To make comparisons between companies, sectors and markets a little easier, there are a number of mathematical models used. The most common and often the most helpful is the P/E ratio. The Price to Earnings ratio takes the share price and is divided by the earnings per share. It is possible to calculate this using past earnings, projected future earnings and with all sorts of moving averages ;-) Therefore, this is one number that it is vital for any investor to know and understand.
A robo-advisor offers the benefits of stock investing, but doesn't require its owner to do the legwork required to pick individual investments. Robo-advisor services provide complete investment management: These companies will ask you about your investing goals during the onboarding process and then build you a portfolio designed to achieve those aims.
In the professional world, one of the key concepts is diversification. Harry Markowitz is a Nobel prize winning economist and one of his major discoveries was that adding new asset classes can dramatically alter the overall risk profile of a portfolio. His finding was that a portfolio that contained very low risk assets would normally benefit from lower volatility and higher returns if a higher risk asset was added. This is due to the likely lack of correlation between high and low risk asset classes.

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.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from June 14-18, 2018, among 2,024 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 787 were invested in in the stock market during at least one of the past five financial downturns. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Megan Katz at [email protected]

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.


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.
Sector leader -- Most of the best starter stocks are either the leader in their respective businesses or very close to it. (You will note this later on in this article when we give some good beginner-friendly stock examples. There's a time and place to invest in up-and-coming companies, but it's smart to save those for after you've learned the ropes.)
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.
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.
Understand that for both beginning investors and seasoned stock market pros, it's impossible to always buy and sell the best stocks at exactly the right time. But also understand that you don't have to be right every time to make money. You just need to learn some basic rules for how to identify the best stocks to watch, the ideal time to buy them, and when to sell stocks to lock in your profits or quickly cut any losses.
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.

Dollar-cost average: This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Dollar-cost averaging means investing a set amount of money at regular intervals, such as once per week or month. That set amount buys more shares when the stock price goes down and fewer shares when it rises, but overall, it evens out the average price you pay. Some online brokerage firms let investors set up an automated investing schedule.
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