advice from Wall Street Week regulars such as Mary Farrell and Frank Cappiello. The cruise, excluding airfare, starts around $11,000 per couple, depending on cabin location. Who knows? Maybe you'll pick up enough good tips to pay for the trip--and all of next year's holiday gifts.