Much of the problem has to do with the process. In order to buy the stock on the local exchange, like Toronto or Hong Kong, your broker has to change your dollars into the local currency and then buy the stock. That's a hassle for the broker and not worth his time for the cheap commissions at stake.

On the other hand, if you are a big hitter with a hefty account at a full-service broker like Lehman Brothers ( LEH) or Goldman Sachs ( GS) ,then you may be able to shop for foreign stocks, because these firms will take care of the currency transaction as well. Of course, such service comes at a full-service price -- so be prepared to pony up.

If you are willing to wait, online broker E*Trade ( ET) says that it will be offering customers the ability to shop on foreign exchanges in the third quarter of 2006. Those exchanges will include London, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Toronto, Germany and Japan.

So if your ultimate intention was to invest in an Icelandic stock, you're out of luck.

Reader: What is the difference between common and preferred stock and how do you know which one you are holding? -- D.E.

GG: If you own a share of common stock, it means you are a partial owner of a company. Owners of common stock usually receive the right to vote at meetings regarding company directors or corporate policy. The shareholder is the ultimate boss, according to U.S. corporate law.

Preferred stock, on the other hand, represents nonvoting shares, but they usually provide a higher dividend than common shares. To make up for the lack of voting rights, preferred stock dividends are paid before common stock dividends. In a liquidation, preferred stock is paid out at par value, which is commonly $100 or $25 per share.

Usually, preferred stock is identified as such, but if it isn't, then the high dividend and lower volatility will typically give it away.

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