How to invest in shares

Shares or stocks are a popular investment for many investors, but can be intimidating when you are starting out.

Here’s a short guide to help start your journey into investing.

What are shares?

Shares, also called stocks, are a part ownership of a company and, if the company is publicly listed on a stock exchange, can be purchased or sold. Owning shares may mean you have certain rights, such as voting on major company changes or receiving a portion of company profits (known as dividends).

The value of a company’s shares can change and depends on a range of factors at any given time. Some of these directly relate to the company, such as how it is run, market share and profitability. Other factors may be more indirect and relate to the industry a company operates in, government regulations or even weather and environmental conditions.

Shares typically form part of a balanced investment portfolio, which may include other investments such as fixed interest, cash or physical assets.

You can own shares directly or indirectly, through managed investments like managed funds or your superannuation.

How to buy shares

Buying or selling shares directly can be done by:

  • having a broker or financial adviser to manage the shares on your behalf
  • using an online trading platform
  • investing in a managed account where a share portfolio is managed on your behalf.

You can also own shares indirectly by using managed funds.

  • Investments which are pooled together with other investors and managed on your behalf.
  • Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are offered on the share market and track the performance of a particular asset or index. They do this by holding the physical assets or shares, or invest in ways that exposes it to particular shares or assets without owning them directly.
  • Managed funds are where you invest in a pool with other investors and you own ‘units’ in the fund which is managed according to a particular investment strategy. For example, many default superannuation funds use a variety of tailored managed funds to invest your money and provide you with access to shares and a range of other assets.

Tips for share investing

There’s more to owning shares than buying and selling. Here are some tips to help you invest.

1. Understand the quality and value of shares

The price of a share might not always match its actual value, so how do you know whether they are good value? Consider the company’s profit (current and expected in the future) as part of your assessment using sources like company websites, investment related websites and business articles. Some online trading platforms may also offer you their research covering measures like discounted cash flow (which considers future cash flows in today’s terms), Price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio which looks at share prices and earnings and Price-to-book (P/B) ratio which compares market value of the company to its value as listed in its accounting records.

2. Plan your investment approach

Your investment goals and expectations are an important factor in your decisions. For example, do you need to earn an income from the shares and require dividends? Do you have personal moral and ethical concerns you would like your shares to reflect? What timeframe do you have for investing?

3. Manage your risks

The likelihood of gaining or losing money from your share investment can change based on factors such as the company itself, the investment market and currency changes. Some strategies to help manage the risks include diversification (spreading your money across different companies, industries and regions), taking a long term approach allowing you to wait for market changes before selling or buying, or using an investment expert to assist you with a strategy. Shares are often considered a riskier investment due to the chance of losing your money so it is important to consider the risks alongside your circumstances and other investments.

Remember the administration

Any gains you make from your share investments, such as dividends or a gain from selling the shares compared to the original price you paid (also known as capital gains), count as part of your income, which then may be taxed. Stay up to date with the latest rules and regulations to ensure you are paying the correct amount of tax by researching yourself or using an expert to guide you. 

You may also consider tax treatment of your investments within your overall strategy. For example, the gains on investments held in superannuation before you retire are taxed at 15%, while investments outside of superannuation are taxed at your marginal tax rate (which could be higher or lower, depending on your overall income). If you decide to use superannuation as part of your investment strategy, be aware of the limits to how much you can put in each year and that you may not be able to access your superannuation until your retirement age.

Some investors also factor the franking credits (also called imputation credits) offered by some Australian companies. Franking is where the company has already paid taxes on the dividends attributed to your shares. You are then able to claim credit for the taxes already paid as part of your tax return.

Next: Prop­erty

Learn about different types of property available to investors including commercial property, and some options you can consider to include property in your portfolio.

As part of the Westpac Group, BT clients have access to Westpac Online Investing: a flexible way to trade shares. 

We explain some of the things you might need to know to put together a portfolio of investments that reflect your goals, life stage and comfort with risk.
Managed funds let individual investors pool their money with other investors to benefit from a diverse range of underlying assets and professional investment expertise.
Superannuation is a structure designed specifically to hold investments to fund your retirement. It can be tax-friendly, and has plenty of incentives for investors to grow their super.