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SUPER BOWL INDICATOR PRESENTS A QUANDARY

Stock pickers will have difficulty evaluating the famed Super Bowl indicator this year.

The indicator, a bit of whimsy that has enjoyed a 25-year run in financial folklore, carried about as far as a blocked punt in 1998.

Until then, the record showed that stocks did poorly in any year after an original member of the American Football League won the game. Conversely, it was clear sailing for the market after a victory by any other National Football League team.

Last year the Denver Broncos, of original AFL vintage, upset the Green Bay Packers -- but the Standard & Poor's 500 went ahead and posted a 28 percent gain anyway.

That puts indicator fans in a real quandary this year. Will they root against the Broncos this year, when they play a return engagement in the Super Bowl, this time against the Atlanta Falcons?

IRS advocate can help taxpayers
The Internal Revenue Service has a Taxpayer Advocate whose job it is to help resolve cases that might otherwise lead to hardship -- but few know of the advocate's existance.

The TA can help if you face seizure of property, are threatened with wage or bank levies, or if the IRS refuses to issue a refund you believe you are entitled to.

You gain access to the TA in one of two ways: by using Form 911, "Application for Taxpayer Assistance Order," or by writing a letter to the local TA in your district. But you're not likely to
find the form in the usual distribution sites,
such as banks and Post Offices, and you may
not even read about them in IRS literature.

No wonder the TA isn't well known.

Dan Pilla, a tax litigation consultant, claims that sometimes the IRS denies that official IRS forms even exist for communicating with the TA.

Indexed T-bonds getting popular
The U.S. Treasury sold more inflation-indexed bonds Jan. 6, boosting the total outstanding to $72 billion. The bonds, which some regard as the best financial innovation since money-market funds, are quietly becoming a fairly large asset class. And with good reason: The bonds give you protection against inflation, which is hibernating, not dead.

Last week, the new issue, which matures in 2009, was paying a guaranteed interest rate of 3.8 percent, which is topped off with an inflation adjustment. By comparison, the regular 10-year Treasury is paying 5.0 percent. So, if you worry inflation will average more than 1.2 percent over the next decade, these bonds make sense.

Also available are bonds maturing in 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2028.

Some Web sites to check out
A host of Web sites offer tips and opinions into the hottest stocks. Here are a few:

Dogs of the Dow -- www.dogsofthedow.com. Provides stock tips, picks and performance data, and a search engine that tracks down a variety of investment info.

Wall Street Guru -- www.wallstreetguru.com. Contains market forecasts by top Wall Street analysts, with a search engine feature to find out who is recommending you buy, sell or hold which stocks.

Individual Investor Online -- www.
iionline.com/guest. Information on the latest market activity, with insights by editor Steve Taub on specific companies and equities.

Wall Street City -- www.wallstreetcity.com. Offers a wide range of features, including portfolio analysis and stock-pick profiles. Also provides the latest market news.

Stock Smart -- www.stocksmart.com. Contains up-to-the-minute stock analysis in chart form, and most active stock information.

Homes: More, bigger, better
Since the early 1970s, the average home built in the United States has increased in size by almost a third. "The buyer wants more and more space," said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders.

New single-family home construction in the United States last year averaged a record 2,185 square feet. In 1971, new houses contained an average of only about 1,500 square feet.

About 51 percent of houses built nationwide in 1998 had 2 1/2 bathrooms or more, and 50 percent had two stories. In 1971, less than 20 percent of U.S. homes built were two stories and had more than two baths.

More than 60 percent of houses constructed last year had fireplaces, compared with about a third of the market in the early 1970s.

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