THE TRENDLESS, low-volume stock market has left many investors looking for clues.
Whose signal should you follow?
The best advice comes from John C. "Jack" Bogle, the legendary founder of mutual fund giant Vanguard Group. Bogle tells investors already building diversified portfolios: "Don't just do something. Stand there."
Bogle's rule overlooks the red-blooded American (male) urge to take action.
But first, stop, look and listen. The key to coping in a quiet market is filtering out the noise.
"Right now, you've seen a lot of people take their profits [from the 2003 rally] and sit on the sideline because they're nervous about Iraq and oil and the election," said David Callaway, editor-in-chief of CBS Marketwatch.com. "It could be a pretty slow summer. A lot of our folks are just checking in."
Investment information comes in many styles and decibels. Do you prefer pastoral symphonies or hip-hop?
Internet financial sites are helping investors by shifting to subscription-paid services, away from advertising-driven content.
The advertising approach, used on cable television, throws at investors anything that's hot, no matter how useless or harmful to your portfolio. Subscription-based Internet services are more discriminating.
Dick Green, president of Briefing.com, an Internet financial information site, plans to draw sharper distinctions.
His site will raise the subscription price for its "platinum" service, which includes a stream of market news tidbits aimed at active traders, to $100 a month from $24.95.
The basic "gold" subscription, which contains a long-term investment viewpoint, plus daily updates, will remain at $9.95 per month.
A free "silver" site offers basic content from the other two. Briefing.com advises investors about which level is likely best for them.
"People have money they are responsible for," said John Canfield, chief operating officer at Briefing.com.
"They don't want to join a club. They want to understand trends that influence their investment decisions and to be able to talk intelligently with their broker or adviser."
TheStreet.com represents the hip-hop end of the spectrum.
Chief executive Thomas J. Clarke Jr. sharply increased subscription prices after viewership slumped along with Nasdaq stocks.
Clarke says he's rebuilding subscribers with people who are disenchanted by mutual funds and willing to pay for in-your-face investment guidance.
Many investors "want to be told what to buy and when to get out," he told a recent analyst conference. "They want to be educated, but they do want to be told what to do."
TheStreet.com has added an online broker to execute the trades the site touts.
Financial information providers say the most profitable business is such a high-priced service aimed at active investors and professional traders.
Here's where ordinary investors who can control their urges have an advantage. The best clues in the stock market are also the cheapest.
As Callaway puts it, "The signal is going to come from the market. When people see it sharply going up, they are going to get back in."
You can learn that for free.
Bill Barnhart is a financial columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.