Brokers Spruce Up Their Systems

NEW GOODIES FOR ONLINE INVESTORS are popping up this spring, promising their own version of a green summer.

TRADEKING (http://www.tradeking.com) is just one of several firms branching out from existing product offerings. It is enhancing its social-networking capabilities to promote collaborative learning and community sharing. Think of them as the financial equivalent of Websites like MySpace and FaceBook—allowing members to post a profile and blog about trading. Participants can also interact online via live chat rooms and instant messaging.

“People socially network about investments in the real world. It’s a natural extension to have these conversations amplified through technology,” says Donato Montanaro Jr., CEO of TradeKing.

One new wrinkle known as Certified Trades allows members who are also clients to publish their verified trade history. That way, when you’re reading a blog on the site, you can tell who’s actually making the trades that they’re talking about—helping you avoid possible touters and pump-and-dump schemes.

OPTIONSXPRESS (http://www.optionsxpress.com), meanwhile, continues to sprout enhancements to its display of options-chain information. New features permit you to view all the calls or puts that can be traded for a particular underlying stock. When you roll your mouse pointer over a symbol, you can look at quotes across exchanges for that item, or check out the “Greeks” (risk variables). Hovering the pointer over a strike price displays the option’s intrinsic value versus time value.

Also available with the new chain display is the ability to populate a spread-order ticket quickly. By clicking once in an order box next to a quote for a particular option, you can select it as a Buy. A double-click selects it for a Sell. When you’re filling out a trade ticket from a display, you get a visual image of your order—helpful when setting up a diagonal spread or a calendar spread.

“Our education division likes this, because it visually shows what is going on with a spread,” says Alejandro Ozerkovsky, optionsXpress’ product manager.

Another expanded feature at optionsXpress is Chart Patterns, which now lets you find stocks that fit certain technical criteria. By clicking the Advanced Chart Patterns screen, you can choose market direction (bullish, bearish, undefined), a trade horizon (short-, intermediate-, long-term) and a particular technical-chart layout to see up to 20 stocks that fit your specs.

When you hover your mouse over a chart layout, a description of how it works appears. This feature would be even more useful if market-cap and price range for the resulting stocks were available.

OptionsXpress has added functionality to the Positions screen as well. If you click on the Trade box next to items that are in your portfolio, you can create an order-entry ticket that allows you to close all those positions from the same screen.

INTERACTIVE BROKERS (http://www.interactivebrokers.com) got a jump on the season in early April, becoming one of the first brokers to offer updated rules for the calculation of securities-margin requirements. Utilizing the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new portfolio-margin rules and the firm’s real-time margin technology, IB’s customers in certain cases are able to increase their leverage.

IB also completed its second Collegiate Trading Olympiad. This year’s winner, Brian Eckerley of Ohio State, generated a profit of $294,190 over eight weeks of competition, starting with $100,000 in phantom money. He was one of 204 participating students who designed program-trading applications in C++, Java, Visual Basic and Excel and VBA for Excel and had to complete at least 25 trades during the competition.

Unhappy with the trading interface provided by existing online brokers? Just2Trade and its affiliate SuccessTrade recently launched an applications-program interface that can be used to link into their trading engines. The API does not include a quote server, but a knowledgeable programmer could use it with other tools to quickly execute trades. More information is available at http://www.just2trade.com/html/program_trading.php.

Several other brokers allow programmers access to their API, including Interactive Brokers and optionsXpress. Here’s to a successful spring growing season.

Posted by on 05/05 at 01:26 PM

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