The stock market refers to the collection of markets and exchanges where regular activities of buying, selling, and issuance of shares of publicly-held companies take place. Such financial activities are conducted through institutionalized formal exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) marketplaces which operate under a defined set of regulations. There can be multiple stock trading venues in a country or a region which allow transactions in stocks and other forms of securities.
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A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
Choosing the right stock can be a fool's errand, but investing in high-quality stocks such as blue chips and dividend-yielding ones are often good strategies. One reason investors opt for blue chips is because of the potential for growth and stability and because they produce dividends - these include companies such as Microsoft (ticker: MSFT), Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG). Coco-Cola, for example, generates a dividend of 2.9%, and the stock is less volatile as its share price has hovered between $44 and $55 during the past 52 weeks. Dividends can generate much-needed income for investors, especially higher-dividend ones.
The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
Rarely is short-term noise (blaring headlines, temporary price fluctuations) relevant to how a well-chosen company performs over the long term. It’s how investors react to the noise that really matters. Here’s where that rational voice from calmer times — your investing journal — can serve as a guide to sticking it out during the inevitable ups and downs that come with investing in stocks.