I spend a lot of time cruising the Web for financial information. If you're reading this, you probably do, too. If you're not reading this, well, then I'm not talking to you, am I? Why are you holding us up? Scat!

All right, now that they're gone, we can talk turkey. As I was saying, I look for good financial information all the time. There's nothing better than finding a site that gives you most of the tools you need to do an analysis of a company. On the other hand, it's annoying to waste time with a site that offers little or nothing of value. To help make your time on the Web as pleasant as possible, I thought I'd share some of the sites I find most and least useful when doing research on a company.

These are the tool sites, not the commentary sites. Of course, The Wall Street Journal, Buffett's shareholder letters, Fortune, and others provide great commentary. What I'm talking about are the places to get nuggets of news and data. It's also a far from complete list; there are many other very good and wretchedly bad sites out there. These are some of the more esoteric ones you may want to know about.

(Note: For those of you looking for a Rule Breaker connection in today's article, you'll find it in "The Worst" section. Until then, please be patient.)

The Best (after The Motley Fool, naturally): Multex Investor (www.multexinvestor.com)
Multex has long offered analysts' reports for sale individually or for an annual subscription. As much as everyone in the world right now despises analysts' recommendations and price targets, their research reports can often be very informative.

But the great part of Multex -- and the free part, thankfully -- comes from its recent acquisition of Marketguide.com. If you're an investor in individual stocks and you haven't been to Marketguide, you've been cheating yourself. It presents so much data in a convenient format, it's unbelievable. No more flipping through three different 10-Qs to track current assets quarter after quarter; Multex lays the last five quarters out for you in a clean, easy-to-read format.

Multex has analysts' estimates, ratio comparisons, free and for-pay research, and most of the other elements of a quote site. But the real selling point is its financial data. Want to see AOL Time Warner's (NYSE: AOL) cash flow statement for the last five quarters? Here you go. Want the last five years? There it is -- restated and all. That rocks.

What's more, it's clear, easy to use, and clearly differentiates the pay from the non-pay. It even offers a fully customizable toolbar that provides quick links to all these features. Finally, it separates significant developments from "news," so that you don't have to wade through a hundred market recaps to get at the important stuff. 

I love Multex Investor.

Some other useful sites

  • Edgar Online / Freeedgar have all U.S. SEC filings in recent years, which is nice, but they're clumsy sites without much functionality.
  • Morningstar.com has almost all the information you'd ever need on mutual funds, and it's building up a strong stock area as well.
  • InvestorWords.com is great for terminology, but it's not great reading.
  • ViWes.com is good for information about short interest for Nasdaq stocks.

The Worst: Yahoo! FinanceVision
I suppose that you could call this outfit on Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) a competitor, so you may want to take my comments with a grain of salt. I invite you to check it out for yourself. It is not to be confused with Yahoo! Finance, which is a useful provider of news, quotes, and data.

Yahoo! FinanceVision is streaming video commentary on the market. It's CNBC with virtually all redeeming qualities removed. You get interviews with analysts, who may or may not present useful information -- the odds of that are about the same as on CNBC or the like, in the neighborhood of 10-to-1. Amazingly, though, the Yahooites manage to botch even the interviews with good analysts.

Take, for example, a piece called "Tips and Tricks to Calling the Bottom" that ran Aug. 3, 2001. The star analyst is Luciano Siracusano from IndividualInvestor.com, who is normally a reasonable man. I'm interested to hear how he "calls the bottom," since I think it is a futile, self-promotional endeavor that no actual investor would care about. I may have to re-evaluate my opinion of Siracusano.

Imagine my surprise when the drivel came not from the interviewee but the interviewer:

Interviewer: "Looch, we hear you have this theory about -- you know, all these people are saying that, you know, you call the bottom this way, you call it that way, and even four months ago, we heard we were at the bottom and now we're much, much, much lower. What are your, uh, what's your patented tip and trick about calling that bottom?"

Luciano: "Um, not to call it."

The problems here are manifold. First, "all these people" aren't saying that you call the bottom this way or that way. I've maybe heard that once. What "all these people" do is call the bottom, even though they have no blessed idea what will happen the next day or the next minute, on the off chance that they may get it right and be anointed geniuses. It's the Henry Blodget phenomenon, and it's bedeviling equity analysis. Stop it. 

Second, the hyper-emphatic assertion that the market is "much, much, much lower" than four months ago was flat-out wrong, and way wrong at that. The interview ran on August 3. In the previous four months, the S&P 500 rose 10.2%, the Dow rose 11.4%, and the Nasdaq soared 23.5% (all with dividends reinvested). That's not a difficult stat to check -- it's a matter of public record. A simple glance at a chart would inform you about that degree of a rise. It would also tell you that those people who called the bottom on April 3 -- whoever they were -- are the geniuses who have to date gotten it right! Someone track them down and upgrade them to CNBC daily featured analyst status immediately, before the market falls again!

Third, either the anchors had no idea what their guest's opinion was, or they completely misrepresented it. I've seen misleading headlines -- heck, I've written misleading headlines -- but this is egregious. A piece of advice: You'll not make fans by promising something and not delivering. Look at Blodget today.

Then there's the staff commentary section featuring Caleb Goddard. This feature could not be more lame: In a burst of innovation, Caleb's Commentary recently applied Jump the Shark to dot-coms. "You've given investors another tool to look at," said Caleb's sidekick (whose name could be Joshua, as far as I know, though it would be an unusual name for a woman).

Dude, you're almost a year behind the leaders, and you're toward the back of the pack. That's true of most of Caleb's commentary, of course: would have been useful 18 months ago, now it's just recycled Schadenfreude -- not even original Schadenfreude. Investors can look at Caleb's tool all they want; they won't learn anything, unless he gives them something specific to look for. We at least combined our shark-jump criterion with six other shorting criteria, successfully integrating cutesy and useful.

With Caleb's adoption, "Jump the shark" has jumped the shark. Yahoo! FinanceVision jumped on Day One.

Enjoy the weekend.

Brian Lund sees two sides to every coin, but is confused by that middle bit. He owns none of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.