Two prominent schools of investment analysis are fundamental analysis and technical analysis. Fundamental analysis involves analyzing a company’s financial statements and health, its management and competitive advantages, and its competitors and markets. By contrast, technical analysis—in its purest form—assumes that all of these factors are reflected in the price of the company’s stock. As a result, technicians focus on the price activity and trading volume of securities to gain an understanding of the supply and demand to help them time buy and sell decisions. The hope is that the analysis of past behavior may uncover patterns that point to future price movements.
Even if they don’t consider themselves technicians, many individual investors employ some form of technical analysis when making investment decisions. This can range from simple chart analysis using technical indicators—mathematical manipulations of price or volume data—to employing advanced technical trading systems to decide when to buy and sell.
To help you with technical analysis, there are a variety of Web-based services available for individual investors. This comparison focuses on the top three sites for technical analysis and charting. These sites offer the best combination of charting options, technical indicators and educational resources for aspiring technicians. For a more comprehensive listing of technical analysis and charting options, an expanded comparison grid of additional services will be posted to the Computerized Investing website in conjunction with the January CI E-Newsletter.
In the arena of computerized investment analysis tools, Web-based services, in general, do not offer the power or flexibility that you find with their software-based counterparts. Therefore, one of the first questions to ask is whether your analysis needs will take you along a software or online route for technical analysis and charting tools.
The most striking difference between technical analysis websites and software is in the level of features each has to offer: Software-based technical analysis applications largely dwarf the Web-based services. Most of the services discussed in this comparison offer the basic technical analysis features—mainly, charting and the ability to overlay technical indicators and drawing tools. However, you will find that the online libraries of technical indicators are often less robust than what you would find with technical analysis software, although the gap has been narrowing over the years.
Beyond carrying a larger array of technical indicators, some of the more advanced technical analysis programs on the market today allow users to create and save their own technical indicators. This is a feature lacking in the online services highlighted here as well as in the expanded comparison grid.
At the highest end of the technical analysis software spectrum you will find programs offering trading systems, something not found with any of the Web-based services highlighted here or in the expanded comparison grid. A trading system is an indicator or set of indicators used to identify buy and sell points for a security; users can also backtest these systems to gauge their historical profitability. Furthermore, most of these same programs allow you to create and backtest your own technical trading systems.
While there is a distinct difference in the level and complexity of online offerings compared to software-based technical analysis and charting services, it does not necessarily follow that software rules supreme. Web-based services do hold some distinct advantages over software, mainly with respect to the delivery and pricing of data. When looking for a technical analysis program, there are typically two decisions to make. The first and most obvious is choosing the program itself; the second, often overlooked, is selecting a data vendor. Online services, on the other hand, usually offer end-of-day data at no cost. Therefore, you can begin your analysis without having to download data or subscribe to a historical data service.
Software-based technical analysis can carry price tags ranging from $100 for a “low-end” end-of-day program to over $1,000 for a high-end, real-time program. The additional cost of data can range from $15 per month for historical end-of-day data to over $100 per month and higher for real-time data delivery (excluding exchange fees). Among our top picks of online choices, only BigCharts.com does not have any fee-based offerings.
The question then becomes: Which route should you go?
If you are new to technical analysis, or are only looking for simple charting and analysis on an end-of-day basis, a Web-based service is probably your best choice. For technical analysis neophytes, there are enough high-quality Web-based services available to avoid making the financial commitment to software and data. In addition, some sites—such as StockCharts.com—offer an extensive collection of educational content to expand your knowledge of technical analysis.
In the end, if you have no desire to create your own indicators or create and backtest technical trading systems, a Web-based service should offer everything you need. On the other hand, if you want robust technical analysis capabilities, including custom indicators and trading systems, chances are that only a software-based application will satisfy your needs. If you want to learn more about software-based technical analysis tools, the comparison in the First Quarter 2010 issue of Computerized Investing is available in our archives.
When it comes to software, your choice of either the Windows or Mac operating system (OS) will impact the options available to you. For the most part, websites are “OS neutral,” meaning you can access and use a site whether you are on a Windows or Mac OS system. We visited each of our top picks as well as the services in the expanded comparison grid using Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.5 and found no significant differences in functionality between these operating systems.
Your choice of Web browser can also affect your ability to get the most from certain websites. Many sites are optimized for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser. While other browsers will allow you to view most of these websites, there are some exceptions. We visited each of the sites in this comparison using some of today’s popular Web browsers—Chrome 8.0, Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla FireFox 3.6, Opera 10.63 and Safari 5. Within the individual write-ups of our top picks we note any differences in experience we had. The expanded comparison grid also notes any browser requirements provided by the respective sites.
Our last comparison of technical analysis and charting websites, which ran in the March/April 2009 issue of Computerized Investing, listed Prophet.net as one of our top picks. Since then, the site was purchased by Investools and folded into their suite of fee-based services. In its place, we have once again made long-time favorite BigCharts.com an Editor’s Choice.
The comparison grid on pages 24 and 25 examines the features and functions found with a typical Web-based technical analysis service. Keep in mind that websites frequently undergo changes, so it is always a good idea to confirm pricing and functionality before subscribing.
Most of our readers track indexes, stocks, mutual funds, or exchange-traded funds; each of our top picks offers U.S. and international coverage of stocks and indexes, as well as U.S. exchange-traded funds and closed-end funds. In addition, FreeStockCharts.com and BigCharts.com follow currencies.
Technical analysis can be performed on an end-of-day, intraday delayed, or real-time basis.
End-of-day charts require, at most, five pieces of data for each trading day—the opening, high, low and closing price for the day along with the total trading volume for the day. This data can also be used to plot charts covering long periods, such as weeks, months or years. All of our top picks offer data on an end-of-day basis.
Intraday delayed charts plot data during the course of the trading day using time increments of one minute, five minutes, 15 minutes or longer, but the most recent price information is delayed (usually by 15 – 20 minutes). Only those securities priced throughout the trading day have intraday data available (mutual funds are typically priced once a day after the market closes and, therefore, do not have intraday pricing). The delay allows the site to avoid paying exchange fees for real-time data. Again, all of our top picks offer charting on an intraday basis.
Real-time data is the timeliest data available and represents an attempt to capture the latest price at which a security has traded.
||MarketWatch, Inc.||Worden Brothers||StockCharts.com|
Subscription Price (may not include add'l exchange fees, when applicable)
||free||free; TeleChart Gold, $29.99/mo.; TeleChart Platinum, $89.99/mo. (www.worden.com/order)||free; Basic, $14.95/mo.; Extra!, $24.95/mo.;|
||Worked with Safari 5, FireFox 3.6, Chrome 8.0, and IE 8.0||Worked with Safari 5, FireFox 3.6, Chrome 8.0, and IE 8.0||Worked with Safari 5, FireFox 3.6, Chrome 8.0, and IE 8.0|
||U.S. & international; stocks, ETFs, mutual funds,||U.S. & Canadian stocks; U.S. pink sheets &||U.S. & Canadian stocks; U.S. ETFs,|
|indexes, currencies, DJ industry groups||BB stocks; indexes; ETFs; mutual funds; forex||mutual funds, indexes|
||Data Provider(s)||Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones & Co, Comstock||BATS Trading||Thomson Reuters; IDC/Comstock|
|Data Type(s) Used||intraday delayed, end-of-day||streaming intraday delayed & real-time||BATS "real-time" (non-ExtraRT!); non-streaming real-time (ExtraRT!)|
1, 5, 15 & 60 minutes; daily; weekly;
monthly; quarterly; annual
1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 30, 60, 120 & 240 minutes;
1-10 days; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual
|free: daily, weekly; premium: 1, 5,|
|10, 15, 30 & 60 minutes; daily; weekly; monthly|
||indexes from 1976, equities & mutual||indexes from 1915, stocks from 1984,||3 years (free); indexes from 1980,|
|funds from 1976; currencies from 1971||mutual funds & ETFs from 1988||stocks from 1985, mutual funds from 1990 (premium)|
|Data Export Formats||ASCII text||premium (2 months Basic, 2 years Extra!)|
||Popular Chart Types||bar, line, candlestick (7 in all)||bar, line, candlestick (7 in all)||bar, line, candlestick, point & figure, equivolume (18 in all)|
Multiple Chart Timeframes
1, 2, 5 & 10 days; 1, 2, 3 & 6 months;
YTD; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 10 years; all data
|day; week; 1, 3 & 6 months; YTD; 1 & 5 years||1, 3 & 6 months, 1, 2 & 3 years;|
|1, 2, 5, & 10 days; intraday (premium)|
|Custom Timeframes||yes (advanced & interactive charting)||yes||yes|
|Scaling (Linear, Log)||yes||yes||yes|
|Max. Securities Per Chart||unlimited||1||2 (free); 4 (Basic); 6 (Extra!)|
|Save Chart Settings (Chart Templates)||yes||yes||yes (premium only)|
Indicators & Line Studies
||# of Predefined Indicators/Studies||30+||80+||40+|
Complete List of Indicators
|Customize/Modify Existing Indicators||yes (moving averages only)||yes||yes|
|User-Drawn Trendlines||yes (interactive charts)||yes||yes (w/annotate function)|
|Max. Indicators Per Chart||1 (basic); unlimited (advanced & interactive)||unlimited||3 (free); 4 (Basic); 6 (Extra!)|
||NYSE, NASDAQ and Amex exchanges||
free: S&P 400 & 600 stocks, DJ utility, transportation
& industrial indexes; Gold: U.S. & Canadian common
& preferred; Morningstar industry groups; ETF families
|U.S & Canadian stocks; U.S. mutual funds,|
|Create Custom Screens||yes||yes (Basic & Extra!)|
|# of Data Fields for Technical Screening||25||130+|
|Save Custom Screens||yes||yes (Extra!)|
|# of Predefined Technical Screens||12 BigReports||65+ (free), 80+ (premium)|
|Indicator Interpretation Help||yes||yes|
|Technical Analysis Education||yes|
real-time data in two ways. The first is “static” real-time data, meaning you must manually refresh the chart to capture the latest price. The other is streaming charts, which automatically update as new price data becomes available (data can also be streamed on a delayed basis). FreeStockCharts.com offers streaming, real-time charts. However, the real-time quotes are based on trades placed through BATS, an exchange founded in 2005 that currently does about 10% of the trading volume in the U.S. (ranking it third behind the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ). The data in FreeStockCharts.com that is less than 15 minutes old only consists of the trades reported by BATS trading. All data more than 15 minutes old is complete data from all the exchanges. This allows FreeStockCharts.com to offer free real-time streaming charts to non–investment professionals.
StockCharts.com also offers BATS real-time data to those not subscribing to its ExtraRT! service. Otherwise, you will be getting “real” real-time data. However, the site does not offer streaming charts at any level.
One advantage Web-based technical analysis and charting services have over software is that there is no need to accumulate a historical database in order to plot securities. However, this does put you at the mercy of the individual service as to how much historical data is offered. The amount of historical data provided by the services discussed in this article varies greatly. Users of StockCharts.com free charts have access to only three years of data, while BigCharts.com provides over 30 years of index and stock data on their charts (provided the security has been trading that long).
More and more, people are looking for free sources of price and volume data for use in spreadsheets and other programs. One way to obtain this data is by exporting it from an online source. The variety of exporting formats includes Excel spreadsheet, ASCII text format, and XML (Extensible Markup Language). Among our top picks, only Free StockCharts.com offers true data exporting. StockCharts.com offers two months of data to free users and two years to subscribers. However, the data is in a tabular format that you need to copy and then paste into an spreadsheet or into a text document.
Technical analysis primarily deals with the graphical representation of price and volume data, so most of your analysis will revolve around a price chart. The most common types of charts are line, bar and candlestick charts; all of our top picks offer these chart types.
Point & figure charts are based solely on price movement that does not take time into consideration. StockCharts.com is the only top pick offering these unique charts. For an explanation of how to use point and figure charts, see the Feature article in the July/August 2003 Computerized Investing, available in our archives.
Depending on the service, you might choose among a variety of time periods to chart a security or you may be able to specify the exact period you want charted—for example, one year, five years or 10 years. For an even greater level of flexibility, you may also be able to specify the exact period you wish to appear on a chart. All of our top picks allow users to specify the charted time period.
When viewing price data, two types of scales can be used—linear and log. Most of the charts you see are probably on a linear scale, where there is an equal distance between price points—the space between $1 and $2 is the same as the space between $100 and $101.
With log scaling, there is an equal amount of space between equal percent changes in price. In other words, the space between $5.00 and $10.00 is the same as the distance between $100 and $200, since in both cases the percentage change is 100%. Log scales are especially useful when viewing data over a long historical period. All three of our top picks offer log scaling for their charts.
The ability to specify and save certain settings is an extremely useful feature found with more and more websites. All of our top picks allow users to specify such information as the time period, periodicity (daily, weekly, etc.) and chart type, as well as any applied indicators (however, StockCharts.com only offers this with its premium services). The service saves your choices so you can view charts with the same settings on subsequent visits. All you need to do is choose a security, and the “template” automatically displays the chart for you in the desired manner.
A technical indicator is the mathematical manipulation of price or volume displayed in a graphical manner, such as a 50-day moving average or stochastics.
The number and type of indicators provided are important factors to consider when deciding upon a Web-based service. Beyond merely the number of indicators a site provides, you should make sure that any service you are considering includes the type of indicators important to your analysis. Taking a moment to consider your needs will be helpful in assessing the number of indicators you will require from a service.
Beyond a set of predefined indicators, the ability to modify indicators to fit your individual trading needs is a useful feature. Modifications allow you to adjust factors, such as the number of time periods used in a calculation. For example, 50-day and 200-day moving averages are two of the most commonly used indicators. However, depending on your trading style, the behavior of the underlying security you are analyzing, or market conditions, you may want to vary the period length. Our three top picks allow you to modify all of the indicators in their respective libraries. However, BigCharts.com only allows users to modify the time periods of moving averages.
Finally, many users of technical analysis follow more than one indicator. They track the behavior of multiple indicators in conjunction with one another to make buy and sell decisions. For this reason, it is convenient to have the ability to plot multiple indicators on the same screen. This may entail either plotting indicators on the same price chart or having them plotted in their own “window” below the primary price chart. All of our top picks allow you to plot multiple indicators.
In the comparison grid here and the expanded one online, we offer links to the listing of indicators each site provides.
One of the main functions of technical analysis is to identify trends in price and volume in the hopes of forecasting future price movement. Trendlines, which are lines used to connect two or more points on a chart, are a useful tool to this end.
Many sites go beyond static Web display pages to load actual programs within your browser that can manipulate data. Sun’s Java and Microsoft’s ActiveX are the two most popular Web-distributed programming languages. Java and ActiveX technology have enabled charts to become more interactive—for example, by allowing users to draw their own trendlines on charts. Each of our top picks offers interactive chart features that include user-drawn trendlines.
Some investors seek out securities exhibiting specific technical behavior—price above or below a 50-day or 200-day moving average, overbought or oversold price in terms of various indicator values, or a price chart that exhibits some pattern such as a double-bottom. In this comparison, BigCharts.com and StockCharts.com offer predefined (“canned”) or custom scanning or screening based on price movement, indicator values, and/or chart patterns. The filters range from basic predefined scans looking for stocks reaching new highs or new lows or those making the largest percentage moves for the day to stocks with charts exhibiting common candlestick or point & figure patterns and advanced custom searches or screens.
In order to allow you to share your charts with others, some services allow you to e-mail charts or links to charts. All three of our top picks deliver charts via e-mail or allow you to e-mail links to a given chart.
The biggest mistake an individual can make is to try to use technical analysis to make investment decisions without fully understanding it. The quality and amount of technical analysis educational material available at the top websites varies greatly. StockCharts.com offers some of the most comprehensive educational resources, all of which are also free.
BigCharts.com has been a long-time stalwart among technical analysis and charting sites, consistently ranking among the most popular online charting services. This free site blends together free charting, a library of key technical indicators, market and company news, historical quotes, and industry analysis.
BigCharts.com offers users several charting options: quick charts, advanced charts and interactive Java charts.
With quick charts, you enter a ticker symbol and specify the timeframe to generate a chart. Quick charts do not support the plotting of multiple securities simultaneously, and the indicators and studies automatically drawn with the chart are those saved in the chart settings.
The advanced charts provide additional features. You have the option of selecting a predefined time period or specifying a custom time period. Intraday data is available in one-, five-, 15- and 60-minute increments; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly frequencies are also offered. With each chart, you can select from a library of over 30 technical indicators and studies—including stochastics, relative strength index RSI, Bollinger bands, and the MACD (moving average convergence/divergence). Perhaps the only negative attribute of the entire site is the inability to modify the parameters of technical indicators. Users can only alter the time periods of moving averages displayed on their charts.
There are also seven options for chart type, including open, high, low, close; high, low, close; candlesticks; and bar charts. Depending on the security or index you choose, data is available going back to 1976. Once you have made your setting choices, you can save them for future use.
With the site’s interactive Java charts, you can plot a variety of time frames, although you do not have the ability to plot a custom time frame as you do with the advanced charts. You have the same collection of indicators from which to choose and, again, you are only able to modify the moving averages. The most useful feature of the Java charts is the ability to draw custom trendlines.
For historical quotes, you specify a ticker and date and BigCharts.com provides the open, high, low and closing prices, as well as the volume for that date. However, you cannot view data for a range of dates or export historical data.
BigCharts.com has the ability to deliver custom charts to users via e-mail on a daily or weekly basis, or when viewing a chart through your browser. Both options require that the recipient of the charts have HTML-enabled e-mail software.
The site also offers 12 BigReport “scans” that identify U.S. and Canadian stocks with the largest percentage changes in price or volume, as well as the most active stocks and those reaching 52-week highs or lows.
BigChart.com’s solid collection of free charting capabilities makes it an excellent choice for beginner and intermediate technicians.
The FreeStockCharts.com is a relative newcomer to the technical analysis and charting arena, yet it offers an impressive array of tools. Developed by Worden Brothers, the company behind the TeleChart2000 technical analysis and charting software, the site is unique in that it offers totally free streaming “real-time” charts of indexes, stocks and ETFs, without exchange fees. It does this by providing real-time data from the BATS exchange. Any data that is less than 15 minutes old comes from BATS, while data older than 15 minutes is filled in using complete exchange data. It is worth noting that the “real-time” data being displayed on the charts may differ from what you would see elsewhere, especially for stocks that are not actively traded. Furthermore, you may choose to display volume activity either for trades placed with BATS only or using an approximate total volume.
For charting purposes, FreeStockCharts.com offers line, bar and candlestick charts. You can plot charts on an intraday basis as well as on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. The site also boasts one of the larger indicator libraries available online: There are over 80 technical indicators, all of which you can modify to your needs. You can also draw your own trendlines.
Registered users can create chart layouts and save them for future use. A layout consists of the underlying symbol and any desired indicators. Once you save a layout you can access your pre-configured charts from any computer.
There are also built-in watchlists covering indexes, industries and ETFs. For example, you can click on the NASDAQ 100 Component Stock watchlist or see all of the stocks that make up the PowerShares QQQ Trust ETF). Users can also create and save their own watchlists.
The site offers free technical screening, but only for stocks in the S&P 400 and 600 indexes as well as those in the Dow Jones industrial, transportation and utility averages. A gold subscription, which costs $29.99 a month, allows you to screen on U.S. and Canadian common and preferred stocks, Morningstar industry groups, and ETF families.
Finally, the site offers streaming real-time news items.
While free streaming real-time charts are an attractive feature, the impressive collection of technical indicators, watchlists and real-time news are what make FreeStockCharts.com an Editor’s Choice.
StockCharts.com is our third Editor’s Choice for top technical analysis websites. It is one of the most well-rounded sites of its type, offering robust charting and scanning capabilities, as well as a rich collection of technical analysis educational content. The site offers free content as well as fee-based subscriptions ranging from $14.95 to $34.90 per month.
For charting, StockCharts.com offers one of the best collections of charts available on the Internet. The site features line, bar and candlestick charting, as well as three options for point & figure charting. In point & figure charts, the site automatically displays pattern alerts. The site offers over 40 technical indicators and line studies. Non-subscribers can only plot three indicators at a time, while premium users can plot either fouror six (Extra! and ExtraRT!) indicators on a single chart. Subscribers and non-subscribers alike can modify the parameters of the technical indicators as well as dictate the time frame charted. Subscribers can save charts to a favorites list for future analysis and save their chart settings. The site’s free charting service displays data on either a daily or a weekly basis. However, only three years of historical data is available to non-subscribers. A subscription is required to chart intraday data; real-time charting, albeit not streaming, is available for $34.90 per month. Even if you are not an Extra! subscriber, you still get “real-time” data courtesy of the BATS exchange.
StockCharts.com offers a collection of stock scans that allows users to apply technical formulas to a stock universe to receive a listing of stocks that meet those criteria. Non-subscribers can run predefined end-of-day scans based upon technical indicators as well as candlestick and point & figure patterns. The site screens stocks traded on the NASDAQ, NYSE, Amex, and Canadian exchanges. Mutual fund scans are available as well.
For $14.95 per month, Basic subscribers are given the limited ability to create but not save their own screens and can only view up to 10 results per scan. Both Basic and Extra! members have over 130 technical fields at their disposal when creating their own scans. Basic members use a watered-down screening module, which allows for scanning on up to four predefined chart patterns and technical indicators at a time. With an Extra! membership ($24.95/mo.), you can scan on an intraday basis and access an advanced user interface to enter in your own scanning expressions. Extra! subscribers can also create custom scans and view all the results of a scan (up to 1,000 symbols).
If you want to learn more about technical analysis, extensive educational content is available in the ChartSchool section of StockCharts.com. Articles cover the basics of investing and technical analysis, as well as trading strategies and how to use technical indicators. A discussion of charts explains the common patterns that appear on charts and how to interpret them.
While StockCharts.com offers some of the more robust collections of charts types, indicators and technical screening and scanning capabilities, what really sets it apart is its collection of free educational content. Anyone looking to learn more about charting and technical analysis would be well served by visiting this site.