MarketWatch makes buying stocks fun and games

Maybe MarketWatch is onto something. Investing may only be safe if you do it their way: in a free, online simulation trading game.

It's not for real, but the lessons are. It's called virtualstockexchange.com, and there's no risk involved. You can set up your portfolios to include stocks and funds traded on the NYSE, Nasdaq, and AMEX exchanges. The site lists plenty of research resources and market news from MarketWatch to help you decide your next move.

You can buy and hold against MarketWatch columnists for a month and see how your trading strategy compares with the experts, who make the trades they recommend in their columns. "They will make the trades once and hold for the entire month. See if you can do the same," the game rules say. Participants start with $10,000 in fake cash. The minimum trade price is $2. The maximum is $500. Commission per trade is $10.

Don't like that game? Create your own or pick one that's already started. The site lists dozens of public games you can join. The largest, called Cash.Money, has more than 5,000 players. You start with $10,000 and have a year to see if you can make it grow. The top three earners have a net worth of $13 million, $15 million and $18 million.

The games have been available for a few years, but with the volatility in the markets, the site has been particularly helpful as a teaching tool. The finance and accounting club at Purdue University Calumet started its own game on Sept. 22 and ended last week.

Although club adviser Ed Furticella said the game is offered every semester, this particular semester showed students what happens during a crash. "Because of market swings, participating students seemed to have a greater awareness of the risks and rewards related to various investment strategies," he told the student newspaper, The Chronicle. "Students demonstrated their ability to think out-of-the-box as they applied classroom instruction to current market conditions."

Club president Rachel Warner said, "I learned during this competition that you need to take the bad times along with the good. The market is a cycle. It has its ups and downs and it will come back over time if you allow it to." She added, "Personally I think that when you invest your money in the stock market at a relatively young age, it's best to just leave your stocks alone and let them grow. Over time you will make a profit."

The latest news is consumer confidence is up slightly in November. Maybe the market will rebound too.

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