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Software review: AmiBroker

Software review: AmiBroker

Years ago some time after I first started "trading" I acquired charting software and as I got used to it I got to like it more and more

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By Staff Journalist 20.08.2008

By Will Kraa

Years ago some time after I first started ‘trading’ I acquired charting software and as I got used to it I got to like it more and more. There were some upgrades which introduced functions that made things easier and it seemed to me that this was just about all I would ever need. I tried Metastock which was the software used by more seasoned traders but did not like it for several reasons, the main one being that it was complex compared to what I had.

The other attraction of this software was that it would download data free of charge every evening - what more could you want? As time went on there were upgrades which amounted to complete rewrites, the free data was dropped, there were lots of bugs that took time to sort out, then there was another rewrite which now meant it needed XP to work properly (and more bugs and freezes) and the whole thing became more and more bloated without really achieving any improvements in functionality. It now needed frequent checks online to continually activate it and if you got a new computer there was a whole activation process to follow. Sounds a bit like a well-known operating system doesn’t it?

About this time I discovered AmiBroker and heard good reports about it which made me have a look at it and eventually buy it. It cost me all of US$149, pocketmoney compared with what I had to pay for the licence and upgrades of the one I had. The originator of this software is Thomasz Janeczko from Poland and he is constantly working to develop and improve it.

The problem I had with it was that except for the free US data which it can download daily I was quite unable to get it to access the ASX data which I was by then buying in Metastock format. This remained a problem to me for quite some time but once I found out how to do that it soon became my favourite charting software. Currently I still have a licence for the other software but can’t even be bothered to install it on my latest computer.

One disadvantage with AmiBroker is that for those who are somewhat challenged in the computer literacy department it may not be the most user friendly program there is at first glance. It is actually quite easy to use once configured properly but unfortunately the comprehensive tutorial files that are in the ‘Help’ section of the program (and also in an 800 page PDF file which can be downloaded from the AmiBroker site) at times assume more knowledge than many readers actually have.

Where I had trouble is in the part of the process of setting up the program to read external Metastock data. As part of the procedure an empty folder is to be created in a place where intuitively you would expect to put the folder where your data resides. But instead it needs to be a completely empty folder. It is in fact a simple procedure but there are one or two steps where it is possible to go wrong and the explanation needs to be more specific.

One other disappointment is that there are no scans or explorations built into the program. You have to build them yourself but the coding wizard (under construction) will enable even those with no coding ability to do that easily.

When it's all said and done, the advantages of the program are many:

· It is a quality program for the minimal price of only US$149, a price which has not gone up for years. Advertising is by word of mouth – the program sells itself. In this case you don’t get what you pay for, you get much more.

· Amibroker reads Metastock data ten times faster than Metastock itself enabling charts to open at lightning speed – this is great when clicking your way through a watchlist of charts to do a final scan for trading opportunities. It also means backtesting and scanning is very fast.

· It is possible to create as many watchlists as you like and clicking through them is fast and easy. There are also many ways of creating or adding to the watchlists whch makes them very easy to use.

· Each window for a stock has as many sheets as you like (default 8) and each sheet can have a different set of indicators to view by clicking from one sheet to another like in Excel. This great feature allows any chart to be viewed in many different layouts at a click of the mouse. It saves having too many indicators on one chart.

· Press F3 and type the name or code for a stock and you get the chart. Great if you don’t know the code, only the name or just to open a chart from the code.

· It is possible to code any indicator or trading system for use in charting, scanning or backtesting. There is a great library of code and guides on how to use it. Also a wizard is available for a small charge which enables the user to write code if you know nothing about coding. The wizard function for creating explorations or scans is still under construction.

· For visually checking for past trading opportunities there is a bar replay option where you can go back to a past date and bars are added to the chart at selected intervals of time.

· There is a comprehensive suite of indicators built in and much more is available from the website which can be copied and pasted into the program. Some of these are put there by users of the program and some by Thomasz. The code for each indicator is readily viewed and easily changed if desired. If you are not comfortable with that there is a readily accessible parameters panel to adjust the periods and characteristics of the indicators and other aspects of the chart.

· There is a very active user forum where help from other users is readily given and interesting topics regarding the software are discussed.

· There is great support available and it is often from Thomasz himself.

· The program is continually being improved and for subscribers ‘beta’ versions are regularly released. In contrast with most software the beta versions are in my experience safe to use with no bugs or problems. If there are bugs on first release they are fixed so quickly that I have never found any. The program itself is very compact, only just over 6 MB and will run in everything from Win 95 to Vista. It is extremely stable and very easy to install.

· It is easy to communicate with Thomasz and there is a place on the AB site for users to post their wishes for improvements and added features which is taken seriously.

· For the experienced trader the software has almost unlimited possibilities. While it will do what beginners need it will also do serious backtesting. One very experienced Metastock user told me that AmiBroker will do what Metastock plus TradeSim will do and more for a tiny fraction of the cost. This is also where its very fast access to data provides a great advantage.

· For backtesting trading systems there are good tutorials available in the help section of the program. Any trading system can be back tested and optimised and the results can be displayed as a 3-D graph which can be rotated and viewed from different aspects. This enables you to visualise how robust your trading system is.

· The program has a Quick Market Review Section which can scan the entire market, or any list of stocks to see how they have performed for the day or intraday. This list can be sorted by the display column headings such as by percent change in ascending or descending order. This can be very useful in finding stocks that have done well for the day and, for instance, to find stocks which have had a large increase in value together with increase in volume. Once you see a stock that looks interesting it only takes a double-click in the list to bring up the chart.

· There is a companion program (AmiQuote) which enables free data (especially for US stocks) to be downloaded from such sites as Yahoo. Once set up the data is updated with no fuss. While beginners may think that free data is a bargain it is not worth using for serious trading in my opinion. There are also other providers of free ASX data and if you are more an active investor rather than a trader this may suit.

· For serious trading there is no substitute for clean, adjusted data and it is worth paying the relatively small fee for it. Most data providers will supply Metastock data which is suitable. I use AmiBroker with Premium Data which gives a unique advantage with AmiBroker that Metastock users can only dream about. Premium Data has a special script which not only takes any hassles out of configuring AB to read its data but also creates a huge number of watchlists to cover every section of the market as well as the sectors and subsectors. For instance, if you want to look at Steel SubIndex in the S&P ASX 100 there is a watchlist for them and the charts can then be instantly viewed. There are about 1300 of such watchlists so there is a huge resource there for investigation including lists of stocks which can be traded with different CFD providers. There is therefore no need to make special data folders as with other charting software and so no need to have the data tediously distributed to multiple folders. Premium Data maintains the watchlists and AmiBroker instantly retrieves the data as required from just the one data file. Data distribution is therefore never slowed no matter how many watchlists there are.

· For those who need live streaming data there are a number of providers that work with AmiBroker to give charts which update in real time. The slightly more expensive Professional version will give extra functionality with live data but is not needed for end of day data or for a limited number of live charts.

· A portfolio manager is included and this will handle multiple accounts

· Even when some ‘illegal’ operation is performed where most Windows based programs will give you no option but to shut it down and lose your work, AmiBroker has a way of getting around this and continue on in most cases at least to the stage where you are able to save your work before exiting. I have never had to use this and as mentioned before if there is a problem the support is excellent. While support is readily forthcoming I would suggest that if you decide to use AB that you carefully read the tutorials and other help before asking Thomasz for help. If for no other reason than pure self-interest I would like to make sure he gets as much time as possible without distractions to keep on making this better and better.

· It can be downloaded free of charge from www.amibroker.com and can be used indefinitely but if not registered it will not save anything.

There are aspects of this software I have not yet explored so those who have been using it for longer than I have may be able to suggest other advantages. All in all I think it is an excellent package and unbeatable for the price and quality. Perhaps the last word should be left to Thomasz himself when he says: “Please remember that the final goal is making AmiBroker rock-solid and bug-free. This is what I am working on constantly.”

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