What would you call a couple of investors who used not one but nearly a dozen portfolio management programs over the past couple of quarters? Fastidious? Insecure? Nuts?
No, it's Frank & Judi. Since many of our readers are investors, we keep an eye on portfolio management software. For years there was little to report. Inexpensive programs mostly just kept records. Programs that did some analysis did it awkwardly and, for the most part, cost too much.Most record-keeping programs we tested this time 'round are victims of uncared-for old age. They should be updated or decently buried. Only three are still worth mentioning.
CAPTOOL is tough to beat on price. Major parts of it are shareware: Its maker sells them for little more than mailing costs. He hopes you'll like them enough to send an extra donation. If you do, you get a printed manual. If not, you can print the manual from a file on disk. At most, the program costs $80.
CAPTOOL stores stock prices for as far back as you like. But getting the numbers into storage is, frankly, tedious. Using them is, too. We played with CAPTOOL for half a week before we felt ready to use it seriously. Menus are very crowded and you need the manual to translate strangely worded commands.
If you have a modem, CAPTOOL's stock price capture program helps download stock statistics from Warner Computer Systems, CompuServe, Dow-Jones/News Retrieval and similar on-line services. Going the modem route sounds sexy, but count on substantial set-up time. For more information, phone Techserve at 800-826-8082.
Portfolio Manager Plus costs only $50. That's its best feature. Second-best is that you can learn it well in six hours. Don't expect much investment guidance or any trend-showing graphs. All you get is a disk and instructions for printing the on-disk manual.
This program, too, comes with a telecom module to download prices. Once you select high and low limits for each security, they stay displayed in a box as you study current prices.
It's easy to use, but the help screens don't tell how to move between stocks. We trialed-and-errored ourselves blue until resorting to the manual. (If local dealers don't stock it, phone Disk-Count Software at 800-333-8776.)
If you want to keep all your financial records in one program, Quicken is worth considering. It's also the only program we like that also comes in a Macintosh version. Basically a home and small-office bookkeeping program, it has a friendly and forgiving investment tracker. When we made mistakes entering older stock transactions, fixing them was a cinch.
You can't dial a stock quote service within Quicken. But you can import historic stock data in ASCII format - for stock you own. The only way to track other stocks is to set up dummy accounts and make trades with no dollar value.
Quicken costs $50. Its maker, Intuit, is at 800-624-8742.
Most heavy-weight stock analysis is either fundamental or technical. Technical analysis, first used by commodities traders, concentrates mostly on a stock's price and volume of shares traded. For technical analysis, our favorite program is MetaStock, described in detail last week.
Fundamental analysis, reduced to simplest terms, concentrates on measurements such as 52-week highs and lows, price-to-earnings ratios and earnings projections. QUANT IX does fundamental analysis. You can use it just to record buys and sells, profits and losses. But if you feed it the right figures, it prepares projections and trading guidelines galore.
A few of the figures it needs are in some local newspapers. For the most part, you must copy them from an investment tip sheet or on-line service. Quant IX includes a telecom module. (On all the programs, the telecom modules gave us some grief, especially when we had our modem connected to COM3: or COM4:. They also tended to balk if the modem wasn't 100 percent Hayes-compatible.)
Quant IX needs substantial face-lifting. It's showing signs of age. But for fundamental analysis, it's a bargain at $90. (Quant IX Software is at 800-247-6354.)
My Way has a unique trading system built on two theories. The first is to buy low and sell high. (No dispute there.) The second is that most stocks go up and down enough over the short term to afford quick-and-easy in-and-out profit.
You can run the program just as a friendly portfolio manager, or as an analyzer. In that case, you must input performance data for stocks you want to follow. My Way has built-in telecommunications, and it does import prices as ASCII files.
Once there's some history for a security, My Way makes buy, sell and hold recommendations. You can fine-tune a dozen different trading parameters that influence its decisions. Where you set each parameter will depend on whether your financial goals lean toward conservative or aggressive investing.
This fine-tuning makes the program versatile, but don't let it mislead you. While we'd characterize our investment methods as decidedly conservative, the recommendations for those settings were far too timid for us.
Keep in mind, too, that My Way's advice is best if you're into lots of short-term trades. You can fall into deep water if you're paying hefty commissions. You must also keep plugging in changing prices to feed its advisor.
My Way costs $400 from
MoneyWon at 800-463-6639. There's a 30-day money-back guarantee.