Id Like to Help You, But I Really Cant. Sorry.

"Hey, you write about computers. What's a good stock to buy?"

"Hey, you write about computers. Whats a good stock to buy?"

If my portfolio went up every time someone asked me that question, my 401k wouldnt be taking such a hit these days.

But the truth is, Im no better off than you, so my answer is always the same. "Cant help ya."

Even if I could, there are all sorts of rules and ethics in play here that would prevent me from doing so. Because I know something about technology—whats happening today and what it will mean tomorrow—much of that knowledge could be construed as "insider information." The government frowns on my taking that knowledge and profiting from it. I dont have a problem with keeping it to myself. It may sound corny, but one of the hallmarks of journalism is keeping your ears open and your mouth shut, to a certain degree. Unfortunately, some of my friends dont share such lofty ideals and feel no compunction about badgering me for the inside dope.

An unnamed relative on my wifes side used to call me on a regular basis some years back, when I edited a weekly financial column. He noticed that the companies covered in that column usually reacted quickly (either up or down, depending on the tenor of the story) as soon as the publication hit print. He thought it would be a swell idea if I faxed him an early version, so he could "stake a claim and make a killing." I demurred, and took endless grief from him. Still, I slept well at night, knowing there would be no knock on my door from grim-faced Feds. Some things you cant put a price on.

But having access to such information doesnt make me Warren Buffet, either. Right now, Im in sort of the same boat as everyone else. I say "sort of" because I diversified my retirement portfolio back in August of 2000, cutting way back on the money I had in the stock market, and putting the bulk of it in more conservative funds. Why? What did I know that you didnt?

Nothing, really. I just looked at the market, thought it absurdly overpriced, and was happy to take my profit and move on.

Unfortunately in recent years, some folks whove had no business being in the market got giddy from the rising numbers and expected it to continue unabated. Weve seen how that goes.

But of course, there is the proverbial silver lining here. Historically, its accepted wisdom that the stock market does rise over the years. So as an investment tool for the long haul, its a good place to stick your money and then forget about it. The key words here are "long haul."

It looks like the days of dot-com millionaires are over. Good riddance, I say. First, because I didnt make a million dollars in the market (I admit it, Im jealous). But more importantly, the recent market shakeup may well serve as a needed slap in the face to those who think we should just dump all our money—including government retirement funds—into Wall Street, and then take home the profits in Brinks trucks. Aint gonna happen, and we hope those in power who touted the idea are taking heed.

You want a good stock to buy? Look for one with a healthy P/E ratio. Study the companies that have been around for a while. Go to the computer store and see whose products folks are buying. In other words, do your homework. Im not going to do it for you. I simply cant.