Danielle Kubes is a trained journalist and investor who has written about personal finance for the past six years. Her writing has been published in The Globe and Mail, National Post, MoneySense, Vice and RateHub.ca. Danielle writes about investing and personal finance for Wealthsimple. She has a Bachelor of Humanities from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from Ryerson University.
Stock market simulators allow you to try your hand at investing without putting forward any real money. It’s a way to learn the nuances of investing at a do-it-yourself brokerage with zero risk of losing any cash.
Simulators are a practice trading account that lets you buy and sell stocks of real companies that are on an actual exchange at their real time prices.
They range in their complexity, ease of use, and resources. The bare bones ones simply allow you to create and track a portfolio of stocks, while others also let you play with options, commodities, and currencies. Some also have learning centres with investing videos and instructional articles.Wealthsimple Invest is an automated way to grow your money like the world's most sophisticated investors. Get started and we'll build you a personalized investment portfolio in a matter of minutes.
Simulators can be excellent tools for those starting out in the investing world or those interested in learning about more complex investments. You can track how your portfolio does over time and slowly become more confident in picking stocks.
Simulators are most helpful for those interested in picking and choosing stocks themselves. If you prefer a more hands-off approach or find investing intimidating robo-advising may be a better option for you. With robo-advising you simply have to select your risk tolerance and deposit funds—everything else, like selecting securities and rebalancing, is taken care of for you by an algorithm.
Simulators, while useful, run the risk of encouraging risky investing behaviours. Buying and selling frequently, checking performance daily and trying to beat the market is more akin to gambling then investing. The best strategy is a long-term “buy and hold“ one, not a short-term speculative one. The research shows that passive traders profit more in the end than active traders.
Nevertheless, if you are interested in choosing the specific securities in your portfolio then it’s a good idea to set up a mock portfolio and judge your performance to see if it’s the right strategy for you. The real benefit of practice accounts is in the technical – they can teach you to double-check your order before submitting it and how to input the right number of shares, so you only make those mistakes while using fake money.
As with everything else, Americans have a much broader selection of simulators to choose from. There’s only a limited number that lets you choose a portfolio based on the TSX. These are the best:
TMX is the company that operates the various stock exchanges in Canada, such as the TSX, so it makes sense that they offer one of the best practice accounts. While it calls itself an options trader the service also allows you to buy and sell any stocks available on any TMX-owned exchange. It provides market, limit and stop orders. The simulator is easy and free to use with an extremely clean interface. You get to decide your starting amount of seed money, and your charged a typical commission of $9.95 (although some brokerages in Canada now offer free commission.) The quotes have a 15-minute delay instead of real time but that doesn’t really matter in a simulator position (and only matters in real life if you’re planning to trade frequently – long-term buy and holders don’t really have to worry about this). This simulator is appropriate for anyone starting an investment journey or who wants to learn more complex techniques like options trading.
How the Market Works is a free American-based practice account but you have the option of choosing to trade Canadian stocks. One you register, simply click “Start Trading” and then choose the “Toronto” tab to trade stocks on the TSX. Like most good simulators you can only trade during actual TSX trading hours because the service is pulling in real-time price quotes.
You can input the full range of trading options like market, limit, stop and trailing, as well as a “good until” date. It offers a full account suite, such as the ability to graph your transaction history. The real value in this platform is the range of education products they offer. They host contests, give trading ideas and provide a huge educational centre with glossary terms, personal finance and economics lessons, and video tutorials. It offers an entire platform for personal finance teachers that include lesson plans.
The Virtual Stock Exchange allows you to trade stocks, commodities, and currencies from more than 30 countries, including Canada. You simply select the “CDN Practice Portfolio” option when you register. It starts you off with $1 million in seed money with an extra $1 million in margin power. When you put in a ticker to trade it gives you not only the real-time price quote but also a company summary and a map of its headquarters. It also provides daily, monthly, and annual price graphs. It doesn’t charge you a commission to trade, which may or may not be realistic depending on what brokerage you use. Again, the real value in this simulation is the additional resource it offers. You can join challenges with others using the platform or browse through their full suite of educational resources. It’s less clean looking than TMX and more similar to How the Market Works, but that’s because they both provide extras.
While not a traditional stock stimulator, VectorVest can nevertheless be a useful tool in your investing journey. VectorVest is a stock analysis and portfolio management system that analyzes, ranks, and graphs more than 16,000 global stocks every day (around 3,500 on the TSX) and gives buy, sell or hold ratings. By getting a low-cost trial for a month and checking out is recommendations and then comparing it to how the stocks actually do in real life you can “simulate” your portfolio performance. You can then move to the tiered pricing structure, which starts at $59USD/month and invest with real cash.
VectorVest claims to give you “unbiased and independent” guidance. It works by determining if a stock is under or over-valued by factoring in discounted cash flows, earnings, earnings growth, profitability, inflation, interest rates, and its long-term price appreciation potential. The algorithm gives each stock a rating in a range from 0.0 to 2.0 to help you decide when to buy or sell.
This simulator won’t help you practice the technical details of inputting an order, but it will help you decide if your stock picks are on point.
Questrade, a popular do-it-yourself brokerage in Canada, offers a free 90-day practice trading account. Three months isn’t always long enough to test-drive a trading strategy so this functions more as a way to figure out Questrade itself. But it will help familiarize you with all the investing acronyms, buttons, tickers and graph functions that make up the Questrade interface. You can invest on both Canadian and American exchanges and they give you $1 million in each currency to start with.
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