A little while ago, I mentioned that the Internet represents the biggest change in the investment world that I have seen in the 10 years that I have been writing this column. A number of readers have since asked for advice on the sites that I have found particularly useful. This is a tough request, since there are now literally hundreds of URLs stored on my computer.
What follows is the first instalment of a list of sites that have given me some of my most useful insights in the past. I plan to mention the names of other sites at regular intervals over the coming months, though by their nature, websites can change their content at a rapid pace. Please don't hold me too closely to account if my information turns out to be out of date by the time you get to the site in question. It does happen.
Sometimes,as happened a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned John Newlands' new investment trust website ( www.newlandsfr.co.uk), there can also be errors in transcribing the link onto the published page, in which case it is always worth going to Google or another search engine and looking for the URL yourself. Typing in 'newlands fund research' or 'john newlands investment trusts' would have produced the right answer very quickly.
The sites I mention very much represent a personal list rather than a comprehensive guide to what is out there. As my main interest is in asset allocation and funds, rather than in individual shares, and global rather than UK-centric, you won't find on my list many of the most popular retail investment sites, such as Interactive Investor ( www.iii.co.uk), Motley Fool ( www.fool.co.uk), and Digital Look ( www.digitallook.com).
All of these provide a lot of useful basic data, as do subscription services such as Hemscott ( www.hemscott.net), but none of them I find provides much that I need that I cannot get elsewhere. I used to make an exception for the admirable Peter Temple's columns and portfolio updates on Interactive Investor (but they seem to have stopped now), and the heat maps you can find on Digital Look are a fun visual addition to the share investor's armoury.
While on the subject of prejudices, I tend to take a fairly ruthless approach to websites, and recommend that you do too.
Websites with intrusive advertisements are a real turn-off as far as I am concerned – another reason that tends to direct me away from the most popular retail sites, which seem to survive mainly on bank and credit card advertisements for their livelihood these days. I have no problem at all with Google ads, however, which I happily and profitably use on my own website.
Sites that are overcomplicated or prove tough or slow to navigate I find I also tend to rule out pretty quickly. Ease of navigation is one of the reasons that I much prefer The Wall Street Journal website to The Financial Times site, even though the former has always been primarily subscription-based, and the latter has only moved that way more recently. Finding out what is and what is not premium content is just one of the many confusing and irritating things that has prejudiced me, no doubt unfairly, against the FT site.
The three main things that I look for in a website are information by or about the key figures in the investment world whose views I find useful to track, specialist research on specific themes that I am currently researching, and particular tools or data that are presented in a convenient and reliable format that cannot be found as readily elsewhere.
Data about short term market performance is a commodity now, so there are any number of sites that can provide you with that, or alert you by e-mail to the main market or company movements of the day, if that is what interests you. (It pains me to tell you that I have yet to learn anything of enduring value about investment from any chat room on any site anywhere).
To kick this series off, therefore, here is a website that I believe you might find it worthwhile to look at if you are interested in investing in funds, and are prepared to do some of your own research, rather than rely on an adviser. The service I mention is free, although there is no guarantee that it will remain that way forever. The site is www.styleresearch.com.
As its name implies, this is the website of Style Research, a small boutique research firm that concentrates solely on analysing style trends in the market for the professional market. As well as information about the importance of style in analysing fund performance, it also now offers a free graphics function that gives you a pictorial representation of how any fund you are likely to own has performed against its style benchmark over the past three years.
To generate the page of graphics on each fund, you need to click the link to "fund research online" on the main page of the website and then follow the filtering instructions from there to find the data on the fund that you want, and then go to the "output reports" tab. The data set runs to thousands of funds.
Our chart shows one of the graphs for Anthony Bolton's Fidelity Special Situations Fund, showing how he has moved his fund dramatically up the market capitalisation scale recently.
The graphics allow you to see the style biases of your fund, and how they have changed during different phases of the recent market cycle. It also allows you to see how the fund has performed relative to its style benchmark, which is one way of seeing how much of a fund's performance can be attributed to its style, and how much to the fund manager.
It is a good example of how the Internet makes available to anyone who knows where to look research tools that until a little while ago were only available to those with the money to pay for a professional service.Reuse content