Comprehensive Web Sites
While all of the sites offer a wide range of data and tools, some have a greater emphasis on a particular area such as mutual funds or market news and analysis. Individual needs and preferences will dictate which sites are best for you.
The comparison grid covers five basic areas—portfolio monitoring, fundamental stock analysis, technical analysis, mutual funds, and other site offerings. The top section of the grid lists the Web site name, the firm producing the site, the URL address, and subscription price and terms. The majority of these sites are free, but some are fee-based or have a multi-tiered pricing structure.
Monitoring Your Portfolio
Web-based portfolio managers range from Web pages that simply track the current market value of your holdings to sophisticated systems that can analyze your holdings, alert you to unbalanced portfolios, and more. Most investors want an on-line portfolio manager that extends beyond obtaining current quotes and the market value of their holdings. A more advanced system will display current news regarding securities in your portfolio, follow the activity of the financial markets, and analyze your holdings based on factors such as asset allocation, industry concentrations, and company market capitalization breakdowns.
The portfolio monitoring segment of the comparison grid helps to quantify the key elements involved in tracking a portfolio.
Most services provide a price snapshot that is updated by manually refreshing your Web browser. However, some sites offer automatic updates via streaming quotes on either a delayed or real-time basis. The current quotes line of the comparison grid indicates the types of securities for which quotes are provided.
Many of the sites have portfolio trackers that enable you to get quotes not only on individual stocks, but also on all of your securities on a single page. Typically, these services will ask you to enter each security’s purchase price, in order to track your portfolio’s gain or loss. Some also send portfolio price updates via E-mail. To learn more about on-line portfolio managers, see the Comparison in the July/August 2006 issue of Computerized Investing.
In addition to tracking your portfolio’s price movements, it is important to keep current on news affecting your investments and the market as a whole. Being up-to-date on sector, industry, economic, and individual company news is vital in order for an investor to participate actively in the market. To avoid an overload of news stories, look for a site providing timely data that can be filtered to match your investment decision processes. Check out the news sources and make sure the site uses a reliable industry standard for news. With newswires, more is not necessarily better. One national news source should be adequate when paired with a press release newswire such as Market Wire or BusinessWire. Too many news services can result in duplication of information.
Each site offers newswires at different subscription rates and varying levels of detail and frequency. Investors must manage these news services according to their trading style. Active investors may want to be alerted when news appears on a stock in their watch list or portfolio; this requires a constant log-on to see if any relevant news items crossed the wire. A long-term, buy-and-hold investor may prefer an electronic clipping service, which collects news stories that can be read at your 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 on to read articles, while others such as MarketWatch will deliver relevant news stories to you via E-mail. MarketWatch also 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 a user-defined 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 of that service.
Message areas are a good place to learn about additional resources available on the Internet. Discussions range from news alerts or chart-pattern dissections supporting a poster’s long- or short-term perspective for a given company to emotional attacks on the character of company management or other posters. Yahoo! Finance boasts an investment message board for every publicly traded U.S. company as well as some of the more “colorful” boards on the Internet.
Message boards can be a good resource for identifying some of the factors driving a company’s current stock price; however, they often contain advertisements and you can never be sure of the motivation driving a particular posting. Read any post on the message boards with a healthy dose of skepticism. The ability to reach a large audience at a relatively low cost is both an advantage and a burden of the Internet.
Researching a company’s fundamentals is critical before making an investment decision. There are increasingly easier, cheaper, and more powerful ways of doing this at many Web sites. Most of the on-line services offer financial statements, earnings estimates, company and industry analysis, and even educational materials 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. The screening process consists of sifting through a large universe of securities to locate a handful that possess one or more desirable characteristics.
Technical analysis attempts to forecast price movement in a security 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 this data along with derived indicators.
More Web sites are using licensed modules to supply on-line, interactive charts. These services offer users a basic set of technical indicators and data that typically covers at least a five-year period, as well as intraday charts.
The comparison grid indicates if charting is available, any additional costs required to use the module, and the charting source. Securities covered, time period charted, and availability of technical indicators are details that help measure the functionality of the site’s charting module. Sites allowing you to download historical data into an Excel spreadsheet or a technical analysis software program are also noted.
Each of the listed sites provides data on mutual funds. 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, cost, and benchmark data for comparison. Screening modules and the ability to rank funds are useful tools and are noted in the comparison grid.
Additional Data & Resources
In addition to stock and mutual fund data, portfolio monitoring tools and up-to-date news stories, some sites offer data on exchange-traded funds (ETFs), initial public offerings (IPOs), and stock options. An ETF is a mutual fund that is traded on an exchange like a stock, while an IPO is the first offering of a company’s stock in the marketplace.
As ETFs have gained popularity, Web sites have begun to add tracking programs, statistics, and analysis for these unique securities. Although IPOs and stock options are not new phenomena, they make up a good portion of some investors’ portfolios.
Thanks to the popularity of the iPod and Apple’s digital jukebox, iTunes, downloadable podcasts are becoming a common way for people to get news on the go. Most financial Web sites offer podcasts that are updated on a regular basis, usually daily or weekly. Most podcasts are free and can be downloaded using various media players including iTunes, Windows Media Player, and RealPlayer.
Another new technology feature offered by all of the sites in the comparison is the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it is an XML-based Web-content syndication format. It is used to deliver constantly updated headline feeds to readers via Web browsers with integrated support for RSS feeds or Web-based feed readers such as YourLiveWire and My Yahoo!. Most feeds deliver headlines, descriptions, and links to current stories on the Web site. It’s an easy way for you to be alerted when content that interests you appears on a site.
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 actively trade and require timely data for a wide range of securities, then a subscription to several data sources may be the best way to properly monitor your investments. If you only need a data service to update your portfolio prices once a week, you have no need for real-time data feeds. 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.
The site is mainly free and provides news articles and commentary from its magazine. Subscribers to Business Week magazine have additional access to enhanced reports and news articles.
Business Week offers three stock screeners. The most advanced has over 75 criteria for screening. The quick search screener has only 20 data fields, but can be good for expediting an initial screening. The BW 50/S&P 500 Screener gives users access to the magazine’s annual ranking of the S&P 500 stocks. There are over 800 data fields on individual stocks. However, the site has been slowly decreasing its mutual fund offerings. Last year a fund screener was available with over 50 criteria for screening, while currently the site offers a Quick Screen with only five criteria for screening. There are also a handful of predefined screens and a fund screener from Standard & Poor’s that includes only the top 20% of funds in each peer group in the database. Fund data is limited to about 20 statistics on each fund.
Portfolio tracking is simple and quick on this site. After searching for a stock, you can easily add it to your portfolio with one click. Securities in the portfolio can be viewed in numerous ways including: a summary, current quotes, and valuations and ratios. You can track up to 150 securities in up to 25 portfolios. Portfolio alerts can be received via E-mail. Price data is updated manually; however, real-time quotes cost $19.95 per month.
Price charts include over 30 years of data and allow for multiple technical indicators. Historical prices date back to the 1970s. You can also download podcasts on various topics. While this is not a prime site for mutual fund data, the stock data and portfolio tools should be adequate for the average investor.
CNN teams up with Money and Fortune magazines to offer free news, portfolio tracking, and analysis tools, along with the magazines’ articles.
The portfolio tracker is simplistic, but it is adequate for simply following a portfolio’s movements. An unlimited number of stocks can be tracked in a portfolio. No real-time quotes are provided, and prices must be updated by a manual refresh. You can also sign-up to receive E-mail alerts with news stories containing or relating to keywords that you choose.
CNN/Money’s mutual fund screener is one of the most basic in the comparison, offering only 11 data fields for screening and ranking and about 7,500 funds in its database. It can, however, be useful for initial fund screening. ETFs are tracked as well.
The site does not have a stock screener but provides a list of hot stocks, earnings reports, and IPO data. Over 500 statistics on individual stocks and their respective companies are given. Charts include multiple technical indicators, and historical prices date back to 1970.
Current and archived Money and Fortune magazine stories as well as daily CNN videos are some the most appealing offerings of this site, as the tool set is rather primitive.
Forbes.com offers a wealth of news articles and commentaries—some from its magazine, others written specifically for the Web site.
A welcome improvement to the site is a free portfolio management tool called Quotestream, accessible with site registration. It is Java-based and offers delayed, but automatically updated, price and volume data as well as various performance numbers. You can add up to 25 securities to an unlimited number of portfolios and views are fully customizable. Real-time data updates are available for $19.99 per month.
E-mail alerts range from basic portfolio updates to news stories and investing topics of interest to you.
The free fund screener offers over 11,000 funds in the database and 22 data fields for screening and ranking. One criterion unique to this screener is the fund’s Forbes rating. Sample screens help beginning investors understand the screening process and build custom screens. There is no stock screener.
The site’s fundamental data on stocks is lacking, with minimal ratios and company news. However, when using the Quotestream portfolio tracker, you can access fundamental data from QuoteMedia. Price charts go back only five years.
The new Java-based portfolio manager adds to the site’s article archives and real-time data offerings, making it an improved “one-stop” Web site.
Kiplinger.com offers users free access to its site. You can track an unlimited number of stocks and mutual funds in the portfolio tracker. No real-time data or automatic updates are offered. The stock screener scans only the Russell 3000 stocks and allows for 27 criteria to be entered, limiting the usefulness of the tool. The mutual fund screener provides 16 fields for screening and is fairly basic in its use. Fund investors have access to over 50 data fields on each fund. Over 500 data fields are provided for individual stocks.
Stock charts contain technical indicators with data going back only five years. You can also download historical price data and listen to podcasts on various topics.
MarketWatch.com is a good site to find news on individual stocks and the market as a whole. E-mail alerts regarding portfolio news, price targets and volume information make tracking a portfolio easier. New to the site are automatic, slightly delayed price and volume updates on all securities and portfolios.
There are over 200 statistics provided on each stock. IPO and ETF sections offer helpful investing tips, pricing information and market news.
The stock and mutual fund screeners are free, but lack sophistication, with only 11 criteria for stocks and three for mutual funds. Over 50 fund statistics add to the site’s mutual fund offerings. Java-enhanced technical charts include data back to 1970. Historical price data, message boards, and podcasts are also available.
While MarketWatch.com’s portfolio tracker is sufficient to track the daily moves in your portfolio, most investors will find the stock and fund screeners too basic. The real draw to this site, however, is the customizable E-mail alerts.
Morningstar.com provides most of its financial data and tools for free. However, advanced analysis, screening tools and analyst research are available to premium members for $14.95 per month. Both the premium and free portfolio trackers track up to 100 stocks or mutual funds, 20 bonds and 20 cash positions in up to 50 portfolios. Portfolios can be imported from or exported to Excel, various Web sites including MSN Money and Yahoo! Finance, and desktop software such as Money or Quicken. Data must be updated manually and real-time data is not provided. For premium subscribers, the X-Ray Overview tab analyzes your portfolio’s asset allocation, diversification, and interest rate sensitivity.
The premium stock screener is highly flexible and offers over 450 criteria for screening, while the basic screener has only 18. Research on individual stocks includes over 800 data fields. The free fund screener has 18 criteria for screening and over 150 statistics on each fund. Premium subscribers have access to a fund screener with over 150 data fields for screening and over 350 statistics on each fund. The premium stock and fund screeners both allow results to be saved. The price charts are interactive, free, and date back to 1984. Morningstar provides message boards but no podcasts. Sections devoted to ETFs and IPO data round out the offerings of the site. Morningstar’s premium membership provides investors with a unique set of analysis tools as well as sophisticated screening and tracking tools. The site’s free offerings, while limited, can prove useful for initial screening and research.
Microsoft and CNBC team up to give you a free comprehensive site that can fulfill most of your investing needs.
A sophisticated portfolio tracking program is downloaded via ActiveX and is compatible only with Windows operating systems and the Internet Explorer browser. Displays can be refreshed manually at any time or automatically as often as every five minutes with slightly delayed market data. No real-time data is offered.
Customizable displays and a multitude of sorting techniques help each investor tailor the tracking program to fit their needs. Additionally, portfolio and individual security price and volume E-mail alerts can be set up.
The mutual fund and stock screening tools are also downloaded through ActiveX and compatible with only Windows and Internet Explorer. With over 12,500 funds in its database and over 80 screening criteria, the deluxe fund screener is a highly sophisticated free screening tool. There are also over 200 data points on each fund. The stock screener has nearly 200 criteria for screening, and over 1,500 statistics on individual stocks are provided. Both programs are highly flexible and easy to navigate. Price charts date back to 1962. Chart data, stock and fund screening results, and portfolio tracking data can all be exported to Excel.
The site includes ETF and IPO data and message boards.
MSN Money offers an impressive set of free stock and fund research and tracking tools. A downfall of this site, however, is that Macintosh users or those who use other Internet browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, will find the portfolio tracker and stock and mutual fund screeners to be much more limited.
In addition to market and world news, Reuters offers free portfolio tracking, and stock and mutual fund screening. Although the portfolio section of the site is more primitive than others, it works for basic portfolio management.
Twenty-five securities can be included in one portfolio. Price data is not automatically updated, and no real-time data is offered. You can choose from four pre-set views. Portfolios can be exported and can show security prices and portfolio values in currencies other than U.S. dollars.
New to the site is the Power Screener 3.0 which is a premium stock screening service costing $39.99 per month. You can search through the entire database of stocks with over 600 criteria. Stock lists and screen results can be imported from and exported to Excel. Nineteen built-in screens are also provided. Power Screener Lite, a free stock screener, offers over 90 criteria for screening and ranking and 13 pre-defined screens.
A free mutual fund screener has over 17 fields for screening and 11 for ranking. While the data offered on stocks is wide and deep—with over 400 data points on each stock. The site lacks in-depth fund data and statistics.
IPO and ETF data is provided. Charts include a few technical indicators and go back five years. The site’s new fee-based additions enhance the free offerings of Reuters. It is a great place to find a wealth of market news as well as initial security screening, research, and monitoring tools.
SmartMoney.com provides a comprehensive Web site with tools, data and access to its magazine articles, mostly without cost. Basic access to the site is free.
The site offers two free portfolio trackers—one in html format and a more enhanced tool that is Java-based. You can import portfolio transactions from Quicken and Microsoft Money. SmartMoney Select subscribers ($19.95 per month) can get real-time updates and export securities to the site’s Stock and Fund Compare tools. You can create 50 portfolios with up to 50 securities in each. Views are customizable and you can see transaction data for your portfolio over various time periods. SmartMoney’s portfolio tracker can also graphically analyze your portfolio’s holdings, performance, and diversification with one of its many Java-enhanced tools.
The site contains over 9,000 stocks and 12,000 mutual funds in its database with plenty of statistical information on individual securities. Java-enabled interactive technical charts go back five years and allow for multiple technical indicators to be charted and compared to other securities or an index.
Stock and fund screeners are available to premium members only. The stock screener offers 140 criteria for screening and the fund screener offers 60. Both screeners allow for comparison against other securities, indexes, benchmarks, and industry averages. You can also view industry averages and descriptions of the screening criteria in order to choose more meaningful user-defined comparison numbers. Screens can be saved and exported.
Additional content includes message boards, an ETF center, and access to Smart Money magazine articles.
SmartMoney provides a nice set of free portfolio monitoring tools, but more sophisticated investors will find that a SmartMoney Select subscription provides a number of useful interactive tools.
Wall Street Journal Online
For $9.95 per month (or $4.95 per month for Wall Street Journal print subscribers), you can access unlimited Wall Street Journal articles, stock and mutual fund data, and portfolio tracking tools. The site’s basic portfolio tracking program allows for five portfolios with 30 securities each. You can customize views, and track dividends, stock splits, and performance. There are no mutual fund or stock screening tools. ETF data is provided.
The site offers an adequate amount of data on individual stocks and funds. Historical prices and charts show data dating back to 1970. Real-time quotes are free with a separate registration. The overall research and tools are basic, but the rich editorial and news content is the site’s major draw. As a paying member of the site, you have access to an archive of old Wall Street Journal articles.
A custom news retrieval option allows users to quickly sift through the large catalogue of articles to find the most relevant ones. Stories can be sent to you via E-mail. Members can subscribe to daily and weekly podcasts.
Although the tool set is unsophisticated and limited, the Wall Street Journal Online offers a great resource for investors interested in the daily happenings of the market.
Yahoo! Finance offers a set of financial tools that are rather basic; however, it is a good site for initial portfolio tracking, and fund and stock screening. Yahoo! Finance also has news stories from a wide variety of free and subscription-based sites.
The portfolio tracker allows 200 securities in an unlimited number of portfolios. Price information is not automatically updated but you can get real-time quotes for $13.95 per month. E-mail alerts can be set for when securities change in price and the end of the trading day, and include an overall summary of your portfolio’s performance. General news and market summary E-mails can also be received.
The site offers over 200 data fields on individual stocks and over 125 for funds. The free stock screener has been recently upgraded to a Java-based module with over 150 criteria for screening. It is very intuitive to use and screens can be saved, E-mailed, or exported. The program must be downloaded using Windows and a Java platform.
Also free is the relatively basic mutual fund screening tool, which has 25 criteria for screening. Charts offer various technical indicators with data dating back to 1962. Sections devoted to ETFs, IPOs, and message boards round out Yahoo!’s offerings.
Overall, Yahoo! Finance brings all the elements of a comprehensive investing Web site together, although in a simplistic manner.
As a data provider for other companies, Zacks offers a wide range of investment resources, including free portfolio tracking, and stock and fund screening. Similar to Forbes.com, Zacks offers a basic portfolio tracker and a more advanced Java-based module provided by Quotestream. Unlike Forbes.com, the fundamental stock data is still provided by Zacks through its Web site. You can create up to five different portfolios and track up to 45 securities in each. Alerts regarding changes in your portfolio’s value can be received via E-mail. Real-time quotes are tied to the portfolio tracker and cost $9.95 per month.
Individual stock and fund research is broad and deep—over 200 fields for stocks and over 150 for funds. The stock screener has 96 criteria for screening, while the mutual fund screener has 50. The free screeners are not as intuitive as others, but Zacks offers plenty of help and guidance through the process of creating custom screens.
Interactive charts are Java-based and contain up to 10 years of data. You can read current news articles and market commentary, as well as access a free trading simulator that allows you to get the hang of trading without taking any risk.
Zacks now offers a premium membership for $199 per year, which includes additional stock and fund data, various E-mail alerts andE-newsletters, and access to Zacks Rank, which picks stocks based on earnings revisions.