A stock is a share in the ownership of a corporation or company. The price of a stock can rise or fall over time as demand for shares changes and the market evaluates the business performance of the company. Buying or selling stocks can earn you money through capital gains and dividend payments.
Historically, stocks have outperformed other types of investments such as bonds and cash. They also help to hedge against inflation.
Investors buy shares in companies that they think will grow and prosper, increasing their value over the long run. The growth potential of stocks makes them attractive to investors who want higher returns than they can get from cash or bonds.
A common way to classify stocks is by their size, as measured by the company’s market capitalization. The largest stocks are considered large-cap, followed by mid-cap and small-cap stocks. The smallest stocks are known as penny stocks and don’t usually pay dividends.
Many stocks are also classified by the industry in which they operate, a method that allows investors to track the performance of similar businesses and make better informed investment decisions. This type of categorization is sometimes called sector investing. The performance of sectors can vary over the short term and it is important to diversify a portfolio among the various categories.
For example, cyclical stocks such as technology and travel companies tend to perform worse during economic downturns. Meanwhile, non-cyclical stocks such as grocery store chains continue to thrive as consumers need to keep spending on goods and services despite economic conditions.
The stock market is an open exchange where individual investors can buy and sell shares of publicly traded companies. Trades occur when a buyer agrees to buy a stock at the seller’s asking price or when a seller accepts a buyer’s bid. In some markets, brokers act as intermediaries to match buyers and sellers. They can provide research and information about the markets and offer brokerage services, such as facilitating the execution of orders and transferring securities.
Some stocks are issued as preferred shares, which don’t come with voting rights. However, if the company fails and needs to liquidate assets to repay investors, preferred shareholders are paid their earnings before common stockholders. Most individual investors own common stock.
When a stock’s price declines, it can become a good opportunity to purchase the shares at a lower price. In this way, a person can make money through a “buy low, sell high” strategy.
In addition to capital gains, investors may also receive profits from regular dividend payments or the sale of shares at a higher price than what they originally bought them for, called capital appreciation. These dividends and capital gains are generally a reflection of the profitability of the company, but they can be impacted by the quality of the company’s management. The best companies are those that are well managed and have a proven record of success in the marketplace.