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Stock Screen Dream Team

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Stock screeners are priceless time-saving devices, able to identify diamonds in the rough; however, they are far from infallible and should really be used as only one aspect in a stock picker's arsenal.

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3. YCharts

This Chicago-based company was co-founded in late 2008 -- back when few had the stomach to so much as look at a stock chart -- by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) alumnus Shawn Carpenter. It aims to uncover fundamental value from scores of proprietary metrics encompassing approximately 4,600 equities. The clean look, impressive graphics, copious drop down menus, and visually uncluttered interface are notable strengths. A series of tutorial videos offer initial users an easy introduction to site navigation.

YCharts operates a tiered pricing model, increasingly common in the industry. Free registration provides access to ten years worth of historical data and about 85 separate valuation benchmarks. At the other end of the spectrum, $40 per month buys YCharts Pro. (A complimentary two-week trial is also available.) This premium subscription service gets you 30 years worth of data sets and 60 in-house calculations aimed at unearthing hitherto hidden value.

Befitting a firm that was founded in the Web 2.0 era, YCharts is also social media friendly, with its detachable graphics easily linked to Tweets. The site represents a considerable step up from the previous two entries on our list, even if one must pay up some.

4. Zachs

With this being peak week for third-quarter corporate results, many investors are turning to Zachs, a firm famous for providing earnings estimates and analysis. Its free custom tool encompasses 18 separate categories. Those prepared to shell out approximately $200 annually get additional access to a universe of roughly 4,200 issues tracked by Zachs.

Unsurprisingly, its Earnings Surprise/Revision screener is the industry benchmark and the firm also does an admirable job educating investors, with well-known stock screener Kevin Matras offering insights on the site. The premium Research Wizard provides some 600 parameters although, at well over $1,000 per year, it may be more than many amateur investors need.

5. Morningstar

The research firm, founded in 1984 as a rival to Lipper Analytical Services, is best known for assigning star mutual fund rankings. Its free equity screen is fairly bare bones, but offers some intriguing combinations among nine starter permutations. These include "Bargain Basement Small Caps," "Blue Blood Blue Chips," and "Profitable But Unloved." (Tagline: "Stellar profits should be the way to Wall Street's heart, but these firms have missed out on the romance.")

The site works well enough, although its overall feel is considerably more "clunky" than the sleek look of YCharts. Morningstar's premium product, meanwhile, scans some 10,000 stocks using over 440 screening criteria. A 14-day free trial is available, after which the user is billed $21.95 per month. Some gripe that the cost has increased excessively in recent years, but for those interested in scanning, for instance, no-load funds that fit the criteria for Socially Responsible Investing, its proprietary X-Ray tool is second to none.

6. FinViz

This site, whose full name is Financial Visualizations, may not have quite the name recognition for average investors of some others on our list, but it offers conceivably the single best screening product. The company claims to deliver "the fastest and the most advanced stock screener available online" and, a few minor quibbles aside, it's hard to argue. The free offering is a day trader's dream, allowing stocks to be filtered by every conceivable metric either in isolation or against industry peers, using items prized by both fundamental (e.g. institutional ownership) and technical (candlestick formations) disciplines. Its dividend scanning device is especially strong, an important consideration in these yield-starved times. A neat trick also allows you to automatically bring up a treasure trove of relevant chart information on a specific stock by simply placing your cursor over its symbol. Detailed heat maps on market indices also contribute to the "cool" factor.

A new premium Elite offering, at $299.50 annually, comes complete with additional bells and whistles including advanced charting, email alerts, and pair-trading capabilities. For the run-of-the-mill stockholder, however, its free product should more than suffice. Granted, pre-set screens are noticeably absent in the gratis version. And the sheer volume of options available -- the basic starter screen presents users with 6,685 stocks covering 335 pages -- may induce "decision paralysis." But it is a clear candidate for overall best in breed.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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