Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Best of the Online Investing Discussion Forums

Our last post about the recent troubles of SNC-Lavalin gathered together financial data, analyst comment and mainstream media stories. Suppose that leaves you feeling not sure whether this is a good time to buy in or, if already a shareholder, to sell your holding, hang on or buy more on the price decline. Suppose you want to widen the body of opinion even further and find out what fellow investors think. The best way to find out is through online discussion boards or forums.

What is a Forum or Board?
A Forum a website where anyone can post information on a topic. Topics are organized as threads. A person will start a new thread, which others then comment on or respond to, creating a series of posts. Posts can be as short or long, though most of the time, there is short and quick back and forth exchange. The thread is not a live chat session; posting is done by an offline message. Though you can simply read what others have written and not post yourself, it is easy to get involved in discussions through a simple, free and quick sign-up. It is not necessary to use your real name in your online identity, which allows you to remain anonymous to others and in fact, most people use a pseudonym. There are always forum administrators or moderators operating the boards and they enforce rules of behaviour and content. Wikipedia describes in more detail how Internet forums work. There are forums on many subjects but the ones we have selected below focus on investing and personal finance.

What do Discussion Boards offer?
Arlo Guthrie's classic song Alice's Restaurant (listen to it here on YouTube) contains a good answer: "You can get anything you want ...". Click on the links to the forums listed below and you will find all the major topic areas of interest to the individual investor:
  • ETFs, mutual funds , closed end funds, split shares, REITs
  • individual stocks, preferred shares, GICs, corporate bonds, government bonds, real return bonds
  • currency exchange
  • portfolio construction, rebalancing, asset allocation
  • taxes
  • financial planning, retirement planning, estate planning, annuities, insurance
  • discount and full service brokers, financial planners, software
  • RRSP, TFSA, RRIF, LIF, RESP, LIRA, non-registered accounts
  • economy, market trends
  • etc
A huge advantage of forums is that if you cannot find the answer you seek in some existing thread, you can post a new thread and ask others to help out. Usually someone steps forward often and many do.

Pros and Cons
The cornucopia is not necessarily a panacea! Boards contain a mix of gold and fool's gold.

  • Free - no cost to register and be able to post at any of the sites; reading only does not even require registration
  • Anonymity possible - post questions and comments without having to reveal to others who you are
  • Unbiased - fellow investors, with nothing to sell and the same interests as you, make up the vast bulk of forum participants, though of course there is nothing to prevent industry people to post and some do; if things turn to promotion other users and the moderators will step in to stop it.
  • Expertise - some of the forum community members have considerable knowledge and they seem to take pleasure in sharing it; it may take a bit of time and reading of many posts to figure out who does and who does not know what they are talking about though. When something gets written that isn't correct or is dubious, there is often someone else ready to step up and dispute the matter.
  • Fun - part of the payoff for actively taking part in a forum is the chance to share and discuss a subject of interest with like-minded people. Apart from its practical side, investing can be an enjoyable mental activity, almost a type of game.
  • High Chaff to Wheat - like anything else human, there is a lot of un- or poorly-informed opinion expressed in the threads. It may be necessary to read many posts to find a few bits of useful information. The search tools within each forum can help to reduce that somewhat. After a while it becomes evident which forum members are better informed and more worth reading. The dark side of the anonymity allowed in a forum is the opportunity for dishonest people to deliberately give misleading information. Caveat lector, always.
  • Time Consumption - a corollary of the above point is that it is very easy to burn up a lot of time reading through oodles of posts. It is easy to get distracted and off onto tangents.
Favorite Forums - The best online boards have many registered users and high volumes of posts, producing a breadth and depth of discussion that will cover from the highest level view to drill down to the smallest detail anyone could want.

Financial Webring - Canadian focus and perspective, very active forum; features a number of users with credibility, such as Bylo Selhi (website here), Keith Beatty aka Shakespeare (website here), James Hymas (website here), Bruce Cohen (co-author of Pension Puzzle), Norbert Schlenker (advisor at Libra Investment Management), Norm Rothery (Stingy Investor website here) and others.

Canadian Money Forum - Canadian focus as well, more recent startup by Ram Balakrishnan author of the popular CanadianCapitalist blog on Canadian MoneySense and Mike Holman (aka Four Pillars, Money Smarts blogger); very active blog; also features users like Alexandra Macqueen, aka MoneyGal (co-author of Pensionize Your Nest Egg), Financial Post journalist Jon Chevreau (blog here book Findependence Day)

Bogleheads - USA focus but lots of general investing content useful to Canadians; named after Vanguard founder John Bogle, many of its users admire his low-cost passive indexing philosophy; huge message volumes. Sample thread: World's Worst Stock Market Losses.

Motley Fool - USA focus but has a somewhat active Canadian section; notable for the number of pre-set categories for posts, which can help narrow a search for specific content instead of using the site's search tool, which is the main method to find topics on other forums; dedicated area to discuss industry sectors

DRIP Investing Resource Center - specialized focus on dividend reinvestment, covers both Canada and the USA.

Small Investor Protection Association - specialized focus on Canadian investor protection, fraud avoidance, fighting for restitution when problems arise, e.g. the thread Solutions, Self-Defense and Best Practices

As for SNC-Lavalin, the official company response on any potential further financial adjustments, promised by the end of March, has not yet been released but in the meantime, we can keep up with opinions on SNC-Lavalin on this Financial Webring thread and here on Canadian Money Forum. Of course, talking about SNC won't change the eventual outcome, so let's hope that the boards' benefit will not be reduced to the small comfort of the old cliché, "misery loves company".

Disclaimer: this post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice. Readers should be aware that the above comparisons are not an investment recommendation. They rest on other sources, whose accuracy is not guaranteed and the article may not interpret such results correctly. Do your homework before making any decisions and consider consulting a professional advisor.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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