The Internet has become an invaluable source for investment information, tips, education and security data. There are thousands of sites that offer financial data. This comparison focuses on the best Web sites for comprehensive financial data coverage and tools. These sites offer portfolio tracking tools; stock, fund and ETF screening; technical charting; and educational advice. Each of these areas can be used in tandem to analyze and help select appropriate investments.
The sites listed here offer unique tools and data for investors, some for free, others for a fee.
This year we are focusing on the best of the best. While last year’s comparison included 10 Web sites, this year’s comparison includes only four. CNNMoney, Forbes, MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal Online, and Zacks were removed. While these sites continue to offer useful tools and data for investors, we chose to highlight only those sites that could be considered a one-stop-shop for portfolio tracking, security screening and data analysis. We also considered Kiplinger.com: While the site offers a wealth of articles about investing, their stock and mutual fund screening tools and portfolio tracker are very basic.
Lastly, MSN Money was removed because it has discontinued many of its Investment Toolbox services, including the portfolio manager and stock and mutual fund screeners. The site now offers a lesser version of each tool that works with any Web browser (in the past, these services only worked with Internet Explorer).
The comparison grid on pages 2 to 3 covers six basic areas—portfolio monitoring, fundamental stock analysis, technical analysis, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, 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 those 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 does more than obtain current quotes and display the market value of their holdings. A more advanced system will offer current news on securities in your portfolio, follow the activity of the financial markets, and analyze your holdings based on asset allocation, industry concentration, and company market capitalization breakdown.
The portfolio monitoring segment of the comparison grid quantifies the key elements involved in tracking a portfolio. For a more detailed description of the on-line portfolio tools these sites offer, see the comparison in the July/August 2008 issue of Computerized Investing.
Most services provide a price snapshot that is updated either automatically or by manually refreshing your Web browser. 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. Most 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. Make sure the site uses a reliable industry standard for news. More may not be 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, which requires a constant log-on to see if any relevant news items have crossed the wire. A long-term, buy-and-hold investor may prefer an electronic clipping service, which collects news stories that can be E-mailed and read at your leisure.
To set up these clipping files, you will typically establish filters that indicate which topics and newswires are of interest to you. Most sites allow users some level of customization in the type of alert, the notification tool (E-mail, text message, instant message) and how often alerts are sent (immediately, intraday or end of day).
The main differences lie in which specific newswires are searched, the storage depth of the service and the E-mail alert customization levels.
Message areas allow users to discuss stocks and investment strategies and, perhaps, uncover why a stock is moving in a certain direction. Discussions typically range from current news and chart-pattern dissections to emotional attacks on the character of company management. Yahoo! Finance boasts over 9,000 message boards; however, postings on many of the boards for lesser-known companies can be sparse.
Message boards can be a good resource for identifying some of the factors driving a company’s current stock price, but 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 a healthy dose of skepticism.
Researching a company’s fundamentals is critical before making an investment decision. It is becoming increasingly easier, cheaper, and more powerful through many Web sites. Most of the 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. The depth and breadth of the financial data provided by each service is summarized by the number of companies followed and the amount and type of data provided for each company. The sites listed here cover thousands of stocks.
Each service here also offers a stock screening tool. The grid indicates the number of data fields available for screening. Screening consists of sifting through a large universe of securities to locate a handful that possess one or more desirable characteristics. It is important to note that each site offers a different level of screening service. The free screening tools from Yahoo! Finance, AOL Finance and Morningstar tend to be basic and inflexible, but offer a starting point for investors interested in dipping their toes into the stock screening waters.
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.
Each of the Web sites listed offers some sort of technical charting. Most have advanced modules that supply on-line, interactive charts. Typically, users will have access to a basic set of technical indicators and data that covers at least a 10-year period, as well as intraday charts.
The comparison grid indicates the span of historical data available to chartists and the charting source. Securities covered, time period charted, and availability of technical indicators for varying security types are details that help measure the functionality of the site’s charting module.
Only two sites listed offer downloadable historical price data (AOL Money & Finance and Yahoo!).
Each of the listed sites provides free data on mutual funds. The comparison grid notes the source of the data as well as the number of funds followed. The data source often determines the presentation and depth of available information. Each site provides 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 but, as with stock screening modules, the sophistication and flexibility vary widely among sites.
As exchange-traded fundshave gained popularity, Web sites have been adding tools, statistics, screeners and analysis for these unique securities.
ETF data typically includes performance data and price and volume statistics; sometimes you’ll also see holdings, management information, ratios and risk statistics. Investors interested in ETFs may find that some sites pay lip service to the securities while others offer in-depth analysis and discussion along with statistics and screening tools that match stock and mutual fund screeners.
In addition to the previously mentioned data and tools, some sites offer data on initial public offeringsand stock options. An IPO is the first offering of a company’s stock in the marketplace.
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. 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 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.
AOL Money & Finance is a free Web site that is relatively new. Over the last year the site has made a number of improvements, including adding technical indicators to its charting tool, increasing its offerings of portfolio alerts and adding more news sources to its growing list of almost 3,000 outlets.
AOL Money & Finance offers quotes on stocks, funds, ETFs and indexes. To access the portfolio tool, choose Portfolios from the navigation menu. You must have or create an AOL account in order to use the portfolio tool. You can create up to 25 portfolios with up to 100 securities in each. The portfolio tool is basic and easy to use. It tracks your current holdings and their performance based on the data you enter for purchase dates and prices.
Views can be customized with up to seven columns of data. You can receive daily alerts on any portfolio. Alerts are not customizable, but include the price and performance of securities held and news for your overall portfolio. You can set up individual alerts for securities based on price and volume movements as well.
Fundamental data consists of over 250 data points, a number of them unique to AOL. First, AOL provides short interest data, which many sites have stopped offering. Short interest measures the number of shares outstanding of a company that are sold short. Data includes current and previous 12 months of short data. In addition, you will find a five-year dividend and split history for stocks and up to 20 years of downloadable historical prices.
AOL has five fiscal years and five fiscal quarters of financial statement data, a wealth of earnings data including current and past earnings estimates, trend analysis, surprise data and actual historical earnings data.
AOL’s stock screening tool offers 25 data fields for screening including price, volume, market cap, sales, price-earnings ratio, price-to-sales ratio, price-to-book ratio, earnings per share and earnings estimate data. You can view up to 300 companies passing the criteria. You can also screen based on user-defined or predefined ranges.
During the last year, AOL has enhanced its technical charts. You can now add numerous technical indicators, customize date ranges up to 20 years back, and compare stocks to other stocks and indexes.
AOL’s mutual fund data offerings are definitely lacking compared to the other sites here. Data comes from Morningstar and includes only 50 or so data points on each fund. AOL does not have its own fund screener, but includes a link to Morningstar’s Basic mutual fund screener, which has 18 criteria for screening with limited customization.
ETF data is also fairly basic, with about 25 data points on over 800 ETFs. The ETF screener is provided by MarketWatch and includes only 14 screening criteria. The screener is not customizable, but is adequate for initial screening.
Finally, AOL Money & Finance offers options data, RSS feeds and videos, but does not have data on IPOs or podcasts available for download.
Overall, AOL Money & Finance is a good free site for stock, mutual fund and ETF data. The screening tools are basic, but for those new to screening and those interested in creating and running simple screens, the tools will do the job.
Because AOL is more than just a financial Web site, you have the ability to create a customized home page with AOL data as well as receive RSS feeds from other sites.
The Morningstar Web site offers a great set of tools for portfolio tracking and analysis. Most of Morningstar’s data is free, while the advanced tools require a subscription of $174 per year.
The portfolio tool is free with additional analysis tools for Premium members. You can create up to 50 portfolios with up to 120 securities in each (100 stocks and funds, 20 bonds and 20 cash positions). New this year is free real-time quotes. You can create up to four customized views with up to 35 columns in each view. Morningstar also offers over 30 different alerts for individual securities and entire portfolios. Some alerts are tied to Premium service.
Premium subscribers can access the portfolio X-Ray, which is an advanced analysis tool that dissects your portfolios based on diversification and allocation among various stock groups, sizes, types, sectors, locations and more. Unique to Morningstar is the Stock Intersection tool, which shows you the stocks held in each mutual fund and lists any overlapping holdings between funds. This offers you a better indication of exactly how diversified your mutual fund holdings truly are.
Morningstar’s fundamental data includes over 800 data fields on over 10,000 stocks. Financial statements include 10 fiscal years and four fiscal quarters of income statement, cash flow and balance sheet data. Earnings estimate data is not as in-depth as that at AOL Money & Finance and is hard to find under the “owners” tab.
Insider activity, industry comparison, valuation ratios and analysis, and official SEC filings round out the site’s stock data offerings.
The Basic stock screener is free and has 18 criteria for screening, with limited flexibility. Only the top 200 results are displayed. The site’s Premium stock screener carries a fee, but is one of the best on the Web. It has over 600 data fields for screening and allows for almost full customization. The screener works in pop-up windows, which can get cumbersome. A great feature is the ability to view definitions of data points and benchmark numbers. This can help you find more meaningful data points for comparison.
Another plus to the screener is that it shows how many stocks pass each individual criterion. This is useful for tightening or loosening the screen to generate a specific number of stocks. A view is created based on the screen criteria used and can be ranked on any data column.
Morningstar’s technical charting tools only allow for indicators on stocks. But you can view and customize price and volume charts for stocks, funds, ETFs and indexes. Charting with technical indicators requires you to choose “Chart” from the navigation bar, and then choose Classic Version. You cannot download historical price data.
Mutual fund data includes over 200 data points on over 24,000 funds. The free Basic fund screener has only 18 criteria for screening, and like the stock screener, has limited customization capabilities. Furthermore, you cannot save the screens. The Premium fund screener has over 300 data points for screening and works in the same fashion as the Premium stock screener. Data definitions and benchmarks are given and the number of funds meeting individual criteria is listed as well. Premium screens can be saved for later use.
Morningstar has been on the leading edge of offering ETF data and analysis tools. The site has a new ETF screener with over 50 data points for screening and ranking. The screener is highly flexible and lists the number of ETFs passing each criterion. However, you cannot customize views with the screener.
In addition, Morningstar does not provide IPO data, but does have RSS feeds, videos and options data.
Morningstar’s Premium service offers highly flexible tools with a great deal of customization capabilities. The free service provides a wealth of data and statistics on stocks, funds and ETFs. While the Basic tools are simplistic, they offer a great starting place for new investors.
SmartMoney Select is a great set of interactive Java-based tools offered on SmartMoney.com for a fee of $108 per year. Stock, fund and ETF data is free. SmartMoney Select’s portfolio tool allows for 50 portfolios with up to 50 securities in each. Data is updated automatically and in real-time for paying subscribers. The tool also sends alerts and can automatically account for splits and dividends.
You can set up price alerts for individual securities as well. The portfolio tool’s analytical tools are all Java-based and are displayed in pop-up windows. The tools employ brightly colored charts and graphs to illustrate individual security performance.
SmartMoney.com offers free fundamental stock data, including 10 fiscal years and 15 fiscal quarters of financial statement data. The site is noticeably lacking in industry comparison data, but has a good (and free) comparison tool, which allows you to compare a stock’s ratios and financial statement data with its largest competitors.
SmartMoney Select’s stock screening tool has over 8,600 stocks in the database and over 140 fields for screening. A description of the data point as well as averages are provided. You can screen for data points in the top and bottom percentages of an industry or index and create custom comparison values as well. All screens can be saved for later use.
The number of total stocks passing each criterion is not provided. To customize a view, you must choose “Make Report.” This takes you to another window with the list of stocks where you can sort based on any column and edit any of the predefined views.
The free Java-based charting tool includes 10 years of price data, technical indicators and the ability to add the indicators to stock, fund, ETF and index charts. There are no historical price lists.
Mutual fund data is provided by Lipper and includes over 200 fields on over 21,000 mutual funds. Lipper also provides its Lipper Leader ratings, which is unique to the sites in this comparison. The fund screener is for Select subscribers only and works the same as the stock screener. There are 50 data fields for screening.
For each criterion you can see a description and average, which is useful when comparing against a user-defined number. Results are displayed below the criteria list. You cannot see how many funds meet each individual criterion. In order to customize the way funds are listed you must choose “Make Report.” This will take you to another Web page where you can edit a predefined view.
SmartMoney has one of the best ETF screeners in this comparison. It is free and includes over 50 criteria for screening. The ETF screener has the same functionality as the stock and mutual fund screeners including criteria definitions and averages, custom comparison values and the ability to save the screen for later use.
SmartMoney does not have data on IPOs but does include options data and RSS feeds.
Overall, SmartMoney’s Java-based tool set sets it apart from other comprehensive Web sites. The tools are intuitive and easy to use.
Yahoo! Finance is a free Web site offering data and tools for analysis. While the tools are more basic than the pay-for-use sites, Yahoo! Finance is a great source for news, historical price data and IPO data.
Yahoo! Finance’s portfolio tool is free for delayed data and costs $13.95 per month for real-time quotes. You can track up to 200 stocks, funds and ETFs in an unlimited number of portfolios. Alerts include price movements and news on individual securities as well as overall portfolio performance alerts. You can create custom views by editing the predefined views with up to 16 columns.
Fundamental data includes three fiscal years and four fiscal quarters of financial statement data. Over 200 data points on each stock includes ratios, SEC filings and earnings data. The site also includes a page on the stock’s industry and competitors. Comparative data includes ratios and financial statement data.
Yahoo! Finance also has downloadable historical prices going back to 1962. You can search for prices by date range and view daily, weekly or month-end prices. In addition, the site boasts a message board for every publicly traded company.
The site’s interactive stock screening tool includes 150 data fields for screening. The screener allows you to enter custom values for criteria comparisons. One interesting note: The compare to factors do not include “not equal to.” So, for example, you cannot exclude a sector of stocks in one condition. A definition of the criterion and average data points are given during the screen creation process. Results are displayed below the criteria list in a predetermined view.
Interactive charts allow for various technical indicators as well as customization of date range, chart type and the ability to note splits and dividends. You can chart stocks, funds, ETFs and indexes with the charting tool.
Mutual fund data comes from Morningstar and contains over 100 data fields including performance data, ratios, fund holdings and more. There are over 20,000 funds in the Yahoo! database. The very basic mutual fund screener has 17 data fields for screening. You must use predefined ranges for screening, and screens cannot be saved.
The results are displayed in a new Web page and can be ranked by any column in the view. All the results are shown, but in groups of 20. The screener will place your screen criteria into a view or you can choose from predefined views.
Yahoo! Finance’s ETF data has improved over the years. There are over 25 data points on each ETF and over 800 ETFs in the database, but there is no ETF screening tool.
Yahoo! Finance has an entire section devoted to IPOs. You can also find data on options and sign up for RSS feeds.
Because Yahoo! is more than just a financial Web site, you have the ability to create a customized home page with Yahoo! data as well as RSS feeds from other sites. This can be a useful organization tool.
Yahoo! Finance is entirely free (excluding real-time data) and is a good source for news on your securities. The stock screener is one of the better free screening tools on the Web.
Criteria are rated on a scale of one to five, with five denoting the best score. Performance rates how well the service accomplishes its stated objectives;
Documentation rates the quality of on-line help and support; and Ease of Use rates how simple the system is to learn and operate.
|Performance||Documentation||Ease of Use||Price||Pros|
|Portfolio Mgmt||Stock Analysis||Fund Analysis||Cons|
|AOL Money & Finance||4||4||4||4||5||free||+Download historical prices||–Only 25 portfolios can be created|
|money.aol.com||+Short interest data||–ETF and fund screeners are|
|+Great earnings & estimates||connected to other sites|
|Morningstar.com||5||5||5||5||5||free to||+Highly advcd & interactive||–Many advanced tools|
|www.morningstar.com||$174/yr.||tools for screen & monitor||are not free|
|+Most alerts for stocks and portfolios|
|SmartMoney.com||4||5||5||5||5||free to||+Over 50 criteria for||–No historical price data|
|www.smartmoney.com||$108/yr.||free ETF screening||–No industry comparison data|
|+Numerous advanced &|
|interactive Java tools|
|Yahoo! Finance||4||4||4||5||5||free||+Stock screener has 150+ fields||–No ETF screener|
|finance.yahoo.com||+Entire area for IPOs||–No automatic portfolio updates|