Stock Trading Guide> Part I: Introduction

Thursday, December 20, 2007 | Labels: | |

A “stock” is a share in the ownership of a company. Its a type of security that signifies ownership in a corporation and represents a claim on part of the corporation's assets and earnings.

So what does ownership of a company give you?

Holding a company's stock means that you are one of the many owners (shareholders) of a company and, as such, you have a claim to everything the company owns.

This means that technically you own a tiny little piece of all the furniture, every trademark, and every contract of the company. As an owner, you are entitled to your share of the company's earnings as well.

These earnings will be given to you. These earnings are called “dividends” and are given to the shareholders from time to time.

A stock is represented by a "stock certificate". This is a piece of paper that is proof of your ownership. However, now-a-days you could also have a “demat” account. This means that there will be no “stock certificates”. Everything will be done though the computer electronically. Selling and buying stocks can be done just by a few clicks.

Being a shareholder of a public company does not mean you have a say in the day-to-day running of the business. Instead, “one vote per share” to elect the board of directors of the company at annual meetings is all you can do. For instance, being a Microsoft shareholder doesn't mean you can call up Bill Gates and tell him how you think the company should be run.

The management of the company is supposed to increase the value of the firm for shareholders. If this doesn't happen, the shareholders can vote to have the management removed. In reality, individual investors like you and I don't own enough shares to have a material influence on the company. It's really the big boys like large institutional investors and billionaire entrepreneurs who make the decisions.

For ordinary shareholders, not being able to manage the company isn't such a big deal. After all, the idea is that you don't want to have to work to make money, right? The importance of being a shareholder is that you are entitled to a portion of the company’s profits and have a claim on assets.

Profits are sometimes paid out in the form of dividends as mentioned earlier. The more shares you own, the larger the portion of the profits you get. Your claim on assets is only relevant if a company goes bankrupt. In case of liquidation, you'll receive what's left after all the creditors have been paid.

Another extremely important feature of stock is "limited liability", which means that, as an owner of a stock, you are "not personally liable" if the company is not able to pay its debts.

In other legal structures such as partnerships, if the partnership firm goes bankrupt the creditors can come after the partners “personally” and sell off their house, car, furniture, etc.
Owning stock means that, no matter what happens to the company, the maximum value you can lose is the value of your stocks. Even if a company of which you are a shareholder goes bankrupt, you can never lose your personal assets.
Why would the founders share the profits with thousands of people when they could keep profits to themselves? This is the obvious question that comes up next. This what the next section is all about!

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