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Equity Investment

What is Equity Investment?
Equity investment generally refers to the buying and holding of shares of stock on a stock market by individuals and funds in anticipation of income from dividends and capital gain as the value of the stock rises. It also sometimes refers to the acquisition of equity (ownership) participation in a private (unlisted) company or a startup (a company being created or newly created). When the investment is in infant companies, it is referred to as venture capital investing and is generally understood to be higher risk than investment in listed going-concern situations.

Direct Holding and Pooled Funds
The equities held by private individuals are often held via mutual funds or other forms of pooled investment vehicle, many of which have quoted prices that are listed in financial newspapers or magazines; the mutual funds are typically managed by prominent fund management firms (e.g. Fidelity or Vanguard). Such holdings allow individual investors to obtain the diversification of the fund(s) and to obtain the skill of the professional fund managers in charge of the fund(s). An alternative usually employed by large private investors and institutions (e.g. large pension funds) is to hold shares directly; in the institutional environment many clients that own portfolios have what are called segregated funds as opposed to, or in addition to, the pooled e.g. mutual fund alternative.

The Pros and Cons of Holding Shares Directly or via Pooled Vehicles
The major advantages of investing in pooled funds are access to professional investor skills and obtaining the diversification of the holdings within the fund. The investor also receives the services associated with the fund e.g. regular written reports and dividend payments (where applicable). The major disadvantages of investing in pooled funds are the fees payable to the managers of the fund (usually payable on entry and annually and sometimes on exit) and the diversification of the fund that may or may not be appropriate given the investors circumstances.

It is possible to over-diversify. If an investor holds several funds, then the risks and structure of his overall position is an amalgam of the holdings in all the different funds and arguably the investors holdings successively approximate to an index or market risk.

The costs or fees paid to the professional fund management organization need to be monitored carefully. In the worst cases the costs (e.g. fees and other costs that may be less obvious hidden fees within the workings of the investing organization) are large relative to the dividend income payable on the stock market and to the total post-tax return that the investor can anticipate in an average year.

Determining Share Prices
One theory about equity price in professional investment circles is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EFM), although this theory is being widely discredited in the academic and professional markets. Briefly, this theory suggests that the share prices of equities are priced efficiently and will tend to follow a random walk determined by the emergence of news (randomly) over time. Professional equity investors therefore tend to spend their time immersed in the flow of fundamental information seeking to gain an advantage over their competitors (mainly other professional investors) by more intelligently interpreting the emerging flow of information (news).

The EFM theory does not seem to give a complete description of the process of equity price determination, for example because stock markets are more volatile than a theory that assumes that prices are the result of discounting expected future cash flows would imply. In recent years it has come to be accepted that the share markets are not perfectly efficient, perhaps especially in emerging markets or other markets where the degree of professional (very well informed) activity is lacking.

Another theory of share price determination comes from the field of Behavioral Finance. In Behavioral Finance, it is believed that humans often make irrational decisions, particularly related to the buying and selling of securities based upon fears and misperceptions of outcomes. The irrational trading of securities can often create securities prices which vary from rational, fundamental prices valuations. For instance, during the technology bubble of the late 90's and subsequent 'burst' in 2000-2002, technology companies were often bid beyond any rational fundamental value because of what is commonly known as the 'greater fool theory'. The Greater Fool Theory holds that because the predominant method of realizing returns in equity is from the sale to another investor, one should select securities that they believe that someone else will value at a higher level at some point in the future.

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