Give yourself an edge
Investing resources abound, but watch out for marketing hoopla repackaged as educational material
Plenty of resources are available to help self-directed investors whip their portfolios into shape. Here's a look at 10 tools to get you started, or improve your financial savvy.
It's not an exhaustive list; if you go searching for more, be wary of pricey investment courses that promise to teach a system to "beat the market." And look out for marketing bumpf posing as educational material.
A good place to start is with an inexpensive investing class offered by school boards and colleges. Brokerage firms, looking to drum up business, also offer free seminars. TD Waterhouse, for example, has one of the more extensive programs and posts a schedule on its website (http://www.tdwaterhouse.ca/services/asss.jsp).
The Canadian Securities Course is offered by the Canadian Securities Institute as a licensing requirement for stockbrokers, but is open to the public. It "can't be beat for serious learners," notes industry veteran David West of Toronto-based West Investment Consulting. The institute also offers mini-courses online (www.csi.ca).
2. Educational websites
Hundreds of websites are devoted to disseminating unbiased investment knowledge. For neophytes, there is InvestorED.ca, financed by the Ontario Securities Commission. Investopedia.com has tutorials on many topics, a comprehensive dictionary of investment terms, and an ever-expanding archive of articles.
For beginners, check out Keith Betty's online Primer for Canadian Do-It-Yourself Investors (www.shakesprimer.com). For keeners, there is the Canadian Investment Review, a quarterly periodical filled with articles written by Canadian finance professionals and academics (www.investmentreview.com).
Bookstore shelves are filled with volumes aimed self-directed investors, such as Gordon Pape's Sleep Easy Investing, Gail Bebee's No Hype: The Straight Goods on Investing Your Money, and Richard Deaves' What Kind of an Investor Are You? A list of classic investment books is available online at Altruist Financial Advisors (http://altruistfa.com/readingroombooks.htm).
4. Allocator tools
Online asset-allocator tools use a questionnaire to gather information about your risk tolerances, time horizons and other personal parameters; then they translate that information into a recommended asset allocation. Some examples are: BMO InvestorLine's Asset Allocator and Retirement Planning tools (www.bmoinvestorline.com/WhatsNew/AssetAllocator.html) TD Waterhouse Portfolio Planner (http://eadvisertwe.tdassetmanagement.com/pProfiler/ survey.asp)
Other sites offer model portfolios and tools that permit analyses of returns by different asset mixes. Examples include: BMO InvestorLine's Heavy Hitter and ETF Model Portfolios (www.bmoinvestorline.com/EducationCentre/ MutualFunds/Introduction.html) Claymore Portfolio Index Allocator (http://claymoreinvestments.ca/resources/tools/ allocation-tool/).
5. Online calculators
Many financial websites offer online calculators. Of note is InvestorEd.ca's Mutual Fund Fee Impact Calculator, which compares the impact of management expense ratios (MERs) on mutual-fund returns. One of the larger collections of calculators is at the site of Ativa Interactive Corp. (http://www.ativa.com/webtools/flash_calcs.html).
6. Online forums
An intelligent online discussion forum is Financial Webring (www.financialwebring.org). The ShareClubs, a network of investment clubs affiliated with Canadian MoneySaver magazine, are a popular venue for face-to-face meetings (www.canadianmoneysaver.ca/ce_sharec.aspx). Social investing sites facilitate online interaction, some of the better ones being Marketocracy (www.marketocracy.com) and Motley Fool CAP (http://caps.fool.com).
7. Performance trackers
Stockchase tracks analysts calls made on television station Business News Network (www.stockchase.com/index.php). Investars ranks brokerage analysts (www.investars.com). Globefund.com is good at showing mutual-fund returns (www.globefund.com).
8. Interest-rate tables
Comprehensive quotes on interest rates for savings accounts, GICs and other savings vehicles is provided at the Fiscal Agents Savings and Investment Centre (www.fiscalagents.com/rates/index.shtml). CanadianFixedIncome.ca offers bond yields (www.pfin.ca/canadianfixedincome/Default.aspx).
Portals supply daily market data, charting, news feeds, quotes, company earnings, portfolio tracking, and more. Examples include Yahoo Finance (http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/) and Globeinvestor.com.
10. Idea generators
If you're an active investor, you have many sources from which to glean ideas, including newspapers, business magazines and specialty or mainstream media websites, online newsletters and blogs. Adviceforinvestors.com, for example, offers multiple newsletters, while Contra the Heard caters to the independent-minded investor (www.contratheheard.com).
Annual reports and other company filings can be found at SEDAR.com, while MSN Money offers the best free stock screener, download required (http://moneycentral.msn.com/investor/ controls/finderpro.asp). The Globe and Mail's Number Cruncher runs several screens weekly (v1.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/numbercruncher/).
Special to The Globe and Mail