Monday, February 23, 2009

Alacra Pulse: More Signal, Less Noise from Web-based Company News and Analysis

As the financial industry has writhed and wrinkled under the pressures of a wilting market for securities, financial content vendors have squirmed along with them, trying to define value propositions that will enable them to help both traditional clients and any and all possible new ones that they may be able to surface. One of the content companies positioned best to take advantage of these changes is Alacra, an up-and-coming aggregator of financial and business information that has spread beyond its roots in investment banking to appeal to a broader audience in finance and corporate circles. Alacra has a series of core premium research offerings with high functionality that major institutions can subscribe to as well as The Alacra Store that enables people to search for and purchase premium financial research and news sources on an a la carte basis. This allows Alacra to shift revenue streams rather nicely as clients become more or less oriented towards subscription services as the global economy goes through its cyclical paces.

One of the major problems in the current economic downturn, though, is that in many instances earlier sources of premium research are disappearing. As investment banks and other institutions have cut back on their research staffs, there are fewer people being paid to turn out premium research reports on institutions issuing securities and on market sectors. In some instances major institutions are passing on research coverage on major sectors such as the finance industry itself. Imagine that - banks refusing to analyze banks. Strange times, indeed, but that has become the economics of the securities industry. As more and more trading of securities has shifted to electronic trading systems, the shrinking profits from electronic trades have made it harder to justify the expense of offering clients detailed research and analysis.

This doesn't mean that quality research and opinion on financial markets has disappeared altogether, though. As in many forms of publishing much of the information that used to come from major banks and financial publishers through premium services can now be found in one form or another on the open Web. That's the good news, but the bad news is that it's not the easiest thing to filter out the good sources from the bad sources and to get it into a form that's meaningful for financially-oriented professionals. Barry Graubart, Vice President, Product Strategy & Business Development, calls this need to filter out lower-quality sources the "signal to noise ratio," a fair way to characterize the problem given the level of noisy and oftentimes inaccurate sources of financial information offered by some services on the Web.

Enter Alacra Pulse, a new "freemium" offering from Alacra that breaks new ground in organizing content freely available on the Web into a highly usable format for investors, an aggregation that focuses on content relating to several hundred large and medium companies from hundreds of sources on the Web. In some instances Alacra Pulse's sources are familiar names such as investment bank ABN Amro and Standard & Poor's Credit Research, sources that publish many market reports and alerts for free already. Other sources are much more niche-oriented and more likely to carry some of the Web's sometimes irreverent outlook on topics, but are carefully picked by Alacra for their quality and the demand for their quality by financial professionals.

For instance, Stockgeek.net might not be the first source that would come to an average person's mind as a reputable source of financial information and insight, but those in the know are aware of its opinions and rely on it and many other non-traditional sources of financial information to keep them informed. I have witnessed this myself many times in doing research for financial information companies. Many financial professionals take the time to look at key trusted online information sources that focus on their domain of expertise. These sources include many independent financial analysis firms, which use a level of free information on the Web to attract insitutions to premium services.

Alacra Pulse does a nice job of wrapping these sources up in a standardized format that makes it easy to get the best of independent thinking on investments available today. Alacra Pulse enables you to look at the latest on all topics from analysts, to drill down into research on specific companies or to browse through the research and insight offerings from specific sources. Links to articles and reports from sources are labeled with color-coded icons that identify the type of source - "sell side," "buy side," credit agencies and industry-specific experts - and are also complemented with links to premium sources in The Alacra Store for those who would like to pay a bit to dig further. Otherwise, you can click on a headline to view a story on its native Web site.

One of the key features of Alacra Pulse is the ability to leave comments on a featured story. In just the few days since its debut Alacra Pulse seems to be drawing quite a few comments already, helping to enrich the site for both its visitors and advertisers looking for a little extra "stickiness" for their ads. The presentation of the Alacra Pulse ad-based portal is similar to other Alacra products, offering a simple, clean look and generally easy-to-use features and ads that are not too intrusive. For those that need more tools, the premium version offers alerts filtering and email notifications as well.

Financial information for professional investors tends these days to fall into either the ultra-staid realm of subscription database services or the wild and wooly world of online services that speak frankly about investments. Alacra Pulse does an excellent job of aggregating the best of online services into a format that professionals - and those who pay for their financial information services - should feel comfortable using and supporting. In that sense Alacra Pulse is a good calling card for investment-oriented professionals who can learn about the Alacra brand from this new product and feel comfortable graduating from it into more premium offerings.

In the meantime hundreds of companies that have been losing valuable coverage from industry analysts at major investment banks can begin to reap the rewards of a service that begins to give their securities issues a chance of getting consistent high-quality free coverage aggregated in a convenient format for their investors. At a time when everyone in the investment community is struggling to come up with answers to getting investor confidence rolling again, Alacra Pulse is a well-timed offering with a great signal-to-noise ratio that may help the markets to get a pulse again.
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