Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
I recently read an article that equated investors and their portfolios to mother bears and their cubs. The conclusion was that it was “bear watching season.” Even the most die-hard buy-and-hold investors like to know what their portfolios are doing from time to time, despite the market gyrations of the past couple of years that have many investors burying their heads in the sand.
Merely monitoring these investments on a periodic basis doesn’t necessarily require a sophisticated portfolio management program. For such simple portfolio tracking, online portfolio managers are a handy and inexpensive way to monitor several investment accounts at the same time.
Now that most investors make use of an online broker, they may question the need for a third-party online tracker, since most brokerage sites offer their own portfolio tracking modules. However, many investors have more than one account to keep tabs on. I myself, for example, have my own investments, such as my retirement account, as well as accounts I am involved with here at AAII. Instead of having to go to multiple sites to view all of your portfolios, portfolio trackers like those discussed here allow you to consolidate all of your accounts and portfolios under the same roof.
These days, most quality online portfolio trackers are found as part of a comprehensive financial website offering additional analytical and research tools and resources—such as stock and mutual fund screening or financial planning. Portfolio trackers found on these sites offer pricing and performance updates (often on an intraday basis), links to portfolio-related news items, and e-mail alerts regarding news or price and volume activity of actual portfolio holdings or securities on a watchlist.
More sophisticated services will take things one step further to offer analysis tools related to asset allocation, portfolio diversification, and risk minimization. Depending on the tools provided, some sites are free with registration while others charge regular subscription fees.
Compared to their software-based counterparts, online portfolio trackers usually do not offer the same level of flexibility or sophistication when it comes to security handling, portfolio analysis or reporting capabilities. They are usually limited in their customization and offer a more limited array of performance analysis and calculation functions. Any “reports” these online tools offer are commonly presented in the form of on-screen views.
Despite these apparent “shortcomings,” online portfolio trackers do have their place in any investor’s toolbox. For those looking for an inexpensive and simple way to track the movements of their stock, mutual fund, or exchange-traded fund (holdings, an online portfolio tracker is often the best option. Furthermore, as I have already touched upon, these tools are a great way to monitor multiple portfolios at the same place. Combined with the additional analysis and research tools often provided at the same site, investors are treated to one-stop online investment research, analysis, and tracking.
This comparison focuses on our top picks among online portfolio tracking and management services. Since our last comparison in 2008, there have been some changes at the top. It’s been well-documented in the pages of Computerized Investing over the last couple of years that the online investment resource landscape was significantly altered by changes made to the MSN Money website. In an effort to create the same experience for Windows and Mac users, Microsoft eliminated or altered several modules at MSN Money, including their extremely popular and powerful portfolio manager. While it has been improved upon since the initial “downgrade,” the new portfolio tracker is still a shadow of its former self, at least for Windows users. As a result, it is no longer an Editor’s Choice.
We have added two new top picks: the new Wikinvest portfolio tracker, which allows you to link with online accounts from over 70 different brokers, as well as SmartMoney.com’s portfolio module. In addition, the premium portfolio manager at Morningstar.com once again receives an Editor’s Choice designation.
You will also find an expanded comparison table of several other worthwhile Web-based portfolio trackers available at the online version of this article at www.computerizedinvesting.com.
The simplicity that makes online portfolio trackers so appealing for casual portfolio monitoring makes them equally ill-suited for investors with holdings that range beyond stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. Most online portfolio managers cannot handle investments such as options or bonds. The typical service in this comparison, and in the expanded comparison grid online, is for the average investor needing basic monitoring of the most common types of investments.
If you are interested in a software-based portfolio management tool, be sure to see our comparison from the Fourth Quarter 2009 issue of Computerized Investing.
Whenever you are looking for an investment analysis tool, it is a good idea to create a checklist of key functions to consider so you can compare the various offerings that are available. For online portfolio trackers, some of the more important features to consider include:
The number of portfolios each online portfolio tracking service offers will vary. For the typical investor, this will not be a factor, as most services allow the tracking of at least 25 portfolios. This will only be an issue if you manage a number of investment portfolios. Among our Editor’s Choice picks, the free portfolio tracker at the Morningstar.com website allows you to have a maximum of 25 portfolios; SmartMoney.com caps the number of portfolios at 50; while Wikinvest allows you to track an unlimited number of portfolios.
A handy feature that some online services offer is the ability to view multiple portfolios at once. This allows you to track the performance of individual portfolios and the group as a whole as well. Among our Editor’s Choice picks, only SmartMoney.com does not allow you to view multiple portfolios at the same time.
What may be of greater importance is the number of holdings you can enter into a single portfolio. SmartMoney.com limits you to 50 holdings per portfolio; Morningstar.com’s free portfolio tracker has a limit of 140 holdings, while their premium tracker has a 280-holding limit; and Wikinvest allows you to track an unlimited number of holdings in a single portfolio.
Many websites also differentiate between a portfolio where the purchase prices and dates of holdings are designated and a “watchlist.” A watchlist is a listing of stocks, ETFs and mutual funds that you do not own but want to track. With a watchlist, you typically only have to enter in a ticker symbol.
The types of securities most online portfolio trackers can handle is usually not as robust as what you find with a software-based portfolio manager. The typical online tracker will only handle securities where there is readily available daily and historical pricing data. As a result, they usually only track cash, stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. For most investors, this is adequate. However, investors with more diverse portfolio holdings—including bonds, options, futures, and real estate—will be left wanting.
Even if a service claims to handle these “higher-level” investments, they usually do not provide periodic pricing to be able to accurately track their performance or that of the overall portfolio. It is up to the user to update the pricing of these assets.
All three of our Editor’s Choice picks can handle cash, stock, ETF, and mutual fund transactions with ease. Morningstar.com allows you to enter bond holdings, while SmartMoney.com can handle option holdings.
If you want to monitor your holdings during the course of the trading day, it is important to have the price and performance data updated on a regular basis. Depending on the service you are using, this updating may be done automatically at regular intervals, which you may be able specify. In other cases, you have to do it manually by refreshing the Web page with the Web browser. All three trackers here offer “real-time” dynamic quote updates, which means portfolio price data is updated as new trades are made. Prices are still delayed 15 to 20 minutes, although SmartMoney.com does offer a subscription to real-time quotes for $108 a year.
||Morningstar, Inc.||Smart Money Magazine||Wikinvest|
||free to $19.95/mo.||free; $58 or $108/yr.||free|
|Portfolio Updates (Frequency of Updates)||automatic (delayed quotes)||automatic (delayed quotes), real-time $108/yr.||automatic (delayed quotes)|
|Desktop Software Compatibility||Money, Quicken||Money, Quicken|
|Newswire Services||Financial Times, Dow Jones Newswires, MarketWatch, Morningstar, PR Newswire, Reuters, Seeking Alpha||
Barrons Online, Dow Jones Newswires,
MarketWatch, Motley Fool, SmartMoney, WSJ.com
|Bloomberg, CNN Money, Fortune, MarketWatch, New York Times,|
|PR Newswire, RealMoney, Reuters,|
|E-Mail Alerts (News/Price Targets/Dividends/Splits)||yes (news/dividends/splits)||yes (price targets)||yes (news)|
E-Mail Reports (Security Values/Market Summary)
||yes (security values)||yes (security values)||yes (security values)|
|Stock Screening/Mutual Fund Screening||yes||yes||no|
|Maximum Portfolios/Securities per Portfolio||25/140 (free), 25/280 (premium)||50/50||unlimited/unlimited|
|Options/Futures/Warrants||no||yes (options||yes (options)|
|Identification (Name/Ticker/CUSIP)||yes (name/ticker)||yes (name/ticker)||yes (name/ticker)|
|Account Number/Management Firm||no||no||yes|
|Asset Class (Predefined/User-Defined)||yes (predefined)||yes (predefined)||yes (predefined)|
|Treatment of Fees/Commissions||yes||yes||yes|
|Security Lot Assignments (Avg. Cost/FIFO/Specific Lot)||no||yes (average cost)||yes (FIFO)|
|Holdings by Lots||no||no||no|
|Cash Portfolio Status||yes||yes||yes|
|Tax Schedules (Interest/Dividends/Capital Gains)||no||no||no|
|Projected Cash Flows||no||no||no|
||Security/Industry/Asset Class/Investment Style||yes (security)||yes (security/asset class)||yes (security/industry/asset class)|
|Portfolio (Single/Multiple)||yes (single)||yes||yes|
|Holding Period/Between Period Returns||yes||yes||yes (holding period)|
|Value-Weighted IRR/Time-Weighted Returns||yes||yes (time-weighted)||yes (time-weighted)|
The one drawback when using either an online portfolio tracker or a full-fledged software-based portfolio management system is that you may have to enter your portfolio information by hand. However, many online portfolio trackers offer the time-saving ability to import data from brokerage sites or software programs. Many brokerage sites offer data exporting of transactions and portfolio holdings in QIF (Quicken), OCX (a data standard used throughout the financial industry), or Excel file formats.
All of our Editor’s Choice picks here allow you to import portfolio data in a variety of formats. The Wikinvest portfolio tracker goes so far as to sync with over 70 online brokers. Be aware, however, that most brokers only allow you to export a fixed number of transactions or data covering a fixed amount of time. While this can help you avoid entering a number of transactions manually, active traders may still have to enter some data by hand.
On the flipside, you may also be able to export your portfolio data from an online portfolio tracker for use in programs such as Microsoft Money or Quicken. All three of our trackers allow you to export data for use in other programs or at other websites.
One of the key drivers of investment values, especially in the short term, is news. To stay on top of news impacting your portfolio holdings, most quality financial websites link to headlines from a variety of news sources. They can range from basic newswire services carrying company press releases such as Business Wire or PR Newswire to “premium” news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the New York Times. You may also have access to articles and blogs and more unique financial content from the likes of TheStreet.com, the Motley Fool and Seeking Alpha. Our three Editor’s Choice picks offer some of the most varied news content among the sites we reviewed. Even in our expanded comparison grid, news is a standard feature offered by all sites except GainsKeeper. This reflects GainsKeeper’s focus on being more of a “pure” portfolio management and reporting platform instead of “merely” an online portfolio tracker.
Being on the Web and “always connected” (even if you aren’t) allows online portfolio trackers to constantly monitor the activity of portfolio holdings throughout the course of the trading day. As a result, many online portfolio tracking services offer alerts that can be related to price and volume movements in a stock or ETF, prices reaching some user-defined level, stock dividend or mutual fund distributions, stock splits, changes in mutual fund ratings, news items, and more. These alerts usually take the form of e-mail messages, but some sites also send text messages to your handheld or mobile device. In addition, many of today’s free e-mail services—such as those offered by Yahoo! and Google—allow you to have messages forwarded to a mobile device. If you don’t want to have your e-mail account flooded with messages throughout the day, some trackers offer “market summary” e-mails at the end of the trading day that detail portfolio performance and summarize news items about your portfolio holdings.
All three trackers here provide intraday alerts related to price movements or news items of individual holdings, as well as end-of-day summaries. Figure 1 is an example of a weekly portfolio summary e-mail sent out by Wikinvest. If you subscribe to SmartMoney.com’s real-time data service (which costs $108 a year), the site claims that you will receive portfolio alerts, on average, within three minutes of an alert being triggered.
By and large, the functionality offered by online portfolio trackers has converged over the years. It is difficult to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to tracking the movement of your portfolio holdings.
These days, what really sets a quality portfolio tracker apart from the competition is the sophistication of its portfolio analysis and reporting capabilities. Some trackers offer nothing more than a listing of your current holdings and their performance since purchase. Others offer more in-depth portfolio analysis, such as multi-period performance statistics, portfolio allocation analysis, and analyst reports related to your holdings.
Even among our Editor’s Choice picks, these offerings are varied. Morningstar’s Premium portfolio tracker arguably offers some of the most complete portfolio analysis capabilities available online. This includes portfolio “X-Rays,” which break down your portfolio holdings by asset class, investment type and even geographic concentration. Premium subscribers also have access to in-depth analyst reports on individual stocks and mutual funds. The Wikinvest portfolio tracker is perhaps the leanest of the three in terms of advanced portfolio analytics.
Another way in which financial websites set themselves apart from each other is through additional research and analysis tools to help you in the investment process. The most popular tools include stock and mutual fund screening modules and interactive charting.
With screening modules, it is important to be aware of the depth of data, including the number of stocks or mutual funds in the database, as well as the breadth of the data available for screening. For a comprehensive rundown of the top online stock screening websites, see the comparison from the Third Quarter 2010 issue of Computerized Investing. Our last review of mutual fund screening services appeared in the Third Quarter 2009 issue of CI. You can also find these comparisons online at the Computerized Investing website.
Even if you do not consider yourself a pure “technician,” you probably like to look at price charts to decide when to buy and sell. Beyond displaying different types of charts—open-high-low-close bar charts, candlestick charts, point & figure charts, etc.—the availability of technical indicators is an important factor when evaluating a site’s interactive charting capabilities. Our last comparison of online charting and technical analysis sites was in the March/April 2009 issue of CI.
Other useful features include access to fundamental data—financial statements, earnings estimates, financial ratios and multiples, market statistics, and financial calculators. However, these factors were of secondary importance when evaluating online portfolio trackers.
Morningstar.com is a comprehensive financial website offering market news, stock and fund screening, portfolio tracking and security analysis. Much of the content is available for free, while the premium services—including more in-depth portfolio tracking and stock and fund screening—cost $19.95 per month.
Morningstar recently launched a completely redesigned portfolio tracker offering better navigation, improved ease of use, and “real-time” dynamic quote updates throughout the trading day. The premium portfolio tool allows the creation of 25 portfolios and 25 watchlists with expanded tracking of up to 200 stocks and/or mutual funds, 40 bonds and 40 cash positions in each. Morningstar.com offers a wide range of intraday and end-of-day e-mail alerts. Intraday alerts cover such events as stock news, stock dividends, percentage price moves, and new 52-week highs and lows. Nightly stock and mutual fund alerts are also available for Morningstar ratings and analysis, stock price movement, stock news, stock splits and dividends, mutual fund distributions, fund performance, and material changes in mutual fund portfolios.
There are a number of ways to create a portfolio, one of which is to import data from Microsoft Money, Excel, and Quicken programs and various websites including MSN Money and Yahoo! Finance. The site offers instructions and tips for each type of import, including new video tutorials.
A new feature is the ability to specify the cost basis of your portfolio holdings. The default method is consistent with IRS guidelines and takes the price paid, reinvested dividends and capital gains distributions as well as the commissions and fees paid when purchasing a holding. The adjusted method excludes reinvested dividends and capital gains distributions from the cost basis calculation.
Custom views can be created by choosing from a list of over 75 data points that includes performance, risk, and fundamental criteria. You can add up to 35 criteria to each custom view. The new portfolio manager now allows to you create and save up to four custom views. Also new is the ability to export data from custom view pages in Excel format.
The site has also improved upon one of its long-time shortcomings: You can now print custom views or specific areas of the portfolio analysis tool as well as detailed X-Ray reports.
The X-Ray feature is one of the better online analysis tools for the price (offered to premium subscribers only). The X-Ray tool gives you an in-depth analysis of your portfolios, one at a time. However, you can easily combine portfolios if you would like a full analysis of multiple portfolios.
The new My Performance area allows you to plot periodic portfolio returns over a variety of predefined time periods as well as custom periods. You can plot total returns, which are similar to time-weighted returns whereby capital additions or withdrawals do not impact the portfolio return. You can also plot personal returns, which are similar to value-weighted returns that take into account the capital you added or withdrew from your portfolio. For periods over a year, performance is annualized and you can choose from 19 indexes for benchmark comparisons.
Premium X-Ray portfolio analysis breaks down each portfolio by sector, style, security type and region. You can also view a list of fees and expenses for mutual funds, the styles of bond funds, and various stock-related statistics. While the amount of information provided is very useful, it would be nice if you were able to sort within each of these views.
The Stock Intersection analyzer lists any stock overlap in mutual fund holdings. You can now sort within the Stock Intersection based on underlying stock holdings, tickers, percentage of the portfolio’s net assets, and market value.
Another new feature for Premium subscribers is the Portfolio Monitor, which is a monthly portfolio statement that summarizes your portfolio’s performance and the top contributors and detractors within the portfolio. It also provides a breakdown of current asset, sector, region, and investment style allocation within the portfolio.
Data on individual securities is broad and deep. Fundamental, technical and historical data are compared to benchmarks and to the market as a whole, and interactive charts allow for a visual representation of important stock data. The site also sports best-in-class premium stock screening and mutual fund screening tools.
Morningstar.com’s additional portfolio analysis tools, as well as its screening and research offerings, give it a leg up on the majority of online portfolio trackers now available. As a result, it is a site that offers much more than just simple portfolio tracking.
SmartMoney.com is another comprehensive investing website that offers some of its data at no cost with registration, 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 a year. For $108 a year you can add real-time stock and ETF quotes.
To create a new portfolio, you can enter transactions manually or import data from Money or Quicken. The site offers a unique tool that will retrieve a security’s closing price for a specified day when entering transactions. The site handles stock, mutual fund and ETF transactions, and also allows you to enter preferred shares and options.
When setting up a portfolio, you can track cash and have it reflect buys and sells. Alternatively, you can transfer securities in and out, which mimics buys and sells but does not impact the cash balance.
You can create 50 portfolios with up to 50 mutual funds, stocks or ETFs in each. Views can be fully customized using 17 data items. Performance for your portfolio can be viewed over various time periods, including custom periods.
The Portfolio Map organizes portfolio information into a graphical display consisting of different sized and colored rectangles. Each rectangle represents an individual holding in your portfolio and its size represents the relative size within the portfolio—the larger the value of a holding, the larger its rectangle. The color of a rectangle is an indication of its performance: red signifies a loss, green represents a gain, and black means no change. The brighter the color—red or green—the more extreme the price move.
You can graph the allocation of one or multiple portfolios based on asset type—small, mid, or large cap—or by sector.
SmartMoney.com also allows you to rank the stock holdings in a portfolio by the performance of various fundamental and technical elements—such as historical sales and earnings growth, short interest, forward price-earnings ratio, return on equity, and percentage change from 52-week high or low. Mutual fund holdings can be ranked based on Lipper mutual fund score, turnover, sales charge or expense ratio.
SmartMoney Select subscribers have the added ability to export securities to the site’s Stock and Fund Compare tools for further analysis. You can also export portfolio positions or transactions as QIF files for Quicken or Money as well as in CSV or Excel formats.
Intraday e-mail and text alerts can be triggered based on custom price targets, volume, dollar or percentage price change, and new 52-week highs and lows. If you are a real-time subscriber ($108 per year), SmartMoney guarantees you will receive the alert within three minutes of the trigger. Non-real-time subscribers will receive the e-mail within 23 minutes. You can also opt to receive a daily portfolio report regarding the performance of your portfolios.
Overall, SmartMoney.com offers a nice set of free tools for portfolio monitoring and offers more sophisticated tools including real-time data for a reasonable cost.
Wikinvest makes its first appearance in this year’s comparison, as it is a relative newcomer to the realm of financial websites. Launched in 2006, the site, as its name suggests, is a wiki for investing (similar in nature to Wikipedia, although the two sites are not affiliated). It embodies the “Web 2.0” trend that is revolutionizing the way websites are designed and how they engage users. The site attempts to capitalize on the large numbers of savvy investors who are looking online for investment ideas. This research portal allows any registered user to contribute information on company profiles, investment concepts, or chart analysis.
In June, Wikinvest launched its new portfolio tracking tool that allows users to import information directly from existing brokerage and investment accounts and then provides a “real-time” picture of the combined portfolios’ performance.
The Wikinvest portfolio tracker syncs users’ information from any of over 70 brokerages the site currently supports (this is up from the 25 it supported when it was first launched). Brokerages the site supports include Vanguard, Scottrade, Charles Schwab, and ETrade.
The portfolio “dashboard,” or view, consists of four different tabs—news, summary, performance, and fundamentals. For each you can modify the data that is displayed by choosing from nearly 30 data points. This data covers price summary data, positions information, valuation, and income statement and balance sheet items. The site also provides links to several news outlets, including Reuters, Bloomberg, Business Week, The New York Times, and TheStreet.com.
Portfolio performance is represented as time-weighted returns in accordance with Global Investment Performance Standards, meaning that cash deposits or withdrawals from a portfolio will not impact overall performance. While you can enter options holdings for a portfolio, the site does not currently support daily or historical options pricing data. The site also does not track the daily changes in any bonds you may hold in your portfolio.
The portfolio tracking tool offers daily and weekly portfolio briefing e-mails (as shown in Figure 1 on page 25) and intraday breaking news alerts.
|Performance||Documentation||Ease of Use||Cost||Pros||Cons|
|+Portfolio X-Ray tools||–Limits on portfolios & securities in each|
|+Great tools for further analysis|
|+Event-driven e-mail alerts|
|+Real-time data option||–Limits on portfolios & securities in each|
|+Generates many reports|
|5||5||5||free||+Links to 70+ online brokers||–Must manually create watchlists|
|+No limit on number of accounts||–No alerts for price action|
|–Broker may charge for linking|
Wikinvest does not pay lip service to security concerns. The site was co-founded by a former Amazon.com employee and makes use of the same security system that is used with Amazon’s secure checkout process. According to the site, even if someone were to gain access to your Wikinvest account, your information is “read-only,” meaning it is impossible for an outsider to make trades or obtain funds from your linked accounts. If you do not wish to sync your brokerage and investment accounts, you can instead use the site’s watchlist feature. Wikinvest claims to be working on functions for manually entering portfolio transaction data as well importing portfolio information from data files.
Wikinvest’s new portfolio tracking tool is part of the site’s broader mission of becoming the “world’s best source of investment information and investment tools.” At the site, you will also find collaboratively annotated stock charts, a finance search engine called Bling and over 10,000 articles related to investment topics, company profiles and trading tips. From what I have seen, the user-generated content at the site is extremely thoughtful. Company summaries are some of the most comprehensive I have come across, free or fee-based, discussing such elements as company business model, key risks and opportunities, market share and more. The site’s content is held in high enough regard that it now powers the stock charts on Forbes.com and provides finance content for NPR.org and USAToday.com.