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Stock market gyrations keep online brokers hopping


Investors in the stock market are likely to still be catching their breath after this past week's rollercoaster ride.

Internet stocks were some of the first hit as investors began a massive selloff last Monday, followed by jittery gains and losses over the rest of last week.

While Internet stocks may have taken it on the chin, the Internet itself showed its value for providing investors electronic commerce and information.

The major Internet brokerages say they were hit with trading orders at or near record levels during the market's wildest flucuations. And unlike last October's sudden market changes, trades were accomplished with few problems.

October's trading surges crippled nearly all of the online stock brokers' Web sites. Phone trades -- the normal backup method available to online stock traders -- were nearly impossible to complete due to the heavy volumne.

Keynote Systems, a Web performance monitoring firm, reported that the Charles Schwab and E*trade Web sites performed well, suffering only minor delays in download times.

After floods of consumer complaints about last October's trading delays, nearly all online brokers beefed up their Web-based services, and apparently they held up well in their first trial by fire.

Online broker Ameritrade also reported its service performed well during the hectic Monday trading period; however, the service's users did not agree with this summary.

A report by MSNBC last week said that Ameritrade, the sixth-largest online brokerage, and its Web site was indeed being hit hard by the heavy usage.

User's trades were being completed; however, Ameritrade representatives admitted that delays were occuring on updating user's portfolios.

Users viewing their portfolios at the site were still seeing Monday's information as late as Wednesday, MSNBC reported.

Telephone support for the Web site was swamped by callers, creating delays for users seeking a live customer service representative.

The problems were fixed by last Thursday, according to Ameritrade representatives. Customers with questions or concerns were invited to call their technical support hotlines.

While online trading isn't a perfect science, its popularity continues to skyrocket. But be aware that when it comes to time-sensitive transactions -- and in the stock market, timing is everything -- the world of online brokerages still has some risks.

BIGGER PIPES. One-fourth of U.S. households will have access to faster Internet access by 2002, a new survey released last week said.

The report, issued by Massachusetts-based Forrester Research, indicates that broadband access to the Internet will be provided by a couple of different methods.

Cable TV companies will be leading the charge, and will capture 80 percent of the high-speed home Internet access, the report states.

The remaining 20 percent will be through various Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technologies offered by telephone companies.

Once Internet users get a taste of high-speed access, they won't want to go back, the report states.

Broadband Internet access -- provided by either cable or DSL technologies -- will mean opportunities for new services and real-time video, the report says.

DSL technologies still suffer from a lack of standards and high equipment costs, and the Forrester predicts telephone companies will be slow to offer the services to consumers.

All broadband Internet access will almost certainly be more expensive that existing dial-up access, which may limit its popularity despite the higher performance.

Y2K LAWSUIT DISMISSED. A class-action Year 2000 lawsuit against Intuit Inc. -- the creator of the popular Quicken financial software -- was recently thrown out of court.

The reason was simple, according to the judge reviewing the case: None of the plaintiffs in the case have actually suffered any losses yet.

The lawsuit was filed in April after Intuit revealed that certain versions of its Quicken financial software would not operate properly after Dec. 31, 1999.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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