Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trading Sites Ford New Streams

FANS OF STREAMING TRADING APPLICATIONS now have another tool to check out.

Last summer, optionsXpress (ticker: OXPS) released a beta version of its downloadable trading software, Xtend, which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux systems. The company ( announced May 3 that the program is now in general release and can be used by any optionsXpress customer at no additional cost.

It takes just five minutes over a cable modem to download and install, and that includes the time spent downloading an update of the underlying program, Adobe Air. Upon first logging in, you’ll be asked if you want to take a tour, or set up the platform and dive in. You can customize the platform, arranging the available tools as you see fit, or use one of the default layouts. You can also change background colors; the default background is black.

One new feature is a custom profile builder, which walks you through the layout of your platform. There are numerous tools for active traders, such as streaming Greeks (options features named for Greek letters), as well as options chains and watch lists. You can also enter a contingent order on Xtend, buying, say, 200 shares of the PowerShares QQQ (QQQQ) exchange-traded fund, which tracks the Nasdaq 100 when Microsoft (MSFT), for instance, hits a certain price.

Xtend also enables a tool more common in the futures world—ladder trading—for stocks, ETFs and options. Using a ladder, or price list, gives you a different picture of how the price is moving. You can place a trade by clicking on the Buy or Sell box next to the price you want to use.

Quotes for the items in your portfolio are displayed in a ribbon across the bottom of the screen. All the tools available to you are indicated in icons below the quote ribbon. Those in gray are already on your layout screen, while those in color can be added with one click.

Several thousand optionsXpress customers have been critiquing Xtend since last summer, and Fisher says he believes the platform now is “rock solid,” after incorporating numerous suggestions.

One feature that will please active traders who use multiple computers during the trading day is that settings will follow you from one computer to another because they are stored on the server side. “No matter what platform you launch Xtend from, it will look like it did when you closed it down [after] the previous use,” says David Fisher, CEO of optionsXpress.

Depending on how many tools you load at once on the screen, Xtend can look pretty busy, especially with the streaming quotes and constant updates. Infrequent investors might be overwhelmed.

STREAMING ON ZECCO: Zecco ( has also launched two Web-based streaming applications. Zecco Streamer Lite gives traders free real-time, streaming quotes from the BATS exchange (an electronic communications network also known as the Better Alternative System), including last-sale information for more than 1,000 of the most commonly traded equities. It also includes a trading module, a real-time Twitter investment feed, and access to the ZeccoShare sentiment indicators.

Zecco Streamer includes all the features in the “Lite” version plus other tools, such as Level I streaming quotes, streaming charts with technical-analysis overlay, streaming options quotes and news feeds. The Streamer is $19.99 a month after a 30-day free trial. The $19.99 seems like a lot, given the tools offered, although you get 10 “free” stock/ETF trades a month at Zecco if you have more than $25,000 in your account.

VANGUARD CUTS FEES: Vanguard ( announced May 4 that its customers can trade the firm’s lineup of 46 exchange-traded funds commission-free. Vanguard’s ETFs, designed to track an array of domestic and international stock benchmarks, as well as several segments of the domestic bond market, have very low expense ratios.

With this fee change, the firm is encouraging clients to tailor a portfolio of Vanguard ETFs to meet their long-term goals, contribute to it monthly, and rebalance it periodically, commission-free. In a statement, Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb said the commission-free offer “enables investors to construct a balanced, long-term portfolio of low-cost Vanguard ETFs and add to the portfolio regularly.”

I find it unfortunate that Vanguard is creating more tiered pricing schemes, especially since most online brokers are phasing them out. Customers with more than $50,000 in assets at Vanguard can place other stock/ETF transactions for a $7 commission; if you have more than $500,000, the commissions drop to $2. There are four pricing tiers; details are at

Posted by twcarey on 05/15 at 03:38 AM
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