Stocks—also known as company shares, equities, or securities—are a fundamental part of many investors’ plans to build wealth. But they’re not always easy to understand. Stocks trade on a market and rise and fall based on the fortunes of businesses. This makes them a key component of any portfolio, but before you can buy stocks, you need to have a clear understanding of how they work.
A business issues shares when it needs money. It can use those shares to raise cash in a public offering, or they can be sold off at the stock market to individuals and institutions. Businesses issue stock to grow their operations, invest in new projects, pay off debt, and more.
Each share represents a portion of ownership in the company. If the company does well, each share will increase in value over time. This increased value gives the shareholders a profit when they sell their shares. This is what makes most people interested in investing in the stock market—the prospect of higher returns than other investment products over the long term.
There are different types of stocks, and the type you choose will have a huge impact on your returns. The most common stocks are common shares, which give you voting rights and a participation in profits. However, there are also preferred shares and convertible preferred shares. These kinds of stocks have different rights than common shares, and they can have a lower or higher dividend payout.
To buy a stock, you simply enter the ticker symbol into your broker’s website or app and tell it how many shares to buy. The brokerage then uses its own computer to buy the shares from the exchange on your behalf. Once the purchase is complete, it records the transaction for your account.
The price of stocks fluctuates based on a variety of factors, including the health of the economy, interest rates, and company performance. Some sectors, like technology and health care, tend to react in predictable ways to economic conditions. On the other hand, consumer staples and utilities may be less sensitive to changes in economic conditions.
You can find the names of companies that issue shares in a variety of places, but you should always do your own research to make sure you’re investing in a quality business. You can search business, city, and phone directories, and consult periodical indexes. You can also look for information about the company’s history and current financial performance on its website. In some cases, the company’s investor relations or shareholder services department can provide more detailed information. Finally, you can check with the state under whose laws the company was incorporated to see if it keeps certain records.