Are there any timely data available on the Web concerning current holdings of mutual funds? Most of what is available seems to be half a year old, which is a lifetime in this market. -- Brent Armstrong

Brent,

You are supposed to be able to find the most up-to-date information on the Internet, but reading some fund family Web sites feels like you're looking at a newspaper from 1969.

The problem is that fund companies are required to release the complete holdings of their funds only twice a year. These same rules apply even to the fast-moving Internet.

Fund companies must disclose each fund's holdings in the annual and semiannual reports. The annual report gets mailed to shareholders within 60 days after the end of the fund's fiscal year, while the semiannual is sent 60 days after the end of the fiscal half-year, says Pamela Wilson, a lawyer with

Hale and Dorr

in Boston. But by the time you can get your hands on that information, it is already as much as 60 days old.

It's frustrating, and I empathize. But I can't hold out much hope that the Internet will solve the problem. The trend among fund companies is against releasing more up-to-date information.

"No one is against fund shareholders being well informed," Wilson insists. Rather, firms are concerned about abuse of these data. Some people might use that information to attempt to mimic the performance of a fund or trade behind a manager. And the data could be quite valuable to a firm's competitors.

But more importantly, how would you use this information if you had access to it more frequently? "Benign neglect is often how you avoid overtrading your funds," says Wilson. "To respond to every little movement in a fund is not really letting the manager do his job."

Financial adviser Robert Levitt of

Levitt Novakoff & Co.

in Boca Raton, Fla., says, "We look at portfolio's holdings occasionally to do style analysis." If you are curious about a fund's rapid run-up, you may want to look at its holdings to see which stocks are driving this dramatic climb. But frankly, having a current list of a fund's holdings is of questionable value to the average fund investor.

That said, some fund companies do divulge more than others. For example,

Oakmark

releases quarterly reports for its mutual funds, which include the total holdings for each fund.

You should also be able to find top-10 lists that aren't quite as ancient as the total-holdings reports available on many Web sites. "Top-10 positions tend to have stability and continuity to them and can give the average shareholder a pretty good idea of the orientation of a fund," says Wilson.

Vanguard

updates the top-10 lists for its funds on a quarterly basis.

T. Rowe Price

releases the top-25 holdings for its funds 15 days after the end of the calendar quarter. Generally, you should be able to retrieve that information from a company's Web site or through its 800 number.

Janus

updates its Web site every month, although there is a 30-day lag on the top-10 holdings. For example, "somewhere around the beginning of February, you will be seeing the Dec. 31 holdings for the funds," says a Janus spokeswoman.

If you are looking for an answer to a specific question, you can always try calling your fund company's customer-service line. (On the other hand, I have been more than frustrated with some of those 800 numbers as of late, which I detailed in

a recent column.)

Do you think fund companies should cough up holding information more frequently? If so, then how would you use this information if you had access to it more often? Email me at

fundforum@thestreet.com, and include your full name.

TSC Fund Forum aims to provide general fund information. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell funds or other securities.