May 23rd, 2012
Article of the Week from Investing Daily
How does one pick stocks to invest in? One great way is to find a knowledgeable and talented investment advisor such as those we have here at Investing Daily. You just can’t find better investment talent than Investing Daily advisors like Roger Conrad and Elliott Gue. So, at least for the bulk of your “serious” money, sticking with the experts is the way to go.
But if you’re like me, you are also somewhat of a “do-it-yourselfer” and enjoy getting down and dirty investigating and analyzing potential investment ideas of your own. As I wrote in How to Pick Industry Sectors, there are two main ways to pick stocks:
(1) top-down, where you start by analyzing macroeconomic themes and then zero in on individual stocks that fit those themes; and
(2) bottom-up, where you focus on analyzing individual companies and select a portfolio of stocks based solely on their individual business performance without regard to their industry sector.
Top-down investing requires the mind of a philosopher, economist, scholar, and industry expert. It’s best left to professionals who have the time to see the big picture and forecast the future. But bottom-up investing is more manageable, especially if you’ve isolated a fixed set of fundamental and technical criteria that you can screen for over a universe of stocks.
This segues beautifully into today’s topic: the best stock screening tools on the web that are FREE.
1. Best General Stock Screener
My choice for best general stock screener is Finviz.com. It’s got a tremendous number of data fields that you can select for filtering, ranging from descriptive (e.g., market cap, industry sector) to fundamental (e.g., PE ratio, return on equity) to technical (e.g., crossing above 50-day moving average, head and shoulders pattern). If my employer didn’t provide me access to a Bloomberg terminal, Finviz would be my first stop in stock screening.
A few years ago, my answer would have been MSN Deluxe Stock Screener. But Microsoft (NasdaqGS: MSFT) in its infinite stupidity decided to discontinue this fabulous free tool back in November 2009. All that’s left are some pre-configured fundamental and technical stock screens and a hybrid fundamental/technical screen called Stockscouter.
2. Best Mutual Fund Screener
Morningstar is no surprise here. It’s not as good as Morningstar’s premium fund screener (duh), but it provides access to Morningstar’s five-star rating system, as well as expense ratios, equity style, and management tenure. Not bad, and the price is right.
3. Best ETF Screener
Morningstar wins again. Its database is comprehensive with 1458 ETFs. Once you get past the initial introductory page (I normally just click the “results” tab without imposing an initial filter), you can sort the entire ETF database by a number of data fields, including expense ratio, market return, Sharpe ratio, standard deviation, dividend yield, etc. I can’t stress enough the importance of the sort function. Without that, it wouldn’t be nearly half as useful. With one click, I discover that the ETF with the highest dividend yield is Market Vectors Uranium & Nuclear Energy (NYSE: NLR) at 12.18% and the ETF with the cheapest expense ratio is Vanguard Total Stock Market (NYSE: VTI) at 0.05% per year.
4. Best Seasonality Screener
It’s hard to find a tool on the web that tells you which stocks perform best during particular months of the year. In fact, I am aware of only two, so they win: equityclock.com and hybridtechnical.net. Unfortunately, even these tools don’t give you a ready-made list of best-performing stocks in a given month; you must input your own individual stock symbols and see how they have performed in each month of the year. Better than nothing, and if you input enough tickers, you’re bound to find one that performs well in the upcoming month. For example, through trial and error, I’ve discovered that Oracle (NasdaqGS: ORCL) performs best in the month of June, which is coming up in a couple of weeks.
5. Best Popularity-Contest Screener
Motley Fool CAPS rates stocks on a 1-5 scale based on the “outperform” and “underperform” votes of its 74,000 players. The more players that vote a stock “outperform,” the higher the stock’s rating and vice versa. Popular stocks sometimes do well in momentum-driven bull markets, but usually get slaughtered in choppy or bear markets. Consequently, I don’t think rating stocks by popularity contest has any value over a full market cycle, so I ignore the CAPS stock ratings. But the CAPS screener lets you dig deeper and focus only on the “all-star” voters – those people whose stock picks have outperformed at least 80% of the other players – and I like to see what stocks these all-stars have given “thumbs up” to.
6. Best Mechanical Investing Screeners
Sometimes it’s better to rely on proven stock screening strategies and not try to reinvent the wheel. Mechanicalinvestor.net (Value Line data fields) and keelix.com (AAII Stock Investor Pro data fields) provide you with several weekly stock screens that have been back-tested and proven to perform well – if you buy all of the top ten stocks in the screen. No cherry-picking allowed, because that would negate the screens’ back-tested performance numbers. Value Line screens focus on large-cap stocks and the AAII SIPro screens focus on smaller-cap stocks. Backtest.org provides back-tested performance results for the Value Line screens.
7. Best Dividend Screener
Dripinvesting.org isn’t really a screener, but it provides a monthly updated list of stocks that have increased their annual dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. In these uncertain times, dividend consistency is reassuring.
8. Best Value Stock Screeners
A value stock screen based on academic research sounds good to me, so I like to check out the Value 40 screen developed at the University of Michigan business school. I also like a small-cap value screen that uses data points that make sense to me (e.g., high insider ownership, strong returns on invested capital).
9. Best Closed-End Fund Screener
Cefconnect.com has a screener for closed-end funds (CEF) that is similar to Morningstar’s ETF screener. If you click on “select all” and press “submit” you get a list of its entire CEF database of 623 names. Then you can sort by data fields such as premium/discount (very important) and distribution rate. When you click on a CEF of interest, it takes you to a page that lets you compare the annual price performance of that CEF against the performance of a relevant peer group. Useful stuff.
10. Best Options Screeners
Since I’m an options fanatic, I couldn’t end this article on stock screens without talking about options screeners as well.
- Yahoo! Finance offers scaled-down versions of options tools from Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCHW) subsidiaries optionsXpress and Optionetics: a trade finder that provides recommended options strategies based on your directional bias and an “options dragon” screen that ranks by option volume, put/call ratios, and changes in those indicators.
- The Optionetics website ranks stock options by comparing their current implied volatility compared to their 52-week range, so you know which options are expensive (i.e., good candidates for selling) and which are cheap (i.e., purchase candidates).
- Schaeffer’s Research also provides some options tools. My favorite is the Schaeffer put/call open interest ratio (SOIR). You input a ticker symbol and it spits out the SOIR and what percentile of its 52-week range it represents. For example, if you input Oracle you discover that its SOIR is 0.94, which is near its upper-end level of the past year (i.e., 76th percentile).
If you’re a contrarian, a 76th-percentile SOIR suggests over-pessimism and Oracle may go much higher until that pessimism fades. This coincides nicely with the seasonality screener mentioned above which says that Oracle performs best in June. We’ll have to wait and see whether these two screens are right to be bullish right now.
- McMillan Analysis Corp. offers a “probability of expiration” calculator, as well as implied-volatility data on stocks, including 52-week high/low percentiles.