The Golden Age for the Individual Investor

Tadas Viskanta, founder and editor of financial blog Abnormal Returns, writes that there has never been a better time to be an individual investor. Citing the advent of low-fee ETFs, blossoming of options markets, and most importantly the rise of technology and social tools, Tadas explains his argument:

  1. Easier:  Investors today can with a brokerage account and a computer is now only a few mouse clicks away from a globally diversified portfolio of ETFs that in terms of expenses rivals what institutions paid a decade ago.  For all intents and purposes the expense ratio on the big ETFs is closer to 0.0% that 1.0%.  Many brokers now allow online trading of individual bonds and overseas securities.
  2. Cheaper:  Brokerage commissions continue to get driven towards $0 over time.  In fact, many brokers today provide commission-free trading of a range of ETFs.  Options strategies that would have been cost-prohibitive a few years ago are now viable strategies today.  Do you remember when you used to have to pay extra for real-time quotes?  Today real-time quotes are a commodity.
  3. Richer:  The range of asset classes, sectors and strategies available via ETFs is truly dizzying.  It is even for interested parties hard to keep up.  Will most of these more exotic strategies fail?  Probably.  But sometimes a strategy, like low volatility investing, that is based in deep academic research, becomes available to investors.
  4. More social:  Blogging and microblogging (StockTwits & Twitter) has opened up the world of idea generation to the masses.  Anyone with a computer these days can put his or her ideas out there for the world to see.  The blogosphere and Twittersphere is a meritocracy, albeit imperfect, where the smartest and most generous contributors rise to the top.  The social model is pushing into things like earnings estimates with Estimize and institutional-grade services like SumZero.  Many bloggers these days make fun of the raft of ‘free’ webinars that go on these days.  But if you think about it the software and Internet speeds were not there to make mass online seminars possible not all that long ago.
  5. Smarter:  The raw material for investment analysis and trading is of course data.  Financial and price data is for the purposes of most individual investors is free these days.  Many firms are using data in interesting ways.  In the area of fundamental data some firms likeTrefis and YCharts are making fundamental analysis easier.  A firm like AlphaClone allows you to track the moves of (and invest) like the big hedge funds.  When it comes to portfolio level data firms like Wikinvest are aggregating account data making analysis easier for investors.
I’ve been following Tadas’ blog for about six months now, and his daily links are superb. Indeed, Abnormal Returns (and its Twitter feed) is a blog I peruse daily.