What Is a Stock?


A stock is a security representing a share of ownership in a company. Companies issue stocks to raise money for their businesses, and investors buy them hoping the company will grow and generate more value for their investment. A stock’s value is determined by a variety of factors, including the company’s financial health and performance, market conditions, and investor demand. Buying and selling shares is done through an exchange, such as the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, which facilitates the sale and purchase of stocks. Investors can earn dividends when companies distribute their earnings, and some shareholders get to vote on important issues at shareholder meetings.

Stocks can be a good long-term investment, as long as they’re purchased at reasonable prices. Over time, the stock market has averaged about 10 percent annual returns and provided a solid return for investors. But the market can be volatile, and it’s crucial to diversify your investments across a variety of companies and industries.

The most common type of stock is a common stock, which gives investors proportional ownership of the company and voting rights, giving them a voice in things like management elections and structural business changes. In addition, common stocks are generally liquid and trade regularly in a public market, which means that you can sell your shares at any time.

Preferred stocks aren’t as liquid, but they do have a couple of advantages. For one, preferred shareholders receive dividends before common stockholders. Also, preferred stockholders are paid first if the company goes out of business and needs to liquidate assets to pay back investors. Most individuals own common stock.

A stock’s worth is based on its fair value, which is the intrinsic value that investors can expect to see from the company’s business fundamentals. However, the share’s market price is influenced by demand and supply, and may not always reflect that valuation. Generally, the more demand there is for a share, the higher the stock price will be.

When a share’s price rises from when you bought it, this is called capital appreciation. It’s similar to the way the value of a home or any other asset can increase over time. Investors are rewarded for their patience with higher dividends and capital gains when they sell their shares, but prudent investors avoid highly concentrated positions and build diversified portfolios.

If you sell your stocks at a profit, you’ll likely have to pay taxes on that gain depending on how long you held the shares and when you sold them. If you hold the shares for less than a year, it’s considered short-term capital gains, and you’ll owe taxes on them at your regular income tax rate. If you hold the shares for more than a year, it’s considered long-term capital gains, and you’ll qualify for a lower tax rate on your profits. You’ll still have to report any dividends you receive as income, though.