by Joe Lan, CFA
One of the ways that Computerized Investing helps subscribers become efficient in using computer tools to support the investment research process is our yearly review of the top comprehensive financial websites. In recent years, the top websites featured have stayed the same. However, for 2013, there is one notable change: Smartmoney.com is no longer offered. Smartmoney.com Select, its paid subscription service, provided users with one of the best sets of tools available online. Since it is no longer offered, we suggest some possible replacements here.
This comparison is focused on the best all-around investing websites and, as such, it does not cover sites that concentrate on one particular area. There may be a better focused website for managing your portfolio, screening for stocks and funds, or performing technical analysis than the sites described here. You can find articles on software and websites that are devoted to a specific function at www.computerizedinvesting.com.
To choose the top comprehensive websites, we considered the features and functions used most frequently by individual investors and that are essential to any website that wants to be a one-stop shop. The elements include up-to the minute news, portfolio management, simple stock and fund screening capabilities, and fundamental and technical data. In addition, we looked for those websites that include a thorough report of analyst ratings and earnings estimates.
Fundamental Analysis Data
Fundamental analysis is the cornerstone to sound, long-term stock investing. It involves researching financial statement data and ratios to judge a company and possibly gain insight into its future performance. Fundamental investors are less worried about market timing and generally try to find quality stocks that will outperform in the long run. Every top comprehensive investment website should offer exhaustive fundamental analysis data, and each of our choices does a good job of providing this data.
Typically, the fundamental analysis data provided are broken down into several sections including ratios, valuations and financial statements. Annual and quarterly financial statement data can be provided for as many as 10 periods, for a fee. Statements are presented in dollar and common-size (percentage) formats. In addition, you can export data and link directly to SEC filings.
Technical Analysis Data
Technical analysis involves forecasting the movement of a security based on past market data, especially price and volume data. In essence, technical analysis studies supply and demand for a security in the marketplace in an attempt to predict future market direction. This methodology generally involves charting. Technical investors are more focused on buying and selling a stock or getting into and out of the market at the appropriate time.
The technical analysis capabilities of the top comprehensive sites have historically been weak, and these sites are still a long way from being comparable to websites and software packages that focus exclusively on technical analysis. The top comprehensive sites do offer basic charting and the ability to draw a variety of technical indicators, which are typically enough for the general investor. However, technicians will not be able to rely solely on these websites for their technical analysis research, and short-term and intraday traders should look elsewhere also.
Screening narrows a universe of stocks or funds to a manageable number by setting criteria limits. Although it is ultimately up to you to make the final decision on an investment holding, intelligent screening can help identify stocks and funds with the fundamentals and characteristics that you deem important. Instead of having to research hundreds of stocks, it allows you to focus on a select few.
Most of the top comprehensive sites offer free screening. Unfortunately, the free screening capabilities of these websites are still grossly inadequate. If you rely heavily on screening, it is prudent to pay for the premium screening tool if offered by these top comprehensive websites or purchase software such as AAII’s Stock Investor Pro fundamental stock screening and research database.
Paid screening capabilities at these sites allow users to screen on a wide range of fundamental data points. Typically, screeners for stocks, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are offered. The universe covered varies among the websites, but typically thousands of stocks or mutual funds are available and around 1,500 exchange-traded funds. The only top site now that rivals, and for the most part betters, Smartmoney.com Select’s screener is the Morningstar Premium Stock Screener.
To maintain an investment strategy that endures over several markets cycles, it is crucial to stay consistent and add diversification. One of the most highly sought-after features of comprehensive investment websites is the ability to perform thorough portfolio monitoring. Dedicated portfolio management software, which must be purchased, is still the best option, but these top investment websites offer enough portfolio tracking capabilities for most individual investors.
The portfolio management tools available at the top websites offer the ability to enter positions, commissions and purchase dates and calculate common figures such as performance, gain/loss and market value. A key function missing from these portfolio trackers is the ability to “sync” with your brokerage accounts to automatically update transactions. Some investors are not interested in this feature since it would require entering account login and password information, but those who do want broker syncing will have to look for a website specializing in portfolio management.
All the top comprehensive websites provide in-depth news coverage. There are some notable differences in presentation, but each is similar in scope. All relevant financial news is presented, and breaking news appears on these sites within minutes of each other.
Analyst Ratings and Estimates
Analyst ratings and earnings estimates are key figures commonly used by stock investors.
Morningstar.com offers a proprietary “star” rating that is one of the most widely used ratings readily available to individual investors. The other top comprehensive websites also provide ratings systems, although they are not as well-known as the Morningstar.com star rating.
In addition, each of the top investment websites offers forward earnings expectations. These earnings expectations represent the consensus earnings forecast of the sell-side analysts following a stock.
The analyst’s ratings and estimates provided at the top sites will be scrutinized in more detail in the individual website review section below.
|Financial Information Service||Morningstar.com||Yahoo! Finance||MarketWatch.com|
|Company||Morningstar, Inc.||Yahoo! Inc.||Wall Street Journal|
|Fee for Unlimited Access||basic, free; premium, $195/year||free||free|
|Fundamental Analysis||Pricing (Source)||free; additional data & screening||free (S&P Capital IQ)||free (SIX Financial Information)|
|Financials||Yes (10 fiscal years,||Yes (3 fiscal years, 4 fiscal quarters)||Yes (5 fiscal years,|
|10 fiscal quarters)||5 fiscal quarters)|
|EPS Estimates/Ratings||Yes (FactSet)||Yes (Thomson)||Yes (FactSet)|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 500+)||Yes (18; Java-based, 150+)||Yes (10)|
|Technical Analysis/Charting||Pricing (Source)||free (Morningstar)||free (Commodity Systems Inc.)||free (SIX Financial Information)|
|Securities Covered||stocks, funds, ETFs||stocks, funds, ETFs, indexes||stocks, funds, ETFs, indexes|
|Charts||Yes (1972+)||Yes (1962+)||Yes (2000+)|
|Technical Indicators||Yes (stocks only)||Yes||Yes|
|Historical Prices||No||Yes (1962+)||No|
|Downloadable Historical Prices||No||Yes||No|
|Portfolio Monitoring||Pricing||free/additional premium features||free||free|
|Current Quotes||stocks, funds, ETFs, bonds||stocks, funds, ETFs||stocks, funds, ETFs|
|Automatic Portfolio Updates||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Real-Time Quotes (Fee)||Yes (free)||Yes ($13.95/mo.)||Yes (free)|
|Automatic Brokerage Updates||No||No||No|
|Compatible With Software||Yes (Quicken)||No||No|
|Maximum Portfolios/Securities||basic, 25/140; premium, 50/280||unlimited/200||unknown|
|Alerts (News, Price, Vol, Rating)||Yes (news, price, vol, rating)||Yes (price, news)||Yes (news)|
|Email (Market Summary, Portfolio)||Yes (portfolio)||Yes (market summary, portfolio)||Yes|
|News Search (Primary Newswires)||Yes (Dow Jones, Financial Times, MarketWatch, Topix)||Yes (AP, Barron's Online, EDGAR Online, TheStreet)||Yes (MarketWatch PR Newswire, BusinessWire)|
|Mutual Funds||Pricing (Source)||free; additional data & screening||free (Morningstar)||free (Lipper)|
|Number of Funds Followed||26,000+||26,000+||22,000+|
|Number of Data Fields||200+||100+||100+|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 300+)||Yes (18)||Yes (2)|
|Ranking (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 300+)||Yes (17)||No|
|Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)||Pricing (Source)||free (Morningstar)||free (ComStock)||free (SIX Financial Information)|
|Number of ETFs Followed||1,500||1,000+||1,000+|
|Number of Data Fields||50+||25+||60|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (50+)||No||Yes (14)|
|Ranking (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (50+)||No||No|
|Other||IPO Data||Yes (premium)||Yes||No|
|Options Data||Yes (premium)||Yes||Yes|
|RSS Feed||Yes (premium)||Yes||No|
The Top Sites
Morningstar.com is arguably the top comprehensive investment website available to individual investors. The site began as a website focusing on mutual funds. As it gained in popularity and credibility, the site expanded its coverage to include stocks and exchange-traded funds. Morningstar also hired a number of in-house analysts and began providing its own investment research, starting with its now-renowned star ratings.
The Morningstar.com’s main landing page has stayed mostly unchanged, providing news sections focusing on earnings, stocks, funds and personal finance. It also provides current market index data for the U.S., Asian and European markets. During earnings season, a section in the middle of the front page lists the before-market and after-market earnings announcements shortly after their release.
The website offers comprehensive fundamental data on individual stocks and funds, accessed by typing in a ticker symbol. The data set provided is one of the best on the Internet. For stocks, the site provides key performance figures as well as price history and dividend and split information. Users can see daily, monthly and quarterly trailing total returns compared to those of the company’s industry and the S&P 500 index. A unique feature of the website is its comparison of the growth of $10,000 for a stock against that of various indexes and other companies over 10 years.
A bevy of key financial ratios are provided for each company going back 10 years. The ratios cover profitability, growth, cash flow, financial health and efficiency. Financial statements covering five quarters and five years are offered for free. Premium subscribers have access to financial statement data for 10 quarters and 10 years. The website also presents select valuation ratios dating back 10 years. The valuation metrics provided are fairly basic and include ratios such as price to earnings, price to book, price to sales and price to cash flow. In recent years, investors have been looking increasingly at valuation metrics that include enterprise value and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) but these metrics are not found on Morningstar.com. The Insiders page shows the most comprehensive information about a company’s insiders of the top websites; it includes executive compensation, insider purchase and sales activity, biographies of key executives and names of the directors and management committee members. Information on bond and option offerings for each company is also available on the website.
A relatively new feature of the Morningstar.com stock report is the Transcripts page, which presents written transcripts of a company’s earnings conference calls. Morningstar provides transcripts going back three years and also links to transcripts for the company’s competitors. In addition, a link to SEC filings is provided.
For premium members, Morningstar.com provides proprietary research reports on a large number of stocks. The report is extensive, presenting a thesis along with valuation, risk, management and stewardship. The reports are well-written and relate a company’s fundamental qualities to their competitive advantages. The report also offers insight on a company’s ability to compete and the risks it faces going forward. Morning generally looks at fundamental factors; within these analyst reports, you will find almost no technical metrics. These reports are the basis of the star ratings given to each company.
Select charting capabilities are available, but are comparatively weak. Price and volume charts for stocks go back to 1972. The charting types are limited to line, open-high-low-close and candlestick. Other stocks and indexes can be added to a chart, as well as dividends and splits. Ten technical indicators can be plotted on each chart.
The mutual fund data offered by the site is the most exhaustive among the top comprehensive websites (as mentioned, Morningstar.com originally started out as a mutual fund research website). In addition to charting and performance data similar to that provided for stocks, the website offers a Ratings & Risks page that presents Morningstar fund ratings based on return and risk. This page also offers modern portfolio theory statistics, volatility measures and upside and downside capture ratios for each fund.
The Portfolio page shows the fund’s asset allocation breakdown, style details, sector weightings and the world regions covered by the fund. In each of these sections, the fund can be compared against a benchmark and category of your choosing.
Premium subscribers have access to a section named “Morningstar’s Take” for funds. Here, Morningstar provides a grade for stewardship and describes the role that the mutual fund should have in your portfolio. Just as with stocks, Morningstar provides an analyst report that is also available to premium subscribers. The analysis discusses the fund’s investment process, performance, and price and provides ratings of positive, negative or neutral for each section. The fund analysis is not as comprehensive as the stock analysis, but it is one of the only comprehensive investment websites that offers the service. In addition, the Stewardship area provides information on the parent company of the fund, but this also is only available to premium subscribers.
Two levels of screeners for stocks and mutual funds are offered—basic and advanced. The basic stock and mutual fund screeners are available for free, but each only offers 18 data points on which users can screen. The premium screeners are much more robust, and I would suggest using them instead of the free screeners if you are serious about screening. The Premium Stock Screener has a universe of almost 15,000 stocks and is able to screen on around 500 separate criteria. In addition, nine built-in screens are available to help you get started. The Premium Fund Screener boasts almost 26,000 mutual funds, which is the largest universe among the top comprehensive websites. It allows users to screen on over 300 separate fund criteria. A basic ETF screener is available for free to all users. It contains almost 1,500 ETFs and allows users to screen on 50 separate criteria.
There are several other investment tools available to Morningstar.com users; however, the best tools are only available to Premium members. The portfolio monitor is very capable, providing a comprehensive breakdown of your investment portfolio. In addition to presenting your past performance, the portfolio monitor shows industries in which the portfolio is overweighed. You can also quickly see the Morningstar ratings of each stock and fund you own. Premium users are able to obtain analysis for each holding separately, but the portfolio monitor allows you to aggregate all the useful data into one report quickly and easily. The portfolio X-ray tool is also worth highlighting. It provides a breakdown of your portfolio’s asset allocation and diversification and shows sector and style breakdowns of your portfolio compared to the S&P 500. It goes beyond the portfolio page by highlighting strong and weak points and suggesting changes.
Yahoo! Finance, just like Morningstar.com, has consistently appeared in our Top Comprehensive Websites article over the years. These two sites have provided the most exhaustive investment news, tools and features for individual investors.
The front page of Yahoo! Finance is much more news heavy than that of the other top sites, offering the top financial news stories of the day from around the globe.
Investment data begins with the Investing tab. On the left-hand side, the Market Coverage section provides links to the market overview. The Market Stats page presents data on volume leaders and stocks that are rising and falling at unusual rates. Click on the Stocks sub-tab to navigate to the stock research center. This area provides company earnings dates, surprises and conference calls. In addition, analyst research is provided but many reports come at a cost. A unique offering is fundamental data for each individual industry and sector in chart format, which can be downloaded and exported into Excel.
Fundamental data for individual stocks is fairly comprehensive. The company profile presents a business summary and a listing of the key insiders of the firm. The Key Statistics tab presents common ratios, trading information, share statistics and dividend and split information all on one page. In addition, this page lists key data from the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement, as well as major financial highlights. The Competitors tab pits the company’s fundamentals against those of four of its competitors as well as the industry median. Yahoo! Finance is unique in offering a Components section, which lists the indexes that include the stock, as well as ETFs and mutual funds that include the stock as a top 10 holding (along with its percentage in the fund).
The site provides an analyst coverage section that is notably different from Morningstar.com’s offering. To begin with, Yahoo! Finance does not offer proprietary research on stocks or mutual funds, choosing instead to offer a list of outside analysts and their ratings. The recommendation summary provides the average analyst recommendation on the stock and the price target summary provides the average, median, high and low target prices. Upgrades and downgrades show the ratings changes of all the analysts tracked going back to 1998. The Recommendation Trends table shows the current analysis recommendations along with the recommendations for one month, two months and three months ago. Analyst earnings, revenues and growth estimates are shown for the current and next quarter and for the current and next year. Earnings trends and recent earnings revisions are also provided. Although Yahoo! Finance does not offer its own research reports, outside reports can be purchased from the site. Unfortunately, these reports are relatively expensive, ranging from $15 to several hundred dollars per report.
Financial statement data covers four quarters and three years, which is a slightly shorter time frame than what Morningstar provides for free. In addition, links to SEC filings are provided. Yahoo! Finance is one of the few sites that provides historical stock open, high, low and closing prices.
The technical analysis capabilities provided by Yahoo! Finance are strong compared to those found at other comprehensive financial websites, allowing users to chart in full-screen mode. Chart types include open-high-low-close, candlestick, line and mountain. You are able to chart splits, dividends, insider transactions, analyst opinion changes and key developments (including major news items and earnings announcements), a great feature that allows users to gauge the stock’s reaction to positive and negative news. A multitude of technical indicators can be plotted on company charts.
For each company, the website lists headlines aggregated from a number of financial news websites. The news section is the most exhaustive of the comprehensive websites, but often users have to sort through a lot of noise to find articles that really matter. Company events are also presented, as well as recent message board postings relating to the company. This section can be found by clicking on headlines after searching for a particular stock.
Fund data is not as comprehensive as that offered by Morningstar.com. Yahoo! Finance provides a profile of the fund as well as the performance history. The risk page offers some modern portfolio theory statistics compared to the fund’s category median. Once again, analyst reports are only available for purchase and are provided by outside research firms.
Free stock and mutual fund screeners contain very large universes (over 21,000 for the stock screener and over 26,000 for the fund screener). However, the screeners are very limited in capability, and each screener only allows users to screen on 17 fundamental criteria. It should also be noted that a majority of the 21,000 stocks available in the stock screener are not actual stocks that individual investors are likely to invest in. No premium versions of the screeners are available, but a Java stock screener is provided that allows users to screen on around 150 fundamental data points. Separately, Yahoo! Finance offers a bond screener where users can screen for Treasury, corporate and municipal bonds based on price, coupon, yield and maturity.
The portfolio monitoring function is very basic and lacks many useful features. Users can enter their holdings and see performance, fundamentals and price and volume charts. Users are also able to see a snapshot of the fundamentals of each holding on one page. However, the portfolio tool fails to show a detailed breakdown of the sectors, market capitalizations or industries held in the portfolio. You can create custom views of data points you want shown in the tables, and relevant news for stocks are shown at the bottom. However, no real portfolio tools are available for ascertaining your asset allocation or areas of your portfolio that are over- or underweighted.
Making up for comparatively weak portfolio monitoring features, Yahoo! Finance’s personal finance area is one of the best available and includes sections on career and education, insurance, loans, real estate, retirement and taxes. There are helpful articles and tools in each of the sections, but the retirement section is especially worth mentioning. In addition to educational articles, there is a series of “basics” articles with numerous tips on getting ready for retirement. In addition, financial calculators let users calculate their projected cash flows based on portfolio values and returns and on how much is needed for retirement given your personal circumstances. You can also compare Roth and traditional IRAs. The entire list of calculators can be found at www.finance.yahoo.com/calculator/index.
MarketWatch.com is owned by the Wall Street Journal (as was Smartmoney.com). MarketWatch.com is a capable replacement for Smartmoney.com. It provides more global news and delves into politics as well. However, the site’s tools, such as its free stock screener, are weaker than those of Smartmoney.com. (MarketWatch.com does not provide a paid stock screener.)
MarketWatch.com’s main landing page is packed with news articles. The breakdowns for categories change depending on the main news stories. For example, at the time of this writing the current categories of news items included the Asian economies and hedge funds and the top featured article highlighted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s semiannual report on Capitol Hill.
Fundamental company data can be pulled up by typing a ticker symbol in the search box at the top right side of the home page. The data is on par with the other top comprehensive websites. Each fundamental data section is broken down by category. Financial statement data—including income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement—is provided for the past five years and for the past five quarters. The website also shows a five-period trend chart that allows users to quickly pick up on growth rates for each of the line items in a company’s financials. MarketWatch.com also links to SEC filings. Additionally, the website has a historical quotes page, where you can select any date back to 1971.
Analyst estimates and recommendations at MarketWatch.com are provided by FactSet Fundamentals. The site presents all of the commonly found analyst rating details, including an average recommendation and average target price, number of ratings and breakdown of recommendations (buy, overweight, hold, underweight and sell). Forward estimates are only provided for the upcoming quarterly and annual periods. In addition to high and low estimates, a coefficient variable is also offered, which measures variance among analyst estimates.
MarketWatch.com provides some decent intermediate- and long-term technical analysis tools. At any company summary page, click on charts to pull up a price, volume and MACD (moving average convergence/divergence) chart. Users are able to adjust the time frame for the price chart ranging from one day to all data, which goes back to 1972 for companies that were in existence at that time. Users are also able to choose from a variety of price and volume indicators.
For mutual funds, the website provides a bevy of data on a fund’s summary page, including fees and expenses, distributions, risk measures and minimum investment amount. MarketWatch.com also reports the Lipper Rating of a fund. In addition, you can compare the returns, risks, fees and holdings of several funds side by side. Interestingly, the website allows you to calculate the growth of $10,000 from a starting year that you choose. Information on individual funds includes holdings, news and historical quotes.
A set of tools that includes screeners for ETFs, stocks and options is available to users free of charge. There are 10 data points on which users can screen stocks and 14 criteria on which users can screen ETFs. The options screener is basically a listing of options that you can sort according to factors such as high volume or low volatility. The mutual fund screener is also simply a listing of mutual funds that users can sort by fund type and net assets. There is no paid screener of any type, so users wanting advanced screening capabilities should look elsewhere.
A simple portfolio tracker is offered to registered users. The portfolio tracker allows you to enter positions, descriptions and original purchase price, and it reports performance figures. There are four views provided—today, transactions, long-term performance and fundamentals—and users are also able to create custom views. The portfolio tracker can be used without registering for a free account, but no changes will be saved. The website also provides eight “lazy portfolios” which are basically model fund portfolios with suggested allocations. On top of the research tools provided, the website also includes several retirement tools, such as a retirement planner, 401(k) planner and asset allocator.
MarketWatch.com’s Markets tab is extensive, providing news stories for U.S., Canada, Europe and Middle East, Asia, emerging markets and Latin America. In addition, an extensive set of indexes are provided for several geographic areas, allowing users to get a general sense of the performance of markets worldwide.
The top three comprehensive investment websites were carefully chosen based on whether their offerings provide the information and tools that individual investors generally seek. We would like to see each of the three websites develop better portfolio management tools, such as the ability to sync with brokerage accounts and update portfolios automatically. In addition, Yahoo! Finance and MarketWatch.com could use more powerful stock screening options. There may be other notable sites out there, but we feel that these three websites should be your starting point.