You don't have to look too hard to find a personal finance Website that features investing tools. There's the ubiquitous stock tracker, the gizmo to calculate gains and losses, the charting basics. But if you want serious analytics--and we mean institutional-quality stuff you typically can get only from the big boys on Wall Street--then read on. We're talking about sites that offer complex risk analysis, option pricing, and volatility data. (In other words, newbies need not apply.) And best of all, three of the four are free.
Risk management. Confident that you've minimized the risk in your portfolio? If you want to sleep better at night, get a risk assessment at Riskgrades.com. It's the Website of Riskmetrics, a division of J.P. Morgan that was spun off in 1998. "The unprecedented growth in equity ownership and increasing market volatility make measuring and managing risk more critical than ever," says Ethan Berman, CEO of calculate a risk score for each individual asset you own, or for your entire portfolio. You can also do a "what if" analysis to measure the implications of a buy or sell transaction. Want a real eye opener? Use the Xloss feature, which measures the "extreme loss," or the amount an individual could lose on the worst trading days of the year.
Options pricing. Unless you're a whiz at binomial pricing models or Excel spreadsheets, analyzing options can be tough. Professional traders do it by analyzing volatility to help calculate prices. How? They compare a stock's historical volatility and its "implied volatility" (meaning the market's estimate of how active the stock will be over the next three months). If implied volatility is higher than historical volatility, then options on that stock are theoretically overpriced. That's where ivolatility.com comes in. It lets investors view a stock's current volatility, implied volatility, and historical volatility, and how all that correlates to the S&P 500. The basic site is free, but you can access advanced tools for $9.95 to $39.95, depending on what you need.
Technical analysis. Though sometimes considered a dark art akin to consulting the stars for investing advice, technical analysis is increasingly used to help figure out where a stock is likely to head. At Techrules.com, investors can get user-friendly technical charts and analysis on thousands of stocks from around the world, everything from the basic buy-and-hold model to the more complex Bollinger bands or linear-regression models. "Investors can get a confirmation of fundamental expectations and can test past performance before buying a stock," says Jorge Bolivar, CEO of Techrules.com.
Employee stock plans. According to the National Association of Stock Purchase Plans, ten million to 15 million Americans now own employee options. Problem is, human resource departments can do very little to advise employees on how to manage them (because of potential liability). As a result, more than 90% of option holders exercise and sell within the first year of investing, says Rick Schultz, CEO and founder of Optionwealth.com. "That's not always the best thing to do. You're cutting off the future growth inherent in options," says Schultz, who has assessed employee stock-option issues for a decade as a financial planner. The site costs $200 per year (free if your company signs on) and offers a variety of services, from getting the current "in the money" amounts to figuring out the best order of liquidation. There's also a service that notifies users of red-letter dates. The alerts, often some two years in advance, can remind you, for instance, that you can start taking advantage of some tax shelters that protect your assets. Who says all those e-mail notices are junk?