If you want to learn how to invest in stocks, start with a proven strategy for investing in the stock market for beginners. You'll find that long-term success starts with learning how to keep the odds in your favor and manage potential risk. The recent stock market volatility and quick shifts in market outlook offer clear examples of why that is crucial.
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.
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.
Dividend growth -- This is the most optional characteristic on the list, as there are some great beginner-friendly stocks that don't pay dividends. Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B) is a great example. However, if a stock does pay a dividend, an established track record of dividend growth is an excellent characteristic for long-term-focused beginning investors to look for.
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.
It’s likely some of these Americans might rethink pulling their money if they knew how quickly a portfolio can rebound from the bottom: The market took just 13 months to recover its losses after the most recent major sell-off in 2015. Even the Great Recession — a devastating downturn of historic proportions — posted a complete market recovery in just over five years. The S&P 500 then posted a compound annual growth rate of 16% from 2013 to 2017 (including dividends).
You can buy stock directly using a brokerage account or app. Other options exist for those who are employed—either a 401k plan or a 403b plan if you work for a non-profit. Then there's the IRA—be it a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Simple IRA, or SEP-IRA account. You can also set up a direct stock purchase plan or dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). Each type of account has different tax implications.
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).
The least demanding way to invest in the stock market is to invest through a fund. There are two types of funds. First is the actively managed mutual funds which have higher fees—92% of these funds fail to beat the underlying index over any three-year period. The second type is the index tracking fund, which typically has lower costs and is more effective in matching the growth of the stock market. This means they are growing in popularity because of the higher return on investment you receive. You should also use the most tax efficient way to invest: using your Investment Retirement Account (IRA) first. It’s best to invest in a low-cost, index-tracking fund through your tax-free IRA.
Notice: Information contained herein is not and should not be construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell securities. The information has been obtained from sources we believe to be reliable; however no guarantee is made or implied with respect to its accuracy, timeliness, or completeness. Authors may own the stocks they discuss. The information and content are subject to change without notice.
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.
Buy in thirds: Like dollar-cost averaging, “buying in thirds” helps you avoid the morale-crushing experience of bumpy results right out of the gate. Divide the amount you want to invest by three and then, as the name implies, pick three separate points to buy shares. These can be at regular intervals (e.g., monthly or quarterly) or based on performance or company events. For example, you might buy shares before a product is released and put the next third of your money into play if it’s a hit — or divert the remaining money elsewhere if it’s not.