Investing For Beginners
Investing for beginners can be a minefield. Not least that you will make mistakes. Learning to embrace mistakes is the difference between becoming a successful investor or repeating the same mistakes regularly and eventually losing a lot of money or giving up. In this article we will cover all the aspects you will need to know so as to minimise the number and size of any mistakes.
Investing is ensuring that you will grow your assets to meet tomorrow’s liabilities. This is related to purchasing power, which is how far the money in your wallet will go. On a periodic basis the cost of raw materials goes up which means the ‘finished goods’ you buy in a shop will also go up. This is due to inflation. Prices inflate over time.
If you do not ‘inflate’ your capital and/or earnings, you will have the same amount of money in your wallet, but it will not go as far: i.e. you will not be able to buy as much as you were use to. In effecting investing protects you from inflation. This should be an important focus when investing for beginners so as to protect your wealth.
In the current century, investing is all about getting richer through growth investing. As a result investors pursue all sorts of get rich schemes such as cryptocurrency trading and buying the large US tech stocks.
Although the returns from these have been incredible, this will not always last. Therefore an investor should be aware of how investing for beginners across different areas can produce both growth (to become wealthy) but also capital preservation.
In short, yes. Traditional investing is achieved through the stock market but this can be risky because of the inherent volatility. Indeed no investment is risk-free, some are just less risky than others. Many investors become over-confident and take too much risk too quickly and lose money quickly.
Investing for beginners is and should be boring. If it is exciting then you are likely investing in the wrong (long-term) stocks. Established companies whose product solves a problem for a client, and which is of good quality will outlast and outperform overnight sensations.
The most important reason should be to preserve your spending power, but there are also many life events which you should be prepared for.
Many in the West have ambitions to get on the property ladder, but with affordability becoming ever increasingly impossible, many may need to invest. At the same time they should be prepared to accept to wait longer to get their first property. In turn by starting to invest now, they will develop habits and maybe even a stock portfolio large enough to become a second source of income.
Personal health problems, losing your job or a loved one needing financial support. All are reasons to be have some rainy day money squirreled away. Let’s face it, all of us at some point in life will face one of the above. Many investments pay dividends, so in times of need you many not necessarily have to spend your capital, just the income.
We appreciate that you would need a large portfolio to just live on the income, but even a small one will provide some dividends which can help in a difficult financial situation.
None of the above are cheap. And all tend to follow in quick succession. Although we hope your career will be incredibly successful to pay for the above from salary, it may be an idea to put a little aside for each.
In this way you can have different ‘pots’ of money which you know will meet each liability (a terrible expression about matters close to heart, but you should never attach emotion to money) as it comes around.
There are many different approaches for investing for beginners. Ideally you are looking to generate growth from your assets. Below will cover the core ones you should be aware of.
Often referred to simply as ‘growth’, it consists of investing in assets whose value will growth. Typically these investments will not pay dividends but will correspond to a thematic investing theme. Such a theme will correspond to a company which is disrupting how things are done, and due to providing an (improved) solution to a problem which profit rapidly and exponentially.
As the cash flows of such a company expand, so will its valuation. New investors should be warned that megatrends can often attract a wall of (uninformed) money. This leads to companies with little or no profits becoming overvalued stocks overnight. The fact that many of these companies will likely lose value and may even go bankrupt should not be ignored.
In dividend investing, your increase in capital comes from accumulating dividends which you re-invest. The capital you initially invest does not grow (or hopefully) decline much in value. A typical investment in this field would be a utility company, where its reliable customer base (we all need water, electricity and gas on a daily basis) means it has stable profits.
This approach will lead to lower increase of capital over the short-term but will likely lead to a similar growth in your assets over the longer-term due to the effect of compounding. It also be noted that the nature of income producing assets are lower risk, which means your return is achieved with lower volatility. For those for whom risk management is primordial, income investing could be your area.
All forms of investment benefit from compounding, but it is so powerful that investors need to know about its effects. Alfred Einstein once called compounding:
The 8th wonder of the world
Although many novice investors will understand that putting money aside will increase their wealth, they may not appreciate that by reinvesting the return they wealth will grow exponentially. If you able to able to add in / save a little extra each month on top of reinvesting your profits then your wealth will likely super charge itself.
Depending on what you aim and tolerance, you will be prepared to take different levels of risk. You may also seek a higher return, but this comes with higher risk.
Below we list typical strategies when investing for beginners. There are many more, as each investor’s requirement will be slightly different, but these are the ‘core ones’.
This is typically selected by investors who are risk adverse and will revolve around bond investing. It can also be selected by investors who do not necessarily seek to grow their capital but to preserve it. This strategy will typically consist of a large portion of government bonds, as these are considered the safest investment out there.
Conservative capital preservation is often seen in accounts managed by Swiss private banks whose clients are already wealthy, and seek to preserve their standard of living without too much risk. As a result you will often see holdings of gold in such portfolios.
It would not be surprising to see as much as 80/90% of a conservative mandate invested in bonds, gold and cash, with the remainder in equities.
This strategy seeks to balance the benefits of a conservative and aggressive (growth) strategy. An investor selecting this strategy will want the security that investing in bonds provide (and the reduced volatility) whilst benefiting from the growth in the value of their assets by investing in equities.
Although you would expect a balanced portfolio to be 50% bonds 50% equities, you will often find that in practice, it is closer to 60% equity, 40% bonds. The reason being that equities generate a higher return over the long term.
This is not a strategy you will see in many presentations but any investment manager managing private money will have it up their sleeve. When investing for beginners this strategy can appeal due balanced nature (capital growth and income) of the return. It typically sits somewhere around the balanced and growth strategies. Although it will be predominately invested in equities, it will have a small allocation to bonds and alternative (income) producing investments.
Typically these will be infrastructure funds, where the capital does not move, but above average yield (typically around 4/5%) is attractive. The rest of the portfolio will be invested in a mixture of high growth equities (think big tech) and less exciting companies whose profits are more consistent and pay an attractive dividend (usually around 2/3%)
This is the absolute riskiest strategy and should only be selected if you can afford to lose all your money. Investments will be selected not for their (lack) of risk but for their potential for high returns. As a result some of (or many) of your investments will likely lose a substantial amount of their value, and you may lose your entire investment.
Typically this strategy works by investing in 30/40 stocks with the hope that a couple become winners. Their growth is so huge that they not only make up for any losses from your losers but provide a large capital return.
Although a mainstream investment strategy, there is no uniform approach to its implementation. This may not appeal when investing for beginners as many are in search of growth. Anyone following the conservative strategy will be invested in bonds, all of which yield a coupon (the bond vocabulary for ‘dividend’). As a result it can be compared to this strategy.
In its purest form though, income investing will mean investing any income producing investment whatever the risk. For example this will mean investing in high yield bonds, which pay an above average yield (6-8%) but where the bonds are issued by companies which are very risky and likely to go bankrupt. Some high dividend paying equities will often also appear. Typical names would be Royal Dutch Shell, BP and HSBC.
There are 3 rules when it comes to investing for beginners that should be followed. These rules are designed to protect you from losing your money.
This might sound obvious, but with so many people jumping into cryptocurrencies, it does not feel like many do. We struggle to understand how anyone can truly understand cryptocurrencies. If you understand the investment and how it earns it return, you will spot red flags before they happen. Remember you could lose everything in a Ponzi scheme.
When you invest in a company, maybe one you use every day and appreciate, you will gain an understanding whether it is a good investment. Anyone who owned airlines before the virus would of realised quickly how bad for business the lockdowns were going to be. Equally anyone who owned Reckitt Benckiser (which sells cleaning products) will have understood how their profits would likely increase during this same period. If you do not understand the business you are investing in, do not buy it.
Diversification is arguably the most important rule of investing. You will hear various theories about it, but two in particular. The first that you should spread your stock investments over a minimum of 20 holdings. This is considered optimum. Of course you can hold more than 20, but there comes a point where holding (for example 100) is too much and you cannot possibly manage as many.
The second theory is that you should hold a concentrated portfolio of only 10 holdings but you should know them inside out. This is the model that Warren Buffet follows. The idea is that by knowing your investments so well you can predict a problem in one and sell out before this causes a loss.
In truth neither theory is right or wrong. Many DYI investors do not have the time to run a concentrated portfolio, nor will they truly understand every holding in a 30-40 stock portfolio. In general terms it would be best when investing for beginners to hold a larger diversified portfolio when they start off. As their knowledge increases, they can focus their portfolio in ideas their research suggests will be winners.
This is the hardest part for any investor and usually incredibly difficult to learn when investing for beginners as it is tied into emotions. Let us give you an example: you buy a hot stock which promptly appreciates 40%. Do you sell it or ‘let your winner run’? A disciplined investor would reduce there holding by selling half.
Who knows what the future may hold. Do not forget that investing is a long-term game. Banking a profit which can be re-used elsewhere is no bad thing. Indeed investing with a margin of safety is another area that Warren Buffet swears by. This disciplined approach also means investing in both undervalued stocks and overvalued stocks.
The last line may sound contradictory, but there will be times when the market is in a sell off where the last thing on your mind will be to buy. This is actually the best time to buy. Equally when there is a market rally you should be considering to reduce the investments which have shot up in value. Discipline is something you will develop, it is rare in investing that you are born with it.
It goes without saying that you are the one who is in control. This may sound a little peculiar when listed investments in particular are so volatile, but learning to remain focused is important. It is easy to get distracted by the financial media.
As you are investing for beginners it means taking responsibility for your investments and doing the work. Have a process and even a trading plan. Do not automatically trust what so called experts have to say. As a rule, whenever an investment bank recommends something, do the opposite. (You can be sure they already have).
You will be inundated with recommendations of amazing investments. Stop. If it is to good to be true, it probably is. Do not blame someone else if you are a victim of fraud. Ask yourself did you do enough research or choose to ignore the signs? You are the gatekeeper to your investments, take it seriously.
Investing require cold calculation of the profitability of a company. Above all, how much cash does it make. It is easy to get drawn into fly-by-night ideas. Are you able to resist group-think and develop your own path?
Trading psychology, i.e. taking a decision because the investment case is strong, rather than your ‘feeling’ it is recognised as important today. Learning to handle a bad losing trade and analysing what pushed you to buy it will help you long-term. Do you know what trading biases you have?
As most investors will make their first investment in the stock market, we will cover the different asset classes. This can be achieved with a small amount of money. We will also cover some alternative non-listed investments,
When investing for beginners, stocks & shares are usually novice investors first port of call. This is due to investors identifying companies they know. When worldwide markets crashed in March 2020, a flood of retail investors bought Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tesla stock.
Examples of these include the aforementioned names. These are companies whose profits are so large, than a substantial reduction in profits will not impair the ‘going concern’ of the company. They will tend to be dominant in their industry are often oligopoly examples.
Small companies are attractive to investors because they grow faster due to their smaller size. They often only have a small share of the market their operate in, which makes growth (increased earnings) easier to achieve. One key attraction is they often get taken over at a 30/40% premium to their share price. This can bump up your returns markedly!
There are increased risks though. They are often reliant on one product or market for their success. This leaves them with little room for manoeuvre if a competitor takes away their advantage. Their shares are also often less liquid which can make them difficult to sell in a hurry.
Bonds are a form of “I owe you”. They are issued at “par” usually at a value of £100. They are considered safer as in the event of a liquidation, investors who hold bonds are reimbursed before equity (common stock) holders.
Their value does not normally change much, so the return you get is through the “coupon” their pay e.g. a form of dividend. Although seen as safer, if a companies prospects change in a substantially negative manner, their bond price can be as volatile as equities.
Government debt is considered the safests of investments, specifically US and German 10 year bonds. These are called Treasuries and Bunds respectively. This is because these countries are considered the strongest, and therefore will always honour their debt.
In the case of the US economy, it is due to its size. In the case of German debt, although vastly smaller, it is due to the German financial prudence.
Investment grade debt are bonds issued by companies which are considered very strong. Typically these are worldwide companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, BMW and Johnson & Johnson.
Interestingly Johnson & Johnson have a triple AAA credit rating which is normally only reserved for governments. As a result of being considered slightly riskier, investment grade bonds pay a higher coupon than government debt.
Junk bonds are also known as high yield bonds which is a misleading term from a risk perspective. The higher the risk, the higher the return. High yield bonds yield higher than normal coupons because they are so risky.
They are called junk bonds, because the companies who issue them are considered bad ‘junk’ companies. Companies who issue high yield Junk bonds often default on them so investors lose their money. Investors should limit their exposure to junk bonds to a small portion of their portfolio.
Funds, known as mutual funds in America, are a portfolio of stocks held in a structure which is run by a portfolio manager. You are in effect placing your investment in the hands of one (or maybe) a few people. These are attractive to investors, as they give you a diversified exposure to many stocks.
Funds can give you an exposure to general high level themes, such as the US or UK stock markets. They can also give you specific exposure to trends such as technology, renewable energy or responsible investing. The value of the investment fund is the value of its underlying holdings.
Passive investment have recently become a larger part of investors portfolios than the traditional mutual fund. The attraction is the low-cost way you gain exposure to stock markets. ETFs tracking mainstream stock markets are often the core holding in any investors’ portfolio.
This is because of the inability of the majority of mutual fund portfolio managers to outperform these stock markets. The explosion of ETFs in the past 10 years has created new risks though. Many investors buy an EFT because of a trend it tracks without checking that the underlying investments are viable.
The internet has made investing a few clicks away for even the most novice investor. As a result, more and more investment opportunities have arisen. Some of them can be described as passions, where the underlying assets provides pleasure to its owner. Often this asset was bought for its beauty and richness and then over time becomes valuable. This has spawned a new asset class called ‘alternative assets’.
This asset class has been around for centuries. Many richer investors knowingly buy art as a form of store of value. They are not necessarily trying to profit from it. Paintings, sculptures and furniture are examples of art which be sold for millions in art investing.
Investing for beginners in an art has some disadvantages such as storing and protecting the art. Also at times the value of art if debatable. Art has recently become digital, through non-fungible tokens. Depending on your view point, may be another asset bubble ready to burst.
Cars have always held a fascination for people. Cars produced decades ago are now rare. Rarity increases the value of an asset. They have the benefit that they can be driven and when attending rallies can be a source of social joy. For many classic car owners, they are primarily a source of love. Anyone seeking to invest in this space should be prepared for the expensive costs of maintaining what is a passion, which many become an investment.
Coin collecting should be seen as passion first and an investment second. Although some individual coins are worth a lot of money, they are rare and usual already held by collectors. Your best hope is to build a collection of coins that can be sold as such later. This will take time and patience.
The time you will take researching coins and building your collection will not necessarily be worth the return you get if and when you sell your collection. As a result the final monetary return may not be worth the time you put into it.
Like many alternative investments, investing in wine has become increasingly talked about and fashionable. This creates competition and also increases prices. As with many of these passions, the investment return side is subjective and comes from a collection. You should start by developing your palate and then being able to understand what bottle shape represents which wine. These basics may not seem important but will develop your knowledge in understanding wine investing.
Ideally you are seeking to find a year which is better than average but whose brand is less well known. In time, others will talk this year up, and the discount you bought will turn into a premium when you sell it.
Although you may discover a bottle from a ‘coin perdu’ whose value is exponential, your return will take time to accrue. Having said that, the stress of investing can be quickly reduced with a good glass of red!
Stamp collecting is an art with a technical requirement. How a stamp is kept, how it was printed, whether it was done correctly will all influence the price. There are also contradictions! Some stamps can be worth more because of an error when they were made or because they were temporary.
Also stamps which were printed, then amended later can have value. As a result, anyone entering this world, should be prepared to educated themselves properly first. As with alternative investing, it is unlikely you will make a quick buck. You will need to build a collection over time to see genuine value.
Where you hold your investments will be important for a number of reasons. These will relate to cost, security and usability. As many people choose to hold their listed investment electronically, this means the use of a platform.
All platforms will charge a cost, but over time these costs can compound and cost you a lot of money. You should therefore calculate how much ALL of them will be. Also different platforms have different pricing structures depending what kind of investor you are. Identifying which one you are, means you can choose the right platform for you cost wise.
Although difficult to get a true scale of the platform’s strength in protecting your data, there are clues. If the platform has suffered outages at volatile times, it means its IT systems are not robust enough. This would suggest lack of investment, which in turn may mean a weakness… Hacker’s use a software’s weakness to access it.
How easy is it to navigate around the platform. Do pages load seamlessly? Is it easy to place an order. If pages take time to load during periods of relative calm, they are unlikely to load quickly during periods of increased volatility. This also applies to customer service.
If answers take 1/2 normally, then you can expect this to lengthen out to 10 days in busier periods. This is not so bad, but if a platform is taking 10 days normally, we suggest you may as well give up during heightened volatility for an answer!
Many of today’s new younger investors will take their first steps into investment through the use of an app or platform. An app is accessed through your phone and usually only available through that means. A platform is through a website and usually designed to be used from a website.
In truth, many which started as platforms have not got apps and vice versa, but when you look carefully you can notice which one focuses more on their app versus their platform.
In general, platforms have been around for longer, so the company has more robust systems and can handle volatile markets (and the increased trading by clients) better. Robinhood which became the fashionable app to use suffered when Reddit day trading around ‘meme’ stocks such as GameStop caused it to suspend trading in the shares.
On the other hand, in the UK, the platform Hargreaves Lansdown had less problems comparatively in executing orders than its rivals. Indeed, its staff seem far more knowledgeable than average.
Another advantage with platforms is because they have been around for longer, they will have more investments to chose from compared to apps. This many not be a priority for novice investors but especially for UK investors, being able to invest in foreign stocks may be more attractive due to the FTSE100 companies not being at the forefront of innovation.
Investing in companies like Amazon, Google and other major tech names can be difficult when their individual share prices run into the thousands of $$$. Factional shares allow you to buy a small faction of a shares, meaning you can enjoy the performance of these companies whilst only investing a small amount.
Another attraction of faction shares is that you can gain exposure to stocks in far away markets. These are traditionally difficult and expensive to buy through a platform, but can be bought free as a factional share.
Price discovery is rarely talked about in novice investor publications but over time becomes increasingly important. This is due to the increased cost one can pay if you are not careful. Some platforms will charge a different bid and offer price than others depending on where they source their shares from.
There you should pay attention to the bid offer spread. The bid is what you will sell your shares at, the offer is what you will pay. So a share listed at for example £1.5 will typically have a bid of £1.45 and an offer of £1.55. The £1.5 is actually the median between the two but is not the price you will pay.
Some firms will have a slightly different bid – offer spread, for example £1.47 to £1.57. Over time paying the extra £0.02 will add up! Some platforms will tell you how much they have saved you. It is worth keeping an eye on that and comparing with other platforms where you may hold accounts. This ensures you are getting the best deal.
Although this may not apply for smaller investors, this may be of interest for novice investors who plan to invest in and hold assets in different currencies. If you plan on directly investing in Euro, Dollar and Sterling listed equities you could consider holding these in with different platforms or apps.
Therefore if one has a problem, not all your assets are in one place. Indeed some brokers, who provide the platforms and apps are often better suited to one area of the market than another. For example some platforms allow you to hold and send in money in a different currency than their home currency.
This means you avoid costly Forex charges every time you are paying a dividend in a foreign currency. Also by being able to hold said dividend in its currency you can add it to your cash pile so as to re-invest it and therefore benefiting from compounding.
As your investment account grows, you will likely find the government showing some interest in your investments! As a result it is useful to use any free (tax) lunch you are given. A tax wrapper is a financial industry term to describe wrapping your assets in a tax free cloak.
The government will rarely give you a break from taxes on assets you own. Therefore when they offer tax breaks on paying into your pension or tax free saving accounts, it is worth taking these up.
For investors who are based in the UK and Canada, you will have options such as the Individual Saving Account (ISA) or the Tax Free Saving Account (TFSA) respectively. Any investment within these accounts is exempt from any income or capital gain tax.
Before risking your money in the stock market you should think long and hard about your circumstances. If you fail to correspond to the majority of the below, investing may not be such a good idea. You have:
Before considering the exciting part, namely which investment to buy you should have a think about the following.
Risk management is one of the unsexy parts of investing for beginners, yet it should be a priority. You cannot hope to grow your capital if you lose a large part of it chasing stocks which are highly speculative.
Novice investors will first look at an investment wondering how much they could make. Experienced investors will look at an investment wondering how much they could lose. This different mindset explains the relation between risk and return.
The higher the risk, the higher the return you should get for taking that risk. If are compensated adequately, you are using your capital inefficiently, i.e. taking a good level of risk in relation to the return you may get. There are different forms of risks which we will cover below.
Volatility is the most important facet of working out risk. It is also tied to emotion. If trading fear sets in, volatility increases. In finance, volatility is a deviation from what is seen as the normal price. This means the price can deviate markedly from the range it has been trading at recently. Theoretically, safer assets such as government bonds and within the (higher risk) equities larger companies, will be less volatile than smaller companies due to their perceived strength. Volatility is used to work out the Beta and Sharpe ratio of a stock. Both these ratios are designed to give the investor an understanding of the risk they are taking in relation to the stock market and the amount of they are taking respectively.
Fraud is becoming an increasingly big problem for investors, especially the different types of it. In the list below we describe actual situations which have happened.
This was a Ponzi scheme run by Bernie Madoff where it is believed $64.8bn was defrauded by investors. The fraud took place over a couple of decades and despite suspicions and regulators failing to heed numerous warnings, it was only identified when Madoff gave himself up.
NMC health was a constituent of the FTSE100, as a result this meant it faced stringent reporting requirements designed to stop any potential fraud. Unfortunately the company collapsed into administration after creative accounting was discovered.
Although this is not outright fraud, hedge fund managers often seek to highlight fraud or create the possibility in investors minds that fraud is occurring within a company. As a result shares sell off violently, with minus 30/40/50% not uncommon in this scenario.
Investors who have an investment caught up in a short attack often have little option but to sell out and save what little of their original capital is left.
Fractional shares should be your first port of call. Brokers such as eToro allow you to invest as little as $50 per share. This means that with $1,000 you can buy 20 shares. 20 is the number of shares which is considered to be the minimum number of shares to hold a diversified portfolio.
Warren buffet once bet against a group of hedge funds that they could not outperform a S&P500 tracker. They did not. The S&P500 groups together some of America’s largest companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon etc. As a result it should be your first investment. It also is cheap and outperforms many of the fund managers who charge you for investing your money.
Achieving a good level of diversification is possible if you follow the guidelines we list below:
Investing for beginners takes time to learn. Start small and read as much as you can. Most of it will mean nothing but over time you will learn to sort what is worth focusing on and what is not. This will lead you to develop your own risk tolerance and investment strategy. With patience there is nothing stopping you from running your own money!