A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
If investing in single stocks may be too risky for you, consider investing in good growth stock mutual funds. Mutual funds are a simple, even boring, investment plan, yet they work well for most people. Of course, all investing requires a degree of risk; there really is no sure thing. But mutual funds are a great balance of reasonable risk and excellent returns. They have built-in diversification that will keep you from putting all your eggs in one basket.
Diversification allows you to recover from the loss of your total investment (20% of your portfolio) by gains of 10% in the two best companies (25% x 40%) and 4% in the remaining two companies (10% x 40%). Even though your overall portfolio value dropped by 6% (20% loss minus 14% gain), it is considerably better than having been invested solely in company E.
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.”