UK Shares: A Beginner’s Buying Guide

understanding the basics 1
.13 Feb 2024
author avatar image Chad Smith

Table of Contents

Investing in shares can be seen as a daunting prospect, particularly for those who are newly introduced to the intricate universe of the stock market. This guide offers an uncomplicated insight, devised to equip you with the essential knowledge required for buying shares in the UK. Understanding the foundation of shares and the stock market, the role of the London Stock Exchange, and the eccentricities of buying shares versus other financial investments sit at the heart of this providing a robust starting point. Furthermore, this text teases apart how to dissect a company’s financial health and prospects to make informed decisions about which shares to buy, along with practical advice on selecting and utilising brokers.

Understanding the Basics

Understanding the Basics: Stocks and Shares in the UK

The terms ‘stock’ and ‘share’ are often used interchangeably but they offer slightly different meanings. Technically, ‘stock’ refers to a broad ownership claim in a company, while ‘share’ represents a claim on part of the company’s assets and earnings. When you buy shares, you are essentially buying a piece of ownership in that company. These shares can then be sold on the stock market, fluctuating in value based on the company’s performance and the overall state of the economy.

About Dividends and Capital Appreciation

Shareholders benefit in two primary ways: dividends and capital appreciation. Dividends are essentially portions of a company’s profits that are distributed to shareholders, usually in the form of cash or additional shares. Not all companies distribute dividends, preferring instead to reinvest profits back into the business.

Capital appreciation, on the other hand, is a rise in the value of an investment (such as shares) over time due to the increase in the cost of the resources or better performance of the company. Capital appreciation is realised only when the investment is sold.

Understanding the London Stock Exchange

The London Stock Exchange (LSE) is the primary stock exchange in the UK where shares of companies are traded. It serves a crucial role in the UK’s economy as it provides a transparent and regulated platform for companies to raise capital from investors. The LSE is a marketplace where buyers and sellers across the globe meet to transact in stocks, bonds, and other securities.

Share Investment versus Bonds and Other Financial Instruments

While investing in shares can yield high returns, it also comes with a significant level of risk. The value of shares can go up or down, and there’s always the possibility that the company could go out of business.

In comparison, bonds are considered less risky. When you buy a bond, you’re essentially lending money to an organisation (usually a government or corporation) for a fixed period at a fixed interest rate. The borrower guarantees to repay the amount borrowed, plus interest, on a specified date. However, the return on bonds is usually lower than shares.

Other financial instruments include property investments, commodities, foreign currencies, and derivatives. Each carries its own level of risk and potential return, and the right choice depends on your financial goals, investment timeframe, and tolerance for risk.

Shareholder Rights

As a shareholder, you have specific rights, which include the right to attend shareholder meetings, vote on key company decisions, receive profits or dividends, and acquire any leftover assets if the company is liquidated. It’s crucial to understand these rights before investing in shares.

Finding the Right Broker

When it comes to purchasing shares in the UK, most individuals do so through a broker. There are two main types of brokers: full-service brokers and discount brokers. Full-service brokers provide a wide range of services such as research and advice, retirement planning, tax tips and more, but they are more expensive. Discount brokers, on the other hand, offer a cheaper solution, providing fewer services in exchange for lower fees. It’s essential to find a broker that suits your investing style and financial goals.

Exploring the realm of shares investing in the UK can prove to be incredibly worthwhile if embarked upon with a solid understanding of the fundamentals. The initial journey starts with comprehending the core concepts and carefully managing risks, paving the road towards accomplishing proficiency in share investments.

A group of individuals discussing stocks and shares at a table.

How to Choose Which Shares to Buy

Getting to Grips with Company Fundamentals

A crucial stepping stone into the domain of share buying is garnering a comprehensive knowledge of company fundamentals. These underpinning elements are based on a company’s principal financial and business metrics, providing you a window into its operational scale and performance level. Revenue growth, earnings per share (EPS), the price-to-earnings (P.E) ratio, and profit margins are among the key factors that deserve your attention.

Analysing Company’s Financial Health

One of the most important steps before investing in a company is to assess its financial health. Investors can do this by looking at financial parameters like revenue growth, profit margins, return on equity, and net margin. A company with consistent revenue growth and healthy profit margins is generally considered financially strong.

Understanding Debt Levels

Debt levels are equally critical to any investment decision. High levels of debt can make a company riskier for investors, as they may struggle to generate profits or pay off their debts. It is necessary to check all aspects related to a firm’s borrowing, such as long, medium, and short-term obligations, and compare these with its assets and equity. Companies with a lower debt-to-equity ratio are generally considered better investment prospects.

Looking into Potential for Growth

Another key factor to consider is the company’s potential for growth. This can be gauged by looking at the company’s historical performance, its position in the industry, and its future plans. Companies showing signs of strong potential growth are often more attractive to investors.

How to Read and Analyse Company’s Financial Statements

As a beginner, it’s important to familiarise yourself with how to read and analyse a company’s financial statements. These statements provide a range of information from the company’s revenues, expenses, earnings, assets, and liabilities. Three key statements are the balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. Understanding them lets you evaluate the financial health and profitability of a company. Use of tools like fundamental and technical analysis can aid the decision-making process.

Economic Factors Influence on Share Price

Economic factors can also significantly influence the share price. For instance, factors such as inflation, unemployment rates, economic growth, political stability and fiscal policies can cause share price fluctuations. Monitoring economic indicators and staying informed about the broader economic climate can help in making more informed investment decisions.

The Role of Industry Performance and Market Trends

Industry performance and market trends also play a crucial role in choosing which shares to buy. It’s important to understand the industry’s growth potential, competitive landscape, industry-specific risks and threats from substitute products or technologies. Additionally, monitoring market trends can provide insights into sectoral growth trends, investor sentiment and overall market direction.

In the UK market, authoritative sources can assist in tracking these trends and conducting the necessary research, like the London Stock Exchange or Financial Times websites. Online broker platforms often provide real-time market data and analytical tools that can help beginners understand these industry trends more effectively.

To conclude, successful share buying hinges on a detailed understanding and assessment of several key factors – you must take into account company fundamentals, financial stability, comprehension of financial statement analysis, and a thorough awareness of wider economic indicators and market trends. These factors serve as the bedrock of a well-rounded investment decision-making process, and it’s crucial that investors dedicate significant time and energy to researching these aspects in-depth prior to making any investment choices.

A group of business people discussing financial graphs and charts for share buying.

Buying Shares Through a Broker in the UK

Selecting a Broker in the UK

Once you’ve done your due diligence on the factors affecting share purchase, the next step towards buying shares in the UK is selecting an appropriate broker. Brokers – whether individuals or companies – are licensed to trade shares for their clientele in exchange for a fee or commission. In the UK, you’ll primarily find two types of brokers: full-service brokers and discount brokers.

Full-service brokers offer a comprehensive array of services, covering investment guidance, managing your portfolio, and undertaking market research. This type of brokers are an ideal fit for novice investors needing advice, or for individuals managing sizeable investment portfolios. However, the broad spectrum of services provided often equate to higher fees, which might diminish your overall returns.

On the other hand, discount brokers operate a leaner model, offering fewer services and catering to investors preferring a hands-on approach. Basic share buying and selling capabilities are guaranteed, whilst some discount brokers also offer research tools and educational content to support your investment decisions. While these brokers come at a reduced cost, the responsibility of decision-making lies squarely on your shoulders.

Understanding Brokerage Accounts in the UK

Once you’ve chosen a broker, you’ll need to open a brokerage account. There are various types of brokerage accounts in the UK, the most popular being share dealing accounts, stocks and shares ISAs, and self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs).

Share dealing accounts are straightforward and offer unlimited buying and selling of shares. However, they do not offer any tax benefits.

Stocks and shares ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts), allow you to trade shares within a tax-free wrapper, meaning any profits you make are exempt from capital gains tax. The catch, though, is you’re limited to investing a certain amount each tax year.

Self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) followed the same principle as ISAs but are aimed at retirement savings. These offer tax relief on contributions but have strict rules on withdrawal.

Understanding Brokers’ Fees and Charges

Brokers charge their clients in a variety of ways. The most common charges associated with brokers in the UK are dealing fees, annual platform fees, transfer fees, exit fees and foreign exchange charges. Dealing fees apply every time you buy or sell shares, while annual platform fees are a yearly charge for using the broker’s platform.

Transfer fees apply when you need to transfer your account to another broker. Exit fees, meanwhile, are charged when you decide to close your account. Exchange charges are applicable if you’re dealing with shares in a foreign currency.

Remember that a low-cost broker won’t necessarily mean it’s the best. Always consider the services that each broker offers alongside the associated costs to make an informed decision.

Executing Your Maiden Share Purchase or Sale

Having settled on a broker, grasped the applicable fees, and established your broker account, you’ve arrived at the ultimate step—executing your first order to buy or sell shares. This encompasses your comprehension of the diverse kinds of orders you can carry out.

An ‘at the market’ order directs your broker to buy or sell shares without delay at the most favourable existing price. An assured execution stands as a notable advantage of a market order, provided shares are accessible. Conversely, it is important to bear in mind that the final executed price might not match the one you envisaged when you initiated your order.

In contrast, a ‘limit’ order establishes a capped purchase price or a minimum selling price for your shares. This form of order holds the distinctive benefit of knowing exactly the price you’re settling or acquiring once your order is carried out. Nevertheless, keep in mind there’s no guarantee your order will be fulfilled if the set price fails to materialise.

Through grasping these trading order variations, you are better placed to make the most informed decisions when buying and selling shares, augmenting your gains whilst mitigating potential losses. Remember, investing in shares never comes without risk so it’s essential to conduct proper research and make well-informed decisions.

Illustration of a person holding a magnifying glass and analyzing two options, representing choosing a broker in the UK.

Managing and Reviewing Your Portfolio

Mastering the Craft of Managing Your Portfolio

The foundation of effective investing lies in proficient portfolio management. Simply put, portfolio management is an exercise in decision-making—determining what assets to invest in, how many to acquire, and when to relinquish them to achieve your financial goals. Portfolio management also ventures into another crucial area—diversification. Spreading your investments across a variety of assets can minimise risks, as potential losses in one area may be counterbalanced by gains in another. For beginners in the UK, it’s worth noting that a diversified portfolio can span different asset classes (stocks, bonds etc.), sectors (technology, healthcare etc.) and regions (UK, USA, Europe etc.).

Importance of Regular Portfolio Reviews

It is not enough to just buy shares and forget about them. Regular portfolio reviews can give an perspective on how your investments are performing and whether they are still in line with your financial goals. These reviews can be done annually or semi-annually based on your preference. They can help you rebalance your portfolio, that is, correct the proportions of different types of assets in your portfolio based on their performance.

Understanding when to sell shares

Knowing when to sell shares is just as crucial as knowing when to buy them. One strategy is to sell shares when they have reached your predetermined target price. Another strategy is to sell when the fundamentals of the company you’ve invested in change for the worse. However, these decisions can be complex and require careful analysis.

The Impact of Capital Gains Tax

In the UK, when you sell shares for a profit, you may be liable to pay Capital Gains Tax. The amount of tax you have to pay depends on the amount of gain you’ve made and your personal circumstances. The tax-free allowance for the 2021-2022 tax year is £12,300, meaning you only have to pay tax on gains above this amount. It’s crucial to keep this in mind when selling shares.

Strategies for Minimising Capital Gains Tax

There are several strategies to minimise capital gains tax. These include making use of your annual tax-free allowance, transferring assets to a spouse or civil partner, offsetting losses against gains and investing in tax-efficient schemes like Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) or Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS).

Tracking the Performance of Shares

There are several ways to track the performance of shares. They include using financial websites, financial news channels, and smartphone apps. Most reputable sites offer real-time tracking with an array of analytical tools to make this process easier.

Keeping up with Market News and Trends

Being aware of market news and trends can greatly influence your investment decisions. Major economic events, company news, and changes in government policy can all affect the stock market. Regularly check reliable financial news sources and learn to interpret this information as it pertains to your investments.

Remember, getting started with buying shares may seem daunting at first, but as long as you understand the process and strategies, it can be a rewarding experience. Investing is as much about discipline, planning and patience, as it is about making money.

An image illustrating the process and strategies of portfolio management

Photo by uxindo on Unsplash

Equipped with this comprehensive guide, you are now ready to venture into the world of shares, confidently buying and selling to build a profitable portfolio. Keeping a keen eye on your portfolio, diversifying intelligently, regularly reviewing, and understanding the optimal time to sell shares are paramount to a winning strategy. Furthermore, staying apprised of capital gains tax and effective strategies for minimising it should hold a significant place in your financial planning. Lastly, we underlined the vital role of continuous learning, staying abreast of market news, trends, and the various approaches of tracking the performance of shares. Financial investment is a marathon, not a sprint, and this guide is your companion on that exciting journey.

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Chad Smith

Chad Smith is the Director of Research & Analysis here at ForexBrokerListing.com. Chad previously served as an Editor for a number of websites related to finance and trading, where he authored a significant number of published articles about trading and the impact of technology in transforming investing as we know it. Overall, Chad is an active fintech and crypto industry researcher with more than 15 years of trading experience, and you can find him teaching his dog how to trade in his free time.