Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mobile Trading Shifts to a Higher Gear

APPLE LAST YEAR RELEASED A SOFTWARE-DEVELOPMENT kit for the iPhone and iPod Touch, allowing programmers working outside the Apple umbrella to write applications for these hugely popular devices. We frankly were surprised that brokers didn’t leap at the offer with a lot of interesting new ideas.

When we surveyed participants for our 14th annual ranking of online brokers ("Blue Chips,” March 16), 15 of the 25 polled said that they supported trading on the iPhone. While that’s a significant number, most of the pack allowed trading via the device’s built-in Safari Web browser. That meant a customer would have to log in to the broker’s Web-based application, and access the site’s features via a tiny interface. Not a great experience. The lone exception was TD Ameritrade, which launched its iPhone trading application last fall.

That may be about to change. James McGovern, vice president of consulting services at Corporate Insight, believes that mobile-trading applications are on the verge of taking off. “It’s a way for these firms to appeal to younger people, a different segment that they don’t necessarily have inroads to right now, plus it’s a way to keep active traders happy,” he says.

McGovern sees the increased focus on mobile trading as another way for self-directed brokerages to distinguish themselves with technology; firms ignoring the mobile-trading trend are likely making a mistake. “We think the industry effort will pay off, and that we’ll see better user adoption rates, better applications, and a better experience,” he observes.

Earlier this month, E*Trade launched its iPhone application, Mobile Pro, which already has a version available for the BlackBerry (July 2008). It’s got a list of very useful features for the road warrior, including the ability to place conditional stock and option orders, plus access to E*Trade’s QuickTransfer capability. QuickTransfer provides real-time cash movements between E*Trade accounts, as well as links to a customer’s non-E*Trade bank accounts.

When you fire up Mobile Pro, your trading dashboard is displayed. This screen shows a graph of your chosen index (Dow, Nasdaq or Standard & Poor’s 500); scrolling down, you can read the latest news headlines. At the top are links to account summaries and your portfolio holdings, which you can call up with a tap of your finger. You can also access watch lists, and get free streaming real-time quotes.

The usual trading fees apply, but there are no additional charges for using Mobile Pro.

If you’re using a software-based brokerage, such as TradeStation, how can you access all of those features from a distance? Janette Perez of TradeStation suggests an application called LogMeIn Pro (http://www.logmein.com), which lets you access your desktop computer from a remote device, including a smartphone. I was given a demo during the preparation of our online-broker story, and found LogMeIn to provide reasonable access to a software-based trading application.

It will run you $69.95 per year to have access to one personal computer from afar, but you can log into it from your phone’s Web browser; pricing depends on the number of computers you want to access, not the number of devices you’ll use to tap into your PC at home remotely. Note: You should be sitting at the computer you want to access remotely when you sign up for the service. (There is a stripped-down version of LogMeIn called LogMeIn Free, which, appropriately enough, costs nothing to use.)

LogMeIn might also be an option for iPhone-owning foreign-exchange traders.

FX Solutions (http://www.fxsolutions.com/) has a mobile application, GTS Mobile, which runs on 1,200 devices—but not the iPhone. Yet. Bill Lawless, vice president, says the mobile application is designed to work with the limited amount of real estate available on a hand-held device while allowing the customer to work within the data limits imposed by the cellular carrier.

There is an iPhone application published for forex traders called iTradeMobile (http://www.itrademobile.com/). It costs $7.95 per month, and works for customers of Forex Capital Markets (http://www.fxcm.com).

WIZARD OR FINDER? In our May 4 column ("New Tools for Bond-Shopping"), we reviewed a new fixed-income feature that TradeKing was calling Bond Wizard. As it turns out, TradeKing had licensed a program from the bond supplier, Knight BondPoint, which was already in use by TD Ameritrade. After a flurry of discussions among lawyers, TradeKing renamed its bond tool Bond Finder, and made some modifications to the wording of the products queries to clients.

THERE’S A FREE CHARTING APP
for the bargain-hunter out there who wants free streaming quotes and charts. Check out FreeStockCharts (http://www.freestockcharts.com). the site’s ad-supported, but you can ignore the column of ads on the right side of the screen by moving your browser to the right so they’re not visible. You’ll get access to data provided by the BATS Exchange, which is the No. 3 exchange (behind NYSE and Nasdaq) for U.S. markets.

Charts can be quickly modified, but you have to sign up for an account for the privilege. (I found an increase in trading-related spam upon signing up.) The volumes displayed on the charts are estimates, based on BATS’ share of the total market, but you can change that to show only BATS-traded volume. The interface is pretty slick, however—and, as I mentioned, it’s free.

TWEETERS WHO OFFER KNOWLEDGEABLE
interpretations of breaking financial news, such as market moves, include the Seeking Alpha bloggers. You can follow them at twitter.com/MarketCurrents. Most of their tweets are one-liners—but many link to longer discussions in their own blogs, or to articles published elsewhere.

The only downside to following MarketCurrents is that each link opens a new tab in your browser, and it can take two or three clicks to get to an article.

Twitterati: Good tweeple to follow for market news and quick updates include our own Eric Savitz, who posts Tech Trader Daily blurbs throughout the day. Find him at twitter.com/savitz.

Published in Barron’s, 5/18/2009. 

Posted by twcarey on 05/23 at 12:23 AM
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Senior Games Athlete Bio

I qualified in two track events (100m, 200m) and a team sport (volleyball) for this summer’s Senior Games, which will be conveniently held at Stanford.  Most of the senior athletic events in which I participate involve a plane ride and a hotel stay, so it’s nice to contemplate one that will be local. 

The Palo Alto Weekly is running bios of some local athletes in various places.  Here’s the one they have on me:  http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=15671

They edited out two people who are hugely helpful in my efforts to stay in shape:  Wayne Lacroix, my personal trainer at the Riekes Center, and Mary Kline, who gives me an orthopedic massage (Hendrickson Method) nearly every week.  I couldn’t do this without you! 

Posted by twcarey on 05/21 at 12:22 PM
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Saturday, May 09, 2009

New Tools for Bond Shopping

Post-publication note:  After this column ran in print, TD Ameritrade, which had previously exclusively licensed the Knight BondPoint technology, forced TradeKing to remove the questionnaire referred to below.  We will run an update in the 5/18/09 column. 

FED UP WITH VOLATILITY? JUST WANT TO PARK your money in a conservative fixed-income holding and not worry about it? Online broker TradeKing (http://www.tradeking.com) recently announced an expansion of its fixed-income search capabilities, achieved by teaming up with Knight BondPoint, which provides electronic access to fixed-income inventory.

The TradeKing Bond Wizard features five questions, on desired yield, tax status, desired rating, time to maturity and how much you’d like to invest. After you’ve specified what you’re looking for, the Wizard displays a list of bonds or certificates of deposit that match your criteria. An interactive table of fixed-income investments shows a snapshot of the entire fixed-income marketplace and what yields are available in a variety of time frames. Click on a yield to drill down for more detail about that particular item. Only TradeKing clients can access this feature.

TradeKing’s commissions for bond trading are $4.95 per bond, with a minimum of $14.95 per transaction. Treasuries and CDs are $24.95 per transaction.

“As investors strive to preserve capital and create balanced portfolios, we’ve seen a new wave in the growth of fixed-income investing,” says Don Montanaro, TradeKing’s chief executive officer. “These new tools will be especially helpful to investors seeking a way to quickly search thousands of fixed-income choices to find the bond or CD with the yield and time frame that best rounds out their portfolio,” he notes.

TRADEKING CHECKS OUT HOW
its customers feel about the markets every quarter, and its late April survey of 360 retail options and equities traders shows an overall lessening of despair. Twenty-eight percent of options traders and 16% of equities traders described themselves as either “bearish” or “very bearish”; but that’s down from 36% for both groups in January 2009. The current figures represent the lowest percentage in bearish sentiment since April of 2008.

Those surveyed shifted their trade triggers from political to economic, stating that quarterly earnings announcements were more influential in their decision-making than were the new administration’s programs and promises. Traders also are eyeing consumer spending and U.S. unemployment claims. All these trade triggers represent a change from a year ago, when oil prices and interest rates were the two top concerns.

Notes Montanaro: “Given the high degree of volatility in the markets today, we know there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty still out there among investors.... But what we see and hear from our clients is that there’s a sense of optimism, and a belief that opportunities exist for investors in this climate, if you’re willing to look for them.”

OPTIONSXPRESS HAS JOINED FORCES
with SmartStops.net to provide an easy and effective way to better protect your portfolio, and potentially improve overall returns on your stocks and exchange-traded-fund positions.

We took a look at SmartStops when it was first introduced last summer ("A New Way to Tell When to Fold ‘Em,” July 7, 2008), and still think it’s worth using. SmartStops provides optimized exit points, calculated daily to help you protect profits and cut losses.

OptionsXpress (http://www.optionsxpress.com) also announced that it is acquiring Optionetics, a provider of investment-education services, including live seminars, proprietary software analytics, online and offline educational products, and individual coaching. “With its focus on derivative products, we believe Optionetics will help ... our customers ... be more successful in their investing,” says optionsXpress CEO David Fisher.

Partnerships between investor-education firms and online brokers have often proved to be successful customer-acquisition engines—for both partners. In a letter to customers sent out on April 28, optionsXpress said, “With the acquisition of Optionetics, we’ll have the ability to bring you even more investor education, both on the oX platform and directly from Optionetics.”

MAKE A PLAN: Simplifi, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based outfit, has launched a financial-planning tool at its Website, Simplifi.net. Currently in beta-testing, the site is free to users. It appears to be aimed at those who don’t want to spend a lot of time with a calculator when deriving a financial plan and is, as its name implies, simple.

When you’re setting up your plan, you enter approximate figures for, say, your checking-account balances, the value of your home, and other assets. You don’t need to enter any account numbers or passwords, which is appealing from a security point of view, but means that you will have to update the figures manually when you want to review your plan at some later date. As you go along, Sophie, a virtual financial planner, offers advice and guidance.

Each goal you set, such as saving for a child’s college education or your own retirement, is graded with a goal-point average (GPA) from A+ to F. The GPA is based on a formula that calculates how much your financial goals will cost over time, and what you are currently saving to reach those goals. If you want to improve your GPA, you must either save more or pay off debts, or remove or lower the cost of some of your goals.

Simplifi makes money when you purchase a product from one of its partners that can help you implement one (or more) of your action items. The Website might be too simple for some of our sophisticated Barron’s readers, but if you don’t have a plan in place at all, consider checking it out.

TIPS FOR TWEETS.
Keep watch on the Securities and Exchange Commission from Twitter; the commission now has three Twitter feeds: new (SEC—news), investor education (SEC—investor—ed) and a jobs listing (SEC—jobs) The news feed, for instance, breaks stories such as insider-trading charges.

If you want to keep up to the minute on swine flu, be sure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Twitter feed at CDCemergency. Updates on reported cases by state and an essay detailing how to screen for the virus are available. The CDC feed is low on hype and high on information.

Published in Barron’s, 5/4/2009. 

Posted by twcarey on 05/09 at 01:09 AM
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