The ups and downs of the stock market can be exhilarating—or terrifying, depending on who you are. But stock investing can also be an important opportunity for young people to build wealth over time.
If someone is a beginner investor, one of the first steps they can take is to learn about the different types of stocks. Stocks can be considered micro-, mid-, or mega-sized companies, foreign corporations listed in the U.S., as well as value vs. growth stocks.
Equipped with an understanding of different stock types, an investor can start building a diversified portfolio. Though all stocks can experience volatility and potentially lose value, holding a mix of different types of shares can mitigate the risk of being too heavily invested in any one category.
Here’s a round-up of the most common stock classifications.
An Overview of Stocks
A stock represents a percentage of ownership in a publicly traded company. So essentially, investors can own small pieces or “shares” of companies.
Earning money via the stock market can happen in two ways. First, the value of the stock can increase over time, something known as capital appreciation.
The second is through dividend payments. Here’s how dividends work: companies make cash payouts periodically to all owners of that company’s stock. Some people make investments based on a company’s ability to pay consistent dividends, or “income.” Utility and telephone companies often fit into this bucket.
When you own a stock, you hold equity in that company. That’s why stocks are sometimes referred to as equities. Each individual share represents an equal proportion of ownership. Owners of stocks are often referred to as stockholders or shareholders.
Here are some of the ways different stocks are categorized:
Common stock represents shares of ownership in a corporation. When an investor receives common shares, they are typically also granted voting rights to the company and can participate in shareholder voting processes—usually one vote for each share.
Preferred stocks make regular dividend payments, but holders of preferred shares often have zero or limited voting rights. If a company becomes financially insolvent however, preferred stockholders have a claim on assets before common shareholders do.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) group multiple securities into a single share. For instance, a stock ETF will hold numerous companies, while a bond ETF can hold many individual bonds, whether it’s a collection of Treasurys or high-yield debt. ETFs are popular because of the cheap, instant diversification they offer.
Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) is the process of a private company listing and debuting on a public stock exchange. Investors can buy IPO shares on their first day of trading.
Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are shell companies that go public on the stock exchange, and then try to find a private operating business to purchase.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are companies that own and operate real estate, usually focusing on one type of property, such as warehouses, hotels or office buildings. There are pros & cons to investing in REITs, but one pro is that they tend to pay consistent dividends.
The sizes of stocks are classified by the market capitalization of the company’s publicly traded stock. Market cap is calculated by multiplying the stock price by the total number of outstanding shares.
Generally speaking, larger companies tend to be older, more established, and have greater international exposure–so a higher percentage of a large-cap company’s revenue comes from overseas. Meanwhile, smaller-cap stocks tend to be newer, less established and more domestically oriented. Smaller-cap companies can be riskier but also offer more growth potential.
While the market-caps that determine which companies are small or large can shift, here’s a breakdown that gives some rough parameters.
Micro-Cap: $50 million to $300 million
Small-Cap: $300 million to $2 billion
Mid-Cap: $2 billion to $10 billion
Large-Cap: $10 billion or higher
Mega-Cap: $200 billion or higher
Stock Style Categories
Stocks are also sometimes classified by styles of investing. These categories often have to do with how that company makes money and how the stock is valued.
Value stocks are stocks that are considered to be trading below their actual worth. Investors hope that by buying companies that are priced below their ‘true’ value, they can profit as the gap narrows over time.
Growth stocks are companies that are growing at a fast pace or those that are expected to continue growing at a faster rate than other stocks or competitors. Investors can encounter higher valuations in growth investing.
Stocks by Sector
Additionally, stocks are often grouped by the industry that that company works within. According to the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS), there are 11 recognized sectors, with 24 industries within those sectors:
Energy: Energy equipment and services, oil, gas, and consumable fuels
Materials: Chemicals, construction materials, metals and mining, paper and forest products
Industrials: Aerospace and defense, building products, machinery, construction and engineering
Consumer Discretionary: Automobiles, apparel, retail, hotels, restaurants, leisure
Consumer Staples: Food, beverage, tobacco, household items and personal products
Health Care: Health care equipment and services, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, life sciences
Financials: Banks, insurance, consumer finance, capital markets, diversified financial services
Information Technology: Software and services, technology hardware and equipment, semiconductors
Communication Services: Telecommunication services, media and entertainment
Utilities: Gas, water, electric, independent power and renewable electricity producers
Real Estate: Real estate management and development, equity real estate investment trusts
Stocks by Country
Different overseas stocks can be classified by the country or region in which they’re headquartered, even if the company’s operations are global. Individuals looking to invest in international stocks have found that they can do so easily with ETFs, which hold numerous foreign companies within a single share.
Regions that are commonly used in the world of stock investing are:
EAFE is an acronym which stands for Europe, Australasia, and the Far East. Investors may see this used when making investment choices, as the MSCI EAFE is a common index used for international stock funds. These countries are all ‘developed’ nations, which means they have established financial markets, stable political climates, and mature economies.
Emerging-market stocks, which stocks with companies based out of countries whose economies are described as developing. Brazil, Russia, Mexico, China, and India are just a few emerging markets. Emerging markets may be riskier to invest in but may pose an opportunity for high rates of growth.
The stock market can be volatile and prone to dramatic declines, but in order to shield themselves from the risks, investors often create diversified portfolios.
Diversification is easier to do if an investor understands the different types of stocks that exist in the U.S. equity market. From mega-cap stocks to ETFs to emerging-market companies, there are a myriad of investing opportunities in the equity market.
On the SoFi Active Investing platform, investors can trade stocks online, ETFs and fractional shares–slices of whole stocks. With zero commissions, investors are easily able to access the stock market, whether they’re just getting started or building out a whole portfolio. For those that want a little more help, SoFi also offers a service called Automated Investing.
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