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Arthur Levitt prepared to bid the U.S. investing public goodbye Tuesday in much the same way a mother would if she were sending a child down an alley lined with leering, unshaven men dressed in filth-sodden overcoats.

After eight years as the nation's top securities regulator, the retiring chairman of the

Securities and Exchange Commission

addressed a gathering of investors and other observers in Philadelphia before his planned leaving of the post in coming weeks.

In a prepared speech for the event, Levitt stopped short -- but only barely -- of saying investors should never trust their brokers.

"So ask your broker, 'Do I have choices about how to pay you? Does it make sense to pay by the transaction,' " Levitt said. "You should also ask your broker if he or she gets paid more for selling one product vs. another, mutual funds vs. stocks or the in-house brand of mutual fund vs. another."

The talk was the 42nd and last of the investor town meetings Levitt began delivering when he was appointed SEC chairman in 1993.

In the past, he has emphasized other aspects of investing, such as the

warning he offered investors in the midst of the crazed climate for

initial public offerings in late 1999. At the time, Levitt cautioned neophyte investors to stay away from IPOs because they might not be aware of behind-the-scenes market forces driving the prices of these newly issued stocks.

The List

On Tuesday, Levitt ticked off pointers on a panoply of investment topics, including:

Order execution: "If your order is executed just a nickel better than the best price advertised, the benefit to you is $25 on a 500 share trade. That's three times the commission that some online brokers advertise today."

Certificates of deposit: "Too often, investors confuse the statement 'one year noncallable' with the maturity date. Then, when they try to cash in the CD after a year -- for example, to meet an unexpected medical expense -- they discover the maturity date exceeds their probable life span."

Mutual funds: "Don't get caught up in the past-performance hype. Remember what folksinger Pete Seeger once said, 'Education,' he said, 'is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.' "

Bonus annuity programs: "I've been around our markets long enough to know that if someone is offering you free money, cover your pockets and run. The truth is, these bonuses often are not only offset by hidden or back-end costs -- they actually end up costing you more."

Unfinished Business

Levitt also addressed some initiatives he began but hasn't completed.

He spoke of potential conflicts for securities analysts who dispense investing recommendations on television business news broadcasts. The

National Association of Securities Dealers

last month agreed to work with the SEC and the

New York Stock Exchange

to develop rules that would force analysts and securities professionals to disclose their conflicts of interests when making public appearances such as television interviews.

"I would ask every investor to help bring pressure to bear on these markets to ensure that greater disclosure is soon a reality," Levitt said.

Levitt also mentioned his efforts to increase the salaries of SEC employees, efforts that have faced budget restraints in



"Do you know that employees at the one agency whose sole mission is to protect investors are paid less than their counterparts at other federal agencies?" he asked. "Just about every day, one special interest group or another in our markets is up on Capitol Hill persuading one congressman or senator why a certain issue is important to them. If it's important to them, you can bet that, more times than not, it's important to you. I would ask each of you here today to look out for your interests."