Stock trading, once the sole domain of Wall Street, has become easily and affordably available to all in the last 20 years, thanks to online brokerages. Prior to online trading, people relied on the services of a stock broker, who would make buy and sell orders on the customer’s behalf. Today, individuals are able to execute buy and sell orders themselves in a fraction of a second using computerized trading services.
While buying and selling stocks — which are shares of ownership in a company — can make you a fortune, it’s just as easy to lose that money. To become a successful trader, it is crucial that you become familiar with the tools of trading, the theory behind it and the daily reports that drive market shifts.
Stock market basics
Like all businesses, the stock market operates on a system of supply and demand. When you purchase stock, your hope is that other traders become more eager to own a share of that company over time. When the stock’s popularity increases, traders will compete to own it and bid up the sale price. In theory, a rising share price is the result of improvements in the firm’s value and potential, also known as its fundamentals. In reality, stock prices change for any number of reasons, only some of which investors are able to predict.
Researching and choosing stock
There are two main schools of thought regarding how to choose stocks. The first, called fundamental analysis, relies on the use of a company’s financial reports and public statements to analyze the health of the business. Balance sheets, income statements, yearly and quarterly earnings, and news releases from the company are all important tools for a fundamental analysis. Fortunately, those reports are easily searchable online, as are tutorials on how to read them, such as those offered by the SEC. Market and industry trends, media publications and historical analysis also play a role.
The second school of investing is called technical analysis. Technical analysts believe that swings in stock prices follow patterns that traders can learn to detect and profit from. Technical analysis is not as widely accepted or practiced as fundamental analysis. However, many traders use a combination of the two techniques to choose stocks. Choosing a company with sound fundamentals and then occasionally trading on a technical indicator is a safer strategy that relying only on technical indicators.
Before deciding to buy or sell any stock, you should thoroughly research the company, its leadership and its competition. Sites such as Yahoo! Finance offer excellent compilations of news stories, financial statements and stock price histories (called charts) that provide insight into the company. Stock sites also display professional analysts’ ratings of a given stock, indicating whether that analyst advises a trader to buy, hold or sell a stock. Examining the records of those analysts may help you assign value to their opinions.
Personal stock-trading services
Before you can begin buying and selling stocks, you need to decide which online trading service you want to use. Rob Beauregard, director of public relations for Fidelity Investments, says choosing your brokerage partner carefully can directly affect your bottom line.
“The best piece of advice for an online trader is to choose your brokerage partner with open eyes,” Beauregard told Business News Daily. “Know their pricing, service, investment choices, education and research resources, and securitypractices. No one should just rely on their gut instincts or the tip from their friend or neighbor anymore. The resources easily accessible to them to generate and validate investing decisions are too valuable not to utilize.”
When you’re looking for an online broker, consider the costs of each service the brokerage provides and the level of support you will need from qualified brokers. Business News Daily’s sister site Top Ten Reviews offers an overview of a number of trading services, with ratings for their fees, research tools, mobile access and investments offered.
As a beginning trader, you may wish to start with a company that can provide personal advice for your investments. As your skills grow, you may wish to ensure that the brokerage offers tools to engage in advanced trading, including short selling and margin trading. The following are popular services known for the quality of their services and support:
- TD Ameritrade
Some companies, such as ShareBuilder, also offer functions similar to banks, with ATM cards that give you access to noninvested money, or the option to invest your cash in a money market fund to earn a slightly higher return than a traditional savings account.
If you prefer to be a do-it-yourself trader, you can make use of discount online broker services. These services allow you to buy and sell not only stocks, but also options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, fixed income funds, bonds, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts and more. You ultimately get to make the final decision on each investment and whether or not to buy or sell, and you don’t need a large sum of money to start.
Read more: Trading Stocks Online: A Guide for Beginners