Depending on your goals, investing in individual stocks may be more trouble than it’s worth. Choosing index funds in a specific sector can provide your portfolio with the tilt you want, but with fewer dramatic swings. There are three criteria that can be leveraged to help guide fund choice. The most discussed is “expense ratio,” where lower means fewer fees to you. The second is the number of stocks in the fund. The higher the number, the more diverse the fund. Just as important is “total assets” under management. The more assets, the more other people also agree this is a great fund. When comparing two mutual funds, I’ll line up these three criteria for funds in the same category to make an informed decision.
The use of borrowed money “levers” or exaggerates the result of price movement. Suppose the stock moves to $200 a share and you sell it. If you had used your own money exclusively, your return would be 100% on your investment [($20,000 -$10,000)/$10,000]. If you had borrowed $5,000 to buy the stock and sold at $200 per share, your return would be 300 % [(20,000-$5,000)/$5,000] after repaying the $5,000 loan and excluding the cost of interest paid to the broker.
Comparing the cash flow statements of companies is going to help you narrow your list down even further. So you’ve found a few sectors that are really going to benefit from these broad themes, that’s step one. Then you find the companies within those sectors that are able to generate cash for investors at a faster pace and that are using cash responsibly.
E (Very Weak) - The stock has significantly underperformed most other funds given the level of risk in its underlying investments, resulting in a very weak risk-adjusted performance. Thus, its investment strategy and/or management has done just the opposite of what was needed to maximize returns in the recent economic environment. While the risk-adjusted performance of any stock is subject to change, we believe this fund has proven to be a very bad investment in the recent past.
There are also other reasons for putting out free stock picks. In many cases, the actual companies themselves are paying various people or services to tell the world about their business. It's common to have a small, publicly traded penny stock pay a lot of money to get the right kind of exposure to help lift their share price. The aim is to issue more stock at a higher price and raise money more easily.
A (Excellent) - The stock has an excellent track record for maximizing performance while minimizing risk, thus delivering the best possible combination of total return on investment and reduced volatility. It has made the most of the recent economic environment to maximize risk-adjusted returns compared to other stocks. While past performance is just an indication -- not a guarantee -- we believe this fund is among the most likely to deliver superior performance relative to risk in the future as well.
Finally, keep in mind that if trading on margin—which means you're borrowing your investment funds from a brokerage firm (and bear in mind that margin requirements for day trading are high)—you're far more vulnerable to sharp price movements. Margin helps to amplify the trading results not just of profits, but of losses as well if a trade goes against you. Therefore, using stop losses is crucial when day trading on margin.
If there are any lessons to be learned from the American sub-prime mortgage crisis, the 2008 stock market crash (information here) and Wall Street bailout that followed - and there are lots of lessons - it is that borrowed money can be very dangerous in investments, even when it is being handled professionally. The failure of LTCM, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock and many others shows just how precarious a business model can be with too much gearing.
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.
P/E ratio -- The price-to-earnings ratio is the most widely cited valuation metric, and for good reason. It's an easy way to compare similar businesses. Simply divide a company's current share price by its last 12 months' worth of earnings. You can also use the projected earnings over the next 12 months to calculate the forward P/E ratio. The key point to know is that P/E ratios are most useful when comparing businesses in the same industry -- such as comparing ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX).
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.
How much money should I invest in stocks? If you’re investing through funds — have we mentioned this is our preference? — you can allocate a fairly large portion of your portfolio toward stock funds, especially if you have a long time horizon. A 30-year-old investing for retirement might have 80% of his or her portfolio in stock funds; the rest would be in bond funds. Individual stocks are another story. We’d recommend keeping these to 10% or less of your investment portfolio.
AT&T (NYSE:T) -- AT&T is one of the leading players in wireless communications and has built itself quite a media presence with acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner in recent years. The upcoming wide rollout of 5G technology should be a nice tailwind for years to come, and the company has a fantastic track record when it comes to dividends. AT&T pays a dividend that's well above the industry average, and it has increased the payout for 34 consecutive years.
What would make me sell: Sometimes there are good reasons to split up. For this part of your journal, compose an investing prenup that spells out what would drive you to sell the stock. We’re not talking about stock price movement, especially not short term, but fundamental changes to the business that affect its ability to grow over the long term. Some examples: The company loses a major customer, the CEO’s successor starts taking the business in a different direction, a major viable competitor emerges, or your investing thesis doesn’t pan out after a reasonable period of time.