Want to become a more informed shareholder? Sure you do. Fund investors can get away with checking their holdings semi-annually, but stocks require more attention. Here are five ways to stay on top of your stock investments:
1. Set up a free portfolio tracker. Several sites let you customize trackers with a list of your stock, fund, and ETF holdings. For example, Yahoo Finance and Google Finance both offer basic tools that let you insert the number of shares you bought, and at what price. The trackers also link to company information for stocks, such as recent news, historical share prices, and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In Yahoo's case, you'll also find blog postings that mention your stock.
2. Sign up for automatic alerts. See if your portfolio tracker offers alerts. Both Yahoo and MSN (via MSN MoneyCentral's Portfolio Manager) will send you an E-mail or text message if one of your stocks—or your entire portfolio—drops below a certain threshold.
3. Keep up with market trends. At least once a week, log on to a financial news site (or read it the old-fashioned way, in print) to get a rundown on market news that could affect your portfolio holdings. "The goal here is to get the big picture or the trend, and then to make changes to your portfolio accordingly," says Investopedia. Investing podcasts are another good source of financial news.
4. Check in each quarter. If you invest in individual stocks, don't miss the company's quarterly earnings call (check the "investor section" of its website to find out when the next call will take place). During this teleconference, which is usually broadcast live several hours after the earnings announcement, you can hear company bigwigs discuss the quarter's financial results and fill in details not included in the earnings release. Sometimes, individual investors can call in and ask questions during the question-and-answer period at the end of the call. If you miss the whole thing, you can find full transcripts of the calls at Seeking Alpha.
5. Read the annual report. A great research tool for stock investors is a company's annual report, which typically comes out in April. Particularly valuable, says Bob Auer, manager of the Auer Growth fund, is the company president's letter, which is usually found at the beginning of the report: "Sometimes it gives you a glimpse of what's in store for the coming year, and many times it reveals a tidbit that has never before been released and isn't in the news," says Auer, whose Indianapolis-based fund invests in companies of all sizes.