"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.
The most feared words on any stock exchange are margin call. A margin call is made when a position is losing money and more money is required by the broker to keep the trade open. If and when a stock ticker moves quickly, there can be people whose borrowing levels literally bankrupt them as things get worse ... fast. Volatility can be either a blessing or a curse, but if you have too much leverage, it can break a trader.
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.
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.
But this isn’t your typical market, and you can’t show up and pick your shares off a shelf the way you select produce at the grocery store. Individual traders are typically represented by brokers — these days, that’s often an online broker. You place your stock trades through the broker, which then deals with the exchange on your behalf. (Need a broker? See our analysis of the best stockbrokers for beginners.)
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In contrast, professional fund managers (information here) do not want tips. They have dozens of good ideas of their own. They won't be sharing those ideas with you and they will not be expecting you to share yours. Instead, they ask about how you allocate money. "Which sectors and markets do you like and why?" The difference between these approaches is like night and day.
Payout ratio -- The payout ratio is a good metric for dividend investors to know and is the company's annual dividend rate expressed as a percentage of its earnings. For example, if a company paid out $1.00 in dividends per share last year and earned $2.00, it would have a 50% payout ratio. A payout ratio can tell you if a company's dividend is sustainable or if a dividend cut could be possible.
Buy “the basket”: Can’t decide which of the companies in a particular industry will be the long-term winner? Buy ’em all! Buying a basket of stocks takes the pressure off picking “the one.” Having a stake in all the players that pass muster in your analysis means you won’t miss out if one takes off, and you can use gains from that winner to offset any losses. This strategy will also help you identify which company is “the one” so you can double down on your position if desired.