The Internet has become an invaluable source for investment information, tips, education and security data. However, there are thousands of sites that offer financial data. This comparison focuses on Web sites that offer comprehensive financial data coverage and tools for individual investors. Portfolio monitoring; stock, mutual fund and exchange-traded fundscreening; technical charting; and educational advice are important to all investors and can be used in tandem to analyze and pick appropriate investments.
All of the sites listed are well known by many. Each offers a set of unique tools and data for investors, some free, others for a fee.
This year we added AOL Money & Finance to the comparison, as it is working its way toward rivaling Yahoo! Finance with market data and tools for investors. We dropped Reuters.com for a number of reasons. The site still offers extensive market news, but over the past years its portfolio and analysis tools have become less useful. Furthermore, Reuters.com has no stock screening tool, the mutual fund and ETF screeners are basic and inflexible, and the portfolio tracking tool offers almost no customization and analysis tools.
Since last year’s comparison, CNNMoney, Morningstar and the Wall Street Journal Online now provide automatic portfolio updates. CNNMoney has also added industry data to its fundamental stock data offerings. Forbes added data on initial public offerings (, insider trading activity, and a small amount of industry comparison data.
Yahoo! Finance added free real-time quotes to its basic portfolio tracker and has a new, interactive streaming real-time portfolio manager that is accessible for a fee. Zacks now gives current price and volume data on ETFs.
The comparison grid on pages 14 to 16 covers six basic areas—portfolio monitoring, fundamental stock analysis, technical analysis, mutual 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 and terms.
Web-based portfolio managers range from Web pages that simply track the current market value of your holdings to sophisticated systems that can analyze your holdings, alert you to unbalanced portfolios, and more. Most investors want an on-line portfolio manager that extends beyond obtaining current quotes and the market value of their holdings. A more advanced system will display current news 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. For a more detailed description of on-line portfolio tools, see the comparison in the July/August 2008 issue of Computerized Investing (available at www.computerizedinvesting.com).
Most services provide a price snapshot that is updated either automatically or by manually refreshing your Web browser. Yahoo! Finance and Zacks are the only sites that do not offer automatic refreshing of data. 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 on not only 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.
In addition to tracking your portfolio’s price movements, it is important to keep current on news affecting your investments and the market as a whole. Being up-to-date on sector, industry, economic, and individual company news is vital 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. Too many news services can result in duplication of information.
Each site offers newswires at different subscription rates and varying levels of detail and frequency. Active investors may want to be alerted when news appears on a stock in their watchlist or portfolio; this requires a constant log-on to see if any relevant news items cross 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. Most sites will deliver relevant news stories to you via E-mail, but you can also read the stories while logged on to the site. In the past, MarketWatch’s E-mail service was unique, allowing users to determine which news items trigger an alert and to decide if they want individual E-mails sent out for each alert or collected into a composite alert released at a user-defined time of day. However, most sites now offer some type of alert with varying levels of customization. Some sites will even send alerts via text message and instant messenger.
The main differences lie in which specific newswire is searched, the storage depth of that service, and the E-mail alert customization levels.
Message areas are a good place to learn about additional resources available on the Internet. Discussions range from news alerts or chart-pattern dissections supporting a poster’s long- or short-term perspective for a given company to emotional attacks on the character of company management or other posters. Yahoo! Finance boasts an investment message board for every publicly traded U.S. company.
Message boards can be a good resource for identifying some of the factors driving a company’s current stock price; however, they often contain advertisements and you can never be sure of the motivation driving a particular posting. Read any post on the message boards with skepticism.
Researching a company’s fundamentals is critical before making an investment decision. It is becoming increasingly easier, cheaper, and more powerful to conduct this analysis through many Web sites. Most of the on-line services offer financial statements, earnings estimates, company and industry analysis, and 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 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. All of the sites cover thousands of stocks and unless you are searching for an obscure company, you should be able to find it in the database of each of these sites.
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. The Wall Street Journal Online, CNNMoney and Forbes do not offer stock screening tools.
Technical analysis attempts to forecast price movement in a security by examining how the market price and volume of market activity behave over time. Technical analysis is dependent upon large quantities of historical price and volume data. Technicians normally use charts to plot this data along with derived indicators.
More Web sites are using advanced modules to supply on-line, interactive charts. These services offer users a basic set of technical indicators and data that typically covers at least a five-year period, as well as intraday charts.
The comparison grid indicates if charting is available, any additional costs required to use the module, and the charting source. Securities covered, time period charted, and availability of technical indicators are details that help measure the functionality of the site’s charting module. Zacks and AOL Money & Finance do not provide technical indicators, only price and volume movements over various periods.
Sites allowing you to download historical data into an Excel spreadsheet or a technical analysis software program are also noted. AOL Money & Finance, Forbes, MSN Money, and Yahoo! Finance offer this added feature.
Each of the listed sites provides data on mutual funds. The comparison grid notes the source of the data along with any subscription charges.
The data source often determines the presentation and depth of available information. Most of the sites with mutual fund data provide basic performance, cost, and benchmark data for comparison. Screening modules and the ability to rank funds are useful tools and are noted in the comparison grid. All of the Web sites offer some sort of screening for mutual funds. MarketWatch has the weakest tool with only three screen criteria. Morningstar’s premium fund screener is highly intuitive and has over 400 fields for screening.
An exchange-traded fundis a fund that is traded 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.
ETF data typically includes performance figures, price and volume statistics and sometimes holdings, management information, ratios and risk statistics. Zacks offers the least amount of ETF data, but has improved over last year when the site had no data on ETFs. SmartMoney’s ETF screener has over 50 criteria for screening.
Some sites offer data on initial public offeringsand stock options. An IPO is the first offering of a company’s stock in the marketplace. Half of the sites provide IPO data, but of those that do, some have entire sections devoted to these unique offerings.
Thanks to the popularity of the iPod and Apple’s digital jukebox, iTunes, downloadable podcasts are becoming a common way for people to get news on the go. Most financial Web sites offer podcasts that are updated on a regular basis, usually daily or weekly. 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 technology feature offered by all of the sites in the comparison is the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it is an XML-based Web-content syndication format used to deliver constantly updated headline feeds to readers. Most feeds deliver headlines, descriptions, and links to current stories on the Web site directly to your computer. It’s a great way for you to be alerted when content that interests you appears on a site.
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 necessary. If you only need a data service to update your portfolio prices once a week, you have no need for a real-time data feed. However, you may still need the same amount of data depending on the size of your portfolio.
AOL’s Money & Finance Web page has grown and improved over the last year. In early 2008, the free site began to add features including a portfolio management tool, stock screener and fundamental stock data. The current portfolio management tool is very basic, but a newer, more interactive version is in beta testing.
To create a portfolio, you must have an AOL screen name, but signing up is free. The current portfolio tool allows for 20 portfolios with up to 100 securities in each. You can choose from eight views including a customizable view. Portfolios can track stocks, funds and ETFs. You can also set up price alerts for stocks in (or not in) your portfolio. Data displays can be ranked by column heading and data is automatically refreshed, but is delayed.
You can, however, access free real-time data on individual stocks at the quotes page. You can access streaming real-time quotes through eSignal for $12.95 per month. The site has over 250 fundamental data fields including ratios, five years of financial statement data, SEC filings, EPS estimates, analyst ratings and insider trading data. A very basic stock screener has 25 criteria for screening, but you must choose from predefined criteria. Screening options include ratios, performance, earnings estimates and more. You can only view the top 300 passing companies.
AOL Money & Finance does not offer technical indicators, but does provide a simple and somewhat customizable price and volume chart. You can compare stocks, ETFs, funds and indexes over a number of timeframes. Historical quotes go back a little over 20 years.
Mutual fund data is provided by Morningstar and AOL uses Morningstar’s free, basic fund screener with 18 criteria for screening. It has limited flexibility and shows only the top 200 funds meeting the criteria. Screening criteria includes performance data, Morningstar ratings, fees and fund type. Quotes on individual funds include over 50 data points such as total returns, risk and ratings, and fees and purchase information.
AOL offers an ETF screener from MarketWatch with 14 data fields for screening. You can choose from predefined criteria or enter your own comparison numbers. There are over 300 ETFs in the database with about 25 data points on each fund. Finally, the site offers data on options but not IPOs. You can also sign up for RSS feeds relating to market news.
AOL’s Web site is becoming more and more in-depth and comprehensive. While it is still somewhat basic, it continues to grow and improve its offerings.
CNN TV and Money and Fortune Magazines teamed up to offer CNNMoney.com for free. While the site can be hard to navigate, it offers basic portfolio monitoring and mutual fund screening along with a wealth of data fields and news stories. To easily access this data, choose “Personal Finance” from the top menu bar.
The site’s portfolio tool automatically updates prices, although they are delayed. You can track an unlimited number of portfolios with an unlimited number of securities in each. Price and news alerts for each security in your portfolio as well as a portfolio summary can be E-mailed to you throughout the day. The portfolio manager also offers a few analytical tools including a breakdown of your portfolio by stock, industry and asset class.
Fundamental data on over 10,000 stocks includes four years of financial statement data, ratios, SEC filings, earnings estimates and analyst ratings, and insider trading activity. The site does not have a stock screener.
Technical charts are customizable by timeframe, offer comparison indexes, and allow for a handful of technical indicators to be charted. Historical prices go back to 1972, but cannot be downloaded for use in other programs.
CNNMoney does have a mutual fund screener with eight criteria for screening and ranking. You can view only the top 100 passing funds, and flexibility is limited when creating screens. All fund data is provided by Morningstar and includes performance data, fees and expenses, and fund holdings.
ETF data includes a screener with limited flexibility—only six criteria for screening and no ability to rank results. The site does not have IPO or options data, but does offer a number of podcasts and RSS data feeds.
The bright spot of this site is the archives of Money and Fortune magazine articles along with CNN TV video clips.
Similar to CNNMoney, the best part of the Forbes.com site is its offering of archived Forbes magazine articles and Web content. The site’s portfolio tool is much improved, offering customized views and automatically updated price data through its Quotestream application.
The Java-based application is much more interactive and easier to use than the alternative basic portfolio tool. You can create 10 portfolios with up to 52 securities using either application. News and price and volume E-mail alerts can be set up for stocks in the portfolios. Real-time data costs $20 per month.
Forbes does not have a stock screener, but offers over 500 data points on each of the stocks in the database. Data includes ratios, four years of financial statement data, SEC filings, analysts’ ratings and estimates, and current news headlines.
Technical charting allows for some customization such as timeframe and technical indicators. You can also compare to an index or other securities. Stock price data goes back five years but, unlike most other sites, there is no list of historical prices.
Fund data is provided by Lipper and Yahoo! and includes Lipper ratings. The fund screener has 22 criteria for screening and ranking. You must choose from predefined comparison numbers, but you can screen for Lipper ratings, unique to this site and the Wall Street Journal Online. ETF data includes performance and risk measures, but no ETF screener.
Educational articles and market commentary are useful tools that round out the site’s offerings.
In the past, MarketWatch had an advantage over other sites due to its unique and extensive options for E-mail alerts. Most sites now offer basic price and news alerts for securities tracked in a portfolio tool. However, MarketWatch still offers some unique services, like the ability to receive only one E-mail per day with all relevant alerts for your portfolio.
The new portfolio tool is a bit confusing, but instructions on how to create and monitor your portfolio automatically pop up when you register with the site. An unlimited number of portfolios can be created with up to 200 securities in each. The new tool does not account for commissions and essentially allows you to track only current holdings. One issue that popped up was a problem updating news alerts when a portfolio is changed. After numerous tries, I could not get newly added securities to show up in the news alert list, and securities deleted from the portfolio were still on the list. E-mails to MarketWatch went unanswered.
The stock screener has only 11 criteria for screening, but does allow you to view all passing stocks, unlike many sites that limit results to a certain number. Criteria are inflexible, but the screener is easy to use.
Fundamental data on each security includes four years of financial statement data, ratios, analyst ratings and estimates, insider activity and industry comparison data. Free real-time price and volume data is available for securities on the quote page, but does not integrate with the portfolio tool.
The interactive charting tool offers a number of technical indicators, 10 years of price data for charting and the ability to compare securities against other securities and indexes.
Mutual fund and ETF data include basic screeners: three criteria for mutual funds and 14 for ETFs. Screening criteria includes type of fund and performance data. Risk data, Lipper ratings and performance data are among the fundamental mutual fund data provided.
MarketWatch’s new portfolio tool is disappointing, but the E-mail alerts make creating a portfolio worthwhile (just keep in mind the aforementioned problem). News, fundamental data and technical chart offerings are similar to those found on other sites.
Morningstar offers two levels of tools and analysis: Basic screening and portfolio monitoring tools are free; more advanced tools and data cost $16.95 per month.
The portfolio monitoring tool is one of the best on the Web. It includes a number of analysis and “X-Ray” tools that help you to create a balanced, well-diversified portfolio. You can create up to 50 portfolios with up to 120 securities in each. E-mail alerts can be received for your entire portfolio or on price, volume and news alerts for individual securities. You can also receive alerts for dividends, splits, name and ticker changes, and more. Mutual fund alerts include a change in management or fees and expenses.
Premium subscribers can access over 800 data points on each security including 10 years of financial statement data, ratios, valuations analysis, industry comparison data and SEC filings. The premium stock screener has over 400 data fields for screening. You can choose custom comparison numbers and view averages for criteria, which helps you pick a more meaningful number for screening. You can display and rank screen results by any of the criteria.
The free, basic stock screener has 18 fields for screening, including Morningstar ratings. This screener has less flexibility but is on par with free stock screeners offered on other comprehensive sites.
Technical charting is available for stocks only, but a price and volume chart is available for stocks, funds, ETFs and indexes. Charts go back as far as 1972. Morningstar does not offer a list of historical prices.
Mutual fund data is broad and deep. Most of it is available for free. A free mutual fund screener has 18 fields for screening, including performance data and fees and expenses. The premium fund screener has a database of over 18,000 funds and over 300 data fields for screening. It allows for immense flexibility. You can display and rank screen results by any of the criteria.
The ETF section includes data on over 800 ETFs and a free ETF screener with eight fields for screening. You can choose from about 20 data points to display and rank the results. ETF data includes performance data and charts, fees and expenses, holdings and ratios.
Morningstar offers a great deal of data and numerous analysis tools for a reasonable fee. The portfolio X-Ray tools are helpful and the stock and mutual fund screeners are some of the best on the Web.
Microsoft’s MSN Money Web site offers sophisticated portfolio and stock analysis tools for free. Because of the relationship between Microsoft and the Internet Explorer browser, using a different browser—such as Mozilla Firefox—limits the capabilities of the site. With Internet Explorer, you need to download ActiveX and the MSN Toolbox to use the site tools fully, but these are quick and easy to install.
The Deluxe Portfolio tool requires Internet Explorer 6 or later, running on Windows 2003, XP or Vista. You can track up to 50 portfolios with up to 100 securities in each. Price target E-mail alerts, customized reporting and automatic updates are some of the programs highlights. You can also view the value of your portfolio on any given day—for example, you can see what your portfolio value was two weeks ago.
Similar to Morningstar, MSN Money offers real-time price and volume data on its quotes pages, but these prices do not interface with the portfolio tool. Fundamental data includes five years of financial statement data, ratios, earnings estimates and analyst ratings, and insider activity. The site is missing industry comparison data and valuation ratio analysis. The stock screening tool has over 150 data points for screening, but only displays the top 200 passing companies. The tool is highly flexible and allows for customizable comparison numbers to be used.
Technical analysis charts include a number of technical indicators and customization features and can be viewed back to 1962. You can also compare multiple ETFs, stocks, funds and indexes. There is no list of historical price data.
The deluxe fund screener has over 70 criteria for screening and allows for customization of comparison data. As with the stock screener, only the top 200 funds meeting the criteria are displayed. The wealth of data on each fund rivals few comprehensive sites’ offerings. Calendar-year returns for the last 10 years and charts of trailing returns are a rare find.
The site has a whole section devoted to ETFs but is noticeably lacking a screening tool for these funds. Similar to mutual funds, the ETF data includes year-by-year returns as well as trailing returns. The site also offers RSS feeds, IPO data and options data.
For Internet Explorer users, MSN Money’s site is rivaled by few. The free investment tools are some of the best on the Web. Each tool has extensive how-to guides and help, but is intuitive and easy to use.
SmartMoney.com is another comprehensive investing Web site that offers some of its data and Java-
enhanced tools at no cost. SmartMoney Select offers more sophisticated investing and analysis tools for stock and mutual fund screening as well as individual security analysis for $58 per year. Select plus real-time data costs $108 per year.
The site has two free portfolio trackers—one in html format and a more enhanced tool that is Java-based. The Java-based tool allows you to import transactions from Money or Quicken. SmartMoney Select subscribers have the added ability to export securities to the site’s Stock and Fund Compare tools for further analysis. You can create 50 portfolios with up to 50 securities in each. SmartMoney only offers price alerts, but real-time subscribers are guaranteed to receive the E-mail alert within three minutes of the price movement. Non-real-time subscribers will receive price target notifications within 23 minutes of the movement.
Fundamental data is broad and deep, including 10 years of financial statement data and earnings estimates and ratings. Missing from the site is an easy way to compare stocks to the industry as a whole. You can, however, compare performance data, ratios and company statistics with top competitors, which is a useful and somewhat unique feature.
The premium stock screener has over 100 criteria for screening. The tool offers help creating a screen and also provides users with average numbers and definitions of screen criteria.
Technical charting goes back 10 years and includes a few basic indicators. Customization of the charts is somewhat limited. Also noticeably missing is a list of historical prices.
Mutual fund data is provided by Lipper and includes Lipper ratings, performance data and fees and expenses. The mutual fund screener is for Select members and has over 21,000 funds in the database and over 50 criteria for screening.
SmartMoney’s ETF data and tools are all free. The ETF screener is one of the best on the Web. Java-based and interactive like the premium stock and mutual fund screeners, this tool has over 50 criteria for screening. An ETF Compare tool lists performance measures of multiple ETFs side-by-side.
One annoying issue with the site is that once you open the stock, mutual fund or ETF screener, you have to use the back browser button to return to the SmartMoney Web site. A link would be helpful. Overall, SmartMoney offers a great site for investors at a reasonable price. The free data is nothing special so to get the full taste of this site you should become a paying member.
The Wall Street Journal Online has recently expanded its data and tools offerings. In the past, the best part of WSJ Online was its archived articles and news search features, but its portfolio tool and screening tools rival those on other sites.
The portfolio tool allows you to create up to 50 portfolios with up to 50 securities in each. You can receive price, volume and news updates for your portfolios and an E-mail with market news and updates. You can receive portfolio E-mails up to three times per day. The portfolio tool automatically updates price and volume data, but it is delayed. Real-time quotes are free with a separate registration; however, these prices are not integrated into the portfolio tracking tool.
Fundamental data offerings are broad and deep, including five years of financial statement data, earnings estimates and analyst ratings, SEC filings, ratios and valuation analysis, and industry comparisons. There is no stock screening tool.
Technical charts are Java-based and include a number of technical indicators. Mutual fund charting is lacking, but customizable technical charting for ETFs, stocks and indexes is available. You can get historical prices from 1970 to the present, but cannot download the data.
Mutual fund data includes a number of risk and return graphs, Lipper ratings and unique performance data including best and worst returns over numerous periods of time. The mutual fund screener has 38 data fields for screening and includes screening based on Lipper ratings.
The ETF screener has 14 data fields for screening and ranking. Fundamental data includes style, management information, performance and risk data, ratios, historical quotes, asset and security breakdowns and more.
The tools and data offered by the Wall Street Journal are as good as most of the free Web sites; the archived articles and the ability to search through the site for old articles are worth the reasonable subscription fee.
Yahoo! Finance continues to improve its offerings, including a new portfolio tool and a more advanced stock screening tool. The portfolio tool integrates free real-time price and volume data. To access real-time data and to use the data in other areas of the site, you must subscribe to the service for $13.95 per month.
Real-time subscribers can also access a new interactive real-time portfolio tracker. You can create an unlimited number of portfolios with up to 200 stocks and mutual funds in each. You can add technical indicators to a customizable view. End-of-day E-mails with portfolio performance and market news are available.
Fundamental data includes only three years of financial statement data, earnings estimates and ratings, ratios, industry comparisons and insider activity. A stock screener has over 140 criteria for screening, but only displays the top companies passing. A nice feature is a definition and average numbers for each data field, making it easier to create meaningful screens.
Interactive Java-based technical charts allow for comparison among stocks, funds, ETFs and indexes. Charts go back to 1962. Historical price data is easy to find and can be downloaded to Excel. You can search for historical daily, weekly or monthly closing prices.
Mutual fund data is provided by Morningstar and includes Morningstar ratings and style boxes. The fund screener is basic, with only 17 criteria for screening and limited flexibility. The screener also only displays top results.
There is no ETF screener, but data offered on individual securities includes performance and risk data, management information, holdings, historical prices and charting. Yahoo! Finance also has entire areas devoted to IPOs, stock splits and dividends.
Yahoo! Finance’s news offerings are in-depth and worth a look. The stock screener has grown in usefulness while the fund screener and portfolio tool are still lacking.
Data provider Zacks offers stock and fund data for free, with additional fees for in-depth analysis, recommendations and real-time data. The very basic portfolio tool allows for only five portfolios with up to 45 securities in each. Price and volume data is not automatically updated, but you can sign up for real-time data for $9.95 per month. Daily portfolio alerts can be sent via E-mail.
Zacks has a wealth of data fields on stocks including five years of financial statement data, ratios, earnings estimates and Zacks recommendations and ratings.
The stock screener has over 100 criteria for screening, including a number of Zacks ratings and recommendations. Zacks has interactive Java charts, but they do not include technical indicators. There is no historical price data for download.
Mutual fund data includes performance, expense and management data. A mutual fund screener has over 50 criteria for screening, but does not allow for any ranking. New this year is ETF data. While data only includes current price and volume statistics, last year the site did not have any data on ETFs. RSS feeds and options data are also found at Zacks.
While Zacks does not offer extensive market data and tools, it offers basic performance, price and investment data for free.