Comparison: Comprehensive Web Sites
by Cara Scatizzi
Comprehensive investment Web sites offer a variety of financial statistics and tools to assist investors in security selection, research, and monitoring in one location. Portfolio management and analysis tools, market and economic news, stock and mutual fund data, interactive charting, stock and mutual fund screening tools, message boards, and financial planning tools are typical offerings of these sites. Some sites allow access to all areas for free, and others charge a monthly fee for premium features and more detailed financial data.
The sites in this comparison offer a wide range of data and tools, some have a greater emphasis in a particular area such as mutual funds or market news and analysis. Individual needs and preferences will dictate which sites are best for you.
Services Offered by the Sites
The comparison grid on pages 14 to 17 covers six basic areasportfolio monitoring, fundamental stock analysis, technical analysis, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), 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. 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 more 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 only obtaining current quotes and the market value of their holdings. A more advanced system will display current news on securities in your portfolio, follow the activity of the financial markets, and analyze your holdings based on factors such as asset allocations, 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 your securities purchase prices, allowing the portfolio value and gain or loss to be tracked. Some also send portfolio price updates via E-mail. To learn more about the specific features of on-line portfolio managers, see the Comparison in the July/August 2006 issue of Computerized Investing [archived Comparisons can be found on our Web site at www.computerizedinvesting.com].
In addition to tracking your portfolios 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 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. Too many news services can result in duplication of information.
Each site offers newswires of varying levels of detail and frequency, some at different subscription rates. Investors must manage these news services according to their investing 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 archive length 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 posters 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.
Message boards can be a good resource for identifying some of the factors driving a companys 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 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 companys fundamentals is critical before making an investment decision. This process is becoming increasingly easier, cheaper, and more powerful through many Web sites. Most of the comprehensive on-line services offer financial statements, earnings estimates, and company and industry analysis; some even offer 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 for real-time quotes. 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 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 a securitys 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 sites 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 fund information. Most of the sites provide basic performance figures and benchmark data for comparison. Screening modules and the ability to rank funds are useful tools and are noted in the comparison grid.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have exploded in popularity over the past few years. An ETF is a mutual fund that trades on an exchange like a stock. As ETFs have gained popularity, Web sites have begun to add tracking programs, statistics, screeners and analysis for these unique securities.
In last years comparison, we added ETF data to our comparison chart, denoting which sites offered any kind of ETF data. This year, our expanded ETF data section notes how many ETFs are in the sites database, how many statistics on each ETF are available, whether a site has an ETF screener and how many criteria it has for screening and ranking.
In addition to stock and mutual fund data, portfolio monitoring tools and up-to-date news stories, some sites offer data on initial public offerings (IPO) and stock options. An IPO is the first offering of a companys stock in the marketplace. A little over half of the sites provide IPO data, and some of thesesuch as Yahoo! Financehave entire sections devoted to these unique offerings.
Thanks to the popularity of the iPod and Apples 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. Topics run the gamut from market news and world events to sports and entertainment. Most podcasts are free and can be downloaded using various media players including iTunes, Windows Media Player, and RealPlayer.
Another somewhat 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 a Web-content syndication format used to deliver constantly updated headline feeds to readers. Most feeds deliver headlines, descriptions, and links to current stories on the Web site. Its 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. 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 matchthe cost of this mismatch will eat up profits.
Since last years comparison, we have dropped coverage of BusinessWeek.com and Kiplinger.com since these sites no longer offer a one-stop shop for investors. BusinessWeeks site does not offer a portfolio tracking tool, and the amount of mutual fund data and the usefulness of the fund screening tool have declined since last year. Also, data on exchange-traded funds is lacking and the sites stock data and screening tool can be found on other comprehensive sites. While Kiplingers.com offers great editorial content related to its print magazine, the site no longer offers financial statement data on stocks, the portfolio tracker is very limited and the fund screener offers only a small number of screening and ranking criteria and limited flexibility.
The Comprehensive Sites
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 simplisticoffering the latest stock price, the days percentage change, current market values and 52-week highs and lowsbut it is adequate for simply following a portfolios movements. An unlimited number of stocks can be tracked in a portfolio. No real-time quotes are provided, but prices can be updated automatically with delayed data or by a manual refresh. CNNMoney sends E-mail alerts with price, volume or news stories relating to keywords that you choose.
CNNMoneys mutual fund screener is one of the most basic in the comparison, offering only 11 data fields for screening and ranking and about 9,000 funds in its database. It can, however, be useful for initial fund screening. Fund data covers valuations, ratings and risk, statistics on fund managers, fees and expenses, and comparison charts. The sites ETF section has been beefed up to include over 500 ETFs with over 50 data points on each. An ETF screener has only six screening criteria, of which you can only use one at a time. Criteria are based on asset class, sector, style, region, sponsor, and market capitalization.
CNNMoney 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, including financial statements, risk measures, graphs, price history, and earnings estimates.
CNNMoney also offers several free podcasts and message boards. Charts include multiple technical indicators and historical prices date back to 1972. A personal finance section offers tools, articles and advice on retirement planning, saving for college, tax preparation, and much more.
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 commentariessome from its magazine, others written specifically for the Web site.
Forbes has a free portfolio management tool called Quotestream, accessible after site registration. It is Java-based and offers delayed, but automatically updated, price and volume data as well as various performance numbers. You can view technical analysis charts, link to news stories on the securities in your portfolio, and view stock options. Forbes increased the number of securities you can add to each portfolio from 25 to 50. An unlimited number of portfolios can be created 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 fund criterion unique to this screener is the Forbes rating. Forbes also provides Lipper ratings. Sample screens help beginning investors understand the screening process and build custom screens. There is no stock screener.
The sites fundamental data on stocks is lacking, with minimal ratios and company news. However, when using the Quotestream portfolio tracker, you can access downloadable historical price data, SEC filings, five years of financial statements, options data, and insider information from QuoteMedia.
Technical analysis charts via Quotestream go back 10 years, while the Forbes site offers five years of charting. The site does not offer podcasts, message boards, or data on IPOs. Last year, Forbes had no ETF data; this year the site offers limited data on a small number of ETFs, but has no screening tool. Articles about ETF investing make up the majority of this section of the site.
The Java-based portfolio manager adds to the sites article archives and real-time data offerings, making it an improved one-stop shop Web site.
MarketWatch.com is a good site to find news on individual stocks and the market as a whole as well as track your stock and mutual fund portfolios. E-mail alerts regarding portfolio news, price targets and volume information make tracking a portfolio simple. The site provides automatic but delayed price and volume updates on all securities and portfolios. Over 200 statistics are available for each stockincluding earnings estimates, insider information, stock option data, and four years of financial statements. The new Java-based interactive technical charts include 10 years of price and volume data, various technical indicators and the ability to compare multiple securities and indexes.
The stock and mutual fund screeners are free, but lack sophistication, with only 11 criteria for stocks and three for mutual funds. You cannot rank the outcome of screens. Lists of top- and bottom-performing funds, a fund compare tool, Lipper ratings and over 50 fund statistics add to the sites mutual fund offerings.
New to the site is an ETF screener with over 300 ETFs in the database. There are 14 criteria for screening and four for ranking. Each ETF has over 25 data fields, including performance data and charts.
An IPO section offers helpful investing tips, pricing information and market news. Historical price data, message boards and podcasts are also available. New to the site is an options section for stocks.
MarketWatch introduced a new portfolio tracker that is still in beta testing, but available for use. You can access the old portfolio tracker or migrate your portfolios to the new tool. While the new tool looks more advanced, the major changes include more colorful tables, links to the new Java-based charts and recent news stories for each individual security, and graphical (rather than numeric) presentation of current price, volume and trading data. While both portfolio tracking tools are 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 portfolio E-mail alerts and the wide variety of news stories.
Morningstar.com provides most of its financial data and tools, including portfolio tracking, stock and fund screening, market research, message boards and news articles, for free. Advanced portfolio analysis, screening tools and analyst research are available to premium members for $15.95 per month.
Both the premium and free portfolio trackers handle 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 Microsoft Money or Quicken. Data must be refreshed manually and real-time data is not provided. For premium subscribers, the X-Ray Overview tab analyzes your portfolios asset allocation, diversification, and interest rate sensitivity, and provides various ratios such as the price-earnings ratio, price-to-book ratio, return on assets and return on equity. Asset allocation is also compared to the overall market and advice is given on how to better balance the portfolio with a projection on how it might fare in current market conditions.
The premium stock screener is highly flexible and offers over 450 criteria for screening, while the basic screener has only 18. Criteria can be set to user-defined numbers as well as benchmarks and industry averages. Research on individual stocks includes Morningstar research reports (free for premium users; $10 per report for others) and over 800 data fields that include valuation and other ratios, 10 years of financial statements, charts, performance, SEC filings and insider ownership. Current news stories from multiple sources are also available.
The free fund screener has 18 criteria for screening while premium subscribers have access to a fund screener with over 100 data fields for screening. The premium stock and fund screeners both allow results to be saved.
Mutual fund data consists of over 200 data points including performance data for the past seven years, comparisons to benchmarks and other funds, risk measures and Morningstar ratings.
Free interactive charts date back to 1984, and technical indicators can only be used on stocks. Morningstar provides message boards but no podcasts. A section devoted to ETFs includes a free ETF screener with eight fields for screening and over 25 for ranking. There are over 500 ETFs in the database and over 100 data points on each ETF.
A section devoted to IPO data and a new section that teaches the basics of options investing round out the offerings of the site.
Morningstars premium membership provides investors with a unique set of analysis tools as well as sophisticated screening and tracking tools. The sites free offerings are limited, but could prove useful for initial screening and research.
Microsoft and CNBC have parted ways since our last comparison of comprehensive sites, but the MSN Money site is unchanged and can fulfill most of your investing needs for free. The site offers news stories from multiple sources as well as charts, educational articles, stock and mutual fund research, and portfolio tracking.
A sophisticated portfolio tracking program is downloaded via Active X and is compatible only with Windows operating systems (2000 or later) and Internet Explorer. The program can track stocks, bonds, funds, ETFs, options and futures, and can monitor cash balances. Displays can be refreshed manually at any time or automatically with slightly delayed market data. No real-time data is offered through the portfolio tracker.
Customizable displays and a multitude of sorting techniques allow each investor to 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 Active X and compatible with only Windows 2000 or higher and Internet Explorer. With over 12,500 funds in its database and over 70 screening criteria, the deluxe fund screener is a highly sophisticated free screening tool that will satisfy most investors needs. There are also over 200 data points on each fund. The stock screener has over 190 criteria for screening including earnings estimates, insider holdings, financial data, and risk measures. Over 1,000 statistics on individual stocks are provided. Both programs are highly flexible and easy to navigate. Technical charts date back as far as 1962. Chart data, stock and fund screening results, and portfolio tracking data can all be exported to Excel.
The site includes IPO data and message boards, but no podcasts. A section devoted to ETFs is relatively new and very sparse. With no ETF screener and only about 50 data points on each fund, this section of MSN Money pales in comparison to the ETF offerings on other Web sites and to the offerings for other securities on this site.
MSN Money offers an impressive set of free stock and fund research and portfolio tracking tools. A downfall of this site, however, is that Macintosh users or those who use a browser other than Internet Explorer (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; stock, mutual fund and ETF screening; and a wide array of stock data. Although the portfolio section of the site is more primitive than others, it works for basic portfolio management.
The site offers a simplistic portfolio tracking tool that allows up to 25 securities in up to 10 portfolios. Price data is not automatically updated, and no real-time data is offered. You can choose from four preset views that show performance, valuation, fundamentals, and the days action. Portfolios can be exported and can show security prices and portfolio values in currencies other than U.S. dollars. There are no E-mail alerts.
A free mutual fund screener has 17 fields for screening and ranking and the site offers over 150 statistics on individual mutual funds.
Reuters is discontinuing both its subscriber-based PowerScreener 3.0 stock screening program as well as its free PowerScreener Lite stock screening tool as of September 1, 2007.
The data offered on stocks is wide and deepwith over 400 data points on each stock, including ratios, five years of financial statements, and earnings estimates. IPO and options data can be found, but there are no message boards or podcasts. Charts include a few technical indicators and go back 10 years.
A fairly new section devoted to ETFs includes a screener with 17 criteria for screening and ranking and a database of over 500 funds with over 100 data points on each fund.
Reuters is a great place to find a wealth of market news as well as initial fund screening, research, and portfolio monitoring tools; however, with the discontinuation of its stock screening tools, the site has become less desirable to investors for stock analysis and research.
SmartMoney.com provides a comprehensive Web site with tools, data and access to its magazines articles, mostly without cost. Basic access to the site is free and includes a portfolio tracker; stock, mutual fund and ETF data; an ETF screener; and articles and commentary on the market.
The site offers two free portfolio trackersone in html format and a more enhanced tool that is Java-based. A great feature offered by this portfolio tracker is the ability to retrieve a securitys closing price for a specified day. You can also 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 sites 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. SmartMoneys portfolio tracker can also graphically analyze your portfolios holdings, performance, and diversification with one of its many Java-enhanced tools.
The site contains over 11,000 stocks and 20,000 mutual funds in its database with plenty of statistical information on individual securities. Java-enabled interactive technical charts go back 10 years and allow for multiple technical indicators to be charted and securities compared to other stocks, an index or an ETF.
Stock and fund screeners are available to premium members only. The stock screener offers over 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.
An ETF center includes a free ETF screener that looks very similar to the mutual fund screener. There are over 500 ETFs in the database, over 50 criteria for screening and ranking, and over 50 data points on each ETF. Additional content includes message boards, advice on common investing problems, and access to Smart Money magazine articles. IPO data and podcasts are not provided.
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. The site does not offer a stock screening tool, message boards or IPO data.
The portfolio tracking tool allows you to track up to 50 portfolios with 30 securities in each. New to the site is the ability to receive news, price and volume data and portfolio updates via E-mail. The basic portfolio tracking program allows you to customize views, track dividends and stock splits, and view performance. You can compare portfolio performance to the major indexes.
An adequate amount of data on individual stocks can be found, including five years of financial statement data and ratios, earnings data, and recent news. Historical prices and technical charts show figures dating back to 1970. Real-time quotes are free with a separate registration.
Also new to the site is a mutual fund screener with a database of over 14,000 funds, with 38 criteria for screening and seven for ranking. You cannot customize the view after screening. The screener allows you to see how many funds pass each criterion along the way, which can be useful for tweaking the screen if too many or not enough funds pass. Lipper provides over 200 data points on each fund including Lipper ratings.
The Wall Street Journal Online has an ETF Screener with a database of over 300 ETFs, 14 criteria for screening, four criteria for ranking, and over 50 data points on each ETF.
While the overall research and tools are basic, the rich editorial and news content is the sites major draw. As a paying member of the site, you have access to an archive of old Wall Street Journal articles as well the current days editions from Europe, Asia and the United States.
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 from the Wall Street Journal as well. 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, fund and stock screening, and reading current market news. Yahoo! Finance has news stories from a wide variety of free and subscription-based sites.
The portfolio tracker allows for a 200 securities in an unlimited number of portfolios. Price information can be automatically updated; real-time quotes cost $13.95 per month. E-mail alerts can be set for when securities change in price and for the end of the trading day with an overall summary of your portfolios performance. General news and market summary E-mails can also be received.
The site offers over 200 data fields on over 9,000 individual stocks and over 125 data fields on over 16,000 mutual funds. Stock data includes earnings information, ratios, three years of financial statements, insider activity data, and current news. The free Java-based stock screener has 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 offers 17 criteria for screening. Related news headlines, historical prices, charts, risk measures, manager information and portfolio holdings are among the statistics given for each fund.
Newly enhanced Java-enabled interactive charts offer various technical indicators with figures dating back to 1962. Historical prices can be downloaded. Sections devoted to financial planning, ETFs, IPOs, message boards, a glossary and quizzes round out Yahoo!s offerings. The site does not offer podcasts.
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.com offers a wide range of investment resources, including free portfolio tracking and stock and mutual fund screening. Zacks offers a basic portfolio tracker and a more advanced Java-based module provided by Quotestream. 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 portfolios 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 deepover 200 fields for stocks and over 150 for funds. Stock data includes ratios, financial statements dating back five years, and industry comparisons. The stock screener has 96 criteria for screening, while the mutual fund screener has 50. The free screeners are not as intuitive as at other sites, but Zacks offers plenty of help and guidance through the process of creating custom screens. Both screeners also show how many securities pass each criterion, making it easy to adjust when too many or too few pass.
Interactive technical charts are Java-based and contain 10 years of data. The site does not offer historical prices, message boards, podcasts, or ETF or IPO data. A company representative said Zacks was working toward adding ETF data, but had no timeline. 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 $24.95 per month, which includes additional stock and fund data, various E-mail alerts and E-newsletters, and access to Zacks Rank for stocks.
Cara Scatizzi is associate financial analyst at AAII.