Archive for August, 2011

Get switched on to investment software

August 31st, 2011

You might think that, in an era when so much information is available online, using special investment-related software is a waste of time and money. Not so.

Many financial websites and online brokers offer investors basic share price charts. However, specially designed investment software can offer them functionality basic investment tools can’t: it can call on data of great breadth and accuracy and accomplish even highly sophisticated tasks at great speed; some products can screen data according to preset criteria; and most investment software can carry out portfolio accounting chores, including capital gains tax calculations and performance measurement.

The market divides naturally into two broad product categories: generalist products, most of which incorporate fundamental data as well as technical analysis indicators, and a second category (which I’ll cover next month) that includes more specialised programs that perform proprietary share valuation, use market timing techniques, value options and provide support for a number of other trading methods.

Generalist software includes a couple of big names – Sharescope and Updata. Sharescope has been heavily marketed over a number of years and has many users. In recent years, Updata has focused heavily on the professional investor market.

Both companies use a subscription-based model for their offerings, which are available in a range of variants, depending on whether users want real-time, delayed or end-of-day data updates. Both firms’ products incorporate fundamental data on a wide range of shares into their calculations. Sharescope’s comprehensive offering has recently been modified to incorporate economic data and US share prices.

Sharescope’s products are marginally cheaper. The company charges £36 per month including VAT for 15-minute-delayed data, while Updata charges £49 per month plus VAT for its equivalent, Trader Pro, product. Sharescope also offers an inexpensive end-of-day data option for £18 per month. However, a one-off £79.95 membership fee is levied on all Sharescope subscriptions.

Whether you need real-time, delayed or just end-of-day data will depend on the type of investor you are. If you deal long term and don’t trade actively, end-of-day data is sufficient. Active traders, dealing several times a day, need real-time data. Internet delivery of data makes the updating process easy.

However, what all investors really need from software providers is consistent, accurate data. Sharescope’s general manager, Tim Clarke, says: “You want to be confident that you are making a decision based on high-quality data”.

Opting for lesser-known products from smaller suppliers can work out cheaper in the long run, partly because of the way the data is priced. For example, Meridian Software’s Stockmarket Investor 3 program costs a one-off £129.95 plus VAT, but a subscription to its data service for closing prices only costs a further £35.95 plus VAT per year.

This program incorporates most of the basic chart-drawing and analysis functions offered by Sharescope and Updata software, but no fundamental data is included. The program also has a sophisticated portfolio management module that allows easy calculation of profits, losses and capital gains liabilities, as do others in the Meridian range.

“Most programs started off as charting software and then added a portfolio management aspect later. We did it the other way round, and we think our way is better,” says Meridian’s Andrew Lewis.

Winstock Software’s product, The Analyst, includes a portfolio management module and a reasonable range of chart formats and analysis tools. The package also includes a modest amount of fundamental data in the form of company results. The basic cost of £129.95 plus VAT includes daily price updates by email. It’s worth opting for a price scanner add-on, which costs an extra £69.95 plus VAT.

Your choice of investment software will depend on the depth of your pocket, the sort of investor or trader you are and whether you want features such as sophisticated portfolio accounting, capital gains tax calculations, fundamental data and market scanning. Most software companies have a page that summarises the features of their products on their websites. Some offer a free trial or demo compact disc so that you can try before you buy.

Take advantage of a free trial before you purchase any software. No amount of paper comparisons can substitute for getting to know a product and how it works in practice. Ease of use is important. If a product is clunky and cumbersome to use, you probably won’t get value for money from it.

There are several ways of using investment software to improve the performance of a portfolio:

• The market can be scanned for shares that satisfy specific technical analysis criteria.

• Shares can be selected according to predetermined fundamental criteria and share technicalities examined to determine the optimum time to buy and sell.

• The software can be used to determine the most promising investment ideas.

Sophisticated software can scan a list of shares for those that meet specific technical analysis criteria with ease. A typical search might seek out shares where the 10-day moving average has just crossed the 30-day moving average and where both averages are rising, an unequivocally bullish sign known as a ‘golden cross’. Many traders look to automate this type of pattern recognition approach and trade quickly on the back of positive signals.

The more sophisticated products incorporate wizards or input screens that allow investors to set up filters to identify these patterns as frequently as required.

Most investment software packages, irrespective of their cost and sophistication, can be configured to provide audible or visible alerts when shares hit certain key chart levels, drop to a fancied buying price or rise above a predetermined selling price.

Sharescope’s software is particularly good at using fundamental data as an initial filter. The product has a data-mining feature that allows a shortlist of companies displaying particular characteristics to be generated.

You might, for example, want to look at all FTSE 100 (UKX) companies with a yield greater than 6% and projected dividend cover greater than 1.5. Using the software, only four companies in the FTSE 100 satisfy this screen: Resolution (RSL), Aviva (AV.), Standard Life (SL.) and National Grid (NG.).

Each company can then be examined in turn to see which has the most promising share price pattern, based on technical criteria such as support and resistance, the relative position of moving averages, share price momentum, regression analysis and other techniques.

Of the four shares, only National Grid looks to be in an intact uptrend and is below its long-term trendline, although at the time of writing the share’s recent appreciation had arguably extinguished some of the short-term potential.

Using media share tips can be a mistake. Inevitably, error creeps into the selection process. You might not see the best tip or you might pay too much attention to an unreliable tipster.

However, any tips you may be tempted to use should be checked out thoroughly against fundamentals, recent news and the technical position of the share price. Sharescope is a good product for doing such a quick and comprehensive check.

The golden rule here is to only buy when everything checks out. You might miss out on some of the more speculative opportunities, but your investment decisions will be sound.

Above all, have a firm idea of the point at which you will exit if things go badly, and set an alarm that will trigger when this price is reached. Taking losses quickly is a crucial part of improving the investment odds in your favour. It’s best to do this in such a way that the emotion is taken out of your decision making. An alarm from a piece of software that you use every day can help do that.

Investment software jargon buster

Technical analysis: the use of share price movements to attempt to predict future price movements, and to time buying and selling decisions

Fundamental analysis: the use of data from company accounts and other information to establish a correct underlying share value

Moving averages: the creation of a chart from share price averages over a set number of days to eliminate random ‘noise’ from the data

Price scanning: a feature available with some investment software that allows many price charts to be examined for technically significant patterns

Support and resistance: key levels on a price chart where previous buying and selling actions might create share price ‘stickiness’

Regression analysis: a statistical technique that calculates a trendline and measures the confidence with which trades can be initiated at specific prices.


SunPods Creates Solar Arrays with Autodesk Software

August 31st, 2011

Clean technology company SunPods Inc. is using software from Autodesk, Inc. ADSK -1.25% to design and manufacture modular solar array units that help make solar power more accessible and affordable.

Unlike conventional customized ground-mounted solar arrays that require extensive onsite assembly and construction, SunPods (which stands for “Sun Power on Demand”) are configured and built in a factory before being delivered to virtually any site — a process that reduces installation time by up to 85 percent.

The combination of Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD software has helped SunPods to design and model its arrays without the need for physical prototypes or on-site testing. During the product development process, the company was able to test and evaluate 23 different digital prototypes. Additionally, Autodesk Showcase software enabled SunPods to more effectively demonstrate the innovative concept to customers by creating realistic animations placing the ideas in context.

“At SunPods, we want to provide sun power on demand,” said Michael Gumm, managing partner and cofounder of SunPods. “At every stage, Autodesk software has helped us turn that vision into a reality and speed up our progression from ‘good idea’ to great product.”

Faster Time to Market with Digital Prototyping

As a member of the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program — which provides software to emerging clean tech companies in North America, Europe and Japan — SunPods gained access to a variety of Digital Prototyping tools to speed the development of its modular power unit. Autodesk reseller, KETIV Technologies, helped provide training and support to enable SunPods to more quickly implement Digital Prototyping into the design process.

Each of the pre-manufactured, self-contained units is capable of generating up to 3.82 kilowatts of power — enough for a small residence. Thanks to its modular design, multiple units can be connected to one another to scale energy needs to power larger projects.

The marketplace has embraced the company’s innovative ideas: SunPods have now been deployed for commercial, residential, educational and agricultural projects across the United States. A cluster of three SunPods generates 750 kilowatts per month for a private home in Hollister, Calif., for example, while a cluster of 25 SunPods generates 10,000 kilowatts per month for a high school in Presidio, Texas.

“Digital Prototyping makes it easier for young clean tech companies with limited resources to develop products that can have a profound impact on the world around us,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Manufacturing Industry Group at Autodesk. “The work SunPods is doing is incredibly important and we’re glad Autodesk software can help play a role in making the transition to solar energy more financially accessible to more people.”


Callidus Software Unveils New Mobile Coaching Solution at Dreamforce 2011

August 31st, 2011

Callidus Software Inc. CALD -2.59% , the leader in Sales Performance Management (SPM), in a move to further expand and accelerate its sales mobility platform, today announced the launch of MySalesCoach, a next-generation coaching app for mobile devices, powered by ForceLogix On Demand Sales Coaching platform. The app is generally available on the iPad(R) and will be showcased at Dreamforce 2011, the cloud computing event of the year, held in San Francisco Aug. 30 – Sept. 2.

Drawing on the success of its mobility platform, Callidus is launching the new MySalesCoach app to enable sales people to apply real time coaching to their daily sales situations wherever they are. The new app delivers a fast, easy user experience that helps enforce a culture of pervasive coaching throughout the sales organization — a proven characteristic of high-performance sales forces.

“Today’s dynamic sales forces are seeking applications that deliver value in the context of their daily work — without taking them out of the field,” said Lorna Heynike, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Callidus Software. “The Callidus mobile platform equips the sales force with the knowledge, training, and — with this release of MySalesCoach — winning strategies they need to effectively do their job. The solution saves precious sales time by keeping front-line sales in the field and boosting adoption, increasing the overall effectiveness of sales coaching programs so the sales team can effectively execute campaigns and win more business.”

Callidus will co-host a breakout session with Comcast at Dreamforce 2011: “Build Your Sales Dream Team: How Comcast Uses Coaching to Maximize Sales Potential.” The session will review how Comcast promotes a culture of sales coaching across its sales channels to maximize customer and business development skills. The session is on Wednesday, August 31 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm, in Moscone West room 3016.

Callidus will also present at the Gold Partner Theater in the Expo at Dreamforce: “Optimizing Sales Performance: The KPI’s Critical to Sales Success.” The session will review driving sales excellence by monitoring and measuring the right sales KPIs. The session is on Friday, September 2, at 9:30am.

Callidus is a Gold sponsor of Dreamforce 2011, the cloud computing event of the year. Visitors to the Callidus booth will be eligible to enter a drawing for five iPad(TM) 2s, each with a one year subscription to a select Callidus solution. Visit the Callidus web-site for more information.

The ForceLogix Sales Coaching solution, part of the Callidus Cloud, is a self-service, SaaS-based solution that helps organizations optimize and increase the effectiveness of their sales force. The solution is seamlessly integrated with Salesforce CRM so sales managers can drive a culture of coaching and performance feedback as part of their day-to-day sales management.


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