Online data: Your own private Bloomberg terminal

Cris Sholto Heaton looks at the tools that can help us use the huge amount of information on the internet to make better investment decisions.

The internet has put a huge amount of information in the hands of private investors, from company financials to economic data. However, making sense of all this isn't easy: simply having more data doesn't help you make better decisions. What most of us need are tools that can let us analyse data quickly and use it to make better investment decisions.

That's where two impressive online services come in. The first is SharePad. This is run by Ionic Information, publishers of the popular ShareScope software, which has been the UK market leader for around 15 years. If you've never used ShareScope before, it's a comprehensive fundamental data and technical analysis (charting) programme that runs on your own PC (there's no Mac or Linux version). SharePad is the web-based evolution of this and can be used across all systems with a suitable web browser.

It's worth mentioning that ShareScope and SharePad aren't simply the same service in different forms. ShareScope has more sophisticated technical analysis capabilities and is likely to remain a better choice for traders who make extensive use of these. SharePad has some charting functions, but its strength is in fundamental analysis, so it's more geared towards longer-term investors. Since we're focusing on web-based data services, we'll only consider SharePad here, but readers who may require technical analysis software should also consider ShareScope.

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First and foremost, SharePad is a comprehensive stock-screening tool that lets you search the market for firms that meet a certain set of criteria.

This works in the same way as the free online screening tools available on some financial websites (see below), but paid-for services such as SharePad have more flexibility and cover a wider range of metrics. Once you've identified stocks that meet your criteria, you can view key information about each on a customisable "stock dashboard" page and then delve further into each of these metrics to see how they've changed over time. Underlying data comes from Morningstar, one of the industry-standard databases. However, SharePad's offering is more extensive than a typical stock screener. It also includes funds, exchange-traded products (ETPs) and investment trusts, as well as price data for bonds and commodities, and key economic data. You can also track your portfolio, set performance targets for a holding to see if it's meeting expectations and be alerted to significant news stories or price moves.

Stockopedia takes a different tack. This is a web-only service and has been built around fundamental stock screening, with underlying data from Thomson Reuters. You can design your own screens, but the site also includes a large number of preset screens based on successful strategies used by well-known investors. Key information about each firm is available on its "stock report" page, with the firm ranked on factors such as value and momentum and on financial health metrics such as the Piotroski F-Score. The service also includes coverage of ETPs and investment trusts (using Financial Express data), but not of open-end funds. There's also a portfolio monitoring tool. But fundamentally, you'd choose Stockopedia for its easy-to-use stock screening and valuation functions, not for these other services.

So which is best? That's a hard question to answer. Both firms are doing a good job in bringing powerful tools like these to private investors at an affordable price (both services start at £25 per month). Ultimately, the choice between services like these often comes down to which you feel more comfortable with, rather than simply a list of features.

Stockopedia is probably simpler to use and the site is clearly laid out. It also has greater international coverage than SharePad. Both US and European stocks are available (at increased cost), whereas SharePad has US stocks only (though these are included in the standard price). SharePad is more comprehensive and aims to offer a near-complete screening and portfolio tracking service something akin to a Bloomberg terminal for private investors. The best thing to do is to try both and see which you prefer.

Cris Sholto Heaton

Cris Sholto Heaton is an investment analyst and writer who has been contributing to MoneyWeek since 2006 and was managing editor of the magazine between 2016 and 2018. He is especially interested in international investing, believing many investors still focus too much on their home markets and that it pays to take advantage of all the opportunities the world offers. He often writes about Asian equities, international income and global asset allocation.

Cris began his career in financial services consultancy at PwC and Lane Clark & Peacock, before an abrupt change of direction into oil, gas and energy at Petroleum Economist and Platts and subsequently into investment research and writing. In addition to his articles for MoneyWeek, he also works with a number of asset managers, consultancies and financial information providers.

He holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation and the Investment Management Certificate, as well as degrees in finance and mathematics. He has also studied acting, film-making and photography, and strongly suspects that an awareness of what makes a compelling story is just as important for understanding markets as any amount of qualifications.