Basically, the goal of investing is to commit money, and in return that money will grow. However, investing involves risk. Whenever you’re not holding your money in your own bank account, there’s a risk of loss. With some investments, the risk is low; with others it’s high. The higher the risk, the more you’d better potentially earn to take that risk.
Sometimes, companies are impacted by forces that are even beyond their control. Samsung could have issues making screens and that could delay the release of the iPad with negative effects on the stock price. Increased or decreased taxes on imported components of the device could impact the price and sales of a device, which in turn could sway the market feeling about a company.
Different industries tend to perform differently under different economic conditions or expectations. These relationships are not perfect, but they do provide reliable indications. For example, financial institutions are sensitive to interest-rate changes, and food and health care companies are typically more resistant to economic downturns than, say, factory equipment manufacturers.
Common stock also typically (but not always) comes with voting rights. Investors can have a say in the management of the company that’s proportional to the number of shares that they have. If enough shareholders don’t like the way things are going, they can have the leadership of the company forced out. It’s one of the risks companies take when they go public. We’ll talk about how some companies choose to get around this while still selling common stock in a minute.
Productive assets are investments that internally throw off surplus money from some sort of activity. For example, if you buy a painting, it isn't a productive asset. One hundred years from now, you'll still only own the painting, which may or may not be worth more or less money. (You might, however, be able to convert it into a quasi-productive asset by opening a museum and charging admission to see it.) On the other hand, if you buy an apartment building, you'll not only have the building, but all of the cash it produces from rent and service income over that century. Even if the building were destroyed after a decade, you still have the cash flow from ten years of operation — which you could have used to support your lifestyle, given to charity, or reinvested into other opportunities.
If you’re looking at a decent source, you should be able to get an idea of the performance of the company over the past day all the way back to the past 10 years if the company has been on the exchange for a while. You’ll also be able to tell how active the stock is for a given period based on how often it gets traded. You figure this out by looking at the volume number.
When people talk about investing in stocks, they usually mean investing in common stock, which is another way to describe business ownership, or business equity. When you own equity in a business, you are entitled to a share of the profit or losses generated by that company's operating activity. On an aggregate basis, equities have historically been the most rewarding asset class for investors seeking to build wealth over time without using large amounts of leverage.
With this information in hand, you're ready to place your trade. Enter the stock symbol for the company you want to buy (or sell). Pick an action (buy or sell). Enter the number of shares you want to buy or sell, and confirm whether you're willing to pay whatever the current price is for that stock (that's a market order), or whether you're willing to wait and hope the stock reaches a specified price (a limit order).
While there is no doubt that the most popular way to buy and sell investments is by opening a brokerage account, many new investors ask how to buy stock without a broker. For those of you who want to go down this path to business ownership, you can do so with varying degrees of success - there is no requirement that you have to work with a broker to invest in stocks or mutual funds, particularly equity funds. Direct investing offers some advantages and disadvantages, which you will need to weigh based on your personal situation, but our goal in describing how it works is to provide you with an overview so you have a better handle on how to invest without a broker by the time you're finished reading. The World's Worst Stock Investment Advice