When you buy a share of stock, you are taking ownership in a company.  Collectively, the company is owned by all the shareholders, and each share represents a claim on assets and earnings.  If the company distributes profits to its shareholders, you should receive a proportionate share of the earnings.

Stocks are often categorized by the size of the company, or their market capitalization.  The market capitalization is determined by multiplying the number of outstanding shares by the current share price.  The most common market cap classes are small-cap (valued from $100 million to $1 billion), mid-cap ($1 billion to $10 billion), and large cap ($10 billion to $100 billion).

Stocks are also categorized by their sector, or the type of business the company conducts.  Common sectors include utilities, consumer staples, energy, communications, financial, health care, transportation, and technology.

Stocks are often viewed as being in one of two categories — growth or value.

  • Growth stocks are ones that are associated with high quality, successful companies that are expected to continue growing at a better-than-average rate as compared to the rest of the market.
  • Value stocks are ones that have generally solid fundamentals, but are currently out of favor with the market.  This may be due to the company being relatively new and unproven in the market, or because the company has recently experienced a decline due to the company’s sector being affected negatively.  An example of this would be if the federal government was to levy a new tax on all cell phones, thus negatively affecting all cell phone company stocks.

History has shown that, over time, stocks have provided a better return than bonds, real
estate, and other savings vehicles.  As a result, stocks may be the ideal investment for investors with long-term goals.