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As a primary market, the stock market allows companies to issue and sell their shares to the common public for the first time through the process of initial public offerings (IPO). This activity helps companies raise necessary capital from investors. It essentially means that a company divides itself into a number of shares (say, 20 million shares) and sells a part of those shares (say, 5 million shares) to common public at a price (say, $10 per share).
Stock exchanges operate as for-profit institutes and charge a fee for their services. The primary source of income for these stock exchanges are the revenues from the transaction fees that are charged for each trade carried out on its platform. Additionally, exchanges earn revenue from the listing fee charged to companies during the IPO process and other follow-on offerings.
You may see a number of sales charges called loads when you buy mutual funds. Some are front-end loads, but you will also see no-load, and back-end load funds. Be sure you understand whether a fund you are considering carries a sales load prior to buying it. Check out your broker's list of no-load funds, and no-transaction-fee funds if you want to avoid these extra charges.
But building a diversified portfolio of individual stocks takes a lot of time, patience and research. The alternative is a mutual fund, the aforementioned ETF or an index fund. These hold a basket of investments, so you’re automatically diversified. An S&P 500 ETF, for example, would aim to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 by investing in the 500 companies in that index.
While that may sound like outdated advice, in late 2012, an American marketing executive explained how he had turned $20,000 into $2 million during the recession. Chris Camillo explained that Wall Street is quite homogenous and tends to be behind the curve on trends involving females, young people and those on low incomes. Camillo invested in stocks that anyone could have, he just spotted trends before the investment bankers did and was able to make some very sizable profits.
Whatever happens on a stock exchange and no matter how much influence computers, algorithms and high frequency trading may have, human nature will always have an important role to play. Typically, human nature becomes more important when momentum is changing and there is excitement or panic in the air. It would seem wise to try and understand this mass psychology or group thinking which is often referred to by investors as the madness of crowds.
The use of borrowed money “levers” or exaggerates the result of price movement. Suppose the stock moves to $200 a share and you sell it. If you had used your own money exclusively, your return would be 100% on your investment [($20,000 -$10,000)/$10,000]. If you had borrowed $5,000 to buy the stock and sold at $200 per share, your return would be 300 % [(20,000-$5,000)/$5,000] after repaying the $5,000 loan and excluding the cost of interest paid to the broker.
In terms of the beginning investor, the mutual fund fees are actually an advantage relative to the commissions on stocks. The reason for this is that the fees are the same, regardless of the amount you invest. Therefore, as long as you meet the minimum requirement to open an account, you can invest as little as $50 or $100 per month in a mutual fund. The term for this is called dollar cost averaging (DCA), and it can be a great way to start investing.
Blue-chip stocks—which get their name from poker, where the most valuable playing chip color is blue—are well-known, well-established companies that have a history of paying out consistent dividends, regardless of the economic conditions. Investors like them because they tend to grow dividend rates faster than the rate of inflation, so the owner increases income without having to buy another share. Blue-chip stocks are not flashy, but they have solid balance sheets and steady returns.
While some people do buy winning tickets or a common stock that quadruples or more in a year, it is extremely unlikely, since relying upon luck is an investment strategy that only the foolish or most desperate would choose to follow. In our quest for success, we often overlook the most powerful tools available to us: time and the magic of compounding interest. Investing regularly, avoiding unnecessary financial risk, and letting your money work for you over a period of years and decades is a certain way to amass significant assets.
For the active trader, execution speed and fill price are very important. I won’t get too in depth here but I have tested many of these brokers and there can be noticeable differences in trade execution times and quality. For the majority of investors, saving a penny per share on a 100 shares order isn’t the end of the world, but for active traders it is something to look into. To understand Order Execution, read this guide.
ECN/Level 2 quotes: ECNs, or electronic communication networks, are computer-based systems that display the best available bid and ask quotes from multiple market participants and then automatically match and execute orders. Level 2 is a subscription-based service that provides real-time access to the Nasdaq order book composed of price quotes from market makers registering every Nasdaq-listed and OTC Bulletin Board security. Together, they can give you a sense of orders being executed in real time.
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.