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Joseph P. Porter
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I am a retired college faculty in Philosophy, with specializations in Ethics, Socio-political Theory and Rational Choice/Decision Theory. My teaching focus was on Business Ethics, Medical Ethics and Logic. After retirement I freelanced as a Grant Writer/Fund Raising Consultant. I have taught at... More
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Joseph P. Porter's Instablog
  • Screening The Screeners 0 comments
    Nov 11, 2012 5:07 PM

    A stock screener is a handy tool to have available. The problem is, there are screeners, and there are screeners.

    I consider a good screener to be one that allows filters for (at least) the most common fundamental and technical data, and up-to-date information about the stock in question. In fact, everything about the data should be current - if not, the screener automatically sucks.

    I mean, if you want a screener to list the "dogs of the Dow," for instance, and it returns with "Kraft" among the results, the screener is no good. Kraft was a dog of the Dow at the beginning of the year, but it is no longer even a member of the Dow Jones Industrials - it was dropped from the Dow about 2 months ago.

    I yearn for a screener that will do what I want, and do it for free. The search has been long and tedious, and not quite successful as yet; however, there are some good screeners out there (and some bad ones, too), so I thought I'd present them here. The screeners are rated as follows: * = Bad (use at your own risk); ** = Fair (within limits provides reasonable results, but there are significant limitations); *** = Good (plenty of filters, results are reliable, although might still have some limitations)

    FINVIZ.com started out as my go-to screener. It has virtually every fundamental and technical piece of datum you could want, and then some. Add to that the fact that the data page for any stock you look at is itself a complete record of the company, and you would think (as I did) that - WHOA! - it could be no better.

    As it turns out, FINVIZ isn't all that it seems to be. For all the data it purports to provide, it's data is woefully out of date. When I tried to select for companies having dividend yields over 10% it provided a list at least 20% of which consisted of companies that no longer paid double-digit yields - and even some that had stopped paying dividends altogether nearly a year ago.

    I don't expect perfection from a screener, but FINVIZ seems so out-of-date with its data that it is a major mistake to rely on it to any extent. Add to this the fact that the people at FINVIZ are totally non-responsive when you write to them, and you realize that this site is not as great as it would like you to believe it is. Laughably, you can even pay for premium service. RATING : *

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    YCharts.com is an excellent site, and many of the contributors here at Seeking Alpha (including yours truly) use YCharts for the charts they use in their articles - especially "create-your-own" charts. The screener is first rate, as far as they will let you go for free. And that's not very far.

    YCharts offers a "Gold" membership that costs $49.00 per month and recently added a "Platinum" membership that costs -are you sitting down? - $499 per month. Most of the stuff you get for $49 you can get elsewhere for nothing, so this seems rather counterproductive for YCharts. As far as their screener goes, most of the data is available for paying customers only, and there seems to be no sense to their marketing strategy here: I can go to nearly any site on the web and get the "net profit margin" for any company, but YCharts makes you pay for it; I can get Return on Assets and Equity from YCharts, but if I want Return on Investment, gotta pay. Most of the filters require that you be a paying member.

    If you don't expect to be using YCharts very much, you can try their 2-week free trial (gold membership), and spend your time 24/7 for two weeks taking advantage of this, but - hey - after the trial, you either pay $49 per month or join the great unwashed. I'll use their charts, but their screener just isn't worth it. RATING: *

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    MOTLEY FOOLS is in the process of developing a screener (listed under their CAPS directory). It seems like they're on the right track, but they have a ways to go. It is free, and the data on FOOL tends to be very up-to-date; it's the one thing I think FOOL takes very seriously.

    The only gripes I have about their screener right now are: the results tend to be inconsistent, but not meaningfully so - it might tell you that it has 20 company's matching your filters, but when you go to check them, you find there's only 10, that sort of thing (bugs they just need to work on); a lot of the filters they have are CAPS-related - CAPS rating, CAPS picks - and these are simply too subjective to be relevant - am I going to buy a stock because some people at Motley Fool think it's good? Probably not; very few filters for basic and fundamental data - you can filter for Gross Margin but not Net Profit Margin, Return on Assets, but not Equity or Investment, Current Ratio but not Quick Ratio. In this sense, the screener is too rudimentary to be of much value.

    With work, the screener could be one of the best available, given that Motley Fool doesn't mess around. RATING ** (mostly on potential)

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    CNBC just goes to show you that a commercial news system can come up with the goods, do it nicely, and do it free. The screener has a couple of "preset" screens to choose from, or you can create one from scratch. All filters are tucked away into categories - you choose the category, then choose the relevant filters, then put your settings on the filters. Most of the major basic, fundamental and technical filters are available, although not as many as FINVIZ provides. The results are point on.

    Easy to use, free, and - as one would expect from a major news network, pretty up-to-date. There's not much better. RATING ***

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    Google provides a good screener, although not as comprehensive as CNBC's. The filters provide you with a graphic representation to show how selective your use of that filter is (are you being too choosy, or are you not being choosy enough?), and this is a nice feature, especially if your set of filters runs out of candidates too quickly. It functions basically like the CNBC screener, although it lacks some choices. It primarily focuses on the fundamentals, and only the most popular technicals are represented (mostly having to do with price).

    Leave it to Google to come up with a competitive screener - some day the whole world will be Google-ized. RATING ***

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    Wall Street Journal. Okay. Perhaps the authoritative business website, and one would expect that its screener do the job well. No surprises here, as it works just like CNBC's and Google's screeners, and you would expect that everything would be as up-to-date as humanly possible.

    This has become my "go to" screener. RATING ***

    (NOTE: there are other types of screeners, such as for mutual funds and ETFs; I am only interested in stock screeners here.)

    (ANOTHER NOTE: If you are aware of any stock screeners that I've overlooked, please let me know what they are. I would be happy to compare them to the ones above.

    Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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