Most online brokers have been building up the data services on their websites in recent years, but the quality remains variable.
Firms that cater to more demanding clients such as Interactive Brokers and Saxo Bank now offer fairly comprehensive bundles of price and fundamental data, but others lack the detail and flexibility to make them useful for anything more than occasionally checking a figure. Some cheaper brokers have avoided adding such services in the first place.
So, while your broker's website can often be a useful starting point, ultimately you may need access to third-party data whether it's to get hold of up-to-date price charts for day traders, or company financials for long-term investors.
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More firms are springing up all the time to meet this need, but knowing where to start can be tricky. Here are a few of the most popular choices.
If you're just keeping an eye on your portfolio or looking at long-term trends, you'll mostly be interested in the first two, while short-term traders may require more up-to-date data.
You'll then have to decide whether you want to access this data through a website; through the provider's own software; or as an independent data feed into standalone charting software, such as the popular NinjaTrader package.
It's simplest and cheapest to start with free web services, such as Bloomberg.com and Yahoo Finance. The Bloomberg website offers some of the data that Bloomberg provides for financial institutions, most notably recent prices (typically on a 15-20 minute delay) for stocks on a very large number of global exchanges. It also lets you view up to five years of historical price data in chart form.
Yahoo Finance covers a slightly more limited range, but has more historical price data, going back to the 1970s for some of the largest US stocks.
Importantly, Yahoo allows you to download price data and even offers an application programming interface (API), which means that third-party software can use the service as a data feed.
The makers of many charting packages have taken advantage of this, including NinjaTrader. Since both Yahoo Finance and the basic version of NinjaTrader are free, this means many long-term investors can probably meet any needs they have for historical price data without needing to spend money on commercial services.
If you buy a packaged product that focuses on one or two markets, you will usually just pay a single fee to the provider, who then pays a licensing fee to the exchange out of that.
If you use a data provider that offers data from several global markets, you will pay a basic subscription fee to the provider and then add on the cost of the individual exchange feeds you want to receive.
If you're simply looking for a data feed for UK stocks, you could consider a service such as MoneyAM (web-based, fees up to £25 a month depending on options), or ShareScope (own software, fees up to £95 a month).
For wider international market coverage, two possibilities are eSignal (own software or third-party clients, from $40 a month plus exchange fees) and the standalone data service offered by Interactive Brokers (own software, $69 a month plus exchange fees).
More expensive services exist, of which the most comprehensive non-professional service is probably MetaStock XENITH, a slimmed-down version of the Thomson Reuters service used by institutions. It costs at least $150-$300 a month, plus exchange fees.
You can look up simple figures quickly on Bloomberg.com, while the market data section on FT.com includes five years of simple historical data for several global markets.
The web-based subscription service from Morningstar.com has up to ten years of relatively detailed fundamental data for stocks in most major markets and allows you to download it to a spreadsheet to perform your calculations. Full access costs $22.95 a month.
If you're looking for a desktop software rather than a web-based interface, ShareScope and InvestorEase (£11.70 a month) offer UK-specific solutions, while the Interactive Brokers data service gives you access to fundamental data from Thomson Reuters for an extra $7 a month for a good range of global markets.
For those who can afford it, a full MetaStock XENITH subscription includes comprehensive global coverage. Lastly, investors looking for screening tools could consider the Stockopedia site. It covers UK and European markets, with the US apparently coming soon. Subscriptions cost up to £75 a month.
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