Discount brokers used to be the exception, but now they're the norm. Discount online brokers give you tools to select and place your own transactions, and many of them also offer a set-it-and-forget-it robo-advisory service too. As the space of financial services has progressed in the 21st century, online brokers have added more features including educational materials on their sites and mobile apps.
Before you raise your hand to complain, yes, we know that a computer can track price changes much better than most humans. We get it. But the aim of the exercise is to get a 'feel' for the movements in price and that is unlikely to happen by using a computer program and pressing a button. We are talking here about stocks for beginners, and beginners need the learning experience, not the quick fix automation. Just trust us...
In addition to knowledge of basic trading procedures, day traders need to keep up on the latest stock market news and events that affect stocks—the Fed's interest rate plans, the economic outlook, etc. So do your homework. Make a wish list of stocks you'd like to trade and keep yourself informed about the selected companies and general markets. Scan business news and visit reliable financial websites.
Assess how much capital you're willing to risk on each trade. Many successful day traders risk less than 1% to 2% of their account per trade. If you have a $40,000 trading account and are willing to risk 0.5% of your capital on each trade, your maximum loss per trade is $200 (0.005 x $40,000). Set aside a surplus amount of funds you can trade with and you're prepared to lose. Remember, it may or may not happen.
A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
Now, imagine that you decide to buy the stocks of those five companies with your $1,000. To do this, you will incur $50 in trading costs—assuming the fee is $10—which is equivalent to 5% of your $1,000. If you were to fully invest the $1,000, your account would be reduced to $950 after trading costs. This represents a 5% loss before your investments even have a chance to earn.
The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
Astute readers will realise that the above guidance is mainly taking different angles to help prepare for and guide decision making by the investor. The ability to confidently make decisions is vital for investment profits and long-term success. This pdf about the decision making models of Charlie Munger (business partner to Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway - both are certified investment immortals) is almost certain to prove helpful.
It’s best if you can automate your actual stock investments. Robo-advisors can do this for you, or if you must, you can manually buy stocks every time you receive a paycheck and have money in your savings or brokerage account. The important point is that you make regular investments so that you aren’t tempted to time the market. Regularly investing the same amount is a form of dollar cost averaging, and it helps reduce risk in your stock investments.
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.
Now I know GE has been a dog for the last couple of years, shares are down 60% since the 2016 high. But management has made the tough decisions, selling off some assets and spinning off others. Cash flow is protected and I don’t think the market is giving the company credit for it yet. I think a solid turnaround in stock price could start in 2020 with even more gains over the next five years.
A stock's market capitalization (cap) is its true value, the sum of the total shares multiplied by price. It has more meaning than the share price because it allows you to evaluate a company in the context of others of the same size in its industry. You can use a market cap as a filter to screen for companies to balance your portfolio. A small-cap company with stock capitalization of $250 million to $2 billion shouldn't be compared to a large cap, which ranges from $10 billion to $100 billion. Market capitalization influences your investment returns.
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.