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A beginner’s guide to investing in stocks

Stocks are but one of many ways to invest your hard-earned money. Here is a step-by-step guide to investing in stocks for first-timers like you.

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This guide will look at the strategies accessible to new investors and how to apply it in a way that makes sense for beginners.

From Reddit to Quora, I have seen first hand the common mistakes new investors make when buying shares (or any other asset) for the first time. I have seen how good advice from sophisticated investors can be taken out of context and lead to the newbie making bad—and sometimes very costly—investment decisions. This article will provide not just a few lines of industry standards, it will show you exactly how to start investing in the stocks and shares markets using common city trader practices.

Step 1: Saving and initial investment

There’s often a lot to consider when trying to build an investment pot. Living expenditures form the bulk of this: needs and wants. The trick here is reducing the spend on wants and focusing on the needs. Rent, food, fuel, clothing and all the needs should be prioritized.

Make a list of all the needs, and then what’s left can be spent on the wants, one of which in this case is investing.

This should form the bulk of your disposable income, and the best piece of advice I can give is to be consistent—decide what you can afford to invest each month and stick to it. The cumulative benefits of doing this will be a catalyst for your investments growth in value, and that can be a real morale booster for new investors. To learn more about the effects of consistency see Compounding: Why it Matters.

Ways to start saving

1. Automatic bank transfers

It is possible to set up an automatic transfer of money from one account into another each month. To do this, you will need bank accounts and to set up a transfer (perhaps the day after your paycheck) of an amount into what will become your investment capital. This can be as little or as much as you can afford, and the key is consistency. Having it automated and away from your main current account should help keep you on track.

2. Money pots

Dividing your expenditures into different pots can give you a comprehensive idea of what and how much money you spend monthly. This visual approach is often very effective and is a good money management technique. It lends itself well to consistency, as once set-up, the process is quick and convenient. This helps develop the actions into a habit.

3. Loose change

It might not lend itself toward consistency as well as the other entries on this list, but cleaning out all the loose change at the back of sofas can often provide a surprising amount of change for the money pot.

4. Lifestyle changes

This entry depends on your own daily life and activities. If you use the gym, could you instead take up jogging and running at local parks? Spending money on Starbucks? Why not make your own coffee in the morning?

The list could go on, but reducing frivolous and often expensive luxuries could help you achieve the goal of financial independence and a growing investment pot much sooner than you might think.

5. Extra hours

It is unlikely to be the favorite option, but working more hours is one sure-fire way to building an investment fund quickly. This might be an extra two hours a day, which can eventually turn into a significant amount of capital.

Instead of figuring out which company will make you money, try to study and apply strategic models to help you advance to the next step in stock investing.

Instead of figuring out which company will make you money, try to study and apply strategic models to help you advance to the next step in stock investing. (Source)

Step 2: Plan and portfolio

Now that you have a capital ready to invest, it is time to start thinking about the investing process.

One of the most often asked questions is: “How do I know which company to pick?”

An innocent question on the face of it, but the technicalities do not have a single simple answer. The answer is always very much “it depends.” As a word of caution, investing in shares is not easy—and so many people are looking for easy solutions. This compasses people who ask (1) “Which company do you recommend I invest in?” and (2) “Will a <insert fancy AI name here> make me money?”

Let’s address these two individually:

1. First off, I would never recommend making a trade based on someone else’s recommendation.

If it goes well, you won’t know when to sell, and if it goes bad, that’s usually followed by panic, as you have no idea why the stock is falling. And usually, you’ll close out at the worst possible time. The world is also too full of people wanting “tips” because that’s easy, but consistently making money in the financial markets is not easy, it’s often time-consuming and hard.

2. Fact: There are algorithm-based programmes that do make money.

Unfortunately, the ones that work are guarded about as closely as a military installation—the largest investment banks and hedge funds profit to the tune of billions each year because of them. This means they are unlikely to share it around or offer it for $99 a month (Read, it’s almost always a scam).

The real answer to “How do I know which company to pick” starts with idea generation. The honest and original idea generated by you—and not just a rehash of the latest headline. It happens a long time before we press execute and purchase shares of a company. This is where we come up with a view, an opinion on the world that we can then use to generate a trading idea. The best traders are often the ones with insight into the world around us, and those who can disseminate the changes happening in different areas. From culture to politics and religion, where there is change there is an opportunity to digest that change to form a view or opinion.

The world we live in is dynamic and vast, and the financial markets seek to facilitate the purchase and sale of assets. From coffee and its many derivatives to currency in the forex markets. The high number of markets and exchanges provides us with a diverse range of opportunities to make money.

Soft idea indicators

Contrary opinion theory

The essence of this theory is concerned with holding a view that is the opposite of the one held by the majority. Human behavior has shown us that we follow the consensus opinion, in theories such as herd mentality. This often results in us making decisions because of the influence of our peers.

This is a deeply flawed approach to investing. It is usually more profitable to invest in ideas that few people have noticed. This can be easily explained by using an example.

If the consensus or majority opinion is that Apple is a great stock that will go up, then the demand for Apple shares will be very high, which results in an increased share price, making the stock expensive. This is usually measured in what is known as the PE ratio, which is covered later.

Finding great ideas that are not the consensus opinion can be difficult, and it would not be unwise to hold shares in very large companies such as Apple. However, it is important to distinguish that making any investment due to the opinion of the majority without additional indicators is extremely unwise.

Bottom-up analysis

This is where you start looking at one specific company and its exact business.

The first question I often ask myself when thinking about bottom-up analysis is what products does the company make and who do they sell that product to. Is it a new company with growth potential or an old one with steady earnings? Benchmark analysis can provide insight into how it’s performing relevant to its competitors. Examples of benchmark analysis can be as simple as profitability, debt, and liquidity ratios covered in general accounting classes.

Almost every situation you face as a consumer, to where you buy your groceries to what bank you use, can all be ideas from which you can start a further analysis.

Top-down analysis

This type of analysis takes the opposite approach, looking at themes or macroeconomics.

This is all about finding interesting themes and researching them, and then figuring out which companies are likely to benefit from that theme in the near future. For example, if you think the pound is going to weaken, then this will benefit U.K. exporters who earn more foreign profits, which is then turned back into more pounds. Knowing this, you could look at the FTSE100 and find companies such as BP who make most of their earnings abroad. The share price of BP after Brexit rose by over 25 percent due to the sharp drop in the value of the pound.

To conclude, I would note the importance of recognizing any potential biases you might have, and that an objective, logical approach is needed. It can be supported by data, which we will cover during fundamental and technical analysis.

Balance sheets, income statements and cashflow statements give you ideas on how much a company spends and makes.

Balance sheets, income statements and cashflow statements give you ideas on how much a company spends and makes. (Source)

Step 3: Fundamental analysis

An analysis is performed on companies by looking at the information that is made public. For all major listed companies, this will always include a balance sheet, income statement and cashflow statement. We will briefly talk about these three statements from the perspective of a potential investor.

Balance sheet

The balance sheet is always a static snapshot of the company at a particular point in time. On the left column of the balance sheet are entries of what a company “owns,” known as assets and on the right column what the company “owes,” which we call liabilities.

The first thing to understand is that we can quickly value a company balance sheet by calculating the total assets, and the total liabilities and using the difference to get what is known as the “net book value.” Professional traders use the book value, or derivatives of the book value a lot when doing fundamental analysis on a company. Book value is a very important value.

When considering the balance sheet, it is equally important to consider the “Others” entry. This entry is where company accounts will potentially hide the less flattering financials of the company they would rather investors not see. Taking the time to research what this field represents is usually worth it.

Finally, remember that the balance sheet does not take into account pension liabilities a company may have. Large listed companies can employ vast amounts of people, and so the pension liabilities have the potential to be massive long-term commitments. It is very important to find out how much a large company owns to its pension holders before making an investment.

Income statement

It reports financial performance over a period of time, e.g., one year. The statement shows a company’s income and expenses for the reporting period and summarizes financial performance. It is the statement of profit or loss for the reporting period.

Cashflow statement

It presents the cash inflows and outflows of a company over a reporting period. Cash inflows and outflows are classified by operating activities, investing activities and financing activities. Operating activities include day to day transactions of the company such as a sale of goods and payments to suppliers. Investing activities include the acquisition and disposal of long-term assets and other investments not included in cash equivalent. Financing activities are activities that result in changes in size and composition of the contributed equity, e.g., issuing shares.

Fundamental analysis is a heavily nuanced and complex subject, and every trader does it differently. Generally, it’s good to compare one company’s data to another, and over time, experience and intuition will help you digest and understand the financials of a particular company.

At this stage, it should be possible to generate trading ideas and to identify the companies’ main financial statements.

The last step in stock investing is putting your money to work and reaping huge ROIs from it. (Source)

The last step in stock investing is putting your money to work and reaping huge ROIs from it. (Source)

Step 4: Practice with pen and paper

It is now time to start testing your ideas, and this should not be done with real capital at this point. We would recommend using Google Finance to create a portfolio based on the ideas generated and the fundamental analysis performed. Execute on those ideas with a similar amount of capital as you have built up and monitor the performance over time. Once you are comfortable in your ability to generate ideas and to perform solid fundamental analysis, then it’s a case of continuing to learn and being absolutely sure that you understand the basics by the time it comes to placing your first trade with your own hard earned savings.

As a general piece of advice, the next step would be to learn more about technical analysis so that timing of trades could be improved.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Karl Ahlstedt currently resides in Swansea, the heartland of Wales. He studied business and investment management at the University of Wales and Swansea University and proceeded to work in a fast, competitive environment at one of Wales largest hedge funds. Passionate about finance and investments this was the traditional career path many investment graduates took. Since then, and with the encouragement from friends and colleagues, Karl founded the Horizon Institute in late 2017. Today Karl provides analysis to local investment companies, and delivers guest lectures at the University of Wales. Disappointed in the education offered by get rich quick schemes that litter the internet, Karl set up The Horizon Institute to teach finance and trading to the same level as he received at top UK universities and investment firms. This approach has been expanded in 2018 to include a national teach training programme that aims to take the best financial experts, from hedge fund managers to economists to create compelling and up to date content that provides country-leading excellence in the field of financial education.

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