Online investing's here - but use common sense
David Zgodzinski The Montreal Gazette Saturday 9 October 1999

The stock market has been making the news again lately. Usually that's not a good thing. Investments are supposed to head quietly and steadily higher. When stocks are volatile, they become newsworthy.

The first industry to be completely transformed by the Internet has been the securities business. Investors now buy and sell stocks online, get treasure troves of investment information free, see graphs and discuss investments with other investors. Investors are turning more and more to the Web to help them make financial decisions.

Most investors can be loosely grouped into one of two categories. There are the long-term investors, who buy and hold and tend to be more passive in their strategies. And there are the short-term investors or traders, who are more active. The Web has something for investors of every stripe.

Many long-term investors are fond of funds, mutual funds, that is. Funds are the investment vehicle of choice for many Canadians. The Fund Library has stacks of information about Canadian mutual funds and investing. First of all, the site has a section on mutual-fund companies, which are the sponsors of the site. You can select any Canadian mutual-fund company and see the list of all their funds, and click to read a brochure about any particular fund.

The Learning Centre feature has a section on the basics called Mutual Funds 101. Articles, audio and video presentations inform you about all types of financial planning and investment subjects. If you're looking for a financial adviser, the Fund Library has a section with advice on how to choose an adviser and a handy data base with a selection mechanism that lets you find a financial adviser anywhere in Canada.

The Fund Library also has tips from some of the regulars on the Canadian investment media scene. For example, author Garth Turner has a real video version of his weekly show called Investment Television. You can select a topic that interests you, like Real Estate Watch, or Resource Report, and watch that segment.

Bylo Selhi is the alias for someone who has put together a site titled Smart Mutual Fund Investing for Independent Canadian Investors. This is basically a news-clipping service. There are links to stories around the Web pertaining to mutual funds. Bylo finds items that are important for mutual-fund investors, stories about new products, investment strategies, and interviews with the movers and shakers in the mutual-fund business.

You see a list of the most current articles, and if you want to check out the archives, you do a keyword search or see a chronological list of the past stories. Bylo selects stories carefully, and it's good reading for investors interested in mutual funds.

For those who like to invest in individual stocks, SEDAR is a good place to start. SEDAR is the acronym for the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval. This is a massive archive of reports from all Canadian public companies and mutual funds. You can do a keyword search for any Canadian mutual fund and find all the pertinent documents for that fund, including annual reports, prospectuses and financial statements.

Search for company information using the Company Profiles section - it downloads faster. There's an alphabetical list of companies. A page for each company gives basic contact information, then if you click on the Documents button, you get a list of all major filings with the securities commissions - quarterly reports, annual reports, press releases, the works. Click on any of the items you want to see. The files are primarily in PDF format. You can find earnings reports, balance sheets, and read news about any Canadian company you might be interested in.

This site is the big Kahuna of Canadian investment information. There are no recommendations, or guidance of any sort, but the mountain of raw data is there for you to sift through and find financial nuggets.

There are many sites to find basic information on U.S. companies, including the massive EDGAR database at the Securities Exchange Commission site, which is the predecessor and model for SEDAR. Hoover's Online is a good site because the company information is delivered in a concise format. There are thousands of primarily U.S. companies in the Hoover's database. You can click to see a capsule description of the company, its business and competitors. Another page shows the key financial numbers for the company. You can also click to see the annual or quarterly reports if you want to look at more details. There are special features for subscribers only, like detailed company profiles and information on the officers, but the free items on the site are well worth the trip.

For those interested in daily goings-on in the market, Hoover's also has a news section with major business-news stories.

Canadian Financial Network is a links site with over 6,000 links to financial and investment sites. The links are organized in several different categories. New links for any one category are at the top of the list. The rest are arranged in alphabetical order. Canadian links are brightly adorned with a red maple leaf. You can click to see only the Canadian links in any given category.

The strength of Canadian Financial Network is the thumbnail descriptions of each site. There is usually a full paragraph description of what the site is about and its major features. This goes far beyond the cursory descriptions found at most link sites. The descriptions give you an important guideline, helping you to choose to click and go to the sites that are most relevant for your investment questions.

For those who find all investment information dry and mostly boring, take a jaunt over to The Screaming Capitalist. This site is the product of Kevin Cork, a lighthearted (maybe even lightheaded) financial planner who lives in Calgary. The site takes some of the tedium out of financial planning, and that's a good thing.

The Screaming Capitalist has a few major headings with titles such as What if I Die, What if I live, Self Employed. Each main section has several subsections. These headings lead to short essays by Cork about investing. The advice is whimsical, but practical, and meant to take some of the hocus-pocus out of financial advice. For instance, Cork advises investors to avoid emotional responses. "It, in the end, can be summed up in four words - 'don't get too excited.' "

The Web is not the future of investing. It is the present. The technology is a great thing to use, but don't forget that the most important tool for any investor, long term or short term, is common sense.

The sites:
Fund Library
Bylo Selhi's Mutual Fund Investing
SEDAR
Hoover's Online
Canadian Financial Network
The Screaming Capitalist
E-mail David Zgodzinski

 

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