Stocks are a type of financial security that represents ownership interests (equity) in publicly-traded companies. Each share of a stock represents a proportional claim on the company’s net assets and future earnings. Companies issue stocks in order to raise capital and grow their businesses. While stock investments have historically provided higher returns than other types of assets, they also expose investors to a wide range of near-term risks. Therefore, it is important to consider your risk capacity and investing goals before jumping feet-first into the stock market.
Most stocks are sold through exchanges, such as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. However, some may be privately held. Publicly-traded stocks are what most people think of when they hear the phrase “stock market,” and they are generally regulated by government agencies.
The price of a stock depends on supply and demand, among other factors. As more people want to buy a particular share, its price will increase. Similarly, as less people want to sell their shares, its price will decrease. This is why it is important to diversify your portfolio by holding a number of different stocks from various industries and geographic regions.
Besides price, another factor that influences the value of a share is its dividend payout and earnings potential. Some stocks pay regular cash dividends to shareholders, while others have the potential to produce significant future profits through price appreciation. Investors who are looking to generate steady income from their stocks often prefer dividend-paying stocks.
Companies are also grouped into categories based on their overall size, known as their market capitalization. There are large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap stocks, with very small-cap companies referred to as microcaps. Some stocks are also split into growth and value categories based on their performance relative to the rest of the market. For example, growth stocks are those that have potential to significantly increase their sales and profit over time, while value stocks are those with low prices that may be undervalued by the market.
Finally, many stocks are also categorized into sectors, which is based on the type of products or services the companies provide. For instance, information technology and consumer discretionary stocks are often sensitive to economic conditions, while utilities and health care stocks tend to be more stable.
The profitability of stocks depends on a number of factors, including corporate performance, technological innovations and regulatory developments. It is also important to keep in mind that stocks are volatile investments, with the potential for large losses as well as gains. As such, they are not suited for every investor’s investment portfolio.