The Definition of a Stock is plain and simple; stocks are shares available in the ownership of a company. Stock represents a claim on the company's assets and also earnings. As you acquire more stock, your ownership stake in the company becomes higher. Whether you say shares, equity, or stock, it all means the same thing. Different Types of Stocks
There are two main types of stocks: common stock and preferred stock.
Common stock is, well, common in the midst of normal people. When they talk about stocks they are usually referring to common stock. In fact, the majority of stocks from a company are being issued in this form. Common shares represent ownership in a company and a claim (dividends) on a portion of profits. Investors who are interested in a company’s stock votes per share to elect the board members, who takes the major decisions made by management.
Over the long term, common stock, by means of capital growth, yields higher returns than almost every other investment. This higher return comes at a cost since common stocks entail the most risk. If a company goes bankrupt and liquidates, the common shareholders will not receive money until the creditors, bondholders and preferred shareholders are paid.
Preferred stock represents some degree of ownership in a company but usually doesn't come with the same voting rights. (This may vary depending on the company.) With preferred shares, investors are usually guaranteed a fixed dividend forever. This is different than common stock, which has variable dividends that are never guaranteed. Another advantage is that in the event of liquidation, preferred shareholders are paid off before the common shareholder (but still after debt holders). Preferred stock may also be callable, meaning that the company has the option to purchase the shares from shareholders at anytime for any reason (usually for a premium).
Some people consider preferred stock to be more like debt than equity. A good way to think of these kinds of shares is to see them as being in between bonds and common shares.
How Stocks Trade
Most stocks are traded on exchanges, which are places where buyers and sellers meet and decide on a price. Some exchanges are physical locations where transactions are carried out on a trading floor. You've probably seen pictures of a trading floor, in which traders are wildly throwing their arms up, waving, yelling, and signaling to each other. The other types of exchange are virtual, composed of a network of computers where trades are made electronically.
The purpose of a stock market is to facilitate the exchange of securities between buyers and sellers, reducing the risks of investing. Just imagine how difficult it would be to sell shares if you had to call around the neighborhood trying to find a buyer. Really, a stock market is nothing more than a super-sophisticated farmers' market linking buyers and sellers.
Before we go on, we should distinguish between the primary market and the secondary market. The primary market is where securities are created (by means of an IPO) while, in the secondary market, investors trade previously-issued securities without the involvement of the issuing-companies. The secondary market is what people are referring to when they talk about the stock market. It is important to understand that the trading of a company's stock does not directly involve that company.
What Causes Stock Prices To Change?
Stock prices change every day as a result of market forces. By this we mean that share prices change because of supply and demand. If more people want to buy a stock (demand) than sell it (supply), then the price moves up. Conversely, if more people wanted to sell a stock than buy it, there would be greater supply than demand, and the price would fall.
Understanding supply and demand is easy. What is difficult to comprehend is what makes people like a particular stock and dislike another stock. This comes down to figuring out what news is positive for a company and what news is negative. There are many answers to this problem and just about any investor you ask has their own ideas and strategies.
So, why do stock prices change? The best answer is that nobody really knows for sure. Some believe that it isn't possible to predict how stock prices will change, while others think that by drawing charts and looking at past price movements, you can determine when to buy and sell. The only thing we do know is that stocks are volatile and can change in price extremely rapidly.
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