It’s always good to have at least a basic foundation of fundamental investment knowledge whether you’re a beginner to investing or working with a professional financial advisor. The reason is simple: You are likely to be more comfortable in investing your money if you understand the lingo and basic principles of investing. Combining the basics with what you want to get out of your investment strategy, you will be empowered to make financial decisions yourself more confidently and also be more engaged and interactive with your financial advisor.
Below are a few basic principles that you should be able to understand and apply when you are looking to potentially invest your money or evaluate an investment opportunity. You’ll find that the most important points pertaining to investing are quite logical and require just good common sense. The first step is to make the decision to start investing. If you’ve never invested your money, you’re probably not comfortable with make any investment decisions or moves in the market because you have little or no experience. It’s always difficult to find somewhere to begin. Even if you find a trusted financial advisor, it is still worth your time to educate yourself, so you can participate in the process of investing your money and so that you may be able to ask good questions. The more you understand the reasons behind the advice you’re getting, the more comfortable you will be with the direction you’ve chosen.
Don’t be intimidated by the financial lingo
If you turn on the tv to some financial network, don’t worry that you can’t understand the financial professionals right away. A lot of what they say can actually boil down to simple financial concepts. Make sure you ask your financial advisor the questions that concern you so you become more comfortable when investing.
IRAs are containers to hold investments-they aren’t investments themselves
The first area of confusions that most new investors get confused about is around their retirement vehicles and plans that they may have. If an investor has an individual retirement accounts (IRA), a 401(k) plan from work, or any other retirement-type plan at work, you should understand the differences between all the accounts you have and the actual investments you have within those accounts. Your IRA or 401(k) is just a container that houses your investments that brings with it some tax-advantages.
Understand stocks and bonds
Almost every portfolio contains these kinds of asset classes.
If you buy a stock in a company, you are buying a share of the company’s earnings. You become a shareholder and an owner at the same time of the company. This simply means that you have equity in the company and the company’s future – ready to go up and down with the company’s ups and downs. If the company is doing well, then your shares will be doing well and increase in value. If the company is not doing well or fails, then you can lose value in your investment.
If you buy bonds, you become a creditor of the company. You are simply lending money to the company. So you don’t become a shareholder or owner of the company/bond-issuer. If the company fails, then you will lose the amount of your loan to the company. However, the risk of losing your investment to bondholder is less then the risk to owners/shareholders. The reasoning behind this is that to stay in business and have access to funds to finance future expansion or growth, the company must have a good credit rating. Furthermore, the law protects a company’s bondholders over its shareholders if the company goes bankrupt.
Stocks are considered to be equity investments, because they give the investor an equity stake in the company, while bonds are referred to as fixed-income investments or debt instruments. A mutual fund, for instance, can invest in any number or combination of stocks and bonds.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
An important investment principle of all is not to invest all or most of your money into one investment.
Include multiple and varying types of investments in your portfolio. There are many asset classes such as stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, art, real estate, and so on. Cash, in fact, is also an asset class. It includes currency, cash alternatives, and money-market instruments. Individual asset classes are also broken down into more precise investments such as small company stocks, large company stocks, or bonds issued by municipalities, or bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.
The various asset classes go up and down at different times and at different speeds. The purpose of a diversified portfolio is to mitigate the ups and downs by smoothing out the volatility in a portfolio. If some investments are losing value at some particular period, others will be increasing in value at the same time. So the overarching objective is to make sure that the gainers offset the losers, which may minimize the impact of overall losses in your portfolio from any single investment. The goal that you will have with your financial advisor is to help find the right balance between the asset classes in your portfolio given your investment objectives, risk tolerance, and investment time horizon. This process is commonly referred to as asset allocation.
As mentioned earlier, each asset class can be internally diversified further with investment options within that class. For example, if you decide to invest in a financial company, but are worried that you may lose your money by putting everything into one single company, consider making investments into other companies ( Company A, Company B, and Company C) rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. Even though diversification alone doesn’t guarantee that you will make a profit or ensure that you won’t lose value in your portfolio, it can still help you manage the amount of risk you are taking or are willing to take.
Recognize the tradeoff between an investment’s risk and return
Risk is generally looked at as the possibility of losing money from your investments. Return is looked at as the reward you receive for making the investment. Returns can be found by measuring the increase in value of your investment from your original investment principal.
There is a relationship between risk and reward in finance. If you have a low risk-tolerance, then you will take on less risk when investing, which will result in a lower possible return at any given time, relatively. The highest risk investment will offer the chance to make high returns.
Between taking on the highest risk and the lowest risk, most investors seek to find the right balance of risk and returns that he/she feels comfortable with. So, if someone advises you to get in on an investment that has a high return and it is risk-free, then it may be too good to be true.
Understand the difference between investing for growth and investing for income
Once you make the decision to invest, you may want to consider whether the objective of your portfolio is have it increase in value by growing overtime, or is it to produce a fixed income stream for you to supplement your current income, or is it maybe a combination of the two?
Based on your decision, you will either target growth oriented investments or income oriented ones. U.S. Treasury bills, for instance, provide a regular income stream for investors through regular interest payments, and the value of your initial principal tends to be more stable and secure as opposed to a bond issued by a new software company.
Likewise, an equity investment in a larger company such as an IBM is generally less risky than a new company. Furthermore, IBM may provide dividends every quarter to their investors which can be used as an income stream as well. Typically, newer companies reinvest any income back into the business to make it grow. However, if a new company becomes successful, then the value of your equities in that company may grow at a much higher rate than an established company. This increase is typically referred to as capital appreciation.
Whether you are looking for growth, income, or both, your decision will fully depend on your individual financial and investment objectives and needs. And, each type may play its own part in your portfolio.
Understand the power of compounding on your investment returns
Compounding is an important investment principle. When you reinvest any dividends or other investment returns, you begin to earn returns on your past returns.
Consider a simple example of a plain bank certificate of deposit (CD) that is rolled over to a new CD including its past returns each time it matures. Interest that is earned over the lifetime of the CD becomes part of the next period’s sum on which interest is assessed on. At the beginning, when you initially invest your money compounding may seem like only a little snowball; however, as time goes by, that little snowball gets larger because of interest compounding upon interest. This helps your portfolio grow much faster.
You don’t have to go at it alone
You don’t have to stop yourself from investing in the market because you feel like you don’t know enough yet. Knowing the basic financial principles, having good common sense, and having your Financial Advisor guide you along the way can help you start evaluating investment opportunities for your portfolio and help get you closer toward achieving your financial goals.