A guide that fails to show investors the way

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The Independent Online
There is something deeply frustrating about Gillian O'Connor's A Guide to Stockpicking. Written by a former editor of the Investors Chronicle, the book might have been expected to live up to its title by furnishing some practical advice on picking stocks. It doesn't.

What it does do, with great assurance and style, is take readers on a lively tour around the world of investment. It discusses poppy matters of investment psychology and arcane subjects such as chartism and creative accounting with equal, measured ease.

But ultimately the book leaves you feeling short-changed - you still don't know, as the introduction promises you will, which of the thousands of stocks swimming before your eyes on a share price page you should buy.

Now this might be because Ms O'Connor, one of our most experienced investment journalists, feels it naive or reckless or both to attempt to spell out a simplistic formula for picking shares. She is sceptical of attempts by, for example, Jim Slater in this country or Michael O'Higgins in the US to do so. But the reader is left worrying that actually it is because she neither cares for nor knows how to buy individual shares.

A Guide to Stockpicking lacks passion. There is none of the pulse-racing excitement felt by anyone who has watched their shares bobbing up and down in what Mr Slater calls "the best game in town". Through her eyes that game comes across as a bit of a chore.

The book is still well worth reading. What Ms O'Connor does as well as anyone is make difficult issues instantly understandable. She combines a breezy manner with intellectual rigour in a thoroughly approachable style. As an investment primer, and a guide to the interlocking relationships between the City, newspapers and companies that make up the backdrop to investment, it is more than accomplished.

Divided into four sections, the guide looks at investment timing, the tools of the trade and how great investors have used them before attempting to put it all together in three chapters that come as close as this book gets to anything like a prescription.

Along the way there are useful discussions of the significance of directors dealings, how to use technical analysis charts and how to use company accounts to spot potential disasters. Some of the most interesting chapters discuss the thinking of the giants of investment. There are useful pointers about what to expect and, importantly, what not to, from City analysts and the newspapers that report their views.

It is an indication of the book's ultimate lack of confidence, however, that the final chapter of a work ostensibly dedicated to stockpicking is devoted to unit and investment trusts, vehicles specifically designed so that nervous investors can pay someone else to do their thinking for them.

"A Guide to Stockpicking" by Gillian O'Connor, personal finance editor of the FT. Published by Century, pounds 14.99.