If you look up your favorite stock’s price on TMX and continually refresh the page, you’ll probably notice that the price fluctuates moment to moment and wonder why. Well, what it comes down to are buyers and sellers, the former looking for the cheapest price per share possible, the latter looking for the most expensive, according to their views on what the business underlying the stock is worth.
What happens is that a random buyer’s price coincides with a random seller’s price, triggering a transaction. They happen to hold similar views on the value of the underlying business so they’re able to do business with each other. What one investor is willing to pay is what the other is willing to receive. Now, if their agreed-upon price is a few cents higher than what the stock last traded at, you may notice a jump in price when you refresh the page, especially if a considerable number of shares changes hands. The same goes if the agreed-upon price is lower, possibly leading to a cheaper price on the next refresh.
Moment to moment stock price fluctuations also reflect the decisions of thousands of buyers and sellers acting on their financial needs. Having a view on a what a company is worth and how much you should pay for its stock will help you make a more informed investment, but if you need the money to pay hospital bills, you’re going to sell no matter what. Same goes for car repairs, a house extension because more babies are coming, or taking a trip somewhere to decompress if you really need to chill.
Longer term, though, and we’re talking decades, stocks go up —i.e. have a positive expected return on your money—because they reflect the value successful businesses create for their customers. A profitable track record is generally reflected in a higher stock price, and vice versa.
One nice thing here is that, while businesses are founded and folded every week, economies as a whole tend to grow over time, meaning the successful businesses outweigh the losers overall. So if you invest in a portfolio of stocks meant to represent every economy across the globe—at least those with public stock markets—you can partake in their growth and make yourself some money.
You can achieve this by investing in a diversified portfolio of index funds that own every publicly available stock in the world, or at the very least a representative sample. Have a look at my short guide to investing for young Canadians for step-by-step instructions. I’m also available to teach you 1-on-1 over Zoom if you prefer.
The hardest thing about investing is wrapping your head around the terminology. Even if it’s not with my help, don’t shy away from educating yourself and facilitating the fulfillment of your financial goals.
To end, it’s important to point out that there’s no way to know for sure why a stock moves up or down in the short term. There’s no electric sign somewhere announcing that Suncor stock dropped because investors are bearish, as opposed to bullish (see above), on the price of oil, or Canadian Tire stock rose thanks to consumers growing increasingly comfortable with doing their home improvement shopping in packed stores. All financial analysts ever have are educated predictions based on available information.
The only thing we know for sure is that the better a company is at making money and funding its own profitable growth, the better the chance that its stock will soar and make its shareholders wealthy.
Feel free to drop your questions in the comments!
Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.