globeandmail.com

Have a chat on-line about your stocks

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Do-it-yourself investors can find mother lode of practical help at investing forums, ROB CARRICK writes

ROB CARRICK

If you think bank stocks are a buy right now or that General Motors shares are a value investor's dream, then you really need to talk to someone.

On-line investing forums are the perfect medium for this sort of conversation. Sign in and you're immediately connected with people who can help you avoid both mistakes and missed opportunities.

It has long been a tradition for this column to periodically review websites that offer practical help to investors at no cost. Today's batch includes a new site called Financial Webring that hosts a discussion forum for do-it-yourself investors, as well as a few others that will appeal to all types of investors.

One is StockChase, where a private investor named Bill Bruner tracks the stocks that have been mentioned by guests who appear on Report on Business Television, while another is D.V.TechTalk.com, where technical analyst Don Vialoux decodes the latest gyrations on the stock markets. Two other sites of interest are TrustInvestor, which is devoted to income trusts, and ValuEngine.com, a tool for determining if a stock's over- or undervalued.

The recent debut of Financial Webring means there are at least five Canadian on-line forums where a broad range of investing matters are discussed by people looking for answers or for opportunities to let others benefit from their know-how. In the group are Stockhouse.ca, TheBoomer.com, MoneySense.ca, and 50plus.com. None of them is as busy as some of the best-known U.S. sites, including Raging Bull, Yahoo Finance and Silicon Investor, but they're still worth a look because they cover a wide variety of investing issues as opposed to focusing mainly on stocks.

Financial Webring's discussion forum is a big draw, but there's also a menu of linked websites operated mainly by expert individual investors who know their stuff. The linked sites offer an eclectic hash of tutorials, musings, links and charts on various themes of interest to DIY investors, including indexing, exchange-traded funds, income trusts and the wonder of dividends. A couple of the linked sites are run by people selling financial services or research, but they've been vetted and there are no crass sales pitches for sure-fire stock picks or anything like that.

The investing forum on Financial Webring isn't as busy as you'd like to see, but it's still young and appears to be gaining momentum. There are sections on general investing, stock picking and funds and exchange-traded funds, and the hot topics of the moment include the merits of GM stock in light of the company's shrinking profits, commissions at discount brokers and the problems at Portus Alternative Asset Management.

If you're of a mind to visit a few different on-line forums to find the one that suits you, TheBoomer.com is good for general investing topics, MoneySense's forum is up and coming and 50plus is part of a larger general purpose website for seniors. Stockhouse.ca's BullBoards are the place to go to discuss specific stocks, especially those in the speculative realm. U.S. sites like Raging Bull, Yahoo Finance and Silicon Investor are worth a visit if you want to catch the latest buzz on U.S. stocks.

One other discussion forum worth noting is Vinvesting, which aspires to be a home for value investors. The site's forums have some interesting topics going, but participation is minimal so far. Die-hard value adherents might still want to visit the site to take a look at its library of articles on the art of finding undervalued stocks.

Busy discussion forums are the most useful because they're likely to offer the biggest variety of opinions and the hottest debate. But you'll also want to look at the quality and civility of the postings.

Because they're anonymous, on-line discussion forums are sometimes a gathering place for anti-social types who are opinionated, quick to anger and prone to over-the-top language. Unless a discussion forum is properly moderated, these people can ruin things by burying the useful comments from other participants. Financial Webring and the other forums mentioned here appear to be well run, but you'll find that some of the busier U.S. sites sometimes bog down in pointless back-and-forth volleys from participants.

The most important thing to remember when using discussion forums is that you won't find Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch or Sir John Templeton answering your queries or commenting on your theories. These forums are frequented by individual investors who offer opinions that may or may not be informed. Your best approach is to read as many different views as you can and make up your own mind.

Expert opinions are the raw material used on StockChase, where you'll find day-by-day listings of the stocks highlighted by guests on the Report on Business Television programs Market Call and Market Call Tonight. The site is maintained by retiree Bill Bruner of Waterloo, Ont., who began the project in 2003 for his personal use and then expanded it at the suggestion of his computer programmer son, Chris.

Mr. Bruner says the site has two purposes, helping investors track what the experts say about various stocks and getting a feel for how companies are viewed by investing professionals. He sensibly urges visitors to the site to consult other sources of information.

TrustInvestor is mainly a sales pitch for a subscription newsletter for trust investors, but it does offer a trust-focused discussion forum and a small amount of background information on the various trust sectors and the individual securities within them. The forum isn't busy, but the range of topics is wide.

The website D.V.TechTalk is notable because it looks at stocks and the broad markets from the point of view of a technical analyst. Most stock market analysis looks at fundamentals like a company's earnings, revenues and profit margin, whereas the technical side of things is strictly concerned with a stock or index's trading patterns. The saying goes that technical analysis tells you when to buy, while fundamental analysis tells you what to buy.

Mr. Vialoux, the proprietor of D.V.TechTalk, says in his on-site biography that he has 37 years in the investing industry. That experience is put to work in a daily market commentary that looks at individual stocks on the move, plus other investing subjects. This past week, for example, he took a look at the prospects for first-quarter earnings, and for gold and Canadian gold stocks.

Technical analysis is one of the more arcane investing disciplines because it involves the interpretation of charts that are all but indecipherable to the average person. Mr. Vialoux throws a lot of charts into his commentaries, but he does a nice job of keeping things clear.

One last website worth a look is ValuEngine.com, which is actually a pay site that offers just a bit of free data to tease you into subscribing. Even the crumbs are interesting on this site, though. Using a method for valuing stocks developed by Yale finance professor Zhiwu Chen, it will give you a quick snapshot of whether a company is trading above or below its fair value.

The ValuEngine database covers U.S.-listed stocks, including Canadian stocks traded on the New York and American stock exchanges. For an eye-opener, try looking up some of the big Canadian oil and gas stocks on the site. ValuEngine says they're overvalued, but you might want to get a second opinion about that on a discussion forum.

rcarrick@globeandmail.ca

Surfing Time

Here is Personal Finance columnist Rob Carrick's latest list of investing websites that are worth a look.

Financial Webring

financialwebring.com

Comment: A useful mix of how-to information for self-directed investors, plus a discussion

StockChase

stockchase.com

Comment: Tracks the stock picks made by experts on Report on Business Television; worth a look if you're seeking investing ideas.

D.V.TechTalk.com

dvtechtalk.com

Comment: Daily market commentary from a technical analyst with decades of experience and ability to deliver useful insight to investors.

TrustInvestor

trustinvestor.com

Comment: This site's main job is to sell a newsletter on trusts, but it also offers data on the trust market and a discussion forum on trust topics.

Vinvesting

vinvesting.com

Comment: A U.S. site aimed at value investors.

ValuEngine.com

valuengine.com

Comment: A pay website that offers limited free data that attempts to show whether a stock is under- or overvalued.