A broker – Your broker will be your gatekeeper to the market. They will facilitate your trades in return for a commission on your trades. When you’re making so many trades each day, an expensive broker could seriously cut into your profits in the long term. Do your homework and find a broker that’s reliable and offers a straightforward, competitive fee structure. To compare platforms, visit our brokers page.
If you are literally just getting started, the services offered by most major stockbrokers (information here) as a part of their trading account services will be a good place to start (and free). Firms such as Trade King, eTrade, Charles Schwab and Ameritrade provide a range of online tools. These will give you a feel for how portfolio management software works without having to pay extra to learn. However, these services typically offer no advice (known as execution only), which means that a separate service will be required for information analysis.
By understanding your risk tolerance, you can avoid those investments which are likely to make you anxious. Generally speaking, you should never own an asset which keeps you from sleeping in the night. Anxiety stimulates fear which triggers emotional responses (rather than logical responses) to the stressor. During periods of financial uncertainty, the investor who can retain a cool head and follows an analytical decision process invariably comes out ahead.
It is also important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest. For example, you might want to purchase a home, fund a child’s college education, or build an adequate retirement nest egg. If you set financial goals at the outset—and match your investments to achieve those goals—you are more likely to reach them.
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.
It came out of the Great Recession, however, and that’s how bulls and bears tend to go: Bull markets are followed by bear markets, and vice versa, with both often signaling the start of larger economic patterns. In other words, a bull market typically means investors are confident, which indicates economic growth. A bear market shows investors are pulling back, indicating the economy may do so as well.
One of the most common mistakes in stock market investing is trying to time the market. Time the market, or “market timing,” means trying to figure out the best time to get in the market, or invest. It also means the best time to get out of the market, or sell. It’s not easy to be right on both ends. It can be unsettling to experience market volatility, so that’s why it’s important to understand the difference between savings (which are more stable) and investments (which can be more volatile). It’s the time in the market that is more important, not necessarily timing the market.
Remember that free stock picks usually exist because of the vested interests of the company or the promoter. There are some exceptions, such as in the case of top book publishers, like John Wiley & Sons, who produce works like, "Penny Stocks for Dummies." Their exhaustive vetting process alone is usually thorough enough to provide you with some serious confidence in who they choose.
B (Good) - The stock has a good track record for balancing performance with risk. Compared to other stocks, it has achieved above-average returns given the level of risk in its underlying investments. While the risk-adjusted performance of any stock is subject to change, we believe that this fund has proven to be a good investment in the recent past.
Once you've decided that you want to buy stocks, the next step is to open a brokerage account, fund the account, and buy the shares. After you've done that, it's important to keep a long-term mentality -- if your stocks go down, for example, it can be very tempting to panic and sell. Remember how carefully you chose your stocks, and avoid selling your stocks without fully exploring the company's situation.
C (Fair) - In the trade-off between performance and risk, the stock has a track record which is about average. It is neither significantly better nor significantly worse than most other stocks. With some funds in this category, the total return may be better than average, but this can be misleading since the higher return was achieved with higher than average risk. With other funds, the risk may be lower than average, but the returns are also lower. In short, based on recent history, there is no particular advantage to investing in this fund.
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.
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