Stocks represent an ownership stake in the company that issues them. The money generated from the sale of stock is used by the company for its capital projects, and the profits generated by the company's operation may be returned to investors in the form of dividends. Stocks come in two varieties: common and preferred. Preferred stocks are so called because holders of these stocks are paid dividends before owners of common stocks. Most stocks, however, are common stocks, which can be subdivided into the categories below:
Growth stocks are those projected to increase in value faster than the rest of the market, based on their prior performance record. They may entail more risk over time but offer greater potential rewards in the end. Income stocks are those that do not fluctuate much but have a history of paying out better dividends than other stocks. This category can include both common and preferred stocks. Value stocks are those that are "undervalued" by the market and can be purchased at a price lower than the underlying worth of the company would suggest. The theory is that when the market "comes to its senses," the owner of such a stock would stand to make a lot of money. Blue-chip stocks are those that have performed well for a long enough period of time that they are considered fairly stable investments. They may not grow as rapidly as growth stocks or pay as well as income stocks, but they can be depended upon for steady growth or steady income. They are not, however, immune from the fortunes of the market. Defensive stocks are shares in companies whose products and services people buy, no matter what the economy is doing. They include the stocks of food and beverage companies, pharmaceutical companies and utilities (among others). Cyclical stocks, in contrast, rise and fall with the economy. They include stocks in such industries as airlines, chemicals, home building and steel manufacturers. Speculative stocks include the offerings of young companies with new technologies and older companies with new executive talent. They draw investors looking for something new or a way to beat the market. The performance of these stocks is especially unpredictable, and they are sometimes considered to be a high-risk investment.