There are many different approaches to investing. Many strategies can be classified as either fundamental analysis or technical analysis. Fundamental analysis refers to analyzing companies by their financial statements found in SEC filings, business trends, general economic conditions, etc. Technical analysis studies price actions in markets through the use of charts and quantitative techniques to attempt to forecast price trends regardless of the company's financial prospects. One example of a technical strategy is the Trend following method, used by John W. Henry and Ed Seykota, which uses price patterns and is also rooted in risk control and diversification.
The financial system in most western countries has undergone a remarkable transformation. One feature of this development is disintermediation. A portion of the funds involved in saving and financing, flows directly to the financial markets instead of being routed via the traditional bank lending and deposit operations. The general public interest in investing in the stock market, either directly or through mutual funds, has been an important component of this process.
The total value of equity-backed securities in the United States rose over 600% in the 25 years between 1989 and 2012 as market capitalization expanded from $2,790 billion to $18,668 billion. Direct ownership of stock by individuals rose slightly from 17.8% in 1992 to 17.9% in 2007, with the median value of these holdings rising from $14,778 to $17,000. Indirect participation in the form of retirement accounts rose from 39.3% in 1992 to 52.6% in 2007, with the median value of these accounts more than doubling from $22,000 to $45,000 in that time. Rydqvist, Spizman, and Strebulaev attribute the differential growth in direct and indirect holdings to differences in the way each are taxed in the United States. Investments in pension funds and 401ks, the two most common vehicles of indirect participation, are taxed only when funds are withdrawn from the accounts. Conversely, the money used to directly purchase stock is subject to taxation as are any dividends or capital gains they generate for the holder. In this way the current tax code incentivizes individuals to invest indirectly.
Tobias Preis and his colleagues Helen Susannah Moat and H. Eugene Stanley introduced a method to identify online precursors for stock market moves, using trading strategies based on search volume data provided by Google Trends. Their analysis of Google search volume for 98 terms of varying financial relevance suggests that increases in search volume for financially relevant search terms tend to precede large losses in financial markets.
Passive investing is what long-term investors do — and the intent behind their actions is very different. Their approach to buying and selling stocks is considered passive in that they tend not to transact often. Instead of relying mostly on technical analysis (as active traders do) and trying to time the market, passive investors use fundamental analysis to carefully examine the strength of the businesses behind the ticker symbols and then buy shares with the hope that they’ll be rewarded over years — decades, even — through share price appreciation and dividends.
Stock market participation refers to the number of agents who buy and sell equity backed securities either directly or indirectly in a financial exchange. Participants are generally subdivided into three distinct sectors; households, institutions, and foreign traders. Direct participation occurs when any of the above entities buys or sells securities on its own behalf on an exchange. Indirect participation occurs when an institutional investor exchanges a stock on behalf of an individual or household. Indirect investment occurs in the form of pooled investment accounts, retirement accounts, and other managed financial accounts.
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. So, as long as you have the minimum requirement to open an account, you can invest as little as $50 or $100 per month in a mutual fund. The term for this is called dollar cost averaging (DCA), and it can be a great way to start investing.
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (Beurs van Hendrick de Keyser) by Emanuel de Witte, 1653. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is said to have been the first stock exchange to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century. The process of buying and selling the VOC's shares, on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, became the basis of the world's first official (formal) stock market.
Additionally, many choose to invest via the index method. In this method, one holds a weighted or unweighted portfolio consisting of the entire stock market or some segment of the stock market (such as the S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000). The principal aim of this strategy is to maximize diversification, minimize taxes from too frequent trading, and ride the general trend of the stock market (which, in the U.S., has averaged nearly 10% per year, compounded annually, since World War II).
The most common order types: market, limit, and stop (see my guide, Best Order Types for Stock Trading). Market orders buy or sell immediately at the current best market price. Limit orders only buy or sell these shares at, “$xx price or better”. Lastly, stop loss orders are combined with a market or limit to trigger once $xx price hits. For new investors just getting started, I always suggest just sticking with market orders.