Online tools make it much easier to analyse potential investments.
Private investors have a number of advantages over the professionals. They can take a very long-term view and don’t need to worry about short-term performance targets, such as beating a benchmark index every year. They can buy stocks that are too small or illiquid for a typical fund to make a meaningful investment in – or avoid big, popular stocks that many fund managers feel they must own. They can build a portfolio that’s tailored to their objectives rather than something that needs to be broadly suitable for lots of investors. They can radically change their strategy when they feel it’s necessary, rather than having to keep to a specific mandate.
In the past, they also had one big disadvantage: they couldn’t get access to the same amount of research and data that professionals have, which makes it hard to find the best investment opportunities. Comprehensive data services such as Bloomberg and Reuters cost many thousands of pounds per years. However, there are now a growing number of websites that offer similar tools at prices that are more affordable for private investors.
In our reader survey, we asked you which sites you’d used. Three seem especially worth a look: SharePad, Stockopedia and Robur. All share some features in common – they are stock screening tools intended to help you find companies that meet certain criteria. However, all three take different approaches and are likely to suit different types of investor.
Ionic Information – from £25 per month/£250 per year
Ionic Information has the longest history of the three firms in this review. It’s been producing the popular ShareScope desktop software for more than 15 years. SharePad, the web-based evolution of ShareScope, was launched in 2015.
SharePad is a very powerful tool with a very neat, compact layout. For example, selecting a specific stock brings up a dashboard of key information about the company. The page also features a chart carousel that allows you to flip through graphs showing ten years of key ratios, such as profitability and leverage, providing a fast overview of how the company’s fundamentals have evolved. You can then dive into more detail on subsequent pages.
SharePad also includes information on funds, exchange-traded funds and investment trusts, stockmarket indices, commodity prices, bond prices, economic data and more. There are also good technical analysis functions for traders. The underlying data comes from Morningstar and includes US stocks as well as the UK.
In common with the other software in this review, there’s a portfolio function that allows you to monitor the performance of your investments. Former MoneyWeek writer Phil Oakley also produces a weekly email for subscribers featuring analysis of individual stocks and tips on using SharePad. The regular price is £25 per month (or £60 per month for live share prices), but there is an initial trial offer of £25 for three months.
Stockopedia – from £25 per month/£200 per year
Like SharePad, Stockopedia features comprehensive company data presented in a way that makes it easy to get an overview of each stock. However, the easiest way to summarise the key difference between the two services is that while SharePad is geared towards identifying stocks that are good candidates for further individual analysis, Stockopedia focuses on quantiative screening and ranking as an investment approach in its own right. In other words, you might use Stockopedia to identify a basket of stocks that meet a certain criteria and buy them all.
The site has a large number of pre-set stock screens that are based on strategies used by well-known investors, as well as allowing you to build your own screens. It also calculates a “StockRank” for each company, based on factors such as quality, value and price momentum. The resulting number is essentially an assessment of how attractive Stockopedia’s algorithms think the firm is as an investment.
In addition to UK stocks, Stockopedia also lets you subscribe (for additional fees) to data on firms in the US, Canada, Europe, developed Asia Pacific countries and India (underlying data in all cases comes from Thomson Reuters). Most of the rest of the world should be added over the course of 2017. This international coverage makes it a useful tool for global investors who don’t want to subscribe to different services in each country. Complete coverage of all the markets currently available on the site would cost just under £1,000 per year and there is a 14-day free trial.
Robur Investment Resources – £100 per month (but see note below)
Robur has a different background to SharePad or Stockopedia, or indeed any other data service I’ve reviewed. The service was created by a family office who were unable to find a global stock screener that did what they wanted at a reasonable price, so they built their own.
All Robur’s fundamental data is compiled by its own team from company filings, rather than being bought in from data vendors. There are more than 6,500 stocks included so far, with more still being added. The database focuses mainly on European and Asian markets, including many markets in emerging Asia that are rarely covered by other screeners. Coverage of the United States is more limited since there are already plenty of comprehensive, cheap US stock screeners available and Robur decided that there would be little value in duplicating them.
Screening with Robur works in a similar way to SharePad or Stockopedia. You choose the criteria you want to narrow down a list of shares, then click to select a stock for further details. Each page includes a comprehensive set of charts showing the evolution of the company’s financials over time. Each stock is also ranked using a “Robur Score” based on the site’s own algorithms, based on how well the business is performing and how cheaply or expensively it’s valued.
However, results from Robur are intended as a starting point for research (eg, by reading the annual report), rather than being the sole basis for an investment decision. So the intention is to give you a set of key metrics and standardised data that can help you identify companies that may be worth more in-depth analysis.
At present, Robur costs £100 per month and is aimed mostly at professional investors (although the price is below most professional data services), with a 14-day free trial. However, the firm is planning to launch a lower-priced or possibly even free option for individual investors in the next few months.
Free options for online research
The software packages we’ve looked at above are intended for investors who want to screen for potential investments and perhaps monitor a sizeable portfolio. If you simply occasionally want to look up a few key numbers for a stock, these packages may be more complicated or more expensive than you need.
However, there are a few good sources of free stock data available online. Bloomberg’s website at Bloomberg.com is a good starting point for quickly looking up share prices and a small amount of data such as the price/earnings ratio or the dividend yield. The Bloomberg app for iOS and Android includes slightly more data than the website version. The Financial Times website offers a wider range of data, including the last five years of company results.
However, the most comprehensive option is probably Morningstar – so long as you know where to look. While Morningstar.co.uk is useful for researching UK funds, data for shares is far more limited than on the global Morningstar.com site, which includes companies from every major global market and many smaller ones. The data isn’t perfectly presented and the site layout can seem overwhelming. But if you want a free source to look up a firm’s return on equity for the last ten years or check when it pays dividends, this is the place to go.