If you’re trying your hand at stock trading for the first time, know that focusing on anything but long-term results will expose you to frequent bouts of agita. Most investors are best served by keeping things simple and investing in a diversified mix of low-cost index funds to achieve — and this is key — long-term outperformance. Because, oof… the short-term ups and downs in the market can be brutal.
There have been famous stock market crashes that have ended in the loss of billions of dollars and wealth destruction on a massive scale. An increasing number of people are involved in the stock market, especially since the social security and retirement plans are being increasingly privatized and linked to stocks and bonds and other elements of the market. There have been a number of famous stock market crashes like the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the stock market crash of 1973–4, the Black Monday of 1987, the Dot-com bubble of 2000, and the Stock Market Crash of 2008.
Measure your returns against an appropriate benchmark. This is essential advice for all types of investors — not just active ones. The bottom-line goal for picking stocks is to be ahead of a benchmark index. That could be the Standard & Poor’s 500 index (often used as a proxy for “the market”), the Nasdaq composite index (for those investing primarily in technology stocks) or other smaller indexes that are composed of companies based on size, industry and geography. Measuring results is key, and if a serious investor is unable to outperform the benchmark (something even pro investors struggle to do), then it makes financial sense to invest in a low-cost index mutual fund or ETF — essentially a basket of stocks whose performance closely aligns with that of one of the benchmark indexes.
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.
In short selling, the trader borrows stock (usually from his brokerage which holds its clients' shares or its own shares on account to lend to short sellers) then sells it on the market, betting that the price will fall. The trader eventually buys back the stock, making money if the price fell in the meantime and losing money if it rose. Exiting a short position by buying back the stock is called "covering". This strategy may also be used by unscrupulous traders in illiquid or thinly traded markets to artificially lower the price of a stock. Hence most markets either prevent short selling or place restrictions on when and how a short sale can occur. The practice of naked shorting is illegal in most (but not all) stock markets.
To keep costs as low as possible, famous investors like John Bogle and Warren Buffett recommend buying and holding the entire stock market. Known as passive investing, it is a buy and hold strategy where you buy an entire market index, typically the S&P 500, as a single mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). By buying an entire index, you are properly diversified (have shares in ~500 large companies, not just one), which reduces your risk long term. In fact, John Bogle is credited with creating the first index fund.
The solution to both is investing in stock index funds and ETFs. While mutual funds might require a $1,000 minimum or more, index fund minimums tend to be lower (and ETFs are purchased for a share price that could be lower still). Two brokers, Fidelity and Charles Schwab, offer index funds with no minimum at all. Index funds also cure the diversification issue because they hold many different stocks within a single fund.
Behaviorists argue that investors often behave irrationally when making investment decisions thereby incorrectly pricing securities, which causes market inefficiencies, which, in turn, are opportunities to make money. However, the whole notion of EMH is that these non-rational reactions to information cancel out, leaving the prices of stocks rationally determined.
Stocks are categorized in various ways. One way is by the country where the company is domiciled. For example, Nestlé and Novartis are domiciled in Switzerland, so they may be considered as part of the Swiss stock market, although their stock may also be traded on exchanges in other countries, for example, as American depository receipts (ADRs) on U.S. stock markets.
The racial composition of stock market ownership shows households headed by whites are nearly four and six times as likely to directly own stocks than households headed by blacks and Hispanics respectively. As of 2011 the national rate of direct participation was 19.6%, for white households the participation rate was 24.5%, for black households it was 6.4% and for Hispanic households it was 4.3% Indirect participation in the form of 401k ownership shows a similar pattern with a national participation rate of 42.1%, a rate of 46.4% for white households, 31.7% for black households, and 25.8% for Hispanic households. Households headed by married couples participated at rates above the national averages with 25.6% participating directly and 53.4% participating indirectly through a retirement account. 14.7% of households headed by men participated in the market directly and 33.4% owned stock through a retirement account. 12.6% of female headed households directly owned stock and 28.7% owned stock indirectly.
TV is another way to expose yourself to the stock market. No question, CNBC is the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden your knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news intimidate you, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and source of excitement than being actually useful. Recommendations rarely yield profitable trades.
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