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Early Lockups, the Timing of Press Releases and Free Stock Giveaways.

Also, short interest and S&P 500 weightings.

First up this week is

Craig Rosenberg

, from Michigan, who writes: "What's your view on this when a company announces that the underwriter has lifted the lockup period a couple of weeks early? Is this significant? Does this foreshadow the strong desire of an insider or insiders chomping at the bit to sell? Or is it irrevelant?"

Like everything else on Wall Street, it depends on supply and demand. In general, the hotter the company, the more irrelevant (or the more temporary the impact) because there are usually ready buyers for the shares. And the selling can actually have a positive side-effect, in that it creates more shares for public consumption, which makes the stock more liquid (easier to buy and sell).

And don't forget, selling isn't


a sign that insiders know something you don't -- especially with stocks that run-up quickly. Judging by the way some of these stocks have gone lately, put yourself in their shoes!

Next up is

Jerome Sigua

, who writes, "I got an email this week regarding some company that wants to give away 10,000 shares to 10 people for an upcoming IPO if people register with its site. Is this legitimate or just a way to compile a mailing list? I can't find much on the company that runs the Web site."

Raffling off shares isn't a new Internet marketing technique. Last year


took notice of


, two companies trying to generate Web traffic by giving away stock. gave away a veritable boatload, and now bills itself as "the first Web site ever to be owned by 700,000 Netsurfers."

Heard the urban legend that



got its start by giving away its shares on the Web? Urban legends are false by definition, and, unlike Yahoo!'s, shares of and aren't publicly traded on any exchange. Also unlike Yahoo!'s, they're not incredibly overvalued -- they're worthless. (And they will be unless they go public.) Seems that, once again, there's no such thing as a free lunch. But at the same time, the

Securities and Exchange Commission

vigilantly watches to make sure such "free" stock offers really are free. If the company receives any form of compensation -- or, as S.E.C. spokesman

John Heine

puts it, "if there's a


in the house" to match the Quid of a free stock offer -- it may be required to register its shares.

As for whether the offer is on the level, or just a huge can of spam, ask yourself one question: Do you feel lucky? In general, beware of "investing" in Internet companies that don't give an address or phone number on the Web site. On the other hand, you may have nothing to lose.

Message Center

  • Memo to Chris Grange, who wonders what regulatory factors are involved when companies issue press releases before or after market hours: The short answer -- not many. Heine says that because of the First Amendment, the SEC "doesn't tread too heavily in the area of press releases." It scrutinizes all company statements by way of antifraud laws, regardless of whether those statements are released before, during or after market hours. Regulating press releases is more of a concern for the exchanges themselves, which have interests in maintaining fair and orderly markets. Mike Shokouhi of the National Association of Securities Dealers explains how the process works: Companies are required to give an exchange advance notice of any "material news" (a key and hence hotly debated term) that they plan to release. If a company leaks or releases material news to, say, the Podunk Press during market hours without giving this advance notice -- a situation usually accompanied by unusual trading activity -- the exchange will halt trading of its stock and ask the company for clarification. The company then releases the news over one of the major wire services, and, after the public has absorbed it, trading resumes. The same rule applies to after-hours press releases. A company must give its exchange the "heads up" on any news it plans to release after the market closes. If it doesn't, and its stock starts to trade wildly the next morning, the exchange will halt trading and ask questions later.
  • Memo to Christopher Kolyszko, who wonders where you can research the amount of short interest vs. the float of particular stocks: You'll find the best info at Yahoo! Finance. Get a quote for the company you're interested in, click on "profile" and then click on "performance." That'll get you to a page on Market Guide's Web site that lists four months of short interest vs. the percentage of the shares outstanding and the actual float. More telling, however, is the short interest ratio, or the total short interest divided by the average daily trading volume. You can find it in TSC's Tools of the Trade section, which offers a wealth of information on individual stocks. This ratio is also known as "days to cover," because it approximates the number of days it would take to close all short positions in a stock. The higher the ratio, the tighter the squeeze.
  • Memo to Brad Lummis, who wants to know how to find the sector weightings of the S&P 500. Each month Standard & Poor's publishes on its Web site a rough sketch of the index's industry weightings, detailing the number of companies classified as "industrials," "utilities," "financials" and "transportation." From this we learn that, as of last week, 76% of the companies in the S&P 500 are classified as industrials. Consumer cyclicals? Tech? Market capitalization, for Pete's sake? Gumshoes seeking more than the site's basic information will find themselves frustrated. According to S&P spokeswoman Carol Levine -- and as a recent MoneEmailbag column pointed out about the Russell 2000 -- complete sector weightings of the S&P 500 itself are proprietary information that Standard & Poor's licenses to clients, including companies that build funds tracking the index. Consolation prize: The site does list relatively detailed sector weightings for the S&P 1500, an index including the S&P 500, the S&P MidCap 400 and the S&P SmallCap 400.

Memo: Have a question? The dumber you think it is, the better. Just shoot it to . Include your full name, and please, no questions seeking personal financial advice or regarding personal brokerage disputes. And this reminder: Because of the volume of mail, personal replies can't be guaranteed.