Gifts for Gordon Gekkos

There are plenty of get-rich-quick guides for your fiscally-minded friends.
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The Independent Culture
STUCK FOR last-minute Christmas presents for someone who doesn't deserve anything more exciting? A good basic introduction to some aspect of financial planning could be the answer. By happy coincidence there is no shortage of writers willing to offer sure-fire, cast-iron, get- rich-quick guides to investment.

But take care when you decide just which title your friends or relatives should receive. For instance, if you are hoping to inherit from a rich maiden aunt, giving her a guide to emerging markets or hedge funds could turn out to be a very expensive error.

Tony Grainger's How to Finance Your Retirement (pounds 7.99, Century Business Books), is a workaday introduction to the whole subject of retirement planning. Its main focus is on pension provision, but this is integrated with chapters on lump-sum investment and long-term care. It's an entry- level guide.

The Pocket Pensions Guide, by Robin Ellison, (pounds 14.99, Prentice Hall Europe) is an excellent handbook for anyone in work who is seeking both to plan and to maximise their pension provision. Covering the state pension system, it then looks at further provision both for the employed and self employed.

Valuable sections are included on personal pension mis-selling and how you can seek compensation for it, tracking down "frozen" entitlement in schemes offered by previous employers, and current legislation on pensions and divorce. Strongly recommended.

These days, anyone investing in shares has to decide whether to buy them direct, or through collective investments,like unit and investment trusts. Most of us take the latter course. Joanna Slaughter's Guide to Investment Trusts & Unit Trusts (pounds 15.99, FT Pitman) is an even-handed introduction to the strengths and weaknesses of each type of investment, winning an award in its category for plain English and the way it explains an inherently complex subject matter.

However, tracker funds do not appear in the index, while PEPs get only a single chapter. Elsewhere, Ms Slaughter gives a concise explanation of how to choose and manage an investment portfolio, including the effects both of income and capital gains tax. A good value middle-level guide.

For a summary of the analytic techniques used in investment decisions, Caroline Sefton's A-Z of Investment (pounds 16.99, FT Pitman) offers a jargon- free introduction to complex subject matter. For instance, you may never buy share options using a "straddling and strangling technique", but at least if a stranger sits next to you on a park bench and talks about it, mutual misunderstanding can be avoided. This book also contains a valuable - if brief - section on investment software, including names and addresses of firms' marketing programmes for use at home which have won the approval of the Investors' Chronicle.

If you decide to invest directly in shares, it might pay to read Roy Warren's How to Understand and Use Company Accounts (pounds 12.99, Century Business Books). This gives a concise explanation of concepts like "return on equity", company gearing and interest cover.

Understanding company acc- ounts is also a useful preliminary to reading Jim Slater's Zulu Principle (pounds 12.99 Orion Business Books). "Lucky" Jim, one-time bete noire of Private Eye's City Slickers column, made a pile of money. But if you expect his "10-step guide to wealth creation" to give away secrets, you will be disappointed. In fact, Jim's formula for stock market success looks pretty much like everyone else's: buy undervalued shares and wait for them to go up in value, making sure you sell before the market peaks.

Richard Koch's Selecting Shares that Perform (pounds 20.99, Pitman) includes the unique "1-2-3 test", designed by that "great American sage of human behaviour", Hal Leavitt. Completing the test will tell which investments you should buy. It starts by asking whether you believe in God, before wanting to know: "Which of the next three characters are you most like or least unlike: (a) Hitler (b) the Daleks, or (c) Attila the Hun?" Why leave out Saddam Hussein? Best not to expect too much from this one.

Colin Chapman's How the Stock Markets Work, (pounds 10, Century) is more a narrative than analytic introduction to global share trading price setting, aimed at middle-brow readers. It could be read with Charles Vincent's Be Your Own Stockbroker (pounds 20.99, Pitman) which takes a classical step- by-step approach to concepts like "price-to-earnings ratios" and explains how to use them. Space is given both to "fundamental value" and bar chart analysis as competing methods of stock selection. Workmanlike in its approach, ranging from the introductory to intermediate.

Finally, a word must be said about tax guides, not least because of the introduction of self assessment. The Allied Dunbar Tax Handbook (pounds 26.99, updated annually) is daddy to them all. Written in sections by chartered accountants, this book could save you from having to pay anyone to fill out your tax return. That has to be worth raising your glasses to this Christmas.