On-Line Portfolio Managers
Many investors like to keep track of their portfolio movements on a daily or even intraday basis. Web-based portfolio managers, also referred to as on-line portfolio trackers, can provide a place to easily record transactions and track performance.
Most on-line portfolio management applications are offered through comprehensive financial Web sites that include additional evaluation and research tools. These trackers typically offer data and performance updates, links to portfolio-relevant news stories and portfolio event-driven E-mail alerts.
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Some sites also offer additional analysis tools for asset allocation, diversification and risk analysis. While many of these sites are free after registration, some charge reasonable subscription fees for advanced functions.
In general, compared to software programs of the same type, on-line portfolio trackers do not offer nearly the flexibility and reporting. On-line applications typically offer limited customization and a smaller set of performance calculation tools. “Reports” from on-line tools are usually in the form of views, some printer-friendly.
However, for many investors, on-line portfolio managers can be a simple and inexpensive way to keep tabs on portfolio performance on a day-to-day basis. Combined with the comprehensive analysis tools offered, these sites are also good for investors interested in a one-stop Web shop. The biggest draw for on-line portfolio tools is the constant alerts and easy access to timely data.
What’s New This Year?
Since the last time we compared on-line portfolio trackers, we have added CNNMoney and The Wall Street Journal Online to our comparison and removed both BusinessWeek and Kiplinger. In January of 2007, BusinessWeek stopped offering a portfolio management tool. We also no longer include Kiplinger.com, as their portfolio tracking tool has diminished in usefulness over the years. It now acts more like a watchlist and does not allow for any customization.
Many of the Web sites have made improvements since the last comparison of these sites in the July/August 2006 issue. MarketWatch has updated its portfolio tracking tool. Morningstar’s tool now automatically updates price data every five minutes, plus while entering transactions, you can now retrieve unknown security prices automatically.
Yahoo! Finance now offers a real-time Java-enhanced portfolio tool that costs $13.95 per month. MSN Money no longer supports its very basic portfolio tool that was accessible with a Mac and Safari browser.
GainsKeeper continues to be the only site providing a complete system that tracks all of the transactions in your portfolio to compute the capital gains for tax reporting purposes.
Not Suited for Everyone
On-line portfolio systems are not for everyone. The sophisticated investor who trades securities beyond stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, options and bonds will not be able to monitor all of his holdings with these tools. The majority of the applications discussed in this comparison target the typical individual investor who needs basic portfolio monitoring tools and whose holdings are comprised primarily of stocks and mutual funds.
To make sure you find the right portfolio monitoring tool to suit your needs, it is always a good idea to create a checklist. Important features you should look for include:
- frequency of updates,
- automatic refreshing of display,
- desktop software compatibility,
- links to brokerage firms,
- links to newswire services,
- E-mail alerts,
- additional analysis tools,
- number of portfolios that can be tracked,
- number of securities that can be tracked per portfolio, and
- types of securities handled.
One of the most important elements is the frequency of the updates and whether a portfolio display is updated automatically or manually by the user. Tracking, maintenance and refreshing of holdings are key functions desired by investors.
Each Web site, at a minimum, offers quotes that are delayed by 15 to 20 minutes. Three sites offer real-time data, usually for a fee. Some sites require you to manually click the Refresh button on your Internet browser (or within the portfolio tool itself) in order to update the pricing data. Others will refresh automatically. Some sites set a static timeframe that cannot be changed, but MSN Money allows users to adjust the automatic refresh time.
A great feature available with some on-line portfolio managers is the ability to import and export data from software programs and other Web sites. Five of the Web sites allow you to import data from software programs such as Quicken and Microsoft Money, while others allow you to import portfolios from other financial Web sites like Yahoo! Finance and MSN Money. Most allow you to export portfolio data to an Excel file. GainsKeeper allows you to import transactions directly from over 30 different brokerage firms. This function can be a huge timesaver, as you will not have to enter many new transactions. Typically, brokerage firms only store 18 months worth of Open Financial Exchangedata, so if you have a long transaction history, you might have to enter some data manually.
Additionally, the ability of an on-line portfolio management system to automatically adjust for stock splits and dividends and to track the reinvestment of dividends is a great timesaving feature.
On-line portfolio managers offer direct links to newswire stories and news headlines on the companies you currently track in your portfolios. These news stories are often located right on the portfolio’s current holdings view as well as within a separate display dedicated just to news stories, headlines and press releases.
Newswire services range from the standard set found almost anywhere on the Web such as PR Newswire to more unique news outlets such as TheStreet.com. In most instances, links are provided to complete news articles.
News is a basic feature offered by all but one site reviewed here—
GainsKeeper. The depth and breadth of coverage are what can set some sites apart from others, as does access to any subscription-based market news, such as stories and reports from The New York Times, The-Street.com or the Wall Street Journal Online.
The most significant feature that differentiates an on-line portfolio manager from a software program is its E-mail notification capabilities. An E-mail alert can warn you of possible danger to your portfolio (a stock falling below a price target) or notify you of general activity (a stock split). Alerts can also convey something as simple as a dividend being declared for one of the stocks that you own.
E-mail alerts are not junk mail and they do not clog up your inbox with unnecessary messages. They are set up by you and notify you of important events in your portfolios. A number of sites allow you to opt to receive only certain types of news on only certain securities. CNNMoney and MarketWatch give you the option to receive all of the day’s alerts in one E-mail notification instead of when the alerts are triggered.
Additional Analysis Tools
Another perk of on-line portfolio management systems is access to an abundance of additional tools for further research and analysis. The most popular tools include stock and mutual fund screening modules and interactive technical charting applications.
With screening modules, be sure to check out the depth of data (i.e., the number of funds or stocks in the database) as well as the number of data fields available for screening—two key factors that help differentiate these tools.
The availability of technical indicators and user-defined timeframes is important to consider when you compare a site’s interactive charting tools.
Other useful features include access to fundamental data, earnings estimates, company and fund reports, market statistics and any financial calculators.
Access to such tools is quite variable, but the functions are offered in some capacity by all the sites reviewed here. The depth of data and degree of functionality of the modules are what set some sites apart from others.
Number of Portfolios
|Service||Performance||Documentation||Ease of Use||Cost||Pros||Cons|
|CNNMoney||4||4||5||free||+Good E-mail alerts||–Limited security types|
|money.cnn.com||–No dividends, splits|
|GainsKeeper||4||5||5||$69 to $179/yr.||+Download broker transactions||–No E-mail alerts|
|www.gainskeeper.com||+Tax analysis||–No news|
|+Auto adjusts for dividends, splits||–No stock or fund screening or charting|
|MarketWatch||4||3||4||free||+Good E-mail alerts||–Limited security types|
|www.marketwatch.com||+Good source of news||–No dividends, splits|
|Morningstar.com||5||5||5||free to||+Portfolio X-Ray tools||–Limited portfolios & securities in each|
|www.morningstar.com||$16.95/mo.||+Great tools for additional analysis|
|+Event-driven E-mail alerts|
|MSN Money||5||5||5||free||+Great reporting tools||–Limited portfolios & securities in each|
|moneycentral.msn.com||+View portfolio value &||–No Mac support|
|performance at any date||–Sophisticated tool only for Internet|
|+Auto adjusts for dividends, splits||Explorer browsers|
|SmartMoney.com||4||5||5||free to||+Real-time data option||–Limited portfolios & securities in each|
|www.smartmoney.com||$108/yr.||+Ability to generate many reports|
|Wall Street Journal Online||4||3||5||on-line, $89/yr.;||+Real-time data||–Limited portfolios & securities in each|
|www.wsj.com||print & on-line, $99/yr.||+Access to WSJ news stories||–Limited security types|
|+Auto adjusts for dividends, splits|
|Yahoo! Finance||4||4||4||free to||+Real-time data option||–No advanced reports|
|finance.yahoo.com||$13.95/mo.||+Good source of news||–No security classification|
The number of portfolios that can be tracked at these sites also varies and might prove to be an initial criterion that quickly narrows your choices.
For the sites in this comparison, that number ranges from 25 to an unlimited number of portfolios.
Also important is the number of securities you can add to each portfolio.
A nice feature is the ability to view multiple portfolios at once for easy performance comparison.
Most of these on-line portfolio tracking systems allow you to track a portfolio of stocks or mutual funds that you do not own but would like to keep an eye on. Referred to as a “watchlist,” the data entry is typically done differently for this type of portfolio. Also, the monitoring measures are set up a little differently for watchlists, so you can judge whether these securities would make good investments.
The types of securities that can be tracked by the portfolio manager module are key to making a decision as to which portfolio manager is right for you. Most investors will find the types of securities handled by the sites adequate, but the sophisticated investor who invests in more complex securities may need a more sophisticated software program. The majority of these on-line portfolio trackers allow only for cash, stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and bonds.
Only a few services track investments in other instruments. The specific coverage of securities is noted for each Web site in the descriptions that follow. Most allow users to track a cash balance, and most can include major indexes for comparison and monitoring purposes. Each site allows you to get quotes on any stock or mutual fund included in their particular database.
Web-Based Versus Software
All of the on-line portfolio trackers in this comparison were surveyed against the same criteria used in the portfolio management software comparison in the July/August 2007 issue of Computerized Investing. This includes securities handled, security classification and various reporting standards. By doing this, we can have an “apples to apples” comparison of on-line and software-based portfolio management systems.
On-Line Portfolio Managers
New to the comparison this year is CNNMoney, a joint venture between CNN and Money and Fortune Magazines. The entire site is free, including the portfolio tracking tool. While it is not as sophisticated as other on-line tools, it does a good job of tracking current holdings. You can create as many portfolios with as many securities in each as you like. You can add cash, stock, mutual funds and ETFs. You must enter each holding one at a time. The tool only keeps track of your current holdings and not actual transactions. This means that once you sell a stock, you will simply delete it from your list. You will then need to edit the portfolio’s cash balance if you do not purchase a new stock. No dividends or interest transactions are handled.
The portfolio tool automatically assigns asset classes and industries to securities and offers an analysis of current positions in each as a percentage of the entire portfolio. You can customize the portfolio view by choosing from over 30 data points including fundamental data, current price data and current position information.
CNNMoney does offer E-mail alerts and reports regarding news on securities held, price targets and total portfolio values. You can specify that alerts are sent individually as they happen or grouped together at a designated time. The site has an easy-to-use, if not basic, mutual fund screener and a large database of fundamental and technical security data, including interactive charting.
While the CNNMoney portfolio tool is not for those tracking complex portfolios with numerous transactions and holdings, it does offer E-mail alerts and a simple, intuitive way to track the current performance of your current holdings.
GainsKeeper is the only site that offers tax evaluation along with its portfolio tracking tool. The site is also unique in that its cost is based on number of transactions per year. For example, you can enter up to 150 transactions in a year for $69. If you want to add more, you can purchase transactions in “buckets,” for example 10 additional trades for $9.
With GainsKeeper, you can track stocks, mutual funds, bonds, ETFs, options and cash. You can also import transactions from over 30 brokerage firms, Excel, Microsoft Money, and Quicken, or manually enter transactions.
While you do have to pay per transaction entered, you can create an unlimited number of portfolios that can be treated as taxable or retirement accounts. Creating new portfolios and adding transactions is simple due to a clean and organized layout with plenty of help along the way.
A great feature is the automatic adjustments for corporate actions including stock splits, mergers, dividends and name changes. You can view the current value of your holdings as well as the year-end value of your portfolio for the past nine years (two more years than shown in our last comparison).
Interactive portfolio evaluation tools allow you to view your current diversification by asset type and industry concentration. You can also set a desired diversification target and see how your portfolio measures up. Various charts and graphs help to visually quantify your portfolio holdings and diversification.
The “What If Tool” allows you to see how buying or selling various securities will affect your portfolio and taxes. Additional useful tax tools include advice for minimizing taxes, an analysis of which lots should be sold first at year-end and wash sale tracking. You can also create a watchlist.
GainsKeeper is the only site that offers thorough tax preparation and evaluation services. For investors with more complex trades and securities who want help making tax decisions, GainsKeeper could be a good fit. The site, however, does not offer stock or fund screening tools or interactive charting, and it only has a small amount of fundamental data on securities.
A fully functional 30-day demo copy of the service is available for free at the GainsKeeper Web site.
MarketWatch rivals Yahoo! Finance’s news offerings on individual securities. All registered users have access to free market data and investing tools including a basic stock screener and interactive charting. MarketWatch recently updated its portfolio tracking tool, which I found to be a bit less straightforward. After you register with the site, a portfolio tracking help page pops up with instructions on creating a new portfolio. While the instructions are easy to follow, the process is not intuitive. You must enter the holding and then label it, which assigns it to a group or a portfolio. You can view all holdings or those in a certain labeled group.
An unlimited number of portfolios can be created with up to 200 stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, or options in each. The new tool does not account for commissions and essentially allows you to track only current holdings. Dividends are not handled either.
Price and volume data is updated automatically, but is about 15 minutes delayed. A number of predetermined views show performance, news and a mini price and volume chart. You can customize the view by adding up to 10 additional fundamental data points including price-earnings ratio, market cap and yield.
The biggest draw for MarketWatch is its E-mail alerts. You can create price, volume and news alerts for your holdings as well as news alerts for stocks not in your portfolio. You can receive all of the alerts together at one time or each immediately.
One distracting feature is the “Portfolio Tracker” window, which is a bare-bones look at your current holdings and current performance that pops up automatically. However, you can disable this after you log in.
As compared to the tool we looked at in our last comparison, MarketWatch’s new portfolio tool is not as intuitive, nor as in-depth. In the past, the E-mail alerts were unique. Many sites, however, have added this function. Overall, the portfolio tool is good for basic performance tracking of current holdings. The E-mail alerts and the additional data and evaluation tools may entice some investors who are looking for a one-stop shop with basic portfolio tracking.
Morningstar.com offers market news, stock and fund screening, portfolio tracking and security analysis. Much of the content is available for free, while the premium service—including more in-depth portfolio tracking and stock and fund screening—costs $16.95 per month.
Morningstar’s premium portfolio tool allows for the creation of 25 portfolios and 25 watchlists with the ability to add up to 100 stocks and mutual funds, 20 bonds and 20 cash positions to each. Morningstar.com offers a wide range of E-mail alerts including portfolio performance, news and relevant changes in an investment such as a stock split, dividend, change in earnings estimates or changes in a mutual fund’s management style or expense ratio.
There are a number of ways to create a portfolio, one of which is to import from Microsoft Money, Excel, Quicken and various Web sites including MSN Money and Yahoo! Finance. The site offers instructions and tips for each type of import.
Custom views can be created by choosing from a list of over 75 data points that include performance, risk, and fundamental criteria. You can add up to 35 criteria to each custom view.
Premium members can use the X-Ray feature, which is one of the better on-line analysis tools for the price. The X-Ray tool gives you an in-depth analysis of your portfolios, one at a time. You can easily combine portfolios if you would like a full analysis of multiple portfolios.
The X-Ray breaks down each portfolio by sector, style, security type and region. You can also view a list of fees and expenses and the top 10 holdings in your portfolio. The X-Ray interpreter gives a detailed description of your portfolio’s asset allocation, performance and diversification. The Stock Intersection Analyzer lists any stock overlap in mutual fund holdings to see if you are truly diversified.
Another valuable tool is the risk analyzer, which evaluates how the securities in your portfolio interact and measures the overall risk of the portfolio.
Data on individual securities is broad and deep. Fundamental, technical and historical data are compared to benchmarks and the market as a whole, and interactive charts allow for a visual representation of important stock data.
One feature that is lacking is the ability to print your custom view or specific areas of the portfolio analysis tool. However, you can print a snapshot or a more detailed X-Ray report.
Morningstar’s additional portfolio analysis tools give it a leg up on the rest of the sites in our comparison, making it an Editor’s Choice. It can be used for more than simply tracking your portfolio’s performance.
The MSN Money portfolio tool is one of the most sophisticated Web-based tools in our comparison. The tracker is free to registered users. Because MSN Money is sponsored by Microsoft and because of the relationship between Internet Explorer and the software company, using a different browser—such as Mozilla Firefox—limits the capabilities of the site. The Deluxe Portfolio requires Internet Explorer 6 or later, running on Windows 2003, XP or Vista.
With Internet Explorer, you need to download ActiveX and the MSN Toolbox to use the portfolio management tools fully, but they are quick and easy to install. The installation brings a true portfolio management module with full customization and printing capabilities.
For our last comparison, Mac users did not have any sophisticated tools from MSN Money. The site has not updated its interface with Safari browsers, and is, in fact, discontinuing the basic portfolio tracking tool that Mac users could previously access.
For those users not using Internet Explorer, the site has a more basic version of its Deluxe Portfolio tool. This tool can be used with the Firefox browser and with Windows 2000 systems.
There is a big difference between the Deluxe and the more basic version. The Deluxe portfolio tracker allows price and volume data to be updated automatically as often as every five minutes. If you are using the Mozilla browser, you must refresh the page manually to see changes in price. Both browsers allow you to customize portfolio views; however, the choices with Mozilla are limited—around 70 with Internet Explorer versus about 30 for Mozilla. When using Internet Explorer you can add as many as desired, while with Mozilla you can add only 12.
Both browsers take you step-by-step through entering a new transaction or creating a new portfolio. You can keep track of commissions with both browsers, while you can also find a security’s price on a specific date with Internet Explorer. You can track cash, stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and indexes with either browser. You can have 50 portfolios with up to 100 securities in each.
Price target alerts can be set up when using Internet Explorer and are sent via E-mail or MSN Messenger. A great element is the ability to view your portfolio at various dates. For example, you can see how your portfolio looked six months ago.
Reports can be generated based on investment style, asset class and individual securities and you can produce a combined performance report for multiple portfolios.
By clicking on a ticker symbol, you can view in-depth security information including financial statement data, ratios, news, and current quote data. The site’s interactive charting is also a great tool for security analysis. Again, however, your browser must be able to support ActiveX to get the full experience.
MSN Money’s portfolio management suite is clearly meant to be used via Internet Explorer on a Windows-based system, but for those with alternative Web browsers on a PC, it offers a sufficient set of tools for basic management and analysis in an easy-to-use format. Mac users should look elsewhere for an on-line portfolio tracker.
SmartMoney.com is another comprehensive investing Web site that offers some of its data at no cost, including the portfolio tracking tool. SmartMoney Select offers more sophisticated tools for stock and mutual fund screening as well as individual security analysis for $58 per year. The site has two portfolio trackers—one in html format and a more enhanced tool that is Java-based.
To create a new portfolio, you can enter transactions manually or import from Money or Quicken. In the past, SmartMoney was the first to allow you to retrieve a security’s closing price for a specified day when entering transactions. As mentioned previously, both Morningstar and MSN Money have added this feature.
SmartMoney Select subscribers have the added ability to export securities to the site’s Stock and Fund Compare tools for further analysis.
Price target E-mail alerts are available, as well as an end-of-day portfolio performance alert. If you are a real-time subscriber ($108 per year), SmartMoney guarantees you will receive the E-mail within three minutes of the price movement. Non-real-time subscribers will receive the E-mail within 23 minutes.
You can create 50 portfolios with up to 50 mutual funds, stocks or ETFs in each. Views can be fully customized using 17 data points. Transactions for your portfolio can be viewed over various time periods. SmartMoney’s portfolio tracker can also graphically analyze your portfolio’s holdings, performance, and diversification with one of its many Java-enhanced tools.
Overall, SmartMoney offers a nice set of free tools for portfolio monitoring and offers more sophisticated tools including real-time data for a reasonable cost.
Wall Street Journal Online
In the past, the Wall Street Journal’s Web site has been best known for its wealth of news articles and archives of its print newspaper. Over the last year, the Wall Street Journal has begun to add more resources for investors, including screening tools, market data and a portfolio tracking tool. You must subscribe to the site (or pay an additional fee if you only have a print subscription) to access any of the new tools and data.
The portfolio tool is not highly sophisticated, but does adjust for splits and dividends. The site offers real-time price and volume data for free. It requires an additional registration and is not attached to the portfolio tool. The portfolio tool updates price and volume data automatically every five minutes.
Custom views can be created, but only 17 data points can be displayed. You can also rank the view by any of the criteria. Transaction data can be imported from Quicken or Money or transactions can be entered manually. This portfolio program assigns ETFs to the stock category when entering transactions.
Price E-mail alerts can be set up for any stock in your portfolio or watchlist. You can also opt to receive portfolio performance updates as often as three times a day.
While the portfolio management tool is not as high-tech as other programs, it is efficient and useful for simple performance tracking. The real draw to the Wall Street Journal Online is access to the archived news stories.
In addition to news from various sources, individual stock and mutual fund quotes, a stock and fund screener, interactive charts, and financial tools, Yahoo! Finance offers a basic portfolio manager for free. Real-time subscribers ($13.95 per month) can access an upgraded portfolio tool that incorporates technical charting and stock screening.
When using the free or the real-time tool, you must first create your portfolio using the basic portfolio tool. Then you can launch the real-time tool, and from there you can edit the portfolio’s holdings. You can create an unlimited number of portfolios with up to 200 stocks and mutual funds in each.
Customizable views can be created with 16 columns of data. There are over 50 criteria to choose from including performance numbers, price and volume data, fundamental data, earnings estimates, and technical indicators.
You can also receive an end-of-day E-mail with portfolio performance and market news. Portfolio data can be downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet file and to Quicken. Pricing data must be refreshed manually.
Yahoo! Finance also offers a wide array of data on individual securities including yearly and quarterly fundamental data, ratios, earnings estimates, analyst reports, SEC filings, historical prices and interactive charts. While the new real-time portfolio tool offers some improvement over the basic tracker, the main draw to the site is the wealth of data on individual securities and the abundance of news stories.