Imagine owning stocks in five different companies, each of which you expect to continually grow profits. Unfortunately, circumstances change. At the end of the year, you might have two companies (A & B) that have performed well so their stocks are up 25% each. The stock of two other companies (C & D) in a different industry are up 10% each, while the fifth company’s (E) assets were liquidated to pay off a massive lawsuit.

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.
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.
When it comes to investing for long-term growth and putting your money to work, it is immensely important to understand your goals and the investment philosophy you will adhere to. It can be easy to lose sight of your targets amidst the noise on social media or news outlets surrounding the latest and greatest investment trends, but if you define your goals and investment strategy, you can stay on track.
To be perfectly clear, knowing how to identify great businesses is more important than being able to identify cheap stocks for beginners. A great business will typically be a good long-term performer, even if you buy in at a bit of an expensive valuation. On the other hand, a bad business that you invest in at a cheap valuation will seldom work out well.

You might hear experienced investors talk about the concept of a "wide moat," especially if you're reading anything about Warren Buffett's investment style. Just as a wide moat around a castle makes it difficult for enemies to invade, a company should have a "wide moat," too: a sustainable competitive advantage that will prevent competitors from stealing that company's market share.
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.)
Rarely is short-term noise (blaring headlines, temporary price fluctuations) relevant to how a well-chosen company performs over the long term. It’s how investors react to the noise that really matters. Here’s where that rational voice from calmer times — your investing journal — can serve as a guide to sticking it out during the inevitable ups and downs that come with investing in stocks.
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