So you are fascinated by the financial markets and maybe even interested in? Great, but access to information doesn't come cheap and can be a real differentiator. After all, how can you possibly get an edge on what is going on if you don't even have a fraction of the information at your disposal that market professionals have without paying a pretty penny?
Ten or Fifteen years ago it would have been nearly impossible to come even close to replicating what big firms have access to when it comes to data and information. These days, you still can't get there, but you can arguably get three quarters there in terms of what the fundamental managers are looking at.
I will go into detail below. Let me know if you have any cool free resources or tricks to getting useful market information.
There are many great free news sources such as NYT, Bloomberg, or blogs.
Unless you are reading the entire news paper cover to cover everyday, a subscription to a the WSJ, Financial Times, Barrons, ect. is a waste of money.
Many people already know the trick to getting free access to the Wall Street Journal, but few realize that you can use the same trick on other news sites. The “trick” is to google the article titles and click the link through google as opposed to navigating to articles through wsj.com, for example. This trick in fact works on many subscribed content sites including: WSJ, Barrons, the FT, and the economist. And between those four sites (of my choice) I get almost all of my finance and economics news.
There are a couple of nuances to using this trick. One thing to note is that you cannot be logged in to an account on any of the sites for the trick to work. Basically the newspapers let you get around their gated content because they think you are a potential customer. If they know that you are already familiar with their publication, then you will need to be a paid subscriber.
Also, for each site (except the economist to my knowledge), there is a daily quota on the number of articles you can read each day by googling the titles. For example, the WSJ is 5, FT is 5, and Barrons is 2. However, once you reach your limit you can simply open a new browser or computer (for example switching from chrome to firefox) because your quota is tallied separately on different browsers and computers even if you are on the same IP address.
Many publications such as the WSJ also have features available to people with free accounts (that you do not have to be logged into to receive). For example, you can receive news alerts in your email inbox, newsletters, and even end of data reports on financial figures such as the top 50 most active stocks.
Is this stealing? Well, if you believe inthen presumably no. However, to some people (like the publishing industry), this is definitely a form of stealing. You are essentially taking advantage of paid benefits and a technicality in marketing policies. If you are a no-income student then you could probably justify free riding to get a taste of what's going on. But, if you can afford 1-2 media subscriptions, then you might as well support your publications of choice as opposed to letting the subscribers subsidize your free-riding.
Finally, I would say that if you trading intra-day, then it might be worth shelling out the 30-60$ a month for a premium newswire subscription such as flyonthewall (recommended) or Reuters. However, if you investing for the medium to long term, the mainstream publications and news alerts should be enough.
One of the benefits of working for a large firm, is that you have many talented professionals with years of experience and advanced degrees who write internal market commentary on a regular basis.
Well, if you know where to look, you can also get access to many great sources of market commentary. Your free commentary will be delayed from the in house stuff by days or a week, but it will be just as rich in content.
For starters, I would recommend signing up for 1-2 morning market newsletters from major publications. For example, WSJ has the “Morning Market Beat” (freely available) providing a daily snapshot of the markets at 5am and a quick summary of what you can expect to look forward to in terms of headlines and economic data. There are many blogs and other publications which offer this. A favorite of mine is Seeking Alpha's Wallstreet Breakfast. And of course, our own Eddie famously posts his weekly Bonus Bannas here on WSO.
The next place you should look is the blogosphere and twitter. Wallstreet may have their quants, but you have your professors. There are countless economics and finance professors who have financial market or economics related blogs. My recommendation would be to put yourself on the email list (or RSS feed) of every blog that you stumble across that has an “insightful post” and it might lead to a fruitful readership.
Seek out the email lists of the big money mangers and hedgefunds. Often, the big funds will put out very insightful commentary or letters which highlight key insights that are playing out. My absolute favorite is the PIMCO market insights; Gross is hilarious and there are many other smart people writing articles on there. Another good place to look is Hedge Fund Letters .
As a note of caution. I would focus on “market commentary” as opposed to “investment advice”. I am a strong believer in not taking investment advice from anyone ( see my seven rules for traders). When people provide “investment advice” in writing or on TV, they are generally “talking their book” or promoting investments that they have a vested interest in. It is ok to read investment pitches or if you are not an impressionable investor; I even post pitches from time to time. When you do read pitches though, focus on analysis techniques or broader insights as opposed to security specific advice. Long story short, do your own research.
Finally, a great source of market commentary are podcasts. Approach podcasts the same way you would approach newsletters. Many of the big publishers have decent podcasts as well as a handful of blogs. My favorite podcast is the Bloomberg Serveilance podcast with Tom Keene - it is commercial free and takes the highlights of his popular morning radio show.
For fundamental research, the pro's have access to institutional equity research reports which can be excellent primers for understanding a security or industry (but often poor documents alone for actually making investment decisions).
While some brokerage accounts also offer selected equity research reports, there are many alternatives. For a starter, you can just search google or popular sites for basic research on companies or industries. WSO has many great threads with industry primers or examples of equity research. Barrons.com also has some equity research reports, and everyone reading this now knows how to access those.
Consulting firms, government agencies (such as EIA, DOL), and non-profit organizations (IMF, universities), often publicly publish influential and well-researched publications that are industry or technology specific. If you are closely following the energy industry, it would be useful to have the EIA on your RSS feed for their production reports. For the consulting/accounting firm reports, just google the name of the firm and the industry you are looking for (i.e. “Utilities”). There is a lot you can find by just searching for it.
Once you have already identified a handful of companies that you want to research closely you can also find some great stuff by just searching such as analyst presentations, earnings transcripts, financial reports (on SEC website). Company websites are obviously a key resource.
Websites like google finance, yahoo finance, ycharts, finviz, seeking, are all great places to find charting tools, a summary of financial ratios, and comparable companies. I will break down some specifics to look for on each site.
Google finance is a great place for really quick charting. Their homepage has a really clean summary of the markets and shows which companies and news articles are trending. The domestic trends page might be worth taking a look and is fairly unique. I am not really a fan of their other resources, I mainly just go to google finance if I want a really quick snapshot on the market or a company because the pages load quickly.
Yahoo finance has a lot of great tools on the front end and also a decent api for financial headlines and stock prices that can be fed into an excel macro. I prefer Yahoo's api to Google's, but I haven't used either since I started using my broker's api for plugging into my models. I like yahoo the best for snapshots on company fundamentals and quick stats on equity options. If you are not logged into a brokerage account and want to see a company's stats, I usually go to either finviz or yahoo key statistics. Yahoo also has a great tool for insider buying. One drawback I have noticed is that yahoo finance tends to lag data releases by at least a week. Also, given the turmoil at the company itself, I doubt the platform will ever be upgraded as it has pretty much remained the same over the last few years.
YCharts is the best tool for charting. You can graph out multiple company statistics and economic time series on a single coordinate plane. It is very user friendly and has better economic charting than some of my paid platforms. There is a lot more than initially meets the eye on their service and requires a lot of playing around to really figure out how to maximize their awesome charting capabilities. This is a great resource for visually finding correlations and drivers of companies and fundamentals. If you are into statistical arbitrage, this is an interesting place to dig around and compare indexes vs economic numbers vs company fundamentals charted out over time (this is the kind of stuff the pro's have been able to do on their Bloomberg terminals for years). A truly game changing innovation for the average investor!
Finviz is another treasure trove for budget market observers. I have their futures page set as my home page. In my opinion, the stock screening tool is the real gem of the site. You can filter by 61 parameters on fundamental and technical stock filters. Some of the filters, such as insider buying, institutional buying, , candle stick pattern, are truly leveling the playing field for individual traders who are sophisticated but lack resources. Again, this site requires a lot of playing with and has a few features that I didn't cover that are worth checking out.
Finally, seeking alpha is a great place for qualitative information. The site revolves around its twitter like market currents which are also on my homepage. This is a quick and efficient way of checking out the headlines or recent economic releases. I currently use seekingalpha as my stock email alert service of choice because it is really easy to set up paper portfolios with email alerts. The email alerts are a nice blend of headlines, twitter sentiment, and company events (such as earnings and management quotes). The other three sites listed above also have email alert features. As I mentioned, I like their Wallstreet Breakfast newsletter and also receive a daily email with all of the earnings transcripts that have been released in the prior day. There are some other interesting newsletters and blogs on the site; however, the site has its fair share of slick brokers promoting stocks.
Those are the four main sites I use outside of my own models and brokerage platform. However, I will give an honorable mention to trading view for its unique social charting platform. There are many other really cool sites for charting and investing fundamentals research. One further area that I don't use and may be worth looking into is mobile phone apps.
The key take away is that while there is no one free platform that can mimic a bloomberg terminal, there are an increasing number of free services that cover key features. If you put 4-5 of the free services together combined with a good sense for how to find things online, I would argue that you would be able to cover a vast majority of the ground that fundamental managers do with your research. The bigger issue is manpower.
Clearly, there are a lot of great resources that anyone can take advantage of for free. Again, please comment below if you have any useful tools or suggestions.
In part two I will cover free resources for, solutions for options and fixed income, and more.