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Almost all brokerage organizations maintain systems for obtaining real-time quotes on listed options. There are also numerous independent information providers that offer real-time or delayed quotes under various pricing plans. I subscribe to none of these because I think there are enough free resources to allow an investor to make intelligent decisions without paying more than the basic monthly Internet access charges. Bear in mind that are constantly being introduced and the features are constantly being modified and expanded—so much so that any detailed description that I could offer is quickly outdated. I have grouped these into the following categories: option quotes, real-time quotes, stock screeners, market news, research and analysis, discount broker evaluations, and message boards.

Option Quotes

There are many offering option quotes, and I happen to use three of them on a regular, delayed-quote basis. These are the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, and Dreyfus Brokerage Services. The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) offers bid and asked quotations for both standard options and LEAPS on a 20-minute delayed basis. You can request a quote for a specific call or put option, a short list of near-term at-the-money options, or the full list of all standard options and LEAPS available for the underlying issue. This is the first place to learn of new LEAPS or standard options that are being introduced or to obtain the trading symbol(s) for the option(s) you are interested in.

To get there, click on Trader's Tools and then again on E-mail Alerts. You will then be presented with ten automated mailing lists, any number of which you may subscribe to. For me, the most important one is the daily letter showing contract adjustments (including stock splits, mergers, and acquisitions) to existing options as well as announcements of newly established options and LEAPS. Other mailing lists include event calendars for seminars and classes given by the Options Institute, general announcements, and updated LEAP symbol directories. You can also receive daily market statistics and new series information in Excel (.xls) spreadsheet format.

This offers much in the way of training materials and software that is available for downloading. A detailed treatise on the tax treatment of options can be found under the Help & Resources section. Several links to providing information about options are also there, including links to all major stock exchanges and associated agencies and clearinghouses. In addition, the CBOE offers seminars on various options topics; information and registration. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX) also offers bid and asked quotations for both standard options and LEAPS on a 20-minute delayed basis. The PHLX option tables contain more information than those of the CBOE and include the implied volatility, theoretical option values based on historical volatilities, and other option measures. 

In addition, you can utilize filters to produce customized tables based on such criteria as volume, open interest, and option price relative to theoretical values. As fine as these two exchanges are, there are times when one or both are inaccessible because of Internet traffic, file maintenance, or computer downtime. (This is often not a fault of the exchanges themselves, because both depend on outside sources at the present time for market quotes.) To ensure coverage, I suggest opening and maintaining a no-cost/low-cost type of account from one of the many brokerage services that are readily available. 

Although there are numerous brokerage establishments that will provide option quotes, many of them do not provide LEAP quotations along with them. After examining several such services, I selected Dreyfus Brokerage Services. Although many of the deep discount, brokers do this as well, they can be very inaccessible at peak periods because of their popularity (not to mention occasional outages from system overload). The Dreyfus tables do not contain as much information as either the CBOE or PHLX does, but on the other hand download is much fasten The tables show the last trade, bid and asked price, change (if any), daily high and low, trading volume, open interest, and the option symbol. 

Clicking on the option description will take you right to the option order entry for subscribers authorized to trade options. Access to option and LEAP quotes is completely free after hours and on weekends, when the markets are closed. If you wish to access the same type of information during trading hours, you can do so by establishing an account with Dreyfus. An opening and maintenance balance of just $1,000 is required. The funds deposited can be invested in an interest-bearing money market account (or can be used to purchase equities), which is about as low-cost an arrangement as you will find. A higher balance of $2,000 or so is required to do options.

Real-Time Quotes

Real-time quotes are costly and are ordinarily not required by buy-and-hold investors. Nonetheless, they can be instructive to watch during periods of high volatility in the markets. Such services cost from around $25 a month for a limited number of monthly quotations to as much as $75 a month for unlimited quotations. In accordance with stock exchange rules, you must register for any site providing real-time quotations, which means supplying your name, address, telephone number, and E-mail address (providing such information is the ''price'' you pay for the service).

Thomson RTQ provides you with last price, the change, the bid and asked price, bid size, asked size, the high trade, the low trade and trading volume, current rating by First Call, and other market statistics on the company. For most issues, intra-day and annual charts are available. In addition to real-time stock quotations, Thomson RTQ now offers real-time quotes on stock options. The other two have stated their intention to provide real-time option quotes as well and may have done so by now. Many financial process of adding real-time quote capabilities. A listing offering real-time stock quotes (both free and for fee) can be found at the Medved QuoteTracker.

Stock-Screening Sites

There are several screening stocks on the basis of performance criteria. The two I use are Hoover's Stock-Screener and Wall Street Research Net. Hoover's StockScreener permits searches by using up to 20 performance criteria, including six independent financial ratios, six independent growth rates, and several size, margin, return, and volatility (beta) criteria. Stock-Screener is easy to use. The only downside is that you cannot download the search results into a spreadsheet. The searches can be limited by exchange and/or industry group. The search results can be presented and printed out alphabetically or in ascending or descending numerical order.  Clicking on a company's name will bring up a capsule description. 

Detailed financial information and news articles of the kind needed by industry analysts, financial advisers, and portfolio managers are also available by paid subscription. Wall Street Research Net permits searches by using up to 13 performance criteria, including several independent financial ratios, growth rates, and size categories. The searches can be limited within various index groups, including the Dow Jones and the S&P 500, as well as by exchange and/or industry group. Although its reporting mechanism is not as flexible as Stock-Screener's, a great advantage of this service is the great number (it claims over 500,000) available to scores of company, government agencies, the Federal Reserve, and other that provide detailed statistical indicators and associated economic reports. 

Market News

There are numerous breaking news on general market conditions and individual stocks. You can use this to monitor the market value of your portfolio. I like to view in one concise table the market indexes of some 45 stock markets around the world. CBS Marketwatch has general news features, but the one I like is the ticker containing the one-line summaries of breaking news events and earnings announcements. Each line shows the time of day and trading symbol of the referenced stock, so you can quickly scan the page for relevant information about any stock(s) of interest. Goinvest Weekly is a weekly newspaper that points to numerous resources and news items of potential interest to investors. I particularly like the NewsWire feature that brings up links to three classes of breaking stories: Top Headlines, Financial Commentaries, and Economic Reports.


There are a great number of whose greatest feature in my opinion is the numerous they provide to other investors. My favorites are Daily Stocks, and Nomad's Stock. Daily Stocks is a tremendous resource for investors, with over 200 links to providing market data and commentary, news headlines, event calendar, earnings estimates, stock screeners, insider activity, public offerings, technology stocks, futures, filings, research reports, and more. There is also an options pricer for calculating European- and American-style option premiums. Among these are seamless links to Quote Central, StockTools, Rapid Research, Wall Street Guru, News-Vest, Stock Detective, Bear Tracker, SmallCap Investor, Strike Price, and numerous other useful. 

Selecting Quote Central sends you for real-time quotes and selecting Strike Price sends you to which provides (delayed) options quotes. A particularly nice feature of Strike Price is that it is one of that can provide historical option quotes of the option series involved (including daily volume and high, low, open and closing prices) from inception on. Like many other portals, the features offered are changing and evolving so rapidly that any detailed description is quickly dated. Nomad's Stock is one of the investors that has been developed for the sheer fun of doing it. It is maintained by an AOL member, which is perhaps best described as a work of art if not a labor of love. 

You have to see it to believe it. It provides for searching, screening, charting, and tracking of stocks, indexes, options, and mutual funds. Besides the many tracking ongoing prices and breaking news, there are links to sites providing earnings announcements and forecasts, news headlines, upcoming and recent calendar events, stock screening, insider activity, domestic and foreign market activity, market commentary, upgrade/downgrades and research alerts, IPO and other security filings, tech stocks, mutual fund ranking and trends, futures, economic releases, and investment and stock columns. 

Research and Analysis

There are many analysis and ratings of individual stocks. The ones I like best are Zacks Investment Research, StockSmart, First Call,, and Option Chains. Zacks Investment Research Net is a fee-based offers several free goodies, including the day's ten best and ten worst earnings surprises, company profiles, and annual income and balance sheets. What I really like, however, is the Wall Street Recommendations, which shows consensus estimates in earnings and the number and distribution of brokers rating a given stock as a strong buy, a moderate buy, a hold, a moderate sell, and a strong sell, along with its average score and its change from the previous week. StockSmart is a good place for delayed market quotes on up to 12 stocks at the same time.

StockSmart shows winners and losers within an industry group, upcoming splits, distributions, and dividends, along with recent splits and symbol changes. For a relatively small subscription fee ($12.95 a month), a host of other information is available, including delayed option quotes. What is potentially very useful is the options analyzer that can be used to evaluate either short- or long-term option strategies. The format of the basic option quote tables is well designed and nicely provides 20-day and six-month volatilities for the underlying issue. First Call makes its living from the sale of real-time earnings estimates and real-time buy/hold/sell recommendations to corporate and institutional clients. Much of this information, however, is available without charge to individual investors on a daily or weekly recap basis. 

Earnings surprises, upcoming splits and dividend announcements, consensus estimates, upcoming earnings reports, estimate revisions, and numerous other reports can all be accessed free of charge. The multicolumn charts show company name, stock symbol, split ratio, announcement date, distribution date, and whether the stock is optionable or not. Splits announced during the past week are highlighted for easy reference. Much information is free but as a consequence is limited to perhaps three updates during the day. By subscription the information can be received constantly and continuously updated during the day.

Option Chains is part of Reuters Moneynet and is one of the few that lets you customize the options table for any options class by restricting it to a range of months and/or range of strike prices. It is also useful when dealing with options having a substantial number of strike prices, which often arises because of rapid growth in stock price, high volatility, and/or frequent stock splits. This is particularly useful when rolling out an option and you want to restrict the expiration date to a short (or long) horizon and strike prices to a narrow band just below the current one you're rolling out. In addition to the usual information, the table shows the date the option was last traded, which is particularly useful when dealing with less frequently traded options.

Online Option Pricers

These models range from the simplistic Black-Scholes for European options to complex ones for evaluating American-style options. The Numa directory of derivatives software has about ten such models; the Global Investor has to dozens of financial calculators, including four on options; and the University of Arkansas has over a dozen offering derivative calculators and related articles. The two option calculators I've used extensively (if for no other reason than to compare their results to mine) are Roberts Pricer and the Options Calculator made available by the CBOE. The methods used by the Pricer and Options Calculator to calculate option premiums differ from the one, and as a result the premiums obtained will be close but not identical. 

For example, for an at-the-money LEAP put of $100, with a volatility of 0.40, a dividend of 3 percent, a risk-free rate of 6 percent, and 24 months to expiration, the premium calculated for an American-style put using the Barone-Adesi and Whaley approach is $18.978. The Pricer uses a slightly different approximation method and yields a value of $18.695. The Options Calculator is based on a binomial model in which the annual dividend is not spread across the year but paid discretely on a quarterly basis. As a result, the put value will be somewhat higher, with values ranging from about $19.50 to $19.75, depending on the number of days to the initial dividend date.

Discount Broker Evaluation

Before signing on with any broker, you should visit, where a substantial amount of information on nearly 100 discount and option brokers has been compiled and evaluated. The discount brokers are divided into three classes: deep discount, middle-cost, and higher-cost discount brokers. At a minimum, the information provided includes the commission structure, account setup and maintenance charges, account minimums, broker call rates, and the fee and/or credit schedule for real-time quotes. The commission structure is ordinarily quite complete and includes per-contract and minimum trading costs for both broker-assisted and unassisted transactions. Of particular interest are the numerous comments gleaned from Internet news groups and chat rooms on the experiences (good and bad) that investors have had with the discount and/or online brokers. 

In only a few instances was information provided as to whether naked options are permitted and the extent to which stop limit orders can be accommodated. In addition to the above, the Robert's offers a commission pricer that shows how much it would cost in brokerage commissions to purchase a given number of shares of stock or option contracts at a given price from 50 different discount brokers. The resulting list is ordered alphabetically and by commission size, accompanied by telephone numbers or addresses. Option is another that has option broker scorecards. In addition, it lists various offering option quotes and even has a directory of the latest option. The various option quote providers are also reviewed and rated, and I visit from time to time to learn what's new.

Message Boards

A good place to place questions and read responses about options and investing are message boards. Many exist but very few are devoted exclusively to options. The former is unfortunately unmoderated, so there tends to be a lot of irrelevant material encountered besides the dozens of posts about options that arrive weekly from practitioners, students, and occasionally members of the academic community. The latter is available only to AOL subscribers using keyword TRADERS, then clicking on Message Boards and selecting Options. The messages here are typically posted by intermediate and advanced option practitioners, and much can be learned just by reading the posts and responses left by others.

Internet Providers

America is my provider of choice, as it is for millions of individual investors. The main investment menu, accessed using the keyword QUOTES, is organized into seven sections, labeled Portfolio, Market News Center, News by Ticker, Historical Quotes, Company Research, Brokerage Center, and Mutual Fund Center. Each section will send you to or pick up information from numerous financial in a completely seamless manner. I particularly like Historical Quotes because historical stock prices and volume activities can be downloaded for analysis or charting purposes in a matter of seconds on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis as far back as January 1, 1987. The quotation service provides 15-minute-delayed quotes on almost all listed securities but not on options or LEAPS. 

On the other hand, the keyword CBOE sends you seamlessly to the Chicago Board Options Exchange, where one can get information on options on a delayed-quote basis. Metricom's Ricochet system is a wireless, radio-based Internet provider that permits me access to the Internet while on the move. Although presently operating in just the largest metropolitan areas at 28.8 kilobyte data rates, by mid-2000 the speed will be increased to 128 kilobytes and by mid-2001 the system will be extended to 46 cities nationwide. Access to the via radio can be cheaper than through regular telephones. A radio modem is about $350 and monthly service fee for unlimited access is typically $30. With a Ricochet modem attached to my laptop, I can stay in touch with the markets without a telephone or electrical outlet in sight. I love it.


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