by Joe Lan, CFA
One of the main benefits of the increasing popularity of the Internet is the fact that so much information and data are available at your fingertips. There are hundreds of quality websites offering education and fundamental and technical data on stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds) and bonds and providing users with tools to quickly and easily perform their own analysis. The goal of our annual installment of the “The Top Comprehensive Websites” is to give members an in-depth review of the investing websites that we feel are worth checking out.
The sites that we cover here all offer detailed fundamental data on stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. Furthermore, these sites offer portfolio monitoring and screening capabilities, two of the most widely sought-after functions among individual investors. Each website has certain areas in which it excels, so in addition to covering the basics of each site, we also highlight some strengths of each.
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What’s New This Year?
The websites we cover in this comparison are those we feel are the best of the best of the “one-stop shops” for investment news, data and tools. This year we review four websites: CNBC.com, Morningstar.com, SmartMoney.com and Yahoo! Finance.
The only newcomer to the list this year is CNBC.com. After performing a thorough review of the site’s features, we decided to include it in this year’s comparison, as it offers all the features that are present in our other top picks.
The comparison grid on pages 2 and 3 shows what each site offers in the basic areas vital to investment research.
Fundamental analysis is used by investors to compute the intrinsic or “real” value of a stock or company, and it is an integral part of investment analysis. In addition to offering stock quotes and a summary of financial data, our top comprehensive websites each provide historical financial statements, typically going back three to four periods annually and five periods quarterly. Furthermore, top websites present earnings data, including surprises, and often provide data on insider transactions.
Stock screeners are also ubiquitous among our top comprehensive websites. These tools offer individual investors a quick and easy way to winnow a universe of companies down to a manageable number of stocks that all possess similar fundamental characteristics.
Technical analysis is mainly focused on a security’s price and volume data. Individual investors often use technical analysis in tandem with fundamental analysis, attempting to enter or exit the market at an advantageous time. There are several sites that are designed specifically for technical analysis, but these sites are not included in this comparison.
Unfortunately, comprehensive investing websites, by and large, do not have very strong technical analysis capabilities. Usually, price and volume graphs are presented, but the technical indicators offered are very limited, and there is virtually no way to create custom indicators. For the most part, the top comprehensive websites allow users to compare investment holdings to indexes, plotting the price and volume data for both the investment and the index on one graph. Even though these sites do not offer the level of technical analysis sophistication that technicians look for, they are generally sufficient for individual investors.
Portfolio Monitoring and Tracking
Portfolio monitoring is arguably the feature most sought after by individual investors. Luckily, each one of our top comprehensive websites provides portfolio monitoring and tracking capabilities. Many websites offer basic portfolio tracking, but the top comprehensive sites also provide users with the ability to analyze an entire basket of holdings. Additionally, portfolio trackers should update the market values of the portfolio and individual holdings automatically, preferably in near–real time. The comprehensive websites reviewed in this article all provide portfolio tracking services for free, with additional portfolio analysis tools and features available for a fee.
The top sites may place a limit on the number of portfolios that can be tracked, but most individual investors will not find those limits restrictive. Generally, the types of securities included in online portfolio trackers include cash, stocks, mutual funds and ETFs, which should be sufficient for most investors. However, if you have a significant portion of your portfolio in bonds, options, futures or real estate, a software-based portfolio manager is a better option.
Most online portfolio trackers offer similar features, but you’ll find tools that are unique to each website. Portfolio trackers are only able to set themselves apart by providing advanced portfolio analysis and reporting capabilities.
Many investors look to mutual funds as a simple way to diversify their investment portfolio. The difference between average and superior mutual fund managers is immeasurable, and a thorough look at funds’ statistics can help you make the distinction.
The data on mutual funds provided by a top comprehensive website should rival that which it provides on stocks. In addition, risk figures should be reported for each mutual fund. Pay especially close attention to the fees and loads a mutual fund charges, as they tend to eat into returns significantly. Mutual fund screening is also available at the top sites. The number of data fields offered and the universe of stocks covered are comparable across all four sites.
The comparison grid outlines the mutual fund research offered by each site so that you can identify the one that fits your personal preferences.
Exchange-traded funds are becoming increasingly popular among investors as another easy way to add diversification. ETFs can be used to provide exposure to certain industries or geographic regions that are lacking in your portfolio.
Unlike mutual funds, most ETFs are not actively managed but instead track an index. In addition, their typically lower expense ratios make them attractive to select investors.
If you are new to ETFs, Yahoo! Finance offers an education center on these securities that can help you learn the basics.
Each comprehensive website discussed here covers ETFs and provides data such as returns, expense ratio, risk statistics, and price and volume. Superior sites provide additional analysis and screening tools to help you select ETFs that are appropriate for your portfolio.
ETF screeners are available at two of the four top comprehensive websites (Morningstar.com and SmartMoney.com). The comparison grid shows the number of data fields offered by the ETF screeners.
Comprehensive websites all include abundant news articles on subjects ranging from personal finance to the economy, and some sites offer transcripts of earnings conference calls as well.
Videos have become a large part of the media included on comprehensive websites and provide a new, efficient method of consuming data. CNBC.com offers an especially robust video collection, highlighting investments from around the globe.
Forums where users post comments are also an established feature offered on most comprehensive financial websites and can be a source of new insights. Just keep in mind that information on even well-respected forums should not be regarded as professional advice.
|Financial Information Service||Morningstar.com||Yahoo! Finance||SmartMoney.com||CNBC.com|
|Company||Morningstar, Inc.||Yahoo! Inc.||SmartMoney Magazine||CNBC|
|Fee for Unlimited Access||basic, free; premium, $185/year||free||free to $58/year||free to $499.99|
|Fundamental Analysis||Pricing (Source)||free; additional data & screening||free (Capital IQ)||free to $58/yr. (Interactive Data,||free (NYSE ARCA)|
|Financials||Yes (10 fiscal years,||Yes (3 fiscal years, 4 fiscal quarters)||Yes (10 fiscal years,||Yes (4 fiscal years, 5 fiscal quarters)|
|10 fiscal quarters)||15 fiscal quarters)|
|EPS Estimates/Ratings||Yes (FactSet)||Yes (Thomson)||Yes (Zacks)||Yes|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 500+)||Yes (150+)||Yes (premium, 150+)||Yes (80+)|
|Technical Analysis/Charting||Pricing (Source)||free (Morningstar)||free (Commodity Systems Inc.)||free to $58/year (Interactive Data,||free (NYSE ARCA)|
|Securities Covered||stocks, funds, ETFs||stocks, funds, ETFs, indexes||stocks, funds, ETFs, indexes||stocks, funds, ETFs, indexes|
|Charts||Yes (1972+)||Yes (1962+)||Yes (10 years)||Yes (10 years)|
|Technical Indicators||Yes (stocks only)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Historical Prices||No||Yes (1962+)||No||No|
|Downloadable Historical Prices||No||Yes||No||No|
||Pricing||free/additional premium features||free||free/additional premium features||free|
|Current Quotes||stocks, funds, ETFs, bonds||stocks, funds, ETFs||stocks, funds, ETFs||stocks, funds, ETFs|
|preferred stocks, options|
|Automatic Portfolio Updates||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Real-Time Quotes (Fee)||Yes (free)||Yes ($13.95/mo.)||Yes ($58/year)||No|
|Automatic Brokerage Updates||No||No||No||No|
|Compatible With Software||Yes (Quicken)||No||No||No|
|Maximum Portfolios/Securities||basic, 25/140; premium, 50/280||unlimited/200||50/50||unlimited|
|Alerts (News, Price, Vol, Rating)||Yes (news, price, vol, rating)||Yes (price, news)||Yes (price)||No|
|E-Mail (Market Summary, Portfolio)||Yes (portfolio)||Yes (market summary, portfolio)||Yes||No|
|News Search (Primary Newswires)||Yes (Dow Jones, Financial Times,||Yes (AP, Barron's Online, EDGAR||Yes ( Barron's, Dow Jones,||No|
|MarketWatch, Topix)||Online, TheStreet)||SmartMoney, WSJ)|
|Mutual Funds||Pricing (Source)||free; additional data & screening||free (Morningstar)||free to $58/year (Lipper)||free (Exchange)|
|Number of Funds Followed||24,000+||20,000+||22,000+||21,000+|
|Number of Data Fields||200+||100+||200+||70+|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 300+)||Yes -17||Yes (premium, 50+)||Yes (70+)|
|Ranking (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (basic, 18; premium, 300+)||Yes -17||Yes (premium, 50+)||Yes -20|
|Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)||Pricing (Source)||free (Morningstar)||free (ComStock)||free (ComStock)||free (NYSE ARCA)|
|Number of ETFs Followed||800+||800+||1,000+||800+|
|Number of Data Fields||50+||25+||60||70+|
|Screening (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (50+)||No||Yes -60||No|
|Ranking (Number of Data Fields)||Yes (50+)||No||Yes -60||No|
|Other||IPO Data||Yes (premium)||Yes||No||No|
|Options Data||Yes (premium)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|RSS Feed||Yes (premium)||Yes||Yes||No|
Finally, these websites may offer exclusive features that set them apart, such as data on initial public offerings), options, or RSS feeds.
An IPO is a company’s first offering of common stock to the general public, effectively making the firm a public entity. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is an XML-based Web-content syndication format used to deliver constantly updated headline feeds to readers. Most feeds deliver headlines with links to current stories on the website, providing an efficient way to alert readers when content of interest appears.
The next section provides more information on features unique to each website.
|Criteria are rated on a scale of one to five, with five denoting the best score.|
|Portfolio Management||Stock Analysis||Fund Analysis||Media & News||Ease of Use||Price||Pros||Cons|
|Morningstar.com||5||5||5||4||5||free to $185/yr.||+Leader in fund & ETF research||–Charge for many advanced tools|
||+Many interactive tools|
|Yahoo! Finance||4||5||5||5||5||free||+Provides ETF education||–No ETF screener|
||+Entire area for IPOs|
|SmartMoney.com||4||4||4||4||5||free to $58/yr.||+Powerful free ETF screener||–No historical price data|
||+Numerous advanced & interactive Java tools||–No industry comparison data|
|CNBC.com||4||4||4||5||5||free to $499/yr.||+Leader in news & media||–No ETF screener|
||+ Global videos|
Top Comprehensive Sites
Morningstar.com was once thought of as the go-to source for mutual fund data, and rightly so. But over the years it has really developed into something more—one of the top websites for comprehensive investment data and tools.
Morningstar.com now provides data on approximately 380,000 investment offerings, including stocks, mutual funds and ETFs, along with real-time global market data on more than 5 million indexes, futures, options, commodities, and precious metals. Most of Morningstar.com’s features are provided free of charge, but a premium subscription with more robust data and tools is offered for $185 per year.
The main page provides a wealth of news on the market, mutual funds, ETFs and IPO investing. In addition, there are several sections of the main page that I frequently scan, including Top Stories, On Tap, and Econ Reports.
Top Stories is self-explanatory; it presents the most current top economic stories. On Tap lists important financial data that will be released soon, such as upcoming earnings releases, economic figures and government reports. The Econ Reports section presents all current economic reports, such as personal spending, personal income, and mortgage index, along with a market consensuses, in one chart.
The website also features separate sections for stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, CEFs and markets; each section offers news, data and research for that specific investment type. The markets page is especially interesting, providing performance tables for the various indexes, sectors, industries and fund categories. Furthermore, Morningstar.com’s international sites are linked on this page. So far, Morningstar.com offers international sites for Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Morningstar.com’s fundamental data on stocks, mutual funds and ETFs is still among the most comprehensive on the Web. For stocks, the quote page includes a chart of the price where the time frame can be adjusted. Key stats are presented on an absolute basis as well as relative to the industry. Snapshots of key news, competitors, ownership, analyst recommendations and financials are all offered for stocks. For mutual funds, the quote page provides a chart depicting the growth of $10,000 over three-month and one- to 10-year periods. In addition, snapshots of a fund’s top holdings, top sectors, asset allocation, management and news are all presented. The ETF quote page shows a chart of the recent price and the fund’s monthly premium or discount.
Morningstar.com also provides separate, more in-depth pages of fundamental data for both stocks and funds. Price and volume charts allow you to compare multiple companies, and several commonly used indicators are available, such as Bollinger bands and exponential moving average. Morningstar.com also offers comprehensive yearly and annualized performance information and an exhaustive set of key ratios. Valuations include comparative figures for a company against its main competitors. For each stock, major shareholders are listed, as well as outstanding bonds. A transcript of the most recent earnings call is also linked. For funds, risk (volatility) measures and fund management are presented. Furthermore, a breakdown of the portfolio by style, region and asset allocation is provided, as well as fund expenses compared to those of similar funds.
The main difference between the premium subscription and the free areas of Morningstar.com is that additional tools and analyst research reports are available to premium subscribers. A full analyst’s report is available for a large number of stocks, mutual funds and ETFs at the premium level. In addition, Morningstar.com’s stock screener offers two levels of service—premium and basic. The premium screener for stocks covers roughly 14,000 stocks and incorporates over 500 data fields, whereas the basic () stock screener makes only 18 data points available (but still covers the same number of stocks). The premium mutual fund screener has a universe of over 24,000 mutual funds with 300 data fields, whereas the basic mutual fund screener has 18 data fields. A basic ETF screener that covers almost 1,300 ETFs is also offered.
The portfolio manager is available to all subscribers, but there are certain features offered only to premium members, such as X-Ray and portfolio monitor. X-Ray is a snapshot of your portfolio showing asset allocation, style and type. Furthermore, it breaks your holdings down by region and provides a number of fundamental ratios relative to the S&P 500. Portfolio monitor is a monthly report offered to premium members that presents an extensive summary of your portfolio, including ratings, top gainers and losers, and a table of all your holdings. This monthly report can be emailed to you and archived online.
There are a few other tools worth highlighting. Asset allocation, only offered to premium subscribers, assists users in determining an appropriate asset allocation based on their personal risk aversion and long-term performance goals. Similar-Fund Finder, also a premium tool, enables users to find mutual funds with similar styles or holdings, simplifying the process of replacing a holding. Quickrank, a free tool for stocks and funds, allows you to choose a stock sector or fund category and see a ranking based on a single data field, such as five-year total return.
Yahoo! Finance is recognized as one of the top comprehensive financial websites year after year. Although the site has not made any major changes recently, it has become more expansive, and it is still arguably one of the top two comprehensive sites available, along with Morningstar.com.
The home page has a number of sections, including common ones such as news and market index quotes. However, several sections are unique to Yahoo! Finance, including market movers, which are stocks that have an abnormally high level of recent news coverage, and community sentiment, which shows companies that are being mentioned frequently on the Yahoo! Finance message boards. In addition, a chart on the right-hand side of the home page also lists current rates for mortgages, home equity loans, savings, auto loans and credit cards.
Like Morningstar.com, Yahoo! Finance boasts individual sections for the main investment categories, including market stats, stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, bonds, options, industries, currencies and commodities. The site also features an education section that offers a vast financial glossary and educational articles on investing and personal finance. The information is particularly valuable simply because there are not many investment websites that offer such a comprehensive educational section.
Yahoo! Finance displays one of the most robust personal finance sections on the Web. There are 10 personal finance pages, and each offers detailed how-to guides and calculators to assist you in an array of financial situations. For example, the college and education page offers how-to guides on subjects such as saving for college expenses and cutting tuition costs. Calculators in this section compare a 529 college savings plan to a normal savings account and help you ascertain how much needs to be saved for a given cash outflow in the future. How-to guides on the retirement page focus on when to apply for Social Security and how to manage your estate plan. Retirement calculators allow you to gauge what your 401(k) will be worth and to project cash flow in the future, just to name a few. Other personal finance pages include banking and budgeting, career and work, family and home, insurance, loans, real estate, taxes, and lifelong investing.
Another area in which Yahoo! Finance shines is price and volume stock data. In addition to the commonly presented data, Yahoo! Finance also offers daily, weekly and monthly historical price quotes going back to 1970 that can be downloaded into a spreadsheet, an extremely valuable feature. The charts section for a stock includes a price and volume graph that allows users to perform some simple technical analysis. Furthermore, clicking on messages boards at a stock’s page will show all related material that has been written on Yahoo! Finance’s message boards.
For each company, a section on analyst coverage includes analyst opinions, estimates and research reports. A separate section, “Star Analysts,” presents the recommendations of research analysts who have given the most accurate earnings estimates for the firm. The most recent SEC filings are also listed. Financial statements are offered for the last three years and the last four quarters. For each company, Yahoo! Finance also provides key data on direct competitors and on the industry as a whole for comparison.
Mutual fund coverage includes charts and simple technical analysis functions. Fund profile, performance, holdings, risk and purchase information and are all available, and research reports can be purchased. The ETF data offered is much the same, but there is one additional page—market pulse. This page shows the recent purchase activity for an ETF, where available.
Screeners are offered for stocks and mutual funds. The stock screener has a universe of over 20,000 stocks and 150 different data fields, while the mutual fund screener includes over 21,500 mutual funds with 17 data fields. Although there is no ETF screener offered, Yahoo! Finance does provide a fairly comprehensive ETF education and resource center.
The portfolio manager is relatively basic, but it does provide real-time quotes. Users can create personalized views and download them onto a spreadsheet.
When looking at the SmartMoney website, there are several aspects that really stand out. The website is part of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, so it features some of the most widely read news articles right on its home page. The site also offers a bevy of award-winning tools for free. More powerful tools are included in SmartMoney Select, a fee-based subscription that costs $5.95 per month ($58 per year).
Aside from pages dedicated to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and currencies, SmartMoney.com also has a Today’s Market page. This page presents several interesting pieces of data, such as biggest market movers by volume and most recent economic reports, analyst actions, earnings, splits and dividends. Furthermore, a “heat map” of the market shows the industries that are up and down.
SmartMoney.com’s fundamental data on stocks is exhaustive. Financial statements are provided for the last 15 quarters and for the last 10 fiscal years. The earnings page presents earnings and expectations for the past six reporting periods. Furthermore, earnings forecasts, forecast revisions and growth estimates are all offered. The ratings page is one of the best available on the Web. Users can compare ratings for a company against its top competitors as well as see all the current analyst recommendations followed by SmartMoney.com. A chart and tables of earnings estimate trends are shown as well. Finally, the ratings section presents a stock’s history of upgrades and downgrades by well-known analysts.
The tools section provided by SmartMoney.com is the most expansive among the top comprehensive sites. The site offers a wide array of Java-based tools, some of which require a premium membership. Among the free tools, several are worth highlighting. In the economy section, SmartMoney.com provides a sector map and a sector tracker. The sector map shows the performance of each company in a chosen sector. The sector tracker allows users to follow sectors through various time frames to instantly see which sectors are leading or lagging the market over that specific period of time. The ETF map works similarly to the sector map, showing the price movement of ETFs over a broad set of indexes. Users can choose to display price movement, largest volume or performance for various time frames. SmartMoney.com’s ETF screener is offered for free to registered members, so you must create a login and password to access it. The screener includes a universe of over 1,300 ETFs and provides over 60 data fields. ETF compare allows users to place several ETFs side by side to quickly and easily compare fundamental data.
In the investing tab of the tools section, SmartMoney.com offers an Asset Allocator tool that aids investors in selecting an appropriate asset allocation based on personal risk/reward profile, taking into account current and long-term spending, years to retirement, current home equity, volatility tolerance and inflation forecast. A multitude of other free investing tools are available in addition to the ones highlighted, and we encourage you to try them for yourself.
SmartMoney.com’s fund and stock screeners are provided only to paying customers. The stock screener includes over 150 data fields. However, the universe of stocks covered is somewhat weak compared to the other top comprehensive websites, with just over 7,800. The fund screener uses over 50 data fields for screening and has a universe of over 22,000 funds. For both the stock and fund screeners, averages and descriptions are provided for each data field, ensuring that users are able to screen for the correct fundamentals and choose practical numbers.
The portfolio tracker is available for free and allows you to create 50 portfolios with 50 securities in each. The tracker shows general fundamental information and provides a “heat map,” visually displaying the performance for the securities in your portfolio. In addition, intraday emails and text alerts can be set based on custom price targets, volume, dollar or percentage price changes, and new 52-week highs and lows. Paid subscribers receive real-time quotes and email alerts within three minutes of the trigger, whereas free subscribers receive 20-minute delayed quotes and email alerts.
CNBC.com is the lone newcomer this year. CNBC.com’s home page is similar to those of the other comprehensive financial websites. It provides a summary of market performance, top news for the day, videos and editor’s picks articles. The news section groups recent articles into several categories, including U.S., Asia-Pacific, Europe, economy, energy, and technology, among others.
Fundamental data provided on stocks includes financial statements for the previous four annual periods and five quarterly periods. A basic price and volume chart is displayed that allows users to compare the security to world indexes. Additionally, several commonly used technical indicators can be overlaid on the charts. The company profile page presents analysts’ ratings and trends, as well as a chart of historical performance. The earnings section offers earnings trends and growth forecasts for a stock, including a limited number of key ratios. Performance and fundamental data for competitors are also shown. Data provided for mutual funds includes total returns and risk measures as well as top holdings. A chart of fees and expenses is also presented.
CNBC.com’s comprehensive Earnings Central section is one of the site’s key strengths. The main earnings page provides recent earnings analysis, headlines, videos and news. The earnings calendar displays all the firms scheduled to releases earnings along with their latest consensus earnings estimate and the actual earnings from one year ago. A chart listing the most recent earnings surprises includes revenue and net income changes compared to the year-ago period for each firm.
The stock screener offered by CNBC.com boasts over 80 data fields with a universe of almost 12,000 companies. There are five predefined screens that look for steady earnings, dividends, large-cap growth, small-cap value and large-cap value. The mutual fund screener uses over 70 data fields and offers a universe of over 21,600 funds. Much like the stock screener, there are five predefined screens: high-net-asset stock funds, high-net-asset fixed-income funds, foreign equity performers, top-performing equity funds with low turnover, and steady performers.
In order to use CNBC.com’s portfolio tracker, you must be a registered user. The portfolio tracker can handle only stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and cash. The portfolio overview page shows your current portfolio value, unrealized losses and the total return for the portfolio and for each holding. Furthermore, users can view a portfolio breakdown and a transaction history. Portfolio holdings can be exported into an Excel file.
CNBC.com’s personal finance page presents a wealth of articles on retirement, investing, banking, savings, budgeting and taxes. In addition, rates for mortgages, home equity loans, auto loans, CDs and credit cards are all displayed. There are also several simple calculators that help users with budgeting, saving and calculating loan interest.
A paid subscription to CNBC Pro offers live streaming of CNBC TV from the U.S., Europe and Asia with new on-demand clips daily. Furthermore, a paid subscription provides access to unlimited real-time price alerts and breaking news alerts and unlimited real-time quotes for global markets. See the website for pricing on the different CNBC Pro packages offered.
In this year’s “Top Comprehensive Websites” comparison, we review four of the best comprehensive investing websites available on the Internet. Morningstar.com, Yahoo! Finance and SmartMoney.com have become staples in our yearly review. CNBC.com is our new pick and offers many of the same features as the other three. Not surprisingly, CNBC.com also offers a bevy of video clips highlighting investments around the globe.
Each of our top picks has it own strengths and weakness, but for most individual investors, any of the four should be a sufficient resource for investment news, fundamental and technical data, portfolio management and screening.