Comparison: Comprehensive Investment Web Sites
by John Bajkowski
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.
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.
In this article
- Monitoring Your Portfolio
- News Updates
- Message Areas
- Fundamental Analysis
- Technical Analysis
- Mutual Funds
- Analyzing Your Goals
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|SERVICES OFFERED BY THE SITE|
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. The fees indicated are monthly.
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 you to unbalanced portfolio positions. 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 based on factors such as asset allocation, industry concentration, and company market capitalization breakdown.
The portfolio monitoring segment of the comparison grid helps to quantify some of the key elements involved in keeping track of a portfolio.
The services provide a price snapshot that can 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.
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. Therefore, it is 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 Market Wire or BusinessWire; 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 is taking place. 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 any 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.
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 are also becoming more common, and these functions are 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.
|THE COMPREHENSIVE SITES|
Business Week Online
Business Week Online combines elements of the Business Week publication, Standard & Poors data and analysis, and financial data and tools from Telescan and Zacks. Business Week Online is primarily a free site that also provides enhanced reports for subscribers to Business Week magazine.
The site features domestic and global news covering current market, economic, and political news. 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, which also runs the Wall Street City site. The portfolio manager allows users to track 25 portfolios of 150 securities each, as well as track a separate cash balance. Portfolios are updated automatically every two minutes, and free E-mail alerts are triggered by price targets. End-of-day portfolio E-mail updates are also available.
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 Tools & Scoreboards 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. Screening results feature a backtested performance report of the strategy. The screening editor is basic, but covers the major elements used for screening.
The mutual fund screening is powered by Standard & Poors Micropal database. It features 30 screenable fields, and up to five columns of data can be used for sorting the results. The screening interface comes with a nice add another row feature for each of its screenable fields which allows users to create screens that encompass a range of analysis periods.
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.
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 is a good site for keeping up to date on your portfolio and the market as a whole. 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.
This site combines editorial content from CNN and Money Magazine with the usual array of on-line portfolio tracking and analysis tools.
CNN/Money does of good job of keeping its users abreast of the news impacting the markets. The portfolio tracker is basic but adequate and includes ties to market and news E-mail alerts. Beyond press releases, the news service highlights news from Dow Jones, CNN, Money and Fortune.
CNN/Money does not offer a stock screener, but does feature a few predefined lists of hot stocks. Company reports cover all of the basics, although navigation between research sections for a given stock can be a bit clumsy.
The mutual fund screener allows for comparison against benchmarks including constant values, other mutual funds, or indexes. Screens can be constructed using criteria encompassing elements such as performance, risk, categorization, and costs. Morningstar mutual fund reports do a good job of fulfilling individual fund research. The site also features a wide array of calculators that deal with issues such as retirement planning, asset allocation, and mortgage refinancing.
CNBC on MSN Money
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 tool is quite different and less useful 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, Reuters, 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, a more basic Web-based screening module is displayed.
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.
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.com 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 present 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.
Kiplinger.com combines the editorial content of Kiplingers Personal Finance magazine with investment research tools from Thomson Finance. Kiplinger.com is a comprehensive investment Web site providing portfolio management, quotes, news, stock and mutual fund data, screening tools, and investment education.
Kiplinger.coms portfolio tracker allows users to create an unlimited number of portfolios with up to 100 securities in each. The tracker handles stocks and mutual funds. Kiplinger.com automatically adjusts the number of shares held and initial transaction price when stock splits occur. The tracker also offers an option for automatic reinvestment of dividends. With this option, additional shares will appear in the transaction history for your security each time a dividend is reported. Another nice option is the tracking of recurring investments that are made on the same day each month for the same dollar amount: Recurring investments can be automatically entered on the specified day each month, using that days closing net asset value. The portfolio tracker is set up to automatically refresh every five minutes. You can set your own preference to update data at any interval from five to 60 minutes.
The Kiplingers stock screener is simple but the individual company reports are very detailed, 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. Kiplinger.com is a source of in-depth stock and fund information.
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. While most of the site is free, Morningstar provides additional portfolio analysis, research and screening through its premium service for $12.95 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 500 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 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 in the process of changing from a free, stand-alone investment Web site to an on-line extension of its popular personal finance software program—Quicken. Many proprietary Quicken tools are disappearing and being replaced with investment tools from Yahoo! Finance. Past users of Quicken.com have the option of buying or registering a recent copy of Quicken to continue using the Web site, or migrating their portfolio to Yahoo! Finance.
Registered Quicken.com users gain access to tools such as Quickens One-Click ScoreCard, a retirement planner, and the stock and mutual fund evaluator. Registered users can track their portfolio on-line and maintain watchlists and on-line alerts, but E mail alerts and the enhanced on-line portfolio tool are no longer available. Quicken.coms standard on-line portfolio manger tracks 50 portfolios with 100 securities per portfolio. Portfolios can consist of stocks, mutual funds, and bonds. A cash balance can be monitored right next to your securities.
The site includes all the basic tools required to research companies, including quotes, news, portfolio tracking, company fundamentals, links to full SEC filings, insider transactions, and analyst ratings and earnings estimates. The site presents available information for each stock and mutual fund clearly.
SmartMoney.com 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, 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.
SmartMoney.com includes fee-based options under the Select name. These segments offer additional analysis and commentary, fund and stock screening, real-time quotes, and portfolio tracking. Daily and weekly E-mail updates provide a handy notice of new articles posted to the Web site.
The SmartMoney Stock Screener has a database of over 9,000 NYSE, Nasdaq, and Amex stocks. Subscribers can choose from over 140 screening variables. The screener is interactive and allows users to see the impact of filter modifications. Screening criteria can be compared against fixed variables, other fields, and industry and index benchmarks. Custom screens can be saved for future use. Once you run a screen, you can create a spreadsheet and download a report on the passing companies.
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.
TheStreet.com is a news and research Web site known for its opinionated stock and market commentary. The main site is free—complete with market news, and stock and mutual fund research tools, but companion fee-based sites are also offered with additional commentary and information.
TheStreet.coms home page provides links to a rich array of market news stories, a directory of market commentaries and current personal finance articles, links to research tools, as well as links to the other sites within TheStreet.coms empire. There is a strong emphasis on market movements, stocks in the news, and sectors to watch.
The Research/Tools section has all the features and functions of any standard investment Web site: portfolio tracking, quotes for stocks and funds, company reports, news, and financials for stocks, performance reports for funds, and an interactive charting module from BigCharts.com. A stock research subsection provides earnings estimates data, consensus broker recommendations, institutional ownership numbers, insider trading activity, and reported short interest.
A tool to track your securities is free, but the full-featured portfolio management tool is $14.95 per month and includes access to real-time data.
TheStreet.com boasts about the speed and time in which news and data is presented on the site. The subscription-based RealMoney.com takes this issue of timeliness to a whole new level. The real of this sites name refers to real-time updating. The real-time aspect is evident in the commentaries and the frequency of data updates. RealMoney.com includes all that TheStreet.com offers plus some additional features and special perks. Geared toward active individual investors, all commentaries listed on TheStreet.com are released first on the RealMoney site. E-mail alerts are also available with a subscription to RealMoney.com. These alerts highlight breaking news, new articles, and commentaries. A monthly subscription to RealMoney runs $24.95.
Wall Street City
Wall Street City is a comprehensive investment Web site that offers a wide selection of data analysis tools. 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.
Wall Street Journal Interactive
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. Links to services that require separate subscription, such as the Wall Street Journal Interactive, are marked with dollar signs. Fundamental stock data comes from EDGAR Online and Market Guide, while Thomson provides earnings estimates and brokerage recommendations. Even data on insider transactions from Vickers Stock Research is available for free. Yahoo Finance! offers real-time charting, unlimited portfolio tracking, and screening for $9.95 per month.
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 tracking your portfolio and performing basic company research.