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Associated Press
Joe Fox is the CEO of Ditto Trade, an online brokerage that allows investors to copy friends’ trades.

Ditto Trade lets you invest like Uncle Joe

– To the long list of investing strategies, add this: I’ll have what she’s having.

That’s the idea behind Ditto Trade, an online brokerage for anyone who has a lot of faith in the cousin, best friend or next-door neighbor who’s always bragging about their stock-trading chops.

Attach your investment portfolio to theirs, and whenever they make a trade, so will you. No time to watch the market? No problem, as long as you trust the instincts of your Uncle Herb.

Ditto Trade’s CEO, Joe Fox, says his company will empower the stock-trading masses. What he’s doing, he says, is tapping connections people already have with friends and family.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the relationship,” Fox says. “We’re trying to automate it.”

There are reasons to be skeptical. Among the most obvious: Maybe your best friend isn’t the stock-picking savant she makes herself out to be. Maybe it’s better to follow a safe, boring index than try to beat the market.

And maybe the same people who share all about their breakups and brunches on the Internet will still see money as something you don’t discuss with friends.

But with Americans skeptical of traditional investing – they are still pulling money out of stocks despite a three-year rally of historic proportion – the appeal of something like Ditto is obvious.

Think the big investment firms are more interested in making money for themselves than for you? Why not hand the reins to a trusted friend who quadrupled his retirement portfolio by betting on Google?

At Ditto, which went live this summer after years of development and testing, business has been brisk.

The company has about 25 employees, split between Chicago and Los Angeles, and has already outgrown the first two offices it rented in Chicago. Fox declines to give specifics but says the website has thousands of lead traders, each with an average of three to five followers.

Clayton Cohn, 25, is a satisfied customer. He has a couple dozen friends, mostly Marine buddies, hanging on to his portfolio’s coattails.

He started trading a few years ago with money he’d saved from deployments to Iraq, with no formal training but reading everything he could. He’s jaded by the traditional brokerage experience and doesn’t want his friends to have to endure it.

Just before the market crashed in 2008, Cohn says, he invested his savings with a persuasive broker who told him he should leave the trading to the professionals. Within a month, two-thirds of his money was gone.

Now, his portfolio has ups and downs, but he’s doing well enough to trade full time and says he’s up about 20 percent over the past year. The site allows people to charge friends a monthly fee to follow, but Cohn doesn’t.

“It’s no sweat off my back,” Cohn says. “I’m trading anyway.”

Ditto isn’t the only brokerage to tap the follow-the-leader sentiment. Covestor, for example, lets people comb through online profiles of “model managers,” then set their portfolios to mirror the trades of their favorites.

TradeKing, Zecco, Charles Schwab and others have websites where clients can post about what they’re buying and selling, Facebook-like, with peers.

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