The Price Is Right
The Web offers good portfolio-tracking software, gratis
QuoteTracker grabs quotes from the 'Net.
The downside is the time you spend downloading the programs, and that investors who roam from computer to computer will need to have a copy of the program along with the current data file on each system. (That's in contrast to Web-based programs, which you can typically use from any PC.)
We also found that none of these programs will automatically adjust for stock splits or mutual-fund dividends; you'll have to do that work manually. Neither do they track options, or stocks sold on exchanges outside North America. However, they all collect data, news and charts from a variety of sources and display it for you in one place, saving you the bother of running around the Internet putting your portfolio reports together. And did I mention the price?
The most interesting of the three freebies is MedVed's Quote Tracker, which can be downloaded from its site at www.medved.net. You can register the program for $60, or use it free and endure the ad banners instead. Registration also entitles you to an unlimited number of portfolios to track; unregistered users are limited to two. Once you've got a portfolio set up, Quote Tracker takes you online and gets the current prices of the securities you've chosen.
The main shortcoming of this program is the way items are entered into a portfolio. There's no help finding ticker symbols at all. You specify which data feeds you want, and there are even some free real-time quote feeds on the list.
Once the prices have been updated, all the securities in the open portfolio are displayed in a spreadsheet-like screen. On the far right of the screen, Quote Tracker shows a small icon representative of recent price changes. Clicking on the icon brings up an intraday chart, and you can have several securities and indexes displayed simultaneously. Portfolio analysis is limited to gains and losses.
StockVue99 adds analytic capabilities.
Those looking for a replacement for Intuit's Investor Insight might turn to QuoteTracker, though it doesn't allow you to generate a five-year price history. It's the only one of the three that doesn't include a scrolling ticker, but it does display index changes in an easy-to-read bar at the top of the screen. You can even create your own index based on arithmetic combinations of other available indices. Quote Tracker's install file is under two megabytes in size, and takes only a few minutes to download over a standard dial-up connection.
Alpha Microsystems produces StockVue 99, which is currently available in beta test mode (not quite ready for prime time) from its Website at www.alphaconnect.com. It's a huge download, over six megabytes, which could tie up your dial-up connection for half an hour or so.
StockVue 99 will run only on Windows 95 or Windows NT systems (it also worked on our Windows 98 test system) that have Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 installed. Though you can use Netscape in conjunction with StockVue 99 if you'd like, the program uses some of Internet Explorer's components, and won't operate properly without it.
Once you've survived the download, the installation is quick and relatively painless -- only so long as you accept all the default settings suggested during the setup process. Deviating from the defaults caused both of our test systems to lock up, but all went smoothly if we just obeyed and clicked on the "Next" button without making any changes during setup.
StockVue 99 lets you set up portfolios of unlimited size, with subcategories set according to your specifications. You can have a portfolio with mutual funds, U.S. and Canadian stocks from all available exchanges, as well as fixed-income securities. Categories help you determine subtotals for the portfolio valuation report, but you can't move a security from one category to another with the current version of the program. StockVue also has data export capabilities, so you can share the price information downloaded with Quicken or Excel.
The program collects price information and charts from Quote.com, and also puts together Market Guide fundamental data and Zack's recommendations (if available) for each security. You can also pick up EDGAR reports and other SEC filings. As you enter security symbols into the portfolio for tracking, StockVue sets up a ticker at the top of the screen that updates as Quote.com passes along the data.
StockVue 99 doesn't allow you to compare one security to another, however, and there's no screening capability. But if you can put up with the long download, it's a good way to collect a lot of information about a security without having to visit 12 different Websites. The main drawback of having StockVue open all the time when online is that its operation seriously bogs down other Web activity.
StockTick by NAC Consulting, available for download from www.naconsulting.com, allows full use of the program free, though registered users (who have to shell out $24.95) get access to printing and data export features. It will also E-mail you a portfolio report if you so choose, and has the best support for Netscape browsers of the three. It has the most complete portfolio analysis features, though curiously the most difficult security setup routine.
As with StockVue, if you're on the Web browsing in another window, you can keep the ticker open all the time to keep an eye on your investments. Portfolios and their contents are displayed in an Internet Explorer-like list on the left-hand side of the screen, and the details are shown in a spreadsheet-like display in the larger window on the right. Clicking on a column header quickly sorts the table, and you can develop an investment history as you use the program, comparing portfolio values from one period to another.
Its main drawback is the inability to compare one security with another, or to develop your own index. But this is another quick download, with an install file of less than two megabytes.
Speaking of freebies, Vanguard will provide its fund holders a Web-based version of Intuit's TurboTax software starting later this month, no charge. See www.vanguard.com for details.
Online Trading Update: The fourth annual Barron's analysis of online trading sites is fast approaching, and this year we'd like to hear from you. What's your overall take on online trading? Which brokers have you used that you like a lot, and why? Which brokers make you crazy, and why? Send your observations to us at email@example.com, including contact information in case we need to call you for a personal interview. Just don't any of you tell us that you have your own personal island but you're still towing cars anyway.