How to Dig Deep with a Few Mouse Clicks
If you're like many investors, you can find a stock's price online in an instant. But do you know where to find a company's most recent 10-K, check the yield on a bond, or check out the date and the terms of a stock split? Business librarians say they hear the same questions over and over again from investors who want access to financial information on the Web. Here are 10 commonly asked questions, and the answers to them.
How do I get a company's annual report and its Securities & Exchange Commission filings?
You can usually obtain a company's annual report on its Web site. The SEC's vast EDGAR database provides a more detailed version of the annual report (the 10-K), as well the 10-Q, which is a company's quarterly update on sales, earnings, and other financial data. Investors have free access to these SEC filings at www.sec.gov and www.FreeEDGAR.com. If you become a 10-K junkie, consider subscribing to www.EdgarOnline.com, a fee service that lets you do more sophisticated searches for information in SEC filings, and sends you e-mail alerts when companies you track file with the SEC.
Where do I look up the latest company news?
One of the easiest sites for news-hounds is Microsoft's moneycentral.msn.com, which compiles company and market news from Reuters and other news services. You can look up news by company, industry, or topic.
Investors who want to see it all at a glance will like CBSMarketWatch.com, which provides summaries of over a dozen timely stories on its home page. If you want to read the full version, just click on a particular story.
How can I listen in on conference calls between company executives and stock analysts?
Most companies hold conference calls shortly after announcing quarterly earnings. These meetings are usually Webcast at the company's Internet site, and most companies will send e-mail alerts of upcoming calls to shareholders who request them. If you miss the live event, a replay usually remains available for at least a week afterward.
Where can I find historical data on stock prices, stock splits, and special dividends so I can calculate losses or gains on shares I recently sold?
First, check the company's Web site. It may be in the investor sections. Otherwise, three Web sites with long stock-price histories are investor.cnet.com (type in the company's ticker symbol, then click on splits), finance.yahoo.com (type in ticker symbol, then click on historical prices), and businessweek.com (type in ticker symbol, then click on historical quotes).
Where can I obtain bond prices, yields, and credit ratings?
InvestinginBonds.com, the site of the Bond Market Assn., a trade group, is geared to beginners, with bond-pricing data as well as helpful explanations of the different types of bonds. There's also a calculator that lets you compare municipal bonds to other debt securities on an aftertax basis. Bondsonline.com provides more detailed data and analysis, and daily updates of the Treasury yield curve. It also offers frequently updated market news and useful links to credit agencies and TreasuryDirect, where online investors can buy Treasury securities directly from Uncle Sam.
What are the differences between the various share classes of mutual funds?
When brokers and financial planners sell mutual funds, the fund company typically pays them a sales commission. The different share classes, usually called A, B, or C shares, and so on, denote how that sales charge is levied. A shares, for instance, often carry a one-time, up-front fee of 3% to 6%. By contrast, you usually pay the fee for B shares, which starts at around 5% and can decline over time to zero, when you exit the fund. Annual management fees also differ with each share class.
The SEC's Web site, www.sec.gov, can help you figure out which share class of a particular fund is most economical in your situation. Click on Interactive Tools for Investors, then Mutual Fund Cost Calculator. The SEC's share-class calculation takes into account how much you plan to invest, and how long you think you'll hold the fund. You must also plug in data about the fees of the various share classes. That's why it's a good idea to first go to the fund company's Web site for the fund's prospectus, which contains the data you'll need on fees.
Where can I find out about new funds that aren't rated by sites such as Morningstar.com?
Try MAXfunds.com, which delivers useful information on funds young and old. A regular feature, New Funds Just Hatched, provides a detailed evaluation of fledgling funds, including recommendations on which type of investor might want to buy the new fund, if any.
Where can I learn about exchange-traded funds?
Everything you'll ever need to know about ETFs, as they're called, you'll find at ETFConnect.com and iShares.com. The sites explain the tax advantages of ETFs and provide other basic information. You'll also find useful tools to help you evaluate individual ETFs. At ETFConnect.com, type in the symbol of the ETF to access Quick Facts, a page-long snapshot of practical information about the fund, including top 10 holdings, annualized returns, links to the sponsor's site, and daily pricing.
Where can my kids learn about investing?
A top-notch Web site that teaches youngsters about saving and investing is www.younginvestor.com, named after the Stein Roe Young Investor mutual fund, which invests in kid-friendly companies. You don't have to be a fund shareholder to use this engaging Web site, which is packed with investing quizzes and games geared toward fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders.
How can I look up complaints or disciplinary actions against my stockbroker?
Visit the Web site of the National Association of Securities Dealers Regulation, at nasdr.com. There, you can get employment and disciplinary information on individual brokers culled from the agency's database. Click on Broker/Adviser Information, then NASD Regulation Public Disclosure Program, then Perform an Online Search.
One caveat: The data provided by the NASD isn't as detailed as disciplinary reports available from state securities regulators. You'll find links to state regulators at nasaa.org, the Web site run by the North American Securities Administrators Assn. States don't offer disciplinary data on individual brokers online, but their Web sites provide phone numbers you can call for the information.
By Susan Scherreik