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Here are some investments tips Kenneth Stern culled from his interviews with nine top money managers for his book, "Secrets of the Investment All-Stars." He focused on these managers because of their highly disciplined approaches to investing:

Be observant. Whether watching TV, shopping or getting the scoop on a new craze from their kids, all-star investors look and listen for trends and cultural shifts with a potential impact on the stock market.

Successful investing is more than picking stocks. It requires timing, patience and proper asset allocation.

Learn basic accounting. Assessing a company's worth demands the ability to read and interpret financial statements.

Learn basic charting. All-stars rely on this tool to spot trends and time purchases.

Get information. Learn where to find reliable financial information on the Internet and at your local public library.

Set clear investment goals. How much do you need to save and how quickly do you need to achieve your goals?

Know your risk tolerance. Never invest without knowing how much you are willing to lose on a severe drop in an individual stock or the market.

Don't worry what you paid for a stock last year. All-star investors focus on the stock's current performance and future potential.

Remember cash is king. To buy more stocks, limit losses and be ready for a good deal, cash is critical. All-stars are never 100 percent invested.

Invest for the long term. Guessing short-term swings in individual stocks or the economy is almost impossible.

-- Knight Ridder

Muni funds are 'screaming' buys

Municipal bond closed-end mutual funds have suffered from a rise in interest rates and an influx of new, competing funds, leaving prices so low they offer an attractive value to investors looking for ways to diversify their holdings, analysts say.

The majority of closed-end mui funds now trade at deep discounts to their net asset value, or the underlying worth of securities that make up the funds. That's good news for investors looking to seize the highest tax-exempt bond yields in nearly three years.

"It's really not that difficult a decision -- many of these are a screaming buy," said James Gammon, president of Lebenthal Asset Management Inc. in New York, who manages about $225 million in bonds. "They're extraordinarily cheap."

"If you think rates are going to go further up, I'd wait, but if you think rates are coming back down, now is a good time to buy," said Jon Maier, who analyzes such funds for PaineWebber Inc.

Among funds Maier recommends are Van Kampen Municipal Opportunity Trust II, now trading at a 10.5 percent discount with yields of 6.30 percent; Nuveen Municipal Income Fund, which trades at a discount of 1 percent but is less sensitive to interest rates and pays tax-exempt dividends of 5.96 percent; and Eaton Vance Municipal Income Trust, a new fund trading at a 1 percent premium and paying dividends of 6.53 percent.

-- Bloomberg News<

The awesome power of compounding

The most important concept to know when it comes to credit is the principle of compound interest.

Here's an example: If someone gives you a penny and says they'll double the money every day for a month, any guesses how much you would have at the end of the month? Five dollars? Fifty dollars?

It would be $10.7 million.

What happens is a penny becomes two pennies, and that becomes four pennies, then the buck becomes two bucks, and so on. It adds up. And this is the principle -- slightly exaggerated -- of compound interest. Your interest is earning interest as it grows.

The average American family has more than $5,000 on their credit cards. At 15 percent to 16 percent, they're paying between $800 and $900 a year in interest. If you invested that $800 or $900 a year instead and got an 8 percent return, you would have $100,000 or more after 30 years.

The point is that if you're investing in yourself, you're going to have a heck of a lot more to show for it than if you're giving it to a credit company.

-- Los Angeles Times

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