We were getting grumpy. We'd been testing stock trade analyzers and portfolio management programs for eight years. This year, everything we'd been through looked pretty tired. Prices had escalated faster than performance.
Fortunately, we stuck at it - and found Equis, a small company in Salt Lake City. They make Pulse for portfolio management, The DownLoader for copying stock prices over phone lines and MetaStock and The Technician, a duo that does sophisticated technical analysis of stock and market trends.The programs load easily. While written by different programmers, they all look and work alike. The manuals are clear, with printing and binding that says, "We take pride in our products." Seasoned readers of our column know what a jaundiced eye we bring to most product testing. When we find a gem in all the junk, it's as exciting as finding a needle in a haystack. It redeems our faith in the value of computers.
Equis seems to be doing everything right. For starters, Pulse is one of the best portfolio managers out there. You use its pull-down menus to enter buys and sells. It records and accounts separately for broker commissions. (Many programs record them separately but then lump them into price totals.) It also has a rich diversity of analysis tools.
Investors need to keep track of key dates: when dividends come due, when broker fee discounts expire, when options cease. Pulse is keenly aware of that. It can automatically signal due dates, using your choice from several clever calendar systems.
If you regularly update the program's database of security statistics, Pulse can also signal when a price reaches your buy or sell target. Trading price updates are easy to enter (but even easier with DownLoader).
We find Pulse's flexibility of most value. It lets you choose the data to show onscreen or print in reports. If you don't need a reminder of what you paid for a security, you can substitute something else.
There are limits. Some of the data we wanted reported, it refused to print. But it's still more flexible than most programs. And the folks at Equis promised to add our preferences in their next update.
DownLoader is basically a telecommunications program. Once set up, it works easily and well. It dials almost any online stock data service you like and copies down prices and other statistics for companies you select. It then formats the data so Pulse can grab it.
You can also use Downloader for stocks you're watching for possible future buys. Then move that data into Equis's third program, Meta-Stock. MetaStock analyzes stock price trends using the same statistical formulas many professional analysts use. From its results, it prepares a large assortment of easy-tounderstand graphs you can see onscreen or print out. They work with any monitor and circuit card. Of course the better your card, the better the graphs look.
We compared MetaStock to Dow-Jones' Market Analyzer and Compu-Trac. Both technical analysis programs are marketed by financial publishing companies. MetaStock walked all over Dow-Jones. Compu-Trac had several trendy formulas that were missing in our initial Me-taStock test copy. But while we were testing, Equis sent the latest version, which adds those missing formulas.
Our favorite display cuts the screen in half. On top, we display a graph of the popular MACD moving average or Stochastic ratio. On the bottom half, we view three months of daily highs, lows and closing prices. At the bottom of the hi-low chart, MetaStock also graphs each day's relative volume of securities traded.
You can compare results of several formulas by making the screen "transparent" so that each new graph overlays previous lines. You can window graphs for nine companies on-screen at the same time, three across and three down, or display nine analysis charts for the same company. On our VGA equipment, the small graphs are totally readable.
MetaStock comes with dozens of prewritten ratios and analyses. For many, you can customize formulas and time periods. You can add formulas of your own, too, such as John Jones' Get Rich Slowly Equation. Then you can run them through automated tests on hundreds of securities, the way professional technical analysts do.
If you use MetaStock on an older AT type compatible with an older hard disk, run tests like that overnight. It can take hours and hours. You get much faster results on a faster, newer i386 or i386sx computer.
The Technician does the same statistical analysis. But it looks at overall market trends in any of the various markets rather than particular securities.
Pulse, usually $349, is on sale until summer for $195; a $49 trial version works for 60 days. Downloader costs $195 with ability to access seven data vendors such as Dow-Jones/News Retrieval and Compuserve. For folks who want to download data only from Warner Computer Services, there's a $69 version.
MetaStock costs $349, The Technician $395. For each, there's a $5 demo disk. Few local dealers carry the programs yet, but you can phone Equis at (800) 882-3040.
If you want to do some technical or fundamental analysis but don't need the scope of Equis's quartet, there are several good, low-priced programs that keep trading records and bolster stock market guesswork.