Bull and Bear are the terms to describe the general conditions of the stock market. These do not refer to short term fluctuations – a bear market is commonly understood as one where prices of key stocks have fallen in price by 20% or more over a period of at least 2 months. Even during a bear market, however, prices may increase temporarily. Bull markets are the opposite of bear markets – they are indicated by a rise in prices of key stocks over a certain period of time.
Usually stock market conditions reflect the state of the economy. During bull markets the economy is doing well, unemployment is low and interest rates are reasonable. Bear markets usually occur during times of economic slowdown. Investors lose confidence and companies may begin laying off workers. At the extremes, an exaggerated bear market can lead to a crash brought on by panic selling. An exaggerated bull market can be caused by over-enthusiasm of investors. It leads to a market 'bubble' that will
eventually burst. Although most money can be made during bull markets, there are also opportunities during bear markets. Knowing the characteristics of each type of market allows investors to profit from them. As would be expected, when the market is bullish investors wish to
buy up stock. The economy is doing well and people have extra money which they wish to invest in stocks. This creates a situation of short supply which drives up prices even higher. During bear markets, on the other hand, prices are falling so investors wish to unload their stocks and put their money in fixed-return instruments such as bonds. As
money is withdrawn from the stock market, supply exceeds demand which drives prices down even further.
It is easiest to make money during a bull market. Getting in right at the beginning will allow you to make the most profits. During a bull market any dips in the market are temporary and should soon be corrected. The upward rising prices can't go on forever, though, so the investor needs to be able to gauge when the market reaches its peak and sell at that time.
Bear markets represent opportunities to pick up stocks at bargain prices. Getting in near the end of a bear market offers the greatest chance for profit. The prices will most likely fall before they recover, so the investor should be prepared for some short term loss. Short-selling is also an investment strategy during bear markets. Short selling involves selling stock that you do not own in the anticipation of further price drops, so that when it comes time to deliver you can buy the stock for less than you sold it.
Fixed return investments such as CAs and bonds can be used to generate income during a bear market. So called 'defensive stocks' are also safe to buy at any time. These include government owned utilities that provide necessities no matter what state the economy is in.
Fundamental Analysis Part One
The investor has many tools at hand when making decisions about which stocks to buy. One of the most useful of these is fundamental analysis – examining key ratios which show the worth of a stock and how a company is performing. The goal of fundamental analysis is to determine how much money a company is making and what kind of earnings can be expected in the future. Although future earnings are always subject to interpretation, a good earning history creates confidence among investors. Stock prices increase and dividends may also be paid out.
Companies are required to report earnings on a regular basis and stock market analysts examine these figures to determine if a company is meeting its expected growth. If not, there is usually a downturn in the stock's price.
There are many tools available to help determine a company's earnings and its value on the stock market. Most of them rely on the financial statements provided by the company.
Further fundamental analysis can be done to reveal details about the value of a company including its competitive advantages and the ratio of ownership between management and outside investors.
Every publicly traded company must publish regular financial statements. These statements are available in printed form or on the Internet. All statements must include an income statement, a balance sheet, an auditor's report, a statement of cash flow, a description of the business activities and the expected revenue for the coming year.
The auditor's report is one of the most important sections of the financial statement. The auditor is an independent Certified Public Accountant firm which examines the company's financial activities to determine if the financial statement is an accurate description of the earnings. The auditor's report contains the opinion of the auditor concerning the accuracy of the financial statement. A financial statement without an independent auditor's report is essentially worthless because it could contain misleading or inaccurate information. An auditor's report, although not a guarantee of accuracy, at least provides credibility to the financial statement.
Another important section of the financial statement is the balance sheet. This is a 'snapshot' as it were, of the financial condition of the company at a single point in time.
The balance sheet shows the relationship between assets (cash, property and equipment), liabilities (debt) and equity (retained earnings and stock).
The income statement shows information about the revenue, net income, and earnings per share over a period of time. The top line of the income statement shows the amount of income generated by sales, underneath which the costs incurred in doing business are deducted. The bottom line show the net income (or loss) and the income per share.
The statement of cash flow is similar to the income statement – it provides a picture of a company's performance over time. The cash flow statement, however, does not use accounting procedures such as depreciation – it is simply an indicator of how a company
handles income and expenses. A statement of cash flow shows incoming and outgoing cash from sales, investments, and financing. It is a good indicator about how the company is run on a day-to-day basis, how it handles creditors and from where it receives growth capital.
Fundamental Analysis Part Two – Tools
Although the raw data of the Financial Statement has some useful information, much more can be understood about the value of a stock by applying a variety of tools to the financial data.
Earnings per Share
The overall earnings of a company is not in itself a useful indicator of a stock's worth. Low earnings coupled with low outstanding shares can be more valuable than high earnings with a high number of outstanding shares. Earnings per share is much more useful information than earnings by itself. Earnings per share (EPS) is calculated by
dividing the net earnings by the number of outstanding shares. For example: ABC company had net earnings of $1 million and 100,000 outstanding shares for an EPS of 10 (1,000,000 / 100,000 = 10). This information is useful for comparing two companies in a certain industry but should not be the deciding factor when choosing stocks.
Price to Earning Ratio
The Price to Earning Ratio (P/E) shows the relationship between stock price and company earnings. It is calculated by dividing the share price by the Earnings per Share. In our example above of ABC company the EPS is 10 so if it has a price per share of $50 the P/E is 5 (50 / 10 = 5). The P/E tells you how much investors are willing to pay for that particular company's earnings. P/E's can be read in a variety of ways. A high P/E could mean that the company is overpriced or it could mean that investors expect the company to continue to grow and generate profits. A low P/E could mean that investors are wary of the company or it could indicate a company that most investors have overlooked. Either way, further analysis is needed to determine the true value of a particular stock.
Price to Sales Ratio
When a company has no earnings, there are other tools available to help investors judge its worth. New companies in particular often have no earnings, but that does not mean they are bad investments. The Price to Sales ratio (P/S) is a useful tool for judging new companies. It is calculated by dividing the market cap (stock price times number of outstanding shares) by total revenues. An alternate method is to divide current share price by sales per share. P/S indicates the value the market places on sales. The lower the P/S the better the value.
Price to Book Ratio
Book value is determined by subtracting liabilities from assets. The value of a growing company will always be more than book value because of the potential for future revenue. The price to book ratio (P/B) is the value the market places on the book value of the company. It is calculated by dividing the current price per share by the book value per share (book value / number of outstanding shares). Companies with a low P/B are good value and are often sought after by long term investors who see the potential of such companies.
Some investors are looking for stocks that can maximize dividend income. Dividend yield is useful for determining the percentage return a company pays in the form of dividends. It is calculated by dividing the annual dividend per share by the stock's price per share.
Usually it is the older, well-established companies that pay a higher percentage, and these companies also usually have a more consistent dividend history than younger companies.
Getting Started with Stock Trading - Buying and Selling Stocks
Anyone with money to invest can buy and sell stocks. Stock trading has its own specialized vocabulary but once you have the basics under your belt you can understand better how the market works. As with any investment, the more knowledge you have about stock trading the more successful you are likely to be.
Most stock trades are done through a broker – an intermediary who takes orders and executes them. Brokers can also offer advice about which stocks to trade and the condition of the market. These 'full-service' brokers charge a relatively high commission.
To cut costs, many people use discount brokers that charge significantly less. You don't get advice, but to some, that is an advantage. Some of the services commonly offered by brokers include online trading, broker assisted trading and some brokers offer options like Interactive Voice Response System for placing orders by telephone and wireless trading systems for making orders by using web-enabled cellular phones or other handheld devices.
Some brokers have their own proprietary software for placing orders over the Internet while others allow you to access their order department through their website with a password. Whichever systems they use, almost every broker offers a variety of charting options that allows you to track movements on the stock market. Analysis software may also be included in their service or available for an extra fee.
Types of Orders
There are different types of orders that can be made when buying or selling stocks. A 'market order' is an instruction to buy or sell at the current market price. The order is usually executed very near the price you are quoted at the time of your order. However, if the stock price is fluctuating or is not actively traded there may be a difference between the quote and the actual transaction.
A 'stop order' or 'limit order' can be placed if you expect the stock price to move and wish to buy or sell at a certain price above or below the current market price. A stop order instructs the broker to trade at a certain price, while a limit order is an instruction to trade at a specified price or better.
A stop order helps to limit losses or protect profits. They become effective when the market hits the stop price but may trade above or below the stop price because they are traded at market price after they become active. Limit orders may not be placed at all even if the market reaches the limit price. If the market moves quickly there may not be time to execute your order before the price falls out of the limit price range.
: ( For example You buy Bell Canada BCE) at $50 and then put in a stop order of $45. If the price of BCE falls to $45 your stop order will become effective and your stock will sell at market price. Conversely, if you place a limit sell after buying BCE for $60, when the price rises to that level your stock will be sold at a profit. You could also buy BCE with a limit buy order for $45. This allows you to (possibly) buy stock at less than current market. If the price does not fall to your limit buy price, however, you will not buy any of that stock.
All orders can be placed as 'good ‘til cancelled' (GTC) or as a 'day order.' GTC orders remain in effect until they are cancelled but day orders remain effective only until the end of the current trading day.
Stocks are usually traded in 'round lots' – lots of multiples of 100. It is possible to trade other amounts of stocks, but this kind of trade is called an 'odd lot'. Trading software can handle both types of orders, but odd lot orders are slightly more difficult to fill than round lot orders.
Penny stocks are low-priced stocks – usually with a value of less than $5 – of small companies. These stocks are traded on the Over-The-Counter-Bulletin-Board (OTCBB) and the Pink Sheets. Both these trading venues do not have the same kind of minimum requirements of exchanges such as Nasdaq or the NYSE set by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Companies which issue penny stocks may be new businesses or close to bankruptcy. A new issue of stocks could be a way to inject quick capital to try to save the business. All of these factors – low price, lack of standards, and lack of stability – make penny stocks one of the riskiest investments around. It is true that if a company succeeds the payoff will be great, but the vast majority of penny stocks end in bankruptcy. Other reasons why penny stocks are risky include...
- Lack of information about the company. Companies listed in the Pink Sheets or the OTCBB do not have to issue financial statements. Most companies also have little reportable history.
- Low liquidity. Penny stocks are infrequently traded, so finding a buyer may be difficult. The price may have to lowered substantially to interest someone in buying the stock.
- Potential fraud. Due to their unregulated nature, penny stocks are often used by con artists who sell them through spam email or off-shore brokers.
So penny stocks are risky but are there any benefits to them?
Not all penny stocks are frauds or companies facing bankruptcy. Some represent hardworking businesses that are struggling to meet the requirements to get listed on Nasdaq or the NYSE. Investing in these companies offers real growth potential – you have the opportunity to get in at the ground floor and ride all the way to the top.
The difficulty is finding which companies have this growth potential. Getting this information requires a lot of research and unless you are willing to take the time to personally investigate a company, you may again be the victim of fraud. Some companies specialize in offering 'inside information' about companies selling penny stock, but they may simply be fronts for pushing a particular stock on unsuspecting investors.
There are two ways to play the penny stocks – do research or play craps. The low cost of these stocks means that you will not lose a lot money if the company goes under, and as long as you are prepared to lose this money penny stocks can be an interesting and fun addition to any portfolio. It must be stressed, however, that penny stocks should only make up a small portion of any portfolio. The odds are that most penny stocks will end up
in a total loss. If you would like to buy penny stocks you need to find a broker that will place an order for you. Many brokers will not cover them because of the difficulties in tracking them, but some online brokers specialize in penny stocks. Regulations require brokers to receive written confirmation from the client concerning the transaction. The broker is also required to give the client a document outlining the risks of speculating with penny stocks.
Finally, the broker must disclose the current market price of the stock and the amount of compensation the firm receives for the trade. Monthly statements must be sent to the client detailing market value of each penny stock in the account.
Pink Sheets Stocks
If you are interested in penny stocks you are sure to hear about the Pink Sheets. It is an electronic quotation system for many Over-The-Counter (OTC) securities. The name
comes from the colour of the paper the quotes were originally printed on.
Today the Pink
Sheets publishes quotations on the Internet, and most of its listings are so-called penny stocks. Penny stocks are securities that are less than $5 in value. Although they can be traded on regular stock exchanges, companies that are listed in the Pink Sheets usually do so because they cannot meet the requirements of other exchanges like the NYSE and Nasdaq. The Pink Sheets has no listing requirements – even companies with no financial history can be listed.
The Pink Sheets is not a registered stock exchange. As such, it can list companies that would otherwise be unable to raise capital through stock offerings. Although it is not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) its trading system is only accessible by brokers licensed by the National Association of Security Dealers (NASD) and these brokers are required to follow NASD regulations. Companies which issue stock listed in the Pink Sheets must follow Federal and State security laws.
As an unregulated exchange, stocks listed in the Pink Sheets carry more risk than stocks on the big exchanges like AMEX. The lack of financial data means that companies may be facing bankruptcy and are issuing stock in a last ditch effort to stay afloat. Not all companies are in dire straits, however. Some may be in the process of becoming listed on the regular exchanges and use the Pink Sheets as an intermediate step to raise capital.
To get listed in the Pink Sheets a company needs a broker dealer to quote the stock. The only requirement is that the broker is a member of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). Once listed, the company remains in the Pink Sheets as long as the stock is quoted. It can happen that a stock that no longer exists still is quoted in the Pink
Sheets – a situation that highlights the need for researching any company that lists here. The main advantage of buying Pink Sheet securities is their low cost. Investors who hope to get in on a new company right at the beginning can pick up stock for literally pennies.
In the event that the company does well and grows the small initial investment will pay large dividends.
There is a very real risk, though, that the company will simply vanish, leaving behind valueless stock issues. The investor interested in penny stock in the Pink Sheets should be prepared to lose all. For this reason, Pink Sheet investments should represent only a small portion of an overall investment portfolio.
Another risk to the investor is the lack of liquidity of Pink Sheet listings. Volume is generally quite low and finding a buyer for stock may be difficult. The seller may have to settle for a much lower price than anticipated in order to unload his shares.
Brokers handle most of the buying and selling on the stock market, and the average investor will use a brokerage service to handle his trades. There is a broad range of brokerage services available. There are brokers who offer many services for aiding their clients meet their investment goals. These 'full-service brokers' can give advice about which stocks to buy and sell and often have full research facilities for analyzing market trends and predicting movements.
These perks are not free – full service brokers charge the highest commission rates in the industry. Whether or not you decide to use a full-service broker depends on your level of self-confidence, your knowledge of the stock market and the number of trades you regularly make.
Investors who wish to save on commission fees can use a 'discount broker'. These brokers charge much lower commissions but don't offer advice or analysis. Investors who like to make their own trading decisions and those who make many trades often use discount brokers for their transactions. Some traders may use both types – there is no reason why you can't have two brokers.
The least expensive way to trade stocks is usually with an online brokerage. Both full service and discount brokers usually offer discounts for orders placed online. Some brokers operate exclusively online and offer even better rates. No matter what type of broker you choose, you must first open an account. Each broker sets their own requirements for maintaining an account balance but it is usually between $500 and $1000. When choosing a broker look at the fine print and find out about the fees involved. Some brokers charge an annual maintenance fee while other charge fees whenever your account balance falls below the minimum.
There are two basic types of brokerage accounts. A 'cash account' offers no credit – when you buy you pay the full amount of the stock price. A 'margin' account, on the other hand, allows you to buy stock 'on margin' – the brokerage will carry some of the cost of the stock. The amount of margin varies from broker to broker but the margin must be protected by the value of the client's portfolio. If the portfolio falls below a specified amount the investor will have to add more funds or sell some stock. Margin accounts
allow investors to buy more stock with less cash thereby realizing greater gains (and losses). Because they involve more risk than cash accounts, margin accounts are not recommended for inexperienced traders.
Before choosing a particular broker the investor should carefully consider his needs. Does he wish to receive advice about which stocks to buy? Is he uncomfortable making trades on the Internet? If so, he should go with a full-service broker. Technology savvy investors who have the knowledge and confidence to make their own trading decisions are better off with a discount broker.
After deciding which type, compare a few competitors. There can often be significant differences in costs when all the annual fees and brokerage rates are factored in. Try to gauge how many trades you expect to make in a year, how much cash you can deposit into your account, whether you wish to use margin accounts and which services you need. This information will allow you to compare the actual costs of various brokers.
Stock indexes are a statistical average of a particular stock exchange or sector. Indexes are composed of stocks which have something in common – they are all part of the same
exchange; they are part of the same industry; or they represent companies of a certain size or location.
There are many different stock indexes, the most common in the United States being the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NYSE Composite index, and the S&P 500 Composite
Stock Price Index. Stock indexes give an overall perspective about the economic health of a particular industry or stock exchange.
There are several different ways to calculate indexes. An index based solely on the price of stocks is called a 'price weighted index'. This type of index does not take into consideration the importance of any particular stock or the size of the company. An index which is 'market value weighted', on the other hand, takes into account the size of the
companies. That way, price shifts of small companies have less influence than those of larger companies. Another type of index is the 'market-share weighted' index. This type of index is based on the number of shares rather than their total value.
As well as giving an overall grade to a particular economy, indexes can also be an investment instrument. Mutual funds based on indexes are known as 'passively managed
mutual funds' and have been shown to consistently outperform managed funds. Mutual funds based on an index simply duplicate the holdings where the index is based on. Thus if the Dow Jones rises by 1% the fund based on the Dow Jones also rises by the same
amount. This has the advantage of lower costs for research and transactions – savings that can be passed on to the investor who participates in these funds.
The Big Indexes
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is one of the best-known indexes in the United States. It follows the stock movements of 30 of the most influential companies in America including General Electric, Coca Cola and General Motors. It is a 'price-weighted average' index – thus giving more influence to more expensive stocks. Some analysts feel that the price-weighting does not give an accurate picture of stock market movements and that 30 companies are not enough to form an accurate assessment.
The S&P 500 Index is based on 500 United States corporations. These companies are carefully chosen to represent a broad slice of economic activity. It is second in influence after the Dow Jones and is felt to be an accurate predictor of the state of the United States economy. Outside of the United States the most influential index is the FTSE 100 Index. This is based on 100 of the largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. It is an indicator of the British economy and is one of the biggest indexes in Europe. Other important non-US indexes are the CAC 40 from France and the Nikkei 225 from Japan.