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Basic Internet Stock Screeners


In the Wake of Reuters Screener’s Demise



The basic screener you get at MSN Money without the download is, well, basic.


 Bonnie  Biafore  


My favorite online stock-screening tool, Reuters Investor PowerScreener, is extinct. None of the online alternatives comes close, but this column suggests a few potential replacements, both free and subscription tools.

MSN Money has the best of the free stock-screening tools — as long as you use a Windows PC and Internet Explorer and are willing to download a small Microsoft widget to your computer. Mac users, Firefox browser fans and Microsoft bashers are out of luck. The basic screener you get without the download is, well, basic.
   
The MSN Money Deluxe Screener has almost 200 data fields for screening more than 8,000 companies, although only 60 of the data fields relate to company fundamentals. For example, the Investment Return category has fields such as return on equity and return on assets. The Price Ratios category has price-earnings, price to book value, price to sales and so on. Other categories cover debt ratios, growth rates, dividends, profit margins and other great stock-screening fodder.
   
To find the screening tool, go the website’s Investing page and click Stock Research. Then in the navigation bar, click Stock Screener. The basic screener has a few drop-down lists for searching by industry, market capitalization, dividend yield, P/E, net profit margin, revenue growth, debt-equity ratio and so on. 
   
To download the software for the fancier screener, click Deluxe Stock Screener at the bottom of the page. On the next page, click Download MSN Money Investment Toolbox. When the download is complete, you’ll see a chart on the page. (If you don’t, click the link that says, “I don’t see the chart — try downloading again.”) 
   
Like the Reuters PowerScreener, you can choose a field, an operator and a value — for example, Annual EPS Growth Rate, >= and 15 (for 15 percent). But you can’t create custom fields, such as the ratio of P/E to growth (aka PEG), or develop slick screening formulas. In fact, if you want to type your own value, you have to first choose Custom Field in the drop-down menu. Choose Ask Me in the drop-down list if you want the screen to ask you for a value. You can also compare a field to the value for another company by choosing Ticker Symbol in the drop-down list and then typing the ticker in the Value cell.
   
After you define the criteria you want to use, click Run Search to see the results in a table below the screening criteria. This screener doesn’t show how many companies pass each test, so you can’t identify criteria that are too strict or lenient.
   
You can save screens that you built either from scratch or by editing the screens that come with the tool. Simply choose File, then Save As. In the Name Search dialogue box, name the screen. To run the screen later, choose File, then Open. Click the plus sign to the left of My Saved Searches, then the screen’s name and finally Open and Run.
   
The results table initially has columns for the fields you screened by, but you can include columns for any of the fields. Choose View, then Column Set Displayed, then Customize Column Set. In the Available Columns list, click the plus sign next to a field category, then the field you want and then Add. After you select all the columns you want, click OK to close the dialogue box.
Other functions include:

•    reordering columns — drag a column heading to a new location

•    sorting the results by a field — click the column heading you want to sort by

•    switching between ascending and descending order — click the column heading again

•    exporting the results to Excel for more analysis — choose File, then Export and then Results to Excel

Morningstar

This site’s free stock screen offers a mere 18 fields, including Morningstar-specific categories such as stock type and equity style box (large growth or large value, for example). Sure, there are classic fields such as ones for revenue growth, ROE, earnings growth, P/E and dividends. But you can’t save screens or choose your own values. If you subscribe to Morningstar’s premium membership ($15.95 a month or $145 a year), you can customize screens using 450 fields, compare fields to the values you want and save screens. 
   
To access the basic screener, click Stocks in the horizontal navigation bar at Morningstar’s homepage. In the left-side navigation bar on the Stocks page, click Stock Screener under Tools for the basic screener.

Yahoo! Finance

Two free stock screeners are available here. The weaker of the two has several drop-down menus with preset values. The more robust Java-based screener lets you screen by more fields and customize screens, but you can’t tell it what data fields you want to see in the results. You can edit and save custom screens as well as export results to a spreadsheet or to a Yahoo! portfolio to watch companies passing the screen.
   
Click the Investing tab at Yahoo! Finance, then choose Stocks on the drop-down menu. At the Stock Research Center page, click the Stock Screener link; it appears under the headings for Inside Yahoo! and Research Tools. 
   
On the Stock Screener page, be sure to click the Launch Yahoo! Finance Stock Screener link. The screener opens in another window, so you may have to tell your browser to let Yahoo! open popup windows.
   
The screener lets you choose from several dozen fields, including one for the PEG ratio. If you want to start with a ready-made screen, in the screener window choose File, then Open Screen and then From Preset Screens. Among the screens is one titled Large, Growing and Cheap, which looks at market cap, earnings growth and P/E. After the screen criteria appear, you can choose other fields, tests and values. When the criteria are the way you want, click Run Screen to see the results.

Screening Software

At some point, spending a little money to buy a software program for screening may make sense. A single good investment decision could earn back the purchase price many times over. BetterInvesting’s Stock Prospector lets you build custom screens using dozens of data fields. Another screening program is the American Association of Individual Investors’ Stock Investor Pro.

Link of the Month

Another entrant in the travel arena is CarRentals.com.  This website searches for good deals on rental cars from several big players (Avis, Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, National and Thrifty) along with lesser-known competitors. You specify a location and dates. The site shows prices for different car sizes from all the rental companies. Prices from the big names usually aren’t that great, but frugal folks can find rentals from lesser-known companies for about $10 a day.

Bonnie Biafore is the award-winning author of several books, including the Stock Selection Handbook, Quicken: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly 2005), QuickBooks: The Missing Manual (O'Reilly 2005), and Online Investing Hacks (O'Reilly 2004). She's currently writing a book about project management.





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