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Kiplinger’s Personal Finance: Must-Read Bloggers

By David Landis
October 2006

These days, anyone — and we mean anyone — can claim to be an expert. You simply launch a blog on the Internet and type away. Technorati, a blog search engine, claims to track 50 million bloggers.

Blogs are journals shared with the world via the Internet. They can contain your innermost personal thoughts or — more to our liking — they can be about making money and becoming a smarter investor. In our travels around the blogosphere, we’ve found useful information and insights from both acknowledged experts and nonprofessionals. Below are some of our favorite sites. One great thing about blogs is that most of them link to other like-minded blogs, creating networks of shared wisdom. So in all likelihood, these recommendations will serve as starting points on a journey that will take you to other destinations.

SeekingAlpha is a good place to begin your blog exploration. The site — whose name refers to a measurement of market-beating performance — provides access to a network of high-quality blogs that focus mostly on sectors and foreign markets. The home page highlights the latest posts from a broad stable of knowledgeable contributors, and it offers links to recent headlines, research reports and earnings conference calls. For a broader directory of the business-blog world, try Stockblogs.com, which offers capsule descriptions of sites in categories such as fundamental analysis, options and commodities. Pfblogs.com is a compendium of the latest posts from dozens of personal-finance blogs.

The first telltale signs of corporate distress can sometimes be found in the fine print, and that’s where journalist Michelle Leder likes to dig. Her blog, Footnoted.org, highlights interesting disclosures that executives probably hoped would remain buried in corporate proxy statements. Here you’ll discover that Amazon.com spent $1.1 million on security for chief executive officer Jeff Bezos in 2005 and that Lifetime Brands CEO Jeffrey Siegel presides over an executive corps that includes five close relatives. New tidbits are posted daily. David Phillips, a former stock analyst, covers similar territory at 10Q Detective.

Roy Weitz is not afraid to skewer mutual fund managers and marketers when their performance fails to live up to their own hype. That’s why his site, FundAlarm, has attracted a loyal following among fund investors and some industry insiders — “even after I took some pretty hard shots at them,” says Weitz. A finance manager for a Los Angeles nonprofit firm, Weitz began posting monthly commentaries about funds and the fund industry ten years ago, long before the term blog was coined. Ever the skeptic, he accepts the new term for his site, despite its “trendy, me-too connotation.” Trendy or not, his insightful commentaries stand with the best of the blog world.

Blogs offering short-term trading advice abound, but few bloggers can match the track record of Charles Kirk, who says he has generated 40% annualized returns over the past five years. Although most investors are better off taking a long-term view, The Kirk Report is a useful and interesting window into the trader’s world. Kirk, who lives outside Minneapolis, says he trades on a combination of company-specific factors and broad price and trading-volume data. His multiple daily posts can help you understand forces that are moving the market. If you want to dig deeper, fork over $50 and you’ll gain access to his personal portfolio and notes about his trades.

Controlled Greed is one of several Warren Buffett-inspired blogs. John Bethel, a freelance writer, tries to apply Buffett-style investing principles to his own portfolio, which is posted on the site. (The blog’s name is taken from a Buffett prescription for investing success.) Bethel launched the blog last year after visiting a few too many sites that focused on short-term investing. “I’m a value investor and I wanted to give investors with a three- to five-year trading horizon another option,” says Bethel, who lives in Richmond. The Buffett Blog isn’t updated as frequently as Controlled Greed, but it contains a nice set of links to all things Buffett.

The dismal science doesn’t have to be so dismal after all, as Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have proved with their lively blog Freakonomics and best-selling book of the same name. Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and Dubner, a writer, take turns showing how economic principles influence so many areas of our lives. Recently, for instance, their blog has addressed why Ticketmaster has begun to auction off the best concert seats after years of resisting the idea, and why TV networks don’t swap shows in the same way that baseball teams trade players. Dear Economist, written by Financial Times columnist Tim Harford, plows similar ground, although it is less a blog than a collection of Harford’s newspaper columns and other writings.

For a big-picture view of investing and the economy, check out Thoughts From the Frontline. John Mauldin, a hedge-fund consultant and financial adviser based in Arlington, Tex., posts weekly commentaries on a broad range of timely topics. Recent posts have explored whether the stock market is overvalued (short answer: yes) and whether New Zealand’s struggling economy foretells trouble on our own shores (maybe). You won’t find strongly worded pronouncements or bold market calls here. Mauldin isn’t a table-pounder. Rather, he offers food for thought for the investor who wants to delve beyond the numbers.

In Random Roger’s Big Picture, Prescott, Ariz., financial planner Roger Nusbaum tackles everything from economic trends to the latest in exchange-traded funds to what’s dragging down the shares of computer maker Dell. A companion blog offers retirement-planning advice. It’s impressive to see professionals such as Nusbaum hand out advice and answer reader questions at no charge. Why do they do it? It might attract new clients, although Nusbaum says that’s not his primary motivation. “It sounds hokey, but I really enjoy the fact that I can help people in this way,” he says.

Many investors, particularly young ones, use blogs to document their personal quest for financial security, complete with running tallies of their net worth. The sheer number of these blogs makes it hard to pick a favorite. Happily, the authors of many of them share their best ideas weekly in a compendium called Carnival of Personal Finance. It is hosted each week by a different personal-finance blog. You’ll find a list of past and future Carnivals, as well as links to a vast network of personal-finance bloggers, at Consumerism Commentary. By the way, Flexo, who writes Consumerism Commentary (and claims to be a 30-year-old man), reports that his net worth is $51,030, up from $21,248 in July 2003.

Cramer vs. monkey
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Jim Cramer, host of TV’s Mad Money, has found a way to turn stock picking into prime-time entertainment (see Booyah! The Manic Universe of Jim Cramer). So it’s only fitting that CramerWatch.org, a blog that tracks the success rate of Cramer’s numerous stock recommendations, has its own showbiz shtick. It pits Cramer’s picks against those of Leonard the Wonder Monkey (actually a computer program that generates random outcomes). Overall, Cramer and the monkey are running neck and neck. Unfortunately, the commentary portion of the site is updated only occasionally. For a more consistent examination of Cramer’s picks and pans, as well as a lively discussion of other investing topics, check out Mad Money Machine, the creation of software consultant and avid investor Paul Douglas Boyer. If you like the written blog, an audio version is available as a podcast.

* Source location: Kiplinger’s Personal Finance