At the same time, there are literally hundreds of thousands of individuals who buy and sell corporate securities on one of the regulated stock exchanges or the NASDAQ regularly and are successful. A profitable outcome is not the result of luck, but the application of a few simple principles derived from the experiences of millions of investors over countless stock market cycles.
The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
Before you raise your hand to complain, yes, we know that a computer can track price changes much better than most humans. We get it. But the aim of the exercise is to get a 'feel' for the movements in price and that is unlikely to happen by using a computer program and pressing a button. We are talking here about stocks for beginners, and beginners need the learning experience, not the quick fix automation. Just trust us...
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.
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Finally, the other factor: risk tolerance. The stock market goes up and down, and if you’re prone to panicking when it does the latter, you’re better off investing slightly more conservatively, with a lighter allocation to stocks. Not sure? We have a risk tolerance quiz — and more information about how to make this decision — in our article about what to invest in.
By understanding your risk tolerance, you can avoid those investments which are likely to make you anxious. Generally speaking, you should never own an asset which keeps you from sleeping in the night. Anxiety stimulates fear which triggers emotional responses (rather than logical responses) to the stressor. During periods of financial uncertainty, the investor who can retain a cool head and follows an analytical decision process invariably comes out ahead.
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The OTC Markets Group (POTCQX, OTCQB, OTC Pink): Formerly known as The Pink Sheets, these markets are considered very risky for penny stock investors. Since they have such a low standard to get started, and almost non-existent fees, just about any company can be publicly traded on them. By avoiding penny stocks trading on these markets, you can reduce the vast majority of downside risks of investing in low-priced shares.
Discount brokers used to be the exception, but now they're the norm. Discount online brokers give you tools to select and place your own transactions, and many of them also offer a set-it-and-forget-it robo-advisory service too. As the space of financial services has progressed in the 21st century, online brokers have added more features including educational materials on their sites and mobile apps.
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.
Finally, you’re going to be looking for catalysts or roadblocks to growth for each company. This means looking in the financial news, reading analyst reports and management presentations. By this time in the process, maybe you’re only looking at four to six companies in a sector so this level of deep research won’t take more than a couple of hours.
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.