Investing in stocks

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Shares of common stock play a role in just about every investment portfolio. This article is for those who'd like to know more about where their savings might be invested. Here are the basics:
  • Stock (sometimes called equity) represents ownership of a company, divided among the company's shareholders
  • While any company can issue stock, only companies that meet legal requirements can issue shares for trading on U.S. stock exchanges where they can be bought and sold by any member of the public
  • The market value of publicly traded stock can change at any time. When the value increases, the shareholder sees a capital gain, which can become part of the investor's return.
  • Public companies generally seek to earn a profit. Profit may be distributed to shareholders as a dividend, which can become another part of the shareholder's investment return.

Why stocks? A closer look at performance potential

Stocks carry higher investment risks than bonds or money market investments, but historically, they also have realized higher rates of return over longer holding periods (see chart). While past performance doesn't guarantee future results, the higher return potential of stocks can make them appropriate investments for long-term investors seeking to build the value of their portfolios or to stay ahead of inflation. Both of these objectives are critical to investors with specific long-term goals in mind, such as saving for retirement.
Average Annual Rates of Return for Four Types of Stock Compared with Bonds and Cash (1990-2019)Footnote 1
This bar chart shows the average annual rates of return for four types of stock compared with bonds and cash from 1990 to 2019 see footnote 1. Over an average 12 month performance, large-cap stocks realized an annualized total return of 11.21%; mid-cap stocks realized an annualized total return of 13.15%; small-cap stocks realized an annualized total return of 12.35%; foreign stocks realized an annualized total return of 6.61%; bonds realized an annualized total return of 6.12%; and cash realized an annualized total return of 3.05%.

Managing the risks of investing in stocks

Stock investors must weigh the potential risk of loss of principal against the risk of not meeting their investment goals or of losing purchasing power to inflation. They can also manage risk by:
  • Diversifying among stocks of many different companies. Investing in just one or two stocks is generally much more risky than buying stocks of 15 or 20 companies. By holding stocks of different companies in multiple industries, you reduce your exposure to a substantial loss due to a price decline in just one stock. Remember, diversification does not ensure a profit or eliminate risk during market declines.
  • Allocating assets appropriately. Asset allocation refers to how you spread your portfolio among different types of investments—such as stocks, bonds, and money market investments. An aggressive investor with a long-term horizon might choose to keep a large fraction of his or her portfolio in stocks, while an investor seeking less risk could have a smaller fraction. The balance in either case could be in bonds and money market funds. This adds yet another level of diversification to the portfolio and can further reduce investment risk. Your financial advisor can help you select an asset allocation that is appropriate for your goals, and time frame.
  • Staying invested through periods of market turbulence can also help reduce risk of loss as the variability of returns tends to decrease over time.

The mechanics of investing in stocks

Individuals can buy stocks directly through a full-service or discount brokerage. They can also gain investment exposure to stocks through equity mutual funds and other pooled investment products. Some employers offer their employees the opportunity to buy company stock through an employee stock ownership program or a retirement plan.
Because of their long-term potential, stocks have a place in nearly every portfolio. Speak with your financial advisor about how you can use equity investing to help meet your financial goals.

Equity securities are subject to stock market fluctuations that occur in response to economic and business developments.

Investing in fixed-income securities may involve certain risks, including the credit quality of individual issuers, possible prepayments, market or economic developments and yields and share price fluctuations due to changes in interest rates. When interest rates go up, bond prices typically drop, and vice versa.

Footnote 1 Source: ChartSource®, DST Retirement Solutions, LLC, an SS&C company. For the 30-year period ended December 31, 2019. Large-cap stocks are represented by the S&P 500 index. Midcap stocks consist of the CRSP 3rd-5th deciles and the S&P 400 index. Small-cap stocks consist of the CRSP 6th-10th deciles and the S&P 600 index. Bonds are represented by the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index. Cash consists of 3-month Treasury bills and the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Treasury Bill 1-3 Month index. Foreign developed stocks are represented by the MSCI EAFE index. Average is calculated from the sum of all potential 12-month periods from the first business day of each month and ending on or before the last business day. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Index performance does not reflect the effects of investing costs and taxes. Actual results would vary from benchmarks and would likely have been lower. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. (CS000168)

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The material was authored by a third party, DST Retirement Solutions, LLC, an SS&C company ("SS&C"), not affiliated with Merrill or any of its affiliates and is for information and educational purposes only. The opinions and views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Merrill or any of its affiliates. Any assumptions, opinions and estimates are as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The information contained in this material does not constitute advice on the tax consequences of making any particular investment decision. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security, financial instrument, or strategy. Before acting on any recommendation in this material, you should consider whether it is in your best interest based on your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice.

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Past performance does not ensure a profit or protect against loss.

This article is not intended to provide personal investment advice and it does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation and the particular needs of any specific person. Investors should seek financial advice regarding the appropriateness of investing in financial instruments and implementing investment strategies discussed or recommended in this report and should understand that statements regarding future prospects may not be realized.

Banking products are provided by Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks. Members FDIC and wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation.
Asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.