Private Investor: Why we should all become eBay buyers

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The Independent Online

How refreshing to see the FTSE 100 making a sustained assault on the 6,000 barrier, and how remarkable that the event is passing with such scant attention. This is, of course, because the index has been bouncing around this mark for so long, and because its slightly feeble momentum means that it might not stay above that level.

It doesn't, however, mean that the media or lots of people have given up completely on the idea of "psychological barriers", which are, as we all know, quite irrational and useless.

Except, that is, insofar as people's actual behaviour is informed by superstitious notions - in which case, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the psychological barrier has a real effect. If people are holding off from investing just because the index is at 5,978.9 or something, and they will only pile into the market once their confidence in it has been confirmed by it lifting to 6,002.1, say, then that does indeed influence actual investors' behaviour and creates its own momentum.

In short, this might not be a bad time to buy shares, or at least buy the FTSE Index. In my own unsophisticated way, I've always thought that equities were a bit undervalued compared with what's been happening to other asset classes. Indeed, those have benefited from the weakness of investor confidence in equities, whether that nervousness is directly felt by the big institutional investors or, through their contributions to savings plans and pension schemes, private citizens.

I also happen to think - again, this is no great insight - that it's not a bad time to buy US dollar-denominated assets. The wonderful world of cheap online brokers means that you can buy American shares direct for modest amounts quite economically, so low is the commission charged now.

And - third non-insight of the day - I think there's a lot to be said for eBay. No, this isn't a revelation, I know, but what is to me quite astonishing is the way that grown men (mostly) and women can become addicted to the site.

Unlike most addictions, this one seems fairly harmless; the main danger is that your home will become full of someone else's surplus Cabbage Patch Dolls or parts for a Porsche 928.

It's also becoming clear that the internet is no different to the old world of bricks and mortar when it comes to barriers to entry. After all, you would think that anyone with a bit of programming skill and a few quid could start their own internet auction site and steal some of eBay's action. However, as with newspaper advertising, once one site becomes accepted as pre-eminent and, moreover, is trusted by buyers and sellers, it becomes completely dominant. So it is with eBay.

So I bought a few eBay shares last week at the equivalent of £4 each. With something like this, the prospects and forecasts going 10 years into the future are pretty much for the birds. All I know is that it works, it's got customers, it's got addicts and lots of people I know use it. That's good enough for me.

Buying American shares such as eBay (although it is a global phenomenon) should prove to be an especially shrewd move when the US gets its currency out of trouble again (as it always has, eventually, managed to do in the past).

Which just leaves me enough space to whinge about the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. I've been despairing of the "business" news for months now, but last week marked a new low.

You see, even though the tiny slots the business hacks get are called "business news", they are rarely anything of the sort. Usually, any kind of news about companies or markets is ignored in favour of, say, a trade union report into bullying in the workplace or some stuff about consumers being overcharged for something. Rarely will you hear the sort of mainstream stories about companies that you'll find in the business sections of the newspapers.

I'd got used to all this poor business coverage, but I was still gobsmacked when a Today business slot concerned a story about some Territorial Army soldiers employed by BT doing a great job in Basra. They're all heroes, but it has little to do with BT or business.

Maybe the Today team think that business news is boring - in which case they should say so, abolish the business news slot and give the time to Jim Naughtie's overlong questions.

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