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Net Brokerages Were Prepared

Online brokerage and investor Web sites have learned a lot of lessons, and spent a lot of money, since last October's market led to complaints from their customers in cyberspace.

Within days of the dive major market averages took on Oct. 27, 1997, Charles Schwab & Co. began a major upgrade of its online facilities. The move paid off this week when the Dow lost 299 points in a single day, said Vincent Phillips, vice president of Web systems at the San Francisco-based discount brokerage leader.

"The real short answer is our site was unaffected by the increase in traffic," Phillips said. "There were some minor response time problems when the market began to move Tuesday, but nothing that prevented anybody from doing anything."

Phillips told the Schwab site saw about a 10 percent increase in overall activity, and a "significantly higher than 10 percent" rise in online transactions. Even so, this week's been business as usual vs. "plenty of potholes last October," he said.

Even on the message boards of the irreverent-minded Motley Fool, there were no accusations against online brokerages that their systems failed and so locked investors out of making buys or sells.

It was also business as usual at E-Trade Group, the second-largest online brokerage firm.

"It's all been quite normal," said a spokeswoman from the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. "On an average day last quarter we did about 29,000 trades a day," she said. "Yesterday, we were just north of that but well within normal trading levels." She said E-Trade's site had no crashes, and no errors. "It's kind of a no-news thing - just normal," she said

Sovereign Securities' said trading on the site picked up about 20 percent from Tuesday.

"It's like everybody was just sitting back watching," said President Bruce Zucker.

Zucker said his site, doing trades since February of this year, had no technological problems. "I think people are just inundated with so much information, they're numb to the ups and downs. They're just determined to stick with it," he said.

Stockpoint, a provider of stock quotes and news, reported the same pattern of slightly more activity than usual, but no major crush.

"We saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in the number of stock quotes and news hits," a spokesman told "But everything worked crystal clearly."

She added that she is confident advertisers on the site were certainly pleased with the traffic spike.

Mike Reilly, manager of Yahoo's investment area, noted the market's slide came just after most companies reported their second-quarter financial results.

"When you put quarterly earnings report time on top of a major market move, you get a really signfificant increase in traffic," he said. Yahoo came through the crunch OK, he said.

One of the Fool's most populaboards, Communion of Bears had 35 postings as of Wednesday evening, compared to the Communion of Bulls board, which had only 20.

One of the Bear participants actually sounded optimistic, saying, "Cash looks great! Either you prepare for the worse, or start looking for upcoming bargains. The market's only down to April-May-June levels, so any long-term investments you've had have still made money. Shed loser stocks and adjust your portfolio." No hysteria there.

Nor was there screaming in the message areas of the Silicon Investor. The most popular discussion threads were the site's stock picking contest, an IPO from Softworks, and "Clinton's Scandals."

Perhaps the best barometer of how the Internet held up for online traders is the e-mail received by this reporter. Last October, electronic rants were plentiful. So far this week, not one blipped message.

Written By Frank Barnako