I participate in a variety of forums with other advisors. Occasionally there is a question, “Should I buy the stock of X company?” The usual response from advisors is to forgo individual stock investments and concentrate on building a low cost, diversified portfolio of mutual funds or ETFs. It’s good advice. It’s also advice I give my clients.
But I have an additional thought: You should buy that stock.
The reason is simple. Most investors are participating in the stock market for long-term growth. But very few have a good appreciation for what the stock market is. Owning a stock is a crash course in market fundamentals. Own one and you will get valuable insight into the overall market.
What is a stock?
A stock is an ownership interest in a business. Publicly traded companies raise cash by going to the primary market, where shares are first sold to investors in an “initial public offering,” or IPO. What most of us consider the stock market is actually the secondary market. This is where previously issued shares are traded among market participants. Trading venues include the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations System (NASDAQ) among others. Bidding among buyers and sellers sets prices.
The common stock of a company represents your share of the ownership in that company. Common stock holders are legally the owner of a small portion of the earnings and assets of the company. You also get to cast your votes at annual meetings and are eligible for dividends paid by the company. So if you own a share of Starbucks, you are part-owner of the local shop down the street. Because stock ownership in a corporation is a legal construct, it works best in countries where the rule of law is strong. This is why the U.S. is such a popular place to invest.
Why you should own one?
Most people invest their hard-earned money in the stock market through mutual funds or ETFs. Often this is through a company-sponsored plan such as a 401(k). Watching the daily swings in the value of your holdings can seem quite mysterious. If you own a stock and research what the business does, you will start to understand the relationship between business performance and the value of your stock holding. In the short-term, a variety of crazy factors can push the price of your company’s stock around. But in the long-term, the price of your company (and stock) will be determined by its business performance. And it’s the long term-that matters. As you get to understand how this works for one company, you will begin to get a feel for how the markets behave, although I don’t know that anyone truly understands the gyrations of the stock markets.
If you do invest in the common stock of a company, take some time to understand the business that you are investing in. Here are some general guidelines:
You may well end up losing your entire investment. But you will learn a lot about your business, the markets and, who knows, maybe even yourself.
Note: The contents of this site are general in nature and not intended as specific investment advice. All investments are subject to risk; including loss of investment value. If you have any question regarding investments or concepts in these pages, please consult with an investment professional.