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Merrill Net Research to Drive Leads

Full-service brokerage Merrill Lynch, New York, will offer free access to its proprietary stock research online in a four-month trial that starts Nov. 2, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Merrill Lynch, which so far has eschewed the Internet, knows visitors will use its new Web site (www.askmerrill.com) for research that will lead to trades with competing brokerages but will track those visits to generate leads for its 14,800 brokers. Officials told the WSJ that investors who use the site just for stock tips are not the type of broker-assisted customers Merrill Lynch is trying to attract.

To sign up for a password that provides access to research from Merrill Lynch analysts, investors will be required to provide their names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers and can answer optional questions about their investment plans and trading experiences. During the trial, investors will be contacted by e-mail and possibly by a broker. The online research is normally available only through brokers to existing Merrill Lynch clients.

The Web site will be linked to Netscape's Netcenter and Microsoft's portal site and will be promoted with online and print advertising.

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