The Fundamental Mechanics Of Investing

By Andrew Beattie AAA

In this article, we tell a simple story that demonstrates why stocks and bonds are created.

A Business Is Created
Jack is a farmer, and he is interested in starting up an apple stand for the tourists who pass his place. Since Jack has fairly good credit, he got a business loan to cover the costs of set up, and he now has the ideal land for apple growing. Unfortunately Jack only set aside enough money for getting his land in shape. He forgot all about buying seeds. By a stroke of luck, Jack finds a store that will sell him a magic high-growth, high-yield seed for $100, but Jack only has $50 left.

Initial Public Offering to Raise Capital for Growth
Our clever farmer goes to five of his closest friends (you're included) and asks if they'll each give him $10 to help his business. Jack doesn't know, however, if he can take it in the form of a loan because he may not be able to pay it back if the seed doesn't turn a profit. No worries: Jack promises everyone they'll receive a percentage of the tree's apples that is equal to the percentage they gave. In other words, Jack has given his friends a share in his tree. They agree and the seed is in the ground before you can sing "Johnny Appleseed."

The Distinction Between Being a Partner and Being a Shareholder
This tree, being magic and all, grows rapidly. In the first month, it is five feet tall and there are two apples. Jack keeps one apple because he owns 50% of the business's product, which he paid for with the $50 dollars he put in for the seed. He cuts the other one into five pieces, each of which goes to each of his investors, who can sell or eat it. The investors have a quick meeting and decide they'd rather have Jack sell their portion of the product and give them a percentage of the profit. So Jack makes up little papers saying, "Jack's Apple Company: you have one share guaranteeing you 10% (10/100) of the profits."

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Watch: What Are Stocks?

Trading Occurs in Jack's Undervalued Stock
So this tree really takes off now - the magic is coursing through the wood and it grows to 10 feet tall! There are 20 apples and Jack sells them all for $10 a piece, keeping $100 for himself and giving his friends $20 each. Jack uses his $100 to buy another seed and plants it. Pretty soon, Jack has two trees producing 40 apples and earning $400 a month.

Some of his neighbors want in on the deal Jack gave his friends, and Tim, Jack's first investor, is interested in selling his 10% of Jack's Apple Company. Judy, Jack's neighbor, wants to buy it and she offers Tim the $10 that he originally paid. Tim is not stupid, however: he realizes that this share is producing $40 a month and Jack is about to buy another seed. So Tim asks for $40 dollars and Judy snaps up the share, which pays for itself immediately.

A Bit of a Bubble Forms
The other original shareholders see how much Tim got and want to sell too, and the other neighbors notice how quickly Judy's investment paid off so they really want to buy in. The offers steadily climb until Jack's shares are being bought for over $100 a piece - more than Jack's trees are producing in a month. Only one original shareholder, Betty, is still in there and holding out on offers such as $120 because she is still getting a regular payment that is pure profit for her. Suddenly, Jack's trees (four in total) are ravaged by aphids. The entire month's production is ruined and several shareholders are wondering if they can pay rent since they used their savings to buy shares.

The Bubble Bursts
The shareholders who need the money sell to Betty at a discount ($40), and then the other shareholders notice, all of a sudden, that their $100 shares are worth $40. This is very disconcerting. The remaining shareholders offer their shares to Betty, but she says she's quite content with three shares. The other shareholders are desperate now, so when the town sheriff offers them $20 a piece for the shares, they take their losses and get out.

Meanwhile, the main drive of Jack's business hasn't changed: people still want apples. Jack needs to get rid of these pesky aphids and he needs the money to buy insecticide.

Jack Issues a Bond
Jack's not too keen on issuing more stock after the fiasco with his neighbors, so he decides to go for a loan instead. Unfortunately, Jack used up his credit with the land preparation so he is once again looking for divine inspiration. He's looking at his equipment to see what he can sell and what he can't, and then it hits him: he'll try to sell his apple crates without actually selling them. The crates are useless without aphid-free product to fill them, but as soon as the aphids are gone he'll need them back.

So Jack calls up Judy (in hopes of making amends) and offers her a deal, "Judy, my good friend, I have an offer for you. I'll sell you my apple crates, which are worth $100 total, for a mere $60 and then buy them back next week for the full $100." Judy thinks about this and sees that in the worst case scenario, she can just sell the crates … sounds good. And a deal is made.

"But Judy," Jack adds, "I don't want to run my crates down there and pick them up again. Can I just write up a piece of paper? It'll save my back."

"I don't know - can we call it a promissory note?" Judy asks enthusiastically.

"Sure can, but I was thinking more of calling it a bond or a certificate," says Jack.

And lo and behold, Jack eliminates the aphids, pays Judy back, and turns a healthy profit that month and every month thereafter.

The Bottom Line
This story will not explain everything about investing in stocks, but it does highlight one very important point: the price of Jack's stock followed investors' opinion of the stock's value rather than just the performance of Jack's company. Because the stock market is an auction, there is no set price for a certain stock, there is a concept that derails most people's trains of thought: the price paid for a stock is what it's "worth" until a lower or higher price is offered.

This fluctuation of worth is good and bad for investors because it allows for profit (when you buy an undervalued stock) but also makes losses possible (when you pay too much for a stock).

SEE: Bond Basics

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