Hiring human brokers to make phone calls and sell clients on investing is costly. Because discount brokers avoid this cost, they can pass on the advantage to customers in the form of lower commissions. A simple rule in the financial world is that clients pay the brokers' expenses, so the lower the brokers' expenses, the lower the fees and commissions.
Whilst some day traders are tuned in every day from 09:30 to 16:30 EST (for the U.S stock market), many trade for just a 2-3 hour window instead. As a beginner especially this will prevent you making careless mistakes as your brain drops down a couple of gears when your concentration wanes. The hours you’ll want to focus your attention on are as follows:
Pooled Funds – With this type of account your capital goes into a mutual fund along with other traders’ capital. The returns will then be distributed between the investors. Normally, brokers divide these accounts according to risk appetite. For example, those looking for large returns may put their funds into a pooled account with a high risk/reward ratio. Those looking for more consistent profits would probably opt for a safer fund. Minimum investments for pooled accounts are around $2000.
If you are literally just getting started, the services offered by most major stockbrokers (information here) as a part of their trading account services will be a good place to start (and free). Firms such as Trade King, eTrade, Charles Schwab and Ameritrade provide a range of online tools. These will give you a feel for how portfolio management software works without having to pay extra to learn. However, these services typically offer no advice (known as execution only), which means that a separate service will be required for information analysis.
It is also worth trying to keep up to date with the latest thinking related to the area of investment that you are trying to specialise in. Therefore, if you plan to invest in defensive or income stocks, for example, it would be wise to read regularly about value investing and dividends. If you plan to invest in growth stocks, it would be wise to read about technology and the latest trends. Perhaps you could subscribe to one or more trade publications that relate to the sector(s) that you are most interested in.
The biggest obstacle to stock market profits is an inability to control one’s emotions and make logical decisions. In the short-term, the prices of companies reflect the combined emotions of the entire investment community. When a majority of investors are worried about a company, its stock price is likely to decline; when a majority feel positive about the company’s future, its stock price tends to rise.
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In the professional world, one of the key concepts is diversification. Harry Markowitz is a Nobel prize winning economist and one of his major discoveries was that adding new asset classes can dramatically alter the overall risk profile of a portfolio. His finding was that a portfolio that contained very low risk assets would normally benefit from lower volatility and higher returns if a higher risk asset was added. This is due to the likely lack of correlation between high and low risk asset classes.
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Another important thing to consider is the distinction between investing and trading. When people talk about investing they generally mean the purchasing of assets to be held for a long period of time. These types of investments are usually made to reach a retirement goal or to put your money into assets that may grow faster than it would in a standard savings account accruing interest. Trading, on the other hand, most commonly involves the buying and selling of assets in short periods. Trading is generally considered riskier than investing.
A broker is simply a licensed person through whom you can buy and sell these stocks. When you use an online platform, it essentially acts as an online broker. If someone wants to buy any product, he can contact a brokerage service. They would place an order and let him know the market price of the product. If the investor is interested, they would include a commission for themselves and process the order forward. If the user wishes to buy stock, the broker would forward his order to a stock exchange, which would approximately take 3 days to complete including the money exchange between the broker and the investor.