TradeStation Pro, the latest incarnation of the company's technical-analysis and trading-strategy program, was rolled out last fall. Like its predecessors, the Pro version has technical-analysis techniques galore, as well as strategy development and testing. TradeStation Pro is endlessly customizable, and allows you to create your own view of the market that includes Level II quotes, time and sales tables, and techniques for fundamental, as well as technical, analysis, all accessing their 30year historical database. My favorite feature is its ability to develop and test trading strategies, which now work on tick-by-tick, real-time data, a boon for frequent traders.
It comes at a price, however: After a 10-day free trial, it will run you $300 a month. Exchange fees, except for Level II quotes, are built into the tab, so it's not as bad as it looks-streaming real-time data can run $50-$100 a month all by itself. You also get the software and data mercifully bereft of ads.
In the next quarter, the company plans to integrate online trading with the analytical tools, allowing users to automate their trades according to the strategies they've tested and developed. The online-broker arm of the company uses intelligent order routing to get the best price for a trade. If you're a serious, frequent trader, it's worth the 10-day trial to evaluate whether TradeStation Pro is for you. It's best for those with high-speed Internet access and a fast computer.
Mid-Range Value: Recently launched B4Utrade.com has put together an everevolving group of research tools aimed at frequent traders. Designed to display the information requested on a single full browser screen (rather than requiring the user to scroll around in search of elusive data), B4Utrade includes a stock screener that picks up companies that have been mentioned in a specific news medium, such as CNBC, or have announced mergers, splits or spinoffs. The "Institutional Piggyback" section lets you track what brokerage firms, fund managers and individuals have upgraded or downgraded. Speaking of CNBC, there's a window with a slightly delayed video feed that runs in Real Player for those with fast Internet connections.
You can set up 10 portfolios of 10 stocks; each will update in real-time and give links to news and ongoing chats, if available. If you want to look at more than 10 at a time, B4Utrade's "Streaming Wall of Stocks" lets you set up 40 ticker symbols that update with each trade. I like the "Top 10" lists, which can be set up by industry, exchange, price range or market cap. As with the screener, you can quickly save the designated stocks to a portfolio list.
B4Utrade has been open to the public just a few months now, and it's adding new services frequently. Coming by the end of the month are Level II quotes, time and sales tables, and options montages. The publisher also plans to add "most-active calls and puts" to the Top 10 lists, which is not a widely available feature. The fee is $25 a month, which, given its features, is reasonable. I'd like to see the portfolio feature read from the user's actual holdings; currently the "portfolio return" calculation is based on an equal number of shares of each stock on the list.
Free: Portfolio Science (http://www.portfolioscience.com/) analyzes your portfolio holdings and calculates the dollar amount it is likely to fluctuate daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. The calculations allow users to figure out the source of the risk in their holdings, based on historic volatility. More important from the standpoint of modern portfolio theory, you can see how the components work together to diversify away risk. Financial Engines (http://www.financialengines.com/) also lets you look at the risk in your portfolio, but the purpose of that site is to let you know the probability that you'll hit a particular target at some point in the future. Portfolio Science shows you the risk inherent in your portfolio right now.
To test the Portfolio Science calculations, I created a sample portfolio of five stocks, with a total value (on January 3, 2001) of approximately $115,000. Based on the stocks held in this portfolio, Portfolio Science says it's likely to fluctuate 4.7% today, 9.6% this week and up to 41.6% over the next year. You can analyze what might happen to your portfolio if you add or sell a particular stock. The big problem with the Portfolio Science site at present is the bane of the online investor's existencedata entry. Though the site's publishers are working on creating direct links from a variety of brokers, currently you have to enter your holdings manually. You can enter a purchase date for a particular stock, and the calculation engine will look up the closing price on that date, and adjust for historical splits, which is of some assistance. Look for the Portfolio Science calculations to show up on other financial Websites in the near future.
Our annual in-depth review of online brokerage firms is in the works already, and you can help. If you're already a customer of an online broker, let us know which of their services is your favorite and which drives you crazy. If you're not yet using an online broker, please let me know why not.
High on my wish list for online brokerage improvements is better portfolio analysis. All of the brokers we've reviewed provide lists of current holdings, but few offer in-depth performance tracking and analysis. You can usually check out unrealized gains and losses, but if you want to check your portfolio's performance over time, you have to do it somewhere else. What's on your wish list? What are your gripes? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free lunches are getting skimpier. Following the demise of free Internet access, notably from Alta Vista recently, other free ISPs have started to limit how many hours you can stay online gratis. Juno, NetZero and Kmart's BlueLight, the biggest free ISPs still standing, have put ceilings on your free hours per month. That was aimed mainly at businesses that were using the services hundreds of hours a month and, according to the services, were responsible for a disproportionate amount of their costs. None of which should be relevant if you use free ISPs for their best purpose -- as a backup for your primary Internet access, either highspeed (DSL or cable) or dial-up.
Another, less-publicized free ISP is available for American Express cardholders at AmexOL. You still get ads on your browser, but they're less intrusive than those from the major ISPs. The AmEx software also sits on your desktop whether you want it or not (you can shut it off, however).
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