But this isn’t your typical market, and you can’t show up and pick your shares off a shelf the way you select produce at the grocery store. Individual traders are typically represented by brokers — these days, that’s often an online broker. You place your stock trades through the broker, which then deals with the exchange on your behalf. (Need a broker? See our analysis of the best stockbrokers for beginners.)
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This is an excellent learning experience and one that is vital to the long-term profitability of anyone in the stock market. To get the real experience, purchase some graph paper and chart the stock price movements each day by hand. Learn to compare this with the overall movements of the equity market or index and a whole new world of investment and money will begin to open up to you!
To make comparisons between companies, sectors and markets a little easier, there are a number of mathematical models used. The most common and often the most helpful is the P/E ratio. The Price to Earnings ratio takes the share price and is divided by the earnings per share. It is possible to calculate this using past earnings, projected future earnings and with all sorts of moving averages ;-) Therefore, this is one number that it is vital for any investor to know and understand.
The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham ought to be required reading for every private investor. While the innovations he brought to stock analysis have long been outdated and the red flags he used to watch out for in a company's accounts are now regulated against by the SEC, many of his insights about thinking about investment still stand. For example, his description of Mr Market is still an excellent way of understanding how a crowd moves with the daily news.
If you have a job, your employer may offer a 401k or 403b retirement plan as part of your benefits package. These accounts invest your money for retirement, but your investment options are limited to the choices provided by your employer and plan provider. If your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan, you can open an IRA on your own with your bank or brokerage company.
You’ll come across an overwhelming amount of information as you screen potential business partners. But it’s easier to home in on the right stuff when wearing a “business buyer” hat. You want to know how this company operates, its place in the overall industry, its competitors, its long-term prospects and whether it brings something new to the portfolio of businesses you already own.