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What I learned: Introduction to investing

Valuable information for new investors
Warning. Looooong post. TL:DR in the bottom.
Recently I have been chatting a ton with people who are very new to investing. I don’t claim to have mastered anything, however I have been able to help a lot of people through chats and messages. I’ve given advice and answered questions, and through that I found out a lot of problems new people run into, and decided to compile some of the points I found important. I will start this with the primary compiled information I usually give people when prompted, and then move on to specific questions I found important. A final note is that this is my own opinion and views, so feel free to disagree! I’d love input, even if I feel confident about this advice.
First off I’d recommend searching for posts about starting out & learning the basics, both here and on other investing/trading subreddits. The question has been asked hundreds of times, and you’ll find some amazing answers if you look.
The first thing you need to understand is that finance is all about information. If you want to learn, you need to take in information. All of the information. Books, news, financial statements, press releases and earning calls. Read everything. You will find hundreds of words you don’t understand, so look them up (investopedia have a majority of them). In the beginning you will struggle, however, as time goes by, you will start to understand. If you do not like reading, learn to like it. There is no way around this. If you find yourself investing without reading tons, you are going to lose.
Books to recommend: Anything written by Warren Buffet, A random walk down wall street by Burton Malkiel (how I started), Stress test by Timothy Geithner & The intelligent investor (“thick” but all important).
Pick out your favorite company in the world, and check if they are public. If they are, head over to their investor relations page and read the transcript to their latest earnings call. Read their financial statement (10-Q). If you don’t understand a word, look it up. This is frustrating but required. This method of reading, finding things you do not understand and looking it up (and learning it), will be the absolute unavoidable key to improvement.
There are 3 things you should consider buying as your first investment:
Large cap companies. These are the most risky you should consider buying. These large companies (Apple, Banks, Microsoft, 3M, JnJ, Walmart and the like) are stable, but can for sure give you a great return.
Specific ETFs. An ETF is a basket of stocks, often with some sort of focus. It gives you instant diversification. The specific ETFs are less risky than the single stocks, but hold risk nonetheless. Specific ETFs are baskets of stocks of varying number, letting you buy one security, and get a tiny portion of many companies. This lets you bet on a sector. Say you think that robotics and automation is the future, you can bet on that by investing in $ROBO. Other examples of these are $KWEB, chinese e-com, $FNG, media and tech, $ITA, aerospace and defence and $SOXX, semiconductors. These let you invest in a promising industry, without having the risk of a single company failing.
Lastly, and by far the best choice, is indexing. These are ETFS like $VOO, $VTI, $VWO and $VOOG, and is a way to take on the least amount of risk while still gaining along with the market. You get a wide basket of stocks, focusing on things like the S&P500 ($VOO), which is an index of large (minimum 6.1 billion USD) US companies. Historically , you can expect 7% annual gain here. That’s realistic. Anything offering much more than that without risk has tons of risk without disclosing it, per definition. $VOOG indexes growth companies, focusing less on the giants and more on the up and coming. $VWO focuses on emerging markets, getting places like brazil, russia and all over asia. Indexing is by far the best choice, and will very often gain you a steady growth. The final and great choice is $VTI, which is the global basket which contains the market as a whole.
Remember, if you have to ask simple questions, you should be indexing. Asking questions is very important and a great way to learn, however, you should not make specific investments unless you can make the call 100% yourself with confidence. If you are not sure, you are making a mistake in purchasing.
Lastly, and honestly most importantly, here is a list of things you should ALWAYS be able to answer before buying a security, equity or derivative:
  • Why am I getting this instead of an index? Where is the upside?
  • If the stock goes up, what action do I take? When do I sell? At what price or % gain.
  • If the stock goes down, when do I sell? At what % loss or a price.
  • What risks are there? How does the worst case realistic scenario look like?
  • Why am I making this investment right now? Is there a better time?
  • What exactly am I buying?*
And finally, always, without exception, perform your own Due Diligence. Don’t take advice from other people without understanding the situation yourself. If you have to ask questions, you should not own the equity. Ask about what you do not own. If you have to ask questions about an equity you already own, you have messed up, and should rethink your strategy.
A last but VITAL note is to keep a journal. You should note down every stock purchase you make or decided to not make, noting down the stock, price, date and answers to the 6 questions. This will help massively over time, where you can look back how you felt before and why you made decisions. It helps to keep temporary emotion out, as well as self reflecting which is the most vital learning method of any craft.
Should I buy cheap stocks like $XXX for 4 dollars per share, or expensive stocks like $YYY for 500 dollars per share? IT DOES NOT MATTER. The price of the individual share have no effect whatsoever on the price of the company, how much you will gain or how much risk there is. If you buy 10 A-stocks for 1 dollashare, and if you buy 1 B-stock for 10 dollars/share, both these purchases are EXACTLY the same, in practice. If stock A gains 10% you earn $1.00, if stock B gains 10% you earn $1.00. Then the stocks are valued at $1.1 and $11 respectively. But there is no different. Don’t let the price of the share fool you. The only thing that matters is the market cap, which is the (number of shares*price of 1 share). The market cap is the cost of ALL the shares in the entire company. Some stocks like being expensive to seem exclusive and expensive, but it’s really the company's choice.
What numbers matter the most for the companies so I can compare? Well, that's complicated. DIfferent investors value different things. Some value P/E (price per earnings) and some value margin changes. You have to decide for yourself what matters, which leads to tons and tons of reading. Really, if you don't like reading and analyzing, this isn't something for you. Look at ETFs then. As a rule of thumb, 1 or 2 numbers is not enough to gauge the HUGE and COMPLEX being that is a corporation, so don’t get caught on something like P/E. Compare everything.
Will I be able to profit? Probably. As a new investor, especially a young one, will see both success and failure over time. This is natural. I recommend investing a smaller amount of money. Either you will gain a few % and be excited to learn and continue, or you will lose a few % and you find the ultimate opportunity to analyze what your mistake was.
Is $XXX enough money? Probably. It depends on your broker and fees. Any amount invested into the market is great, and a 10% increase is a 10% increase no matter how much you invest. Depending on your broker though, it might be easier or harder. With high commission, a smaller amount will be eaten by fees. With smaller amount, some expensive stocks (see $BRK.A) might be out of your reach. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem though.
What broker should I use? The best one for you! Hard question. It is country dependent. Look around. You want low commission and any perks you require. To start out, depending on how much money you have to invest, look for low-commission brokers. $0 - $3 is a good range per stock purchase. If you pay more than 2% on your investment, you lose 2% to buy in. This would generally cause stock to not be worth to buy. So do some thinking on your own, to invest you will have to get used to it. Some brokers let you buy partial shares as well, which might be a plus if your capital is low to buy the more expensive stocks.
What should I invest in? There are so many things! Like said above, cheap funds and common stock are good places to start. They are the core of investing, and should be your start. After that, move on and understand bonds. It will be all important during your career in investing. On top of that there are warrants, options, forex, commodities, and all kinds of additional derivatives. Stay clear of those completely until you can confidently make the call to try it out.
My stock increased/decreased in value. Should I sell?
Asking this question means that you weren’t thorough enough when you made the purchase. You should always have it written down on a paper. When do you get out? A valid answer is never. If you believe in the business and they prove themself strong, why ever sell? Some people like selling if they gain 30% or lose 30%. Some do the same on 15% respective 10%. It comes down to how much long term faith you have in the company, when you’ll need the money and what your risk tolerance is. Personally, when I buy a company, I will ignore it until something changes in the core business. I re-analyze each company each earning. It takes a lot of time, but its my method. If I buy something more high risk, I will sell at a set loss-% (20-40% loss) and the same on gain.
How does taxes work and how should I plan for taxes? Taxes are hard and complicated, but it is something you must understand how it works. Capital gains taxes are vital to understand. Sadly, they work differently in each country, so there is no easy answer except for you to look up it yourself. But know it, it is vital.
To end, these are the most important 4 rules of learning how to do all this:
  • Read. Everything.
  • Keep a journal and record the answers to all 6 questions each time you make a purchase, or decided in the end to not.
  • Each time in your reading if you come over a concept, word or idea that you do not understand, get used to looking it up and learning what it is. It’s key.
  • When you succeed, analyze if you got lucky or if your actual reasoning was the correct call. When you fail, analyze what your mistake was and write it down in your journal. Both are vital.
TL:DR: Investing is about reading. You should probably start by reading this now or give up. If you read it all, success! Keep going!
Disclaimer: Don't invest money that you can't afford to lose. You might lose all your funds. Probably don't.
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