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Small investors to get shot at IPOs

Developments on Wall Street and in Washington combined today to level the financial playing field a bit more for the individual investor.

    Developments on Wall Street and in Washington combined today to level the financial playing field a bit more for the individual investor.

    E*Trade Group (EGRP) and investment banker Robertson, Stephens announced an exclusive alliance to bring the individual investor closer to the ground floor of public offerings and other services on the Internet.

    The online broker and Robertson, Stephens will offer E*Trade customers access to initial and secondary offerings, which have traditionally been available only to institutional investors or individuals with large portfolios.

    Now E*Trade customers will be able to apply through the same channels as the big players to get into the initial trading of offerings underwritten by Robertson, Stephens. Individuals will also have access to analyst conferences online and segments of company "road shows," in which offerings are explained.

    These road shows may become even more accessible because of a separate development in Washington. The Securities and Exchange Commission today cleared the way for Net Roadshow, a company hoping to act an intermediary between prospective IPO candidates and institutional investors, to broadcast company presentations to "qualified investors over the Internet."

    In a letter to the company, the SEC said it would not restrict the company's plan to offer the presentations online, based on the facts presented by the company to the agency. The approval does not necessarily apply to other companies.

    Combined with the E*Trade announcements, wider availability of such financial road shows will expand the century-old practice of securities trading to individuals worldwide.

    In a $25 million advertising campaign yesterday, E*Trade noted: "Someday, we'll all invest this way." E*Trade customers will also have access to RSCO's company and industry research.

    Stock in E*Trade, a publicly traded company itself, has gained 8 points, or 27 percent, since August 1. It closed yesterday at 37-3/4 but was off slightly today.