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A share is a stake in a company

When you buy a share you, quite literally, buy a stake in a business. No matter how huge the company, owning one share makes you one of the owners of that company.

Shares are often called ‘equity’ as they represent the value of a company divided into equal parts. In theory, if a company was wound up and all its interests and property were sold off then the shareholders would all get a share of the outcome, based on how many shares they hold.

Shareholders are also entitled to a share of the company profits, which is usually paid out through a dividend. This is one of the most important benefits of owning a share – in the long term, dividend payments could make a big difference to your return.

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Share prices are set by buyers and sellers

That said, share price movements are also an important part of investing. Buying a share when the price is low and selling when the price is high is one of the main ways that investors hope to make money. For this reason, it is very important to understand what a share price represents.

The share price you see quoted is the last price that an investor paid for a share. This is a very important point: a share price is not like a price in a shop. It’s simply the value that one investor puts on a company’s share at any one time. You can sell a share for as little as you want or as much as anyone will pay.

Share prices are driven by basic supply and demand. If demand for a particular stock outweighs supply, its price will go up; if investors fall out of love with a stock, then the opposite will happen.

Demand for a share can rise when investors think that a company’s fortunes are improving. Some reasons for this could include:

  • The company has launched a new product
  • The company might be subject to a takeover bid
  • Changes in the economic backdrop favour its product or service

Similarly, bad news can see demand for shares fall, for example if a company issues a profit warning or suffers an unsuccessful product launch.

Investing in shares is a long-term project

Prices can also be driven by sentiment, particularly in the short term. Experienced investors sometimes use the term ‘animal spirits’ to describe this. This can cause share prices to rise and fall sharply in short periods – the ‘animal spirits’ take over and investors sometimes overreact to good or bad news.

This is why it is important to see investing as a long-term commitment. Over the long term, the quality of a company’s business should be the main contributor to share price movements. Short-term unpredictably can be unnerving, but successful investors hold their nerve if they believe the long-term rationale for an investment holds.

It’s important to be aware of the risks

If you are thinking about investing in shares, then it’s important to understand some of the risks that come with it.

Share prices can go up and down unpredictably

Investors call this ‘volatility’. Share prices are more volatile than other types of investment, such as bonds and cash. At any one time it can be hard to predict how much your investments might be worth in the future.

There is no guarantee that a company will be successful

While many companies are successful, many fail even if they look good on paper and investors lose out. This can also afflict specific sectors – for example, where all investors suddenly lose faith in oil companies or banks – or across the entire share market. Sometimes this can be a matter of holding your nerve and waiting until markets recover. At other times investors need to accept the loss and move on before they lose even more.

You can’t completely avoid these types of risk, but many investors spread their money across lots of shares in a diversified portfolio, only risking a small amount of their savings on any single company.

One of the more efficient ways of doing this is by investing in an equity fund. When you invest in a fund you pool your money with other investors and a professional fund manager then invests this collective sum into a wide variety of shares.

Find out more about investing in a fund

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    This marketing communication does not constitute on the part of AXA Investment Managers a solicitation or investment, legal or tax advice. This material does not contain sufficient information to support an investment decision.

    Issued in the UK by AXA Investment Managers UK Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. Registered in England and Wales No: 01431068. Registered Office: 22 Bishopsgate London EC2N 4BQ

    In other jurisdictions, this document is issued by AXA Investment Managers SA’s affiliates in those countries.

    Risk Warning

    The value of investments, and the income from them, can fall as well as rise and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.