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Computerized Investing > August 2012

The Top Comprehensive Websites 2012

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by Joe Lan, CFA

The mission of Computerized Investing is to help our subscribers become efficient in using the computer tools, software and websites available to support the investment research process. As such, Computerized Investing releases a yearly review of the top comprehensive financial websites.

This review is focused on the best of the one-stop shops and does not include websites that concentrate on a particular area. There may be a better website for managing your portfolio, screening for stocks and funds, or performing technical analysis than the sites listed here, but specialized sites are beyond the scope of this review. You can find articles on software and websites that are devoted to a specific function at www.computerizedinvesting.com.

To choose the top sites for this article, we considered the features and functions used most frequently by individual investors and that are essential to any top-level comprehensive investment website. These include up-to-the-minute news, portfolio management, simple stock screening capabilities and the availability of fundamental and technical data.

Features and Functionality

Each of the following features is available on all of the websites we include as the top comprehensive sites.

Fundamental Analysis Data

Fundamental analysis is the cornerstone to sound, long-term investing. It involves researching financial statement data, including ratios, to judge a company and possibly gain insight into its future performance. Every top comprehensive investment website should offer exhaustive fundamental analysis data, and each of our choices does a good job of providing this data.

Typically, the fundamental analysis data provided is broken down into several sections including ratios, valuations and financial statements. Annual and quarterly financial statement data can be provided for as many as 10 periods. Statements are presented in dollar and common-size (percentage) formats. In addition, you can export data and link directly to SEC filings.

Technical Analysis Data

Technical analysis involves forecasting the movement of a security based on past market data, specifically price and volume data. In essence, technical analysis studies supply and demand for a security in the marketplace in an attempt to predict future market direction. This methodology generally involves charting and the plotting of indicators.

The technical analysis capabilities of the top comprehensive sites have historically been weak, but they have improved over the years. The top sites offer charting and the ability to draw a variety of technical indicators. However, the scope and breadth of their technical analysis functions still trails that of the best sites that specialize in technical analysis, and technicians rely on these dedicated tools for advanced work.

Screening

Screening narrows a universe of stocks or funds to a manageable number by setting criteria limits. Although it is ultimately up to you to make the final decision on an investment holding, intelligent screening can help distinguish stocks and funds with the fundamentals and characteristics that you deem important.

Most of the top comprehensive sites offer free screening. Unfortunately, the free screening capabilities of these websites are grossly inadequate. If you rely heavily on screening, it is prudent to pay for the premium screening offered by these top comprehensive websites or purchase stock screening software such as Stock Investor Pro.

Paid screening capabilities at these sites allow users to screen on a wide range of fundamental data points. Typically, screeners for stocks, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are offered. The universe of stocks, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds varies among the websites, but typically thousands of stocks or mutual funds and around 1,000 exchange-traded funds are available.

Portfolio Management

To maintain an investment strategy that endures over several market cycles, it is crucial to stay consistent and add diversification. One of the most highly sought-after features of comprehensive investment websites is the ability to track and measure the performance of a portfolio. Portfolio management software that must be purchased is still the best, but these top investment websites offer enough portfolio tracking capabilities for the needs of most individual investors.

The portfolio management tools available on the top websites offer the ability to enter positions, commissions and purchase dates and calculate common figures such as performance, gain/loss and market value. A key element missing from these portfolio trackers is the ability to “sync” with your brokerage accounts to automatically update transactions. Some investors are not interested in this feature since it would require entering account login and password information, but those who want broker syncing will have to look for a website specializing in portfolio management.

News

All the top comprehensive websites provide in-depth news coverage. There are some notable differences in presentation, but each is similar in scope.

All relevant financial news is presented, and the sites show breaking news items within minutes of each other.

Analyst Ratings and Estimates

Analyst ratings and estimates are key figures commonly used by individual investors.

Morningstar.com offers a proprietary “star” rating that is one of the most widely used ratings readily available to individual investors. The other top comprehensive websites also provide ratings systems, although they are not as well-known as the Morningstar.com star rating. Keep in mind, however, that such research is usually only available for the most widely followed stocks or funds.

In addition, each of the top investment websites offers forward earnings expectations. These earnings expectations represent the consensus earnings forecast of the sell-side analysts following a stock.

The analyst’s ratings and estimates provided at the sites will be scrutinized in more detail in the individual website review section below.

The Top Sites

Morningstar.com

Morningstar.com is arguably the top comprehensive investment website available to individual investors. It began as a website focusing on mutual funds. As it gained popularity and credibility, the site expanded its offerings to include stocks and exchange-traded funds. Morningstar itself also hired a number of analysts and now provides its own investment research, which began with its now-renowned star ratings.

The Morningstar.com’s main landing page provides a news section focusing on earnings, stocks, funds and personal finance (Figure 1). It also provides the usual current market index data for the U.S., Asian and European markets.

Morningstar.com provides comprehensive fundamental data for stocks and funds. The data set offered is one of the best on the Internet. For stocks, the site provides key performance figures as well as price history and dividend and split information. Users can see daily, monthly and quarterly trailing total returns compared against the company’s industry and the S&P 500 index. A unique feature of the website is its comparison of the growth of $10,000 for a stock against that of various indexes and other companies over 10 years.

A bevy of key financial ratios are provided for each company going back 10 years. The ratios cover profitability, growth, cash flow, financial health and efficiency. Financial statements covering five quarters and five years are offered for free. Premium subscribers have access to financial statements for 10 quarters and 10 years. The website also presents select valuation ratios dating back 10 years. The Insiders tab shows the most comprehensive insider data among the top websites and includes data on executive compensation, insider purchase and sales activity, biographies of key executives and names of the directors and management committee members.

Information on bond and option offerings is also available on the website.

For premium members, Morningstar.com provides proprietary research reports on about 2,000 stocks. The report is extensive, presenting a thesis along with valuation, risk, management and stewardship. The reports are well written and relate companies’ fundamental qualities to their competitive advantages. The report also offers insight on a company’s ability to compete and the risks it faces going forward. These reports are the basis of the star ratings given to each company.

Select charting capabilities are available, but are comparatively weak. Price and volume charts for stocks go back to 1972. The charting types are limited to line, open-high-low-close and candlestick. Other stocks and indexes can be added to a chart, as well as dividends and splits. Ten technical indicators can be plotted on each chart.

A relatively new feature of Morningstar.com is its transcripts area, which presents written transcripts of earnings conference calls. In addition, a link to SEC filings is provided.

Mutual fund data offered by the site is the most exhaustive among the top comprehensive websites. In addition to charting and performance data similar to that provided for stocks, the website offers a Ratings & Risks tab that presents Morningstar fund ratings based on return and risk. This area of the website also offers modern portfolio theory statistics, volatility measures and upside and downside capture ratios for each fund.

The Portfolio tab shows a breakdown of each fund’s asset allocation, style details, sector weightings and the world regions covered by the fund (Figure 2). In each of these sections, the fund can be compared against a benchmark and category of your choosing.

Much like the stock analysis offered, the website also provides a fund analysis to premium subscribers. The fund analysis discusses the fund’s investment process, performance, and price, and provides ratings of positive, negative or neutral for each section. The analysis is not as comprehensive as the stock analysis, but it is one of the only comprehensive investment websites that offer the service. In addition, the Stewardship tab provides information on the parent company of the fund, but this also is only available to premium subscribers.

Two separate screeners for stocks and mutual funds are offered—basic and advanced. The basic stock and mutual fund screeners are available for free, but each only offers 18 data points on which to screen. The premium screeners are much more capable. The premium stock screener has a universe of more than 10,000 stocks and is able to screen on more than 450 separate criteria. In addition, nine built-in screens are available to help you get started. The premium fund screener boasts almost 26,000 mutual funds, which is the largest universe among the top comprehensive websites. It allows users to screen on over 300 separate criteria. A basic ETF screener is available for free to all users. It contains over 1,100 ETFs and allows users to screen on 50 separate criteria.

There are several other investment tools available to Morningstar.com users; however, the best tools are only available to premium members. The Portfolio Monitor is very capable, providing a comprehensive breakdown of your investment portfolio. In addition to presenting your past performance, the Portfolio Monitor shows industries in which the portfolio is overweighted. You can also quickly see the Morningstar ratings of each stock and fund you own. Premium users are able to obtain analysis for each holding separately, but the portfolio monitor allows you to aggregate all the useful data into one report quickly and easily. The Asset Allocator, another premium tool, provides probabilities that a portfolio will reach a certain size given an initial balance, monthly investments, time horizon and portfolio mix. It is fully customizable and offers insight on selecting an asset allocation whether you are just starting to invest or nearing retirement.

Yahoo! Finance

Morningstar.com and Yahoo! Finance have been the two consistent mainstays of AAII’s “Top Comprehensive Websites” articles over the years, and for good reason. These two sites have consistently provided the most exhaustive investment news, tools and features for individual investors. The front page of Yahoo! Finance is much more news-heavy than that of the other top sites, offering the top financial news stories of the day from around the globe (Figure 3).

Investment data begins with the Investing tab. The Market Stats page presents data on volume leaders and stocks that are rising and falling at unusual rates. The Industry Center offers breakdowns for each industry, including the industry’s composite value, daily change and relevant news. An industry calendar lists upcoming earnings conference calls and earnings release dates for companies within the industry. The website also provides separate areas for currencies and commodities. A unique offering is fundamental data for each individual industry and sector in chart format, which can be downloaded and exported into Excel (Figure 4).

Fundamental data for stocks is fairly comprehensive. The company profile presents a business summary and a listing of the key insiders of the firm. The Key Statistics tab presents common ratios, trading information, share statistics and dividend and split information all on one page. In addition, this page lists key data from the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement, as well as major financial highlights. The Competitors tab pits the company’s fundamentals against those of four of its competitors as well as the industry median. Yahoo! Finance is unique in offering a Components section, which lists the indexes that include the stock, as well as ETFs and mutual funds that include the stock as a top-10 holding (along with its percentage in the fund).

The site provides an Analyst Coverage section that is notably different than Morningstar.com’s offering. To begin with, Yahoo! Finance does not offer proprietary research on stocks or mutual funds, choosing instead to offer a list of outside analysts and their ratings. The recommendation summary provides the average analyst recommendation on the stock, and the price target summary provides the average, median, high and low target prices. Upgrades and downgrades show the ratings changes of all the analysts tracked going back to 1998. The recommendation trends table shows the current analysis recommendations along with the recommendations for one month, two months and three months ago. Analyst earnings, revenues and growth estimates are shown for the current and next quarter and for the current and next year. The earnings trends and recent earnings revisions are also provided. Although Yahoo! Finance does not offer its own research reports, outside reports can be purchased from the site. Unfortunately, these reports are relatively expensive, ranging from $15 to several hundred dollars per report.

Financial statement data covers four quarters and three years. In addition, links to SEC filings are provided. Yahoo! Finance is one of the few sites that provide historical stock open, high, low and closing prices.

The technical analysis capabilities provided by Yahoo! Finance are strong compared to those found at other comprehensive financial websites, allowing users to chart in full-screen mode. Chart types include open-high-low-close, candlestick, line and mountain. You are able to chart splits, dividends, insider transactions, analyst opinion changes and key developments (including major news items and earnings announcements). A multitude of technical indicators can be plotted on company charts.

For each company, the website lists headlines aggregated from a number of financial news websites. Company events are also presented, as well as recent message board postings relating to the company. This section can be found by clicking on Headlines after searching for a particular stock.

Fund data is not as comprehensive as that offered by Morningstar.com. Yahoo! Finance provides a profile of the fund as well as the performance history. The Risk page offers some modern portfolio theory statistics compared to the fund’s category median. Once again, analyst reports are only available for purchase and are provided by outside research firms.

The free stock and mutual fund screeners contain very large universes (over 22,000 for the stock screener and over 24,000 for the fund screener). However, the screeners are very limited in capability, and each screener only allows users to screen on 17 fundamental criteria. A premium Java-based stock screener is available with more than 150 screening criteria, but no premium fund screener is offered. Separately, Yahoo! Finance offers a bond screener where users can screen for Treasury, corporate and municipal bonds based on price, coupon, yield and maturity.

The portfolio management function is very basic and lacks many useful features. Users can enter their holdings and see performance, fundamentals and price and volume charts, but not much else. The portfolio management area fails to show a detailed breakdown of the sectors, market capitalizations or industries held in the portfolio. You can create custom views of data points you want shown in the tables, and relevant news for stocks are shown at the bottom. However, no real portfolio management tools are available for ascertaining your asset allocation or areas of your portfolio that are over- or underweighted.

Making up for comparatively weak portfolio management features, Yahoo! Finance’s Personal Finance section is one of the best available and includes sections on career and education, insurance, loans, real estate, retirement and taxes. There are helpful articles and tools in each of the sections, but the retirement section is especially worth mentioning. In addition to educational articles, there is a series of “Basics” articles with numerous tips on getting ready for retirement. In addition, financial calculators enable users to calculate their projected cash flows based on portfolio values and returns, and to figure out how much is needed for retirement given your personal circumstances. You can also compare Roth and traditional IRAs. The entire list of calculators can be found at www.finance.yahoo.com/calculator.

SmartMoney.com

SmartMoney.com, which is owned by The Wall Street Journal, is the third of our top comprehensive investment websites. Like the others, SmartMoney.com’s home page is filled with news items separated into categories (Figure 5). A customizable listing of stocks along with their daily performances is provided on the right side of the home page.

The fundamental data presented for stocks is excellent. The Overview tab provides earnings data and forecasts, key statistics and breaking news items. Clicking on the News tab shows a list of the most recent news articles for your stock, much like the Headlines tab in Yahoo! Finance. The Profile tab offers a brief description of the company and lists the key executives. Company details provided notably include the enterprise value, which is an increasingly popular figure that is still rarely provided by most websites. The Key Stats tab expands on the figures that are shown on the overview page and is broken down into several categories: share liquidity and volatility, key financial statistics, profitability and efficiency ratios, valuation, stock performance, dividends and financial strength.

Financial statement data covers five quarters and five years. Users are able to open up a “print view,” which makes printing only the financial statement data easier. The Earnings tab presents adjusted earnings compared to estimated earnings and GAAP earnings for the previous five quarters. In addition, an earnings forecast is provided for the next quarter and for the next three fiscal years. A current estimate is shown, as well as the estimates for one and three months ago.

The figures offered in the Ratings tab are unique. At the very top, the site shows the net change in ratings for the company in question. Underneath is a scale that allows users to compare the company’s recommendations against those of its competitors. You can see a current rating comparison, or compare ratings for one and three months ago. Although the chart is an excellent visual, the competitors shown are generated by SmartMoney.com and cannot be customized. For some stocks, the automatically generated competitors are questionable. Going down the ratings page, the website shows analyst recommendations for a stock, ranging from strong buy to strong sell, as well as earnings estimates trends. Once again, you can select to see the current estimates or the estimates from one and three months ago.

SmartMoney.com also offers some basic technical analysis capabilities. If you click on Chart after searching for a company, a price graph will be shown. Below the price graph, you can select the technical indicators you want charted. Several companies can be charted on the same graph and news can also be shown on the price graph. However, the technical indicators offered are very limited.

A company’s competitive analysis in the Compare tab pits the company against five competitors showing various fundamental data points side by side. The charting tool is once again available on this page, allowing users to graph the fundamental data point of competitors alongside the data for the company. On this particular chart, you are able to choose the competitors that are shown.

For several years running now, SmartMoney.com has offered the most useful and robust tools. These java-based tools are separated into 17 categories. However, the best tools require a SmartMoney.com Select membership. To navigate to the tools section, click on the Tools tab from the main SmartMoney.com page. There are too many tools to describe in this article, but several are worth noting. The Correlation Tracker is an excellent tool, returning ETFs, mutual funds and stocks that have the highest and lowest correlation to a user-specified security over a customizable time range (Figure 6). You may also select two securities, and the tool will calculate their correlation. The Stock Compare tool allows users to easily compare a bevy of data points for several stocks. Users can also sign up for email alerts for stock news and price levels.

In the Investing category, the website offers an Asset Allocation Calculator that is different from the one offered by Morningstar.com. Although the final result is much the same—an asset allocation that suits your personal situation—the inputs are more robust, allowing users to specify short-term and long-term spending, inflation forecast, economic outlook and portfolios in tax-deferred accounts.

Last year, the SmartMoney.com Select stock screener featured over 8,000 stocks, but this year it only contains a little more than 4,600 stocks. There is no explanation for the drop, but the universe of stocks is now considerably smaller than that offered by the stock screeners at Morningstar.com and Yahoo! Finance. The number of criteria offered, however, is the highest among the top comprehensive websites at more than 150. The mutual fund screener universe is more in line with that found at Morningstar.com and Yahoo! Finance, with more than 22,000 mutual funds in its database along with more than 50 criteria on which to screen.

The portfolio management functionality of SmartMoney.com tracks performance, dividends, news and transactions. It also allows users to import data in CSV, QIF and PTF file formats and export data in XLS, CVS, QIF and PTF file formats. Like Yahoo! Finance, however, the portfolio management tool offered at SmartMoney.com does not provide the robust portfolio breakdown capabilities that Morningstar.com offers.

SmartMoney.com offers a fairly extensive “how to” section with educational articles on a wide range of topics, including writing wills, finding an investment adviser, creating portfolios and rolling over your 401(k). Several of the articles are very useful, offering sound advice on confusing topics.

Criteria are rated on a scale of one to five, with five denoting the best score.
  Performance Media & News Ease of Use Price Pros  
Portfolio Management Stock Analysis Fund Analysis Cons
Morningstar.com
www.morningstar.com
5 5 5 3 5 free to 
$189/yr.
+Leader in mutual fund
   and ETF research
–Many advanced tools
  are not free
+Proprietary research reports  
Yahoo! Finance
finance.yahoo.com
3 4 4 5 5 free +All data and tools available free –Comparitively weaker 
+Historical quotes available    portfolio management
   capabilities
–Research reports are expensive
SmartMoney.com
www.smartmoney.com
3 4 4 5 5 free to 
$58/yr.
+Powerful free ETF screener –No historical price data
+Numerous advanced and
    interactive Java-based tools
–Most useful tools are not free 
 

Other Notable Sites

A number of other websites on the Internet offer solid investment services, but are not as comprehensive as our top sites.

MarketWatch.com, a separate offering from The Wall Street Journal, is a great website. A unique offering of MarketWatch.com is its options screener, which may help some investors choose options to incorporate into a diversified portfolio. However, the website is more focused on presenting up-to-the-minute news and offers less robust tools than the websites that made our top comprehensive list. For instance, the stock screener offers only 10 criteria.

Websites such as Reuters.com and CNN Money (money.cnn.com) are also worth mentioning. These two websites provide robust fundamental data on stocks and funds and for global economic, industry and sector news, they are two of the best. However, neither website offers useful portfolio management tools or screening capabilities.

Conclusion

The top three comprehensive investment websites were carefully chosen based on their offerings that individual investors generally seek.

Over the years, our list of top comprehensive websites has gotten smaller. This year, we only feature three—Morningstar.com, Yahoo! Finance and SmartMoney.com. These three websites offer the best combination of fundamental data, technical data, news, portfolio management services, screening capabilities and analyst estimates and ratings.

Although each website has its own strengths and weaknesses, these sites are the best one-stop shops for individual investors.


Discussion

Robert Ellison from UT posted over 2 years ago:

Which site has the best coverage of total return, closed end funds, and return after inflation?

Thank you


Bernard Katz from VA posted about 1 year ago:

I've used the Yahoo portfolio feature. I like the extent of 'headings' that give you all sorts of info. What is to me a bonus--and I'm not sure you get this elsewhere (on other sources), is the column of "annualized gain" that avoids me doing the equation to gain that insight!


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