Network effects -- In simple terms, a network effect occurs as more people use a service or product, and the product or service itself becomes more valuable and desirable as a result. Think of companies like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). As more and more people join Facebook, it becomes more difficult for people not to use the platform in their daily lives.
When thinking about the mindset of investors, The Great Crash 1929 by J.K.Galbraith (reviewed here) should also be required reading. Typically, any sustained fall in prices - known as a bear market - is very destructive to wealth. However, as Galbraith explains wonderfully, each bear market is unique and is a reflection of the bull market that came before it. The book explains a great deal about the feedback loops that can exist when prices rise and fall as more people are either sucked into or forced out of holdings. It is the reference work about a very important slice of Wall Street history.
There are plenty of interesting and simple online tools which can be used to improve your trading results, such as the Relative Strength Index (RSI). This is just one example from among dozens of possible technical analysis (TA) options, and you will need to discover and decide which ones work best for you. You may need to paper trade to figure out the best TA tools for you and your strategy. Besides these sorts of technical analysis indicators, there are a few "tried and true" rules:
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).
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.
Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
Risk tolerance is also affected by one’s perception of the risk. For example, flying in an airplane or riding in a car would have been perceived as very risky in the early 1900s, but less so today as flight and automobile travel are common occurrences. Conversely, most people today would feel that riding a horse might be dangerous with a good chance of falling or being bucked off because few people are around horses.
The OTC Markets Group (POTCQX, OTCQB, OTC Pink): Formerly known as The Pink Sheets, these markets are considered very risky for penny stock investors. Since they have such a low standard to get started, and almost non-existent fees, just about any company can be publicly traded on them. By avoiding penny stocks trading on these markets, you can reduce the vast majority of downside risks of investing in low-priced shares.
Businesses you don't understand -- Here's a great rule of thumb that works for beginners and expert investors alike. If you can't clearly explain what a company does and how it makes money in a sentence or two, don't invest in it. There are literally thousands of publicly traded companies to choose from, and you should be able to find plenty of opportunities in easy-to-understand businesses.
A stock split is when a company increases its total shares and is frequently done on a 2-for-1 ratio. So, if you own 100 shares of a stock priced at $80 per share and worth $8,000, after the split you'll have 200 shares priced at $40 each, and still worth $8,000. Stock splits occur when prices are rising in a way perceived to deter smaller investors. They can keep the trading volume up by making it easier for a larger buying pool to trade. If you invest in a stock, expect to experience a stock split at some point.
You may see a number of sales charges called loads when you buy mutual funds. Some are front-end loads, but you will also see no-load, and back-end load funds. Be sure you understand whether a fund you are considering carries a sales load prior to buying it. Check out your broker's list of no-load funds, and no-transaction-fee funds if you want to avoid these extra charges.
Diversify your portfolio to make sure that you don’t have too much exposure to one sector. This will help lessen your risks. Make sure to ease into your positions. You don’t need to invest all your money at once, and by easing in, you cost-average your position. Understand that investing in the market is a long-term strategy and historically, with time, the market goes up.
Phrases like “earnings movers” and “intraday highs” don’t mean much to the average investor, and in many cases, they shouldn’t. If you’re in it for the long term — with, say, a portfolio of mutual funds geared toward retirement — you don’t need to worry about what these words mean, or about the flashes of red or green that cross the bottom of your TV screen. You can get by just fine without understanding the stock market much at all.
The Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB): This is owned by the NASDAQ, and as such has listing fees, standards, and reporting requirements. The companies trading upon it have a responsibility to provide the shareholders (you) with timely financial documentation. Higher-quality penny stocks list here when they are just shy of attaining the status that comes with the NASDAQ or NYSE.
"I know stocks can be a great investment, but I'd like someone to manage the process for me." You may be a good candidate for a robo-advisor, a service that offers low-cost investment management. Virtually all of the major brokerage firms offer these services, which invest your money for you based on your specific goals. See our top picks for robo-advisors.
Bernard Baruch, known as “The Lone Wolf of Wall Street,” owned his own seat on the New York Stock Exchange by age 30 and became of the country’s best known financiers by 1910. Mr. Baruch, while a master of his profession, had no illusions about the difficulties of successful stock market investing, saying, “The main purpose of the stock market is to make fools of as many men as possible.” According to Ken Little, author of 15 books on investing and personal finance topics, “If you are an individual investor in the stock market, you should know that the system stacks the deck in its favor.”