Comparison: Comprehensive Web Sites
by John Bajkowski
Some people prefer to shop at specialty stores offering the deepest range of products for a given market segment, while others would rather do all of their shopping in one place at the local superstore selling a little bit of everything. If the notion of buying cold-cuts and hot-pants under one roof appeals to you, then the comprehensive investment Web sites in this comparison should be of great interest as well.
Comprehensive investment Web sites offer a wide range of financial information and tools in an effort to be a one-stop shop for investors. Expect to see elements such as portfolio management and analysis tools, market and economic news and data, detailed stock and mutual fund data, charting, stock and mutual fund screening tools, message boards, as well as financial planning tools. Some sites offer access to all areas for free, while others may charge for premium features or more detailed information.
In this article
- Monitoring Your Portfolio
- News Updates
- Message Areas
- Fundamental Analysis
- Technical Analysis
- Analyzing Your Goals
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Of course not all comprehensive Web sites are created equal. While all offer a wide range of data and tools, some have a greater emphasis in one area, such as mutual funds, while others offer in-depth market news and analysis. Your particular needs will steer you to the site that can help you the most. For example, Morningstar.com offers detailed mutual fund data and strong portfolio analysis, while Wall Street City features strong stock screening using technical studies.
The comparison grid covers four basic areas—portfolio monitoring, fundamental stock analysis, technical analysis, and mutual funds. The top section of the grid lists the Web site name, the firm producing the site, the Web sites URL address, and basic subscription information. The majority of the sites are free, but some sites are fee-based or have a multi-tiered pricing structure. Monthly fees are indicated in the comparison grid.
Monitoring Your Portfolio
Web-based portfolio managers range from simple pages that track the market value of your holdings to sophisticated systems that analyze your holdings and alert users to unbalanced portfolio holdings. Most investors desire an on-line portfolio manager that extends beyond just obtaining the latest quote and calculating the market value of their holdings. The better systems display any pertinent news on securities in your portfolio, follow the activity of the financial markets, and help to analyze your holdings considering factors such as asset allocations, industry concentrations, and company market capitalization breakdowns.
The portfolio monitoring segment of the comparison grid helps to quantify some of the key elements involved in keeping track of a portfolio.
The majority of services provide a price snapshot, which can only be updated through another quote request by clicking on the refresh button of your Web browser. However, some vendors offer continuous quote streams on a delayed basis, in which the prices of tracked securities are updated automatically during the course of the day. These streaming quote services often require a subscription. The current quotes line of the comparison grid indicates the types of securities for which quotes are provided.
The majority of on-line services and financial information Web sites provide security price quotes. Most of these services also feature portfolio tracking, enabling you to get quotes on all of your securities with a single request. Typically, these services will also allow you to enter the purchase price so the portfolio value and gain or loss can be tracked. As indicated in the comparison grid, some Web sites give subscribers the option of receiving portfolio price updates via E-mail.
In addition to tracking the prices of your securities and the current value of your portfolio, it is important to keep abreast of news affecting your securities. Staying up-to-date on sector, industry and economic news, as well as individual company news is vital when actively participating in the stock market.
Of course, the risk of overloading yourself with information can also be a problem. It is therefore necessary to use a site that provides newswire access with timely data, filtered appropriately to match your investment decision process. Check out the news sources and make sure your data service uses a reliable industry standard for news. Some of the better-known newswires include Reuters, Bloomberg, and Dow Jones. With newswires, more is not necessarily better. One of the national news sources above should be adequate when paired with a press-release newswire such as PR News or Business Wire; additional news services will usually result in duplication of information.
However, different sites may offer newswires at different subscription rates and at various levels of detail and frequency. Investors must manage these news services according to their trading style. Active investors may want an alarm when news appears on a stock in their watch list. This requires a constant log-on to see if any relevant news items crossed the wire. The long-term, buy-and-hold investor may prefer an electronic clipping service, which collects news stories that can be read at leisure. To set up these clipping files, you must establish filters that indicate which topics and newswires interest you. Some services require you to log onto the service to see the filtered articles, while other services such as CBS MarketWatch will deliver the news stories to you via E-mail. CBS MarketWatch allows users to determine which news services should trigger an E-mail alert and whether individual E-mails should be sent out for each alert or collected into a composite alert released at given time of day. Most services also allow you to check for news on a specific company when examining your portfolio on-line. The differences lie in which specific newswire is searched and the storage depth (backdating) of that service.
Message areas are a good place to learn about related resources available through the Internet. The more popular investment message boards on services such as Yahoo! Finance boast discussion groups for every U.S. publicly traded company, although there is no guarantee this means an active discussion. Discussions range from news alerts or chart-pattern dissections supporting a posters long or short perspective for a given company to emotional attacks on the character of company management or other posters.
Keep in mind that message boards often contain many advertisements and you can never be sure of the motivation driving a particular posting. Read any post on the message boards with a healthy sense of skepticism. The ability to reach a large audience at a relatively low cost is both an advantage and a burden for the Internet. Stock schemes that once required bucket shops with hundreds of operators trying to manipulate a penny stock can be duplicated with ease on-line. However, message boards can quickly reveal some of the factors driving a companys current stock price.
Researching company fundamentals is an exciting option that is becoming easier, cheaper and more powerful through investment Web sites. Most of the on-line services are offering financial statements, earnings estimates, company and industry analysis, and even education on stock valuation techniques. The comparison grid indicates the various sources of financial data provided by the sites along with any additional charges beyond the standard subscription fees. The depth and breadth of the financial data provided by each service is summarized through information on the number of companies followed and the amount and type of data provided for each company. If a service offers screening, the number of data fields available for screening is reported. Screening consists of looking through a large universe of stocks to locate a few that possess one or more desirable quantitative characteristics indicating that they merit further attention.
Technical analysis attempts to forecast price movement in a security—stock, bond, mutual fund, or option—by examining how the market price and volume of market activity behave over time. Technical analysis is dependent upon large quantities of historical price and volume data. Technicians normally use charts to plot price and volume data along with any derived indicators.
A growing number of Web sites are using licensed modules from services such as BigCharts to supply their subscribers with on-line charts. These services offer users a basic set of technical indicators and data that typically covers at least a 10-year period, as well as intraday charts.
The comparison grid indicates if charting is available along with additional costs required to use the charting module and the charting source.
Securities covered, time period charted, and availability of technical indicators are details that help to measure the functionality of the sites charting module. A checkmark for historical prices indicates that data can be downloaded for use in software programs. Mutual Funds
All of the profiled Web sites provide mutual fund data. The comparison grid notes the source of the data along with any subscription charges. The data source often determines the presentation and depth of available information. Most of the sites with mutual fund data provide basic performance data, benchmark data for comparison, and cost data. Screening and ranking is also becoming more common, and this functionality is noted in the comparison grid.
Analyzing Your Goals
All of these options require you to balance your needs, wants, time constraints, and budget. It is important to be realistic about what you are trying to accomplish with your investing.
If you have a large portfolio that you are actively trading, requiring timely data for a wide range of securities, then you can justify the subscription to several data sources to help in your decision-making processes. If you need a data service to update the pricing in your portfolio once a week, you have no need for real-time data feeds. However, you may still need the same amount of data depending on the size of your portfolio. Another investor may want all of this data, but the size of his investment portfolio and respective time horizon simply do not match—the cost of this mismatch will eat up profits.
Business Week Online combines editorial content from McGraw-Hill publications such as Business Week and S&P Outlook with data from Reuters, S&P, Telescan, and Zacks.
The site has two primary news sections—a daily briefing devoted to current market, economic, and political news as well as a similar section focused on news affecting the global business marketplace. Additional market news stories and headlines are also available from Reuters. A technology section provides news and special reports on the tech sector and technology-driven issues involving the markets. Within this section there are additional news stories on science & technology and biotech developments.
Business Week Online uses portfolio tracking, screening, and analysis tools provided by Telescan. The portfolio manager allows users to track 25 portfolios of 150 securities each as well as tracking a separate cash balance. Portfolios are updated automatically every two minutes, and free E-mail alerts are triggered by breaking news and price targets. Portfolios can be viewed using eight different displays including analyst ratings, insider trading, and price breakouts. The price breakouts look at short-, intermediate-, and long-term trends versus 30-day moving averages. Performance reports can be calculated for individual securities and single portfolios, with returns for the holding period only.
Business Week Online provides three Telescan-based stock screening tools within the Investing Tools segment of the site. The BW 50/S&P 500 Screener provides access to annual magazine rankings of the S&P 500 stocks. The quick stock search and advanced stock search share a similar interface but vary in the number of screening fields supported—20 versus 75. Users can establish minimum or maximum values for a given criterion or specify that the passing value be as high or low as possible. Screening results can be displayed in a table or spreadsheet file. Spreadsheet results are displayed in the Web browser with a comma-separated format limited to a few fields that must be copied manually into a spreadsheet program. Screening results feature a backtested performance report of the strategy. The screening editor is basic, but covers the major elements used for screening.
Business Week magazine subscribers gain access to magazine content on-line and receive two free S&P reports each month. Site-only users who register for free have access to all areas—including the investing tools—except those tied to current and archived magazine content.
Business Week Online is primarily a free market news site that also features some good investment analysis tools.
CBS MarketWatch is a rich resource for company and market news coupled with a growing set of stock and mutual fund data and analysis tools.
CBS MarketWatch sets itself apart from other Web-based information services with its staff of reporters who provide headlines, stories, and analysis throughout the trading day. Regular columns cover topics such as IPOs, earnings surprises, and technology stocks. Tables provide details on events such as stock splits, volume alerts, insider stock sales, and share buybacks. Beyond news, the service offers free multiple portfolios, market and company research, stock screening, charting, and mutual fund data. Mid-day and end-of-day E-mail updates provide summaries of market activity coupled with links to major market stories. CBS MarketWatch also offers E-mail alerts when a given ticker or keyword is mentioned on the site or a specific column is updated.
CBS MarketWatch can handle an unlimited number of portfolios, but asks users to limit portfolios to 200 securities per portfolio—consisting of stocks, mutual funds, and options. Portfolio performance measures are available for the holding periods of securities and single portfolios. Special views are available for portraying portfolio asset allocation and insider trading activity. The service offers a pop-up window that tracks the performance of the holdings of your portfolio with automatic updates.
Microsoft and CNBC offer a complete personal finance and investing site through their free Web offering. The investing section provides portfolio tracking, charts, news, educational articles, stock and mutual fund research, and brokerage services. Access to articles, news, screens, company and mutual fund data, and portfolio tracking is free to all Internet users.
The sites portfolio tool is a true module—an actual software program that is downloaded and installed on top of your browser software. It provides users with full report printing capabilities.
As a side note, the presentation of the portfolio, charting and screening tool is quite different on a Macintosh machine.
The portfolio application handles an above-average range of securities, including bonds and options. A cash balance can also be monitored within the manager. Portfolio displays can be refreshed at any time manually by the user or automatically when you are in the module. The frequency of these automatic updates is adjustable to a timeframe selected by the user and can be as short as a minute.
The research and screening module on the site is top-notch. The company coverage is both broad and deep. The site pulls together the content of Media General, Multex, Thomson Financial and Zacks into a comprehensive company report.
Useful charts give you options to control time periods, plot multiple securities, and overlay basic indicators such as moving averages. An intraday real-time chart is even available for free. Chart data can be exported easily into Microsoft Excel where it can be saved for use in other programs.
Navigation between the various modules is easy and logical. The screening flexibility is above average. As with the portfolio manager, the screener is an ActiveX program that we were able to run on Windows-based systems using either Internet Explorer or Netscape browsers. On Mac systems, however, MSN Money displays a more basic Web-based screening module.
The research wizard walks you through the factors to consider when looking at a stock, including its fundamentals, price history, valuations, catalysts, and competition. The site includes ratings for stocks that provide specific risk and reward grades. MSN Money has made steady improvements to its investment Web site since its introduction and the site is one of the strongest stock research and screening services on the Web.
Forbes.com offers investors access to the articles and lists unique to the Forbes magazine. The free segments of the site feature basic portfolio management tools, stock and mutual fund analysis, and even on-line versions of investment advisory newsletters.
The portfolio manager is geared toward tracking current market values with links to news and profiles. Free company profiles are generally not as detailed as those found on other sites, with the exception of information on company executives, which includes biographies and a table of compensation.
Forbes offers detailed mutual fund data and a unique collection of screening criteria that follows the Forbes methodology of analyzing mutual fund risk and performance.
The fee-based real-time subscription option is geared toward the active trader closely monitoring a stock portfolio. The service has a separate set of portfolio management, charting, and analysis tools that presents much more detailed stock data than the free segment of the site.
Forbes.com combines editorial features and lists from Forbes magazine with a basic set of analytical tools.
Morningstar.com is a full-featured investment Web site providing portfolio tracking, market monitoring, stock and fund screening and research, educational articles, and message boards. Much of the site is free, with additional portfolio analysis, research and screening available through the premium service for $11.95 per month.
Morningstar.com allows you to track stock and mutual fund portfolios, as well as analyze a portfolios holdings and overall composition. It provides details on items such as security pricing information, security and portfolio gains and losses, basic security fundamentals, and news alerts—all the basic elements for portfolio monitoring. Portfolio X-Rays help to analyze the asset allocation and valuation level of a portfolio. Research on the site consists of stock and fund screening coupled with research reports. Free screening is basic, but the premium screening module is well-executed, allowing investors to pick from 125 criteria for stocks and 150 criteria for funds.
Comprehensive stock reports consist of sections providing an intraday and long-term price chart, company profile, financial statements, stock price performance statistics, current stock and market multiples, earnings estimates, industry statistics, fund/insider ownership statistics, SEC documents, and news. The financial statements provide 10 years of income statement cash flow, and balance sheet data. The premium reports add details such as Morningstar ratings and analyst research.
Mutual fund reports provide returns for the past seven years, along with a comparison of performance to a market index and against funds with the same investment objective. Risk measures and Morningstar ratings are included for various time periods. The portfolio section of the report details items such as the fund style, top holdings, asset and industry breakdowns, and percentage of foreign holdings. Morningstar analysis rounds out the report.
Articles with a focus on current market issues, interviews, and detailed educational features are located throughout the site. Message boards provide a forum for discussion of the many issues brought up in the articles.
Overall, the Morningstar.com site provides a diverse set of tools for the stock and mutual fund investor, contained in a well-organized site that features clear navigation. Notably, most investors will find the free portion of the site adequate for many of their needs unless they desire detailed stock and mutual fund screening and research.
Quicken.com is a free site offering a central place for investors to manage many aspects of personal finance including banking, brokerage, insurance, retirement planning, and investing.
Quicken has teamed up with discount broker Muriel Siebert & Co. and now places all its investment tools within the brokerage area of the Quicken site. Quicken includes all the basic tools required to monitor an investment portfolio—quotes, news, charts, portfolio tracking, basic stock and fund screening, stock and fund fundamentals, estimates, and SEC filings.
Quicken.com gives registered users the ability to track their personal portfolios via a standard html-based portfolio tracker as well as an enhanced portfolio analysis tool that requires an additional download. Portfolios can consist of stocks, mutual funds, and bonds. A cash balance can be monitored right next to your securities. Portfolio data can be refreshed automatically. A summary tab of current alerts can be accessed from a link within the portfolio module. Price targets, volume levels, dividend announcements, and splits trigger these alerts.
The site includes all the basic tools required to research companies that pass screens, including quotes, news, portfolio tracking, company fundamentals, links to full SEC filings, insider transactions, and analyst ratings and earnings estimates. Unique features include consensus stock ratings by Quicken.com users and a stock evaluator that highlights elements affecting a companys stock price. The one-click scorecard analyzes how a company rates according to the investment philosophy of Warren Buffett, the NAIC, Geraldine Weiss, or the Motley Fool.
The site presents information available for each stock and mutual fund clearly. Most investors will find this free site more than adequate for their needs.
SmartMoney combines the editorial content of its magazine with a rich array of useful investment tools and research. The free site covers all of the bases—portfolio management, market news and updates, charting, company and mutual fund research, mutual fund screening, as well as educational articles on financial planning and investment analysis.
The site features a unique set of analytical tools that goes beyond the standard set of repackaged data found at most investment Web sites. For example, the charting module covers a wide range of technical and fundamental factors. Its Java-based mutual fund screener offers a five-tab module that guides you through the creation of screens and offers assistance by providing low, average, and high statistics for applicable fields—for example, historical returns. Daily and weekly E-mail updates provide a handy notice of new articles posted to the Web site.
SmartMoney includes fee-based options under the Select name. These segments offer additional analysis and commentary, stock screening, real-time quotes, and portfolio tracking.
The SmartMoney Stock Screener has a database of over 9,000 NYSE, Nasdaq, and Amex stocks. Subscribers can choose from over 100 screening criteria and save custom screens for future use. Once you run a screen, you can create a spreadsheet and download a report on the passing companies.
With the Market Map 1000, you can view 1,000 U.S. and international stocks all at the same time. The map is color-coded to show those companies whose price is up or down and the magnitude of the move. With the maps new screening feature, you can search these 1,000 companies using seven criteria. From the map, you can also link to charts, financial data, and news for each company. A new Fund Map 1000 covers mutual funds in the same fashion.
SmartMoney Selects portfolio tracker allows users to track hundreds of stocks in multiple portfolios. It automatically handles stock splits and dividends, dynamically updates price changes as they occur, and allows for import from or export to Excel, Quicken, and Money. There are also analysis tools that allow you to map your portfolio, view asset allocation, and compare investments.
SmartMoneys unique but useful collection of investment tools makes this site worth checking out.
Stockpoint, Inc., offers a portfolio manager, news, stock and mutual fund research, and a stock and fund screening package for free at its Web site. The site features both simple, quick charts as well as advanced interactive charts. The interactive charts allow you to plot seven different technical indicators, including Bollinger bands and stochastics. You can add comparison indexes to its charts and choose from four different chart types, including line and candlestick. These charts are interactive through a Java-based Zoom In and Zoom Out function, which allows for fine-tuned analysis.
Stock and fund data, as well as screening, are basic but adequate. Recent additions include quarterly and annual financial statements from Zacks. Portfolio E-mail updates are available twice a day. Stockpoint offers a well-organized collection of basic, but helpful tools.
ThomsonFN.com is a comprehensive investment Web site that offers portfolio tracking, news, E-mail alerts, charts, educational articles, research data, and fund screening. Thomson has built up an extensive portfolio of financial data services ranging from consensus analyst reporting services, such as First Call, to processors of SEC EDGAR documents such as Disclosure.
Control of this data has led to a site with a series of unique and interesting tools. A seasonality tracker reports on the month-by-month performance of a given stock to help reveal any return patterns affected by the time of year. Other tools examine elements such as money flow, insider trading trends, and even trends in options prices.
The site also has standard data including items such as consensus earnings forecasts and recommendations, detailed financial statements and ratios, and company and industry performance statistics.
Mutual fund investors will find a wealth of data, including market commentary on current issues and trends within the mutual fund community. Mutual fund reports and basic mutual fund screening are also included. Thomson Investors Network is a source of well-organized investment information.
Wall Street City is a comprehensive investment Web site that offers a wide selection of data analysis tools. The site has undergone a complete pricing and site overhaul, simplifying both the pricing and navigation.
Free tools include portfolio management, real-time and historical quotes, charting, news, Zacks earnings reports, analysts ratings, and basic screening. Multiple portfolios can be set up to retrieve portfolio news and price alerts (which can be received via E-mail), quotes and more. Company news from Reuters and Comtex is available. A keyword search of these resources can retrieve articles of interest. Stock reports are detailed and include standard data from the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement.
For $9.95 per month, investors gain access to the sites advanced screening module—Power ProSearch. With this tool, investors may select up to 40 criteria out of over 700 technical and fundamental criteria. The criteria can be used in the traditional absolute fashion or as part of a weighted scoring system. The site offers the most comprehensive set of screening tools among the Web sites reviewed here, including a range of predefined, backtested screens. Wall Street City is an appealing site for sophisticated investors looking for advanced tools necessary for fundamental and technical analysis of stocks and bonds.
The Wall Street Journal Interactive site is really two sites combined into one—the Wall Street Journal Interactive and Barrons Online. An annual fee of $79 ($39 for subscribers to the print version of either publication) gives you full access to the content of these publications coupled with a wide range of stock, fund, economic, and general news; stock, mutual fund, index, and bond data; portfolio management tools; and charts.
A custom news retrieval option provides you with news based on your preferences. You can elect to have E-mail news alerts and select stories from Barrons and the Wall Street Journal sent to you automatically. Users can also search an archive of past news and articles.
The portfolio manager and fund snapshots are basic, but adequate. Stock reports have been enhanced to provide over 1,000 data points per company. Detailed financials cover up to 10 years of data. Charts and historical prices cover data from the 1970s. Fifty free real-time quotes per day are available, but not tied into the portfolio view or standard quote lookup.
Overall, the stock and fund research tools are basic. The sites rich editorial content and news is its primary draw.
Yahoo! Finance brings together a basic, but reasonable set of free tools for the investor. All the necessary tools for monitoring a stock or mutual fund portfolio are in place, but execution is fairly simple. Once registered, users can customize the default display of information.
Yahoo! Finance leverages its linking expertise to bring together news from sources such as Reuters, S&P, the Associated Press, CNN, CBS MarketWatch, PR News, and Business Wire. Market and stock commentary from popular Web sites such as the Motley Fool and TheStreet.com help round out the offerings. Fundamental stock data comes from EDGAR Online and Market Guide, while Thomson provides earnings estimates and brokerage recommendations. Even insider transactions from CDA Investment Technologies are available for free.
Beyond offering comprehensive investment news and data, Yahoo! Finance also offers some of the most popular message boards on the Internet. Not only does this site have boards for over 9,000 stocks, but it also boasts boards devoted to brokerage firms, IPOs, options, and short-term trading. The message boards in the stock area are divided into industry groups such as basic materials, energy, financial, and utilities. You can also perform a search for message boards based on keywords.
Overall, Yahoo! Finance is a good site for keeping track of your portfolio and performing basic company research.
John Bajkowski is editor of Computerized Investing and AAIIs vice president, financial analysis.