What is a Company Share?
A share in a company is just that – you own part of the company. If it is a publicly quoted company, then yes, admittedly, your share in that company may not carry much control but you do own a share in the company with a right to attend and vote at the company’s Annual General Meeting, as well as the possibility to receive any dividend payable the company and the opportunity to make a “capital gain” is the share price increases.
When we talk about shares we are generally considering those shares in Public Limited Companies (PLC’s) which are quoted on the stock exchange or AIM (Alternative Investment Market – a market for shares in smaller companies).
How are Shares Valued?
A share is a tradable investment in a company and, as such, its price is not fixed but determined by the power of supply and demand within the marketplace.
If more people want to buy shares in Company A than sell shares in Company A, the price of the share will increase, until the number of people who are willing to sell their shares in the company matches the number of people wishing to buy shares in the company.
Conversely, if a lot of people wish to sell shares in a company, and there are too few buyers, the share price will fall – typically demand for any share will increase as the price falls as more and more people can afford to buy that share.
Why own a Share in A Company?
There are basically two ways in which a normal investor can benefit from owning a share in a company – capital growth and dividend income.
Capital growth occurs when the value of the share increases over time – many investors will review the stock market on the lookout for shares which they feel are currently undervalued, based on what they feel will be the future trading outlook for the company, and hence profitability, of the company in which they wish to invest.
For example, company X has a current share price of 90 pence – you have done your research and have concluded that company X has product Y at the research stage and when launched next year, product Y will increase the amount of money flowing into the company, with a corresponding increase in profits.
You feel that based on the information you have that the shares in Company X will be worth 130 pence in the next 12 months. You therefore buy the shares in company X today at 90 pence and hope that they will increase in value to 130 pence, at which point you plan to sell and make 40 pence profit (less any dealing costs and taxation which you might incur along the way).
Profiting through Dividends
The second way to benefit from investing in a company share is through receipt of a “dividend”. When a company makes a profit, the board of Directors will meet to discuss what proportion of the profits will be retained to help fund and grow the company, and what proportion of profits will be distributed to shareholders, in the form of a dividend, to provide the shareholder with a return on their investment.
Are there risks involved?
Yes – the price of the share is determined by the market (supply and demand) for the shares – if more people want to buy the shares than sell them the price will rise, and conversely, if more people wish to sell than buy the price will fall.
Firstly, if you buy a share in a company today for say 120 pence, there is no guarantee that that share price will be maintained at 120 pence – it could go down as well as up. All investors need to be aware of this before making an investment in a single company share – the investor needs to ask themselves “what effect on my wealth will it have if the share I am buying falls considerably in value?”.
Secondly, there is also the possibility that the company could “go bust” or cease trading. In this scenario, liquidators would be appointed to realise whatever they can from the assets of the company and to repay any debts the company owes, tax outstanding etc. Ordinarily shareholders in this respect fall way down the pecking order – it is not uncommon in the case of insolvency for the ordinary shareholders to receive just 1 penny in the pound on their investment, if anything.
Can I reduce the Risk?
Yes – if you have sufficient funds to invest you could buy a “portfolio” of shares in more than one company – by investing in a range of shares you are hedging your bets by not having “all your eggs in one basket” – some shares may rise in value, some may fall in value, some may go bust – your hope is that more of the shares will make you a profit than ones that make you a loss.
If the amount you have available to invest is rather modest then you could consider investing in a “mutual fund”. A fund manager runs the fund and takes money in from a large number of investors – the fund invests in a diversified portfolio of shares or assets in line with the investment objectives of the fund.
The investor in this scenario benefits from the active management of the fund by a professional management team as well as the ability to invest in a wide range of different companies thereby reducing the risk of their investment.
Learn more About Company Shares