A

The return that an asset achieves over a certain period of time. This measure looks at the appreciation or depreciation (expressed as a percentage) that an asset - usually a stock or a mutual fund - achieves over a given period of time. Absolute return differs from relative return because it is concerned with the return of a particular asset and does not compare it to any other measure or benchmark.

An investment that is not one of the three traditional asset types (stocks, bonds and cash). Most alternative investment assets are held by institutional investors or accredited, high-net-worth individuals because of their complex nature, limited regulations and relative lack of liquidity. Alternative investments include hedge funds, managed futures, real estate, commodities and derivatives contracts.

The simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset in order to profit from a difference in the price. It is a trade that profits by exploiting price differences of identical or similar financial instruments, on different markets or in different forms. Arbitrage exists as a result of market inefficiencies; it provides a mechanism to ensure prices do not deviate substantially from fair value for long periods of time.

A mutual fund that provides investors with a portfolio of a fixed or variable mix of the three main asset classes - stocks, bonds and cash equivalents - in a variety of securities. Some asset allocation funds maintain a specific proportion of asset classes over time, while others vary the proportional composition in response to changes in the economy and investment markets.

This is the gain when the underlying asset that moves in one direction is significantly different from the loss when the underlying asset moves in the opposite direction. For example: Under a call option, when a stock price goes down, the loss incurred is limited to the purchase price of the option. If the stock price goes up, the purchaser of the call gains in proportion to the rise in the stock's value.

A term that refers to a bond, preferred stock or other debt obligation that is trading at its face value. The term "at par" is most commonly used with bonds.
A bond that trades at par will have a yield equal to its coupon, and investors will expect a return equal to the coupon for the risk of lending to the bond issuer. Bonds are quoted at 100 when trading at par.

A situation where an option's strike price is identical to the price of the underlying security. Both call and put options will be simultaneously "at the money". For example, if XYZ stock is trading at 75, then the XYZ 75 call option is at the money and so is the XYZ 75 put option. An at-the-money option has no intrinsic value, but may still have time value. Options trading activity tends to be high when options are at the money.

B

A unit that is equal to 1/100th of 1%, and is used to denote the change in a financial instrument. The basis point is commonly used for calculating changes in interest rates, equity indeces and the yield of a fixed-income security.

When evaluating the performance of any investment, it is important to compare it against an appropriate benchmark. In the financial field, there are dozens of indexes that analysts use to gauge the performance of any given investment including the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Russell 2000 Index and even competitor fund.

A debt investment in which an investor loans money to an entity (corporate or governmental) that borrows the funds for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and U.S. and foreign governments to finance a variety of projects and activities. Bonds are commonly referred to as fixed-income securities and are one of the three main asset classes, along with stocks and cash equivalents.

Convertible bonds give investors the potential to profit from the rise in the price of the company's stock, if converted. Investors are protected from a downward move in the stock price because the value of the convertible bond will not fall below the value of the traditional bond component, known as the bond floor.

A fund invested primarily in bonds and other debt instruments. The exact type of debt the fund invests in will depend on its focus, but investments may include government, corporate, municipal and convertible bonds, along with other debt securities like mortgage-backed securities.

An investment approach that de-emphasizes the significance of economic and market cycles. This approach focuses on the analysis of individual stocks. In bottom-up investing, therefore, the investor focuses his or her attention on a specific company rather than on the industry in which that company operates or on the economy as a whole.

A passive investment strategy, in which an investor buys stocks and holds them for a long period of time, regardless of fluctuations in the market. An investor who employs a buy-and-hold strategy actively selects stocks, but once in a position, is not concerned with short-term price movements and technical indicators.

C

An agreement that gives an investor the right (but not the obligation) to buy a stock, bond, commodity, or other instrument at a specified price within a specific time period.

A mutual fund that invests in the common stock of numerous publicly traded companies. Common stock funds provide investment diversification and offer time savings over researching, buying and selling individual stocks. Common stocks are shares of ownership in a corporation that doesn't confer any special privileges, such as guaranteed dividends or preferred creditor status. Investing in a fund that specializes in common stock can provide cost savings if the fund's loads and management fees are lower than the commissions associated with buying and selling individual stocks.

A figure based on the combined estimates of the analysts covering a public company. Generally, analysts give a consensus for a company's earnings per share and revenue. These figures are most often made for the quarter, fiscal year and next fiscal year. The size of the company and the number of analysts covering it will dictate the size of the pool from which the estimate is derived.

The exchange of a convertible type of asset into another type of asset, usually at a predetermined price, on or before a predetermined date. The conversion feature is a financial derivative instrument that is valued separately from the underlying security. Therefore, an embedded conversion feature adds to the overall value of the security.

The amount by which the price of a convertible security exceeds the current market value of the common stock into which it may be converted. A conversion premium is expressed as a dollar amount and represents the difference between the price of the convertible and the greater of the conversion or straight-bond value. Convertibles are securities, such as bonds and preferred shares, that can be exchanged for a specified number of another form (typically common stock) at an agreed-upon price. Convertibles can be converted at the will of the investor or the issuing company can force the conversion.

Securities, usually bonds or preferred shares, that can be converted into common stock. Convertibles are most often associated with convertible bonds, which allow bond holders to convert their creditor position to that of an equity holder at an agreed upon price. Other convertible securities can include notes and preferred shares, which can possess many different traits.

A measure of the curvature in the relationship between bond prices and bond yields that demonstrates how the duration of a bond changes as the interest rate changes. Convexity is used as a risk-management tool, and helps to measure and manage the amount of market risk to which a portfolio of bonds is exposed.

A debt security issued by a corporation and sold to investors. Collateral for the bond is usually the payment ability of the company, which is typically money to be earned from future operations. In some cases, the company's physical assets may be used as collateral for bonds.
Corporate bonds are considered higher risk than government bonds. As a result, interest rates are almost always higher, even for top-flight credit quality companies.

An assessment of the credit worthiness of a borrower in general terms or with respect to a particular debt or financial obligation. A credit rating can be assigned to any entity that seeks to borrow money – an individual, corporation, state or provincial authority, or sovereign government. Credit assessment and evaluation for companies and governments is generally done by a credit rating agency such as Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s. These rating agencies are paid by the entity that is seeking a credit rating for itself or for one of its debt issues. For individuals, credit ratings are derived from the credit history maintained by credit-reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

The spread between Treasury securities and non-Treasury securities that are identical in all respects except for quality rating.

A type of an industry that is sensitive to the business cycle, such that revenues are generally higher in periods of economic prosperity and expansion, and lower in periods of economic downturn and contraction.

D

The ratio comparing the change in the price of the underlying asset to the corresponding change in the price of a derivative. Sometimes referred to as the "hedge ratio. For example, with respect to call options, a delta of 0.7 means that for every $1 the underlying stock increases, the call option will increase by $0.70. Put option deltas, on the other hand, will be negative, because as the underlying security increases, the value of the option will decrease. So a put option with a delta of -0.7 will decrease by $0.70 for every $1 the underlying increases in price. As an in-the-money call option nears expiration, it will approach a delta of 1.00, and as an in-the-money put option nears expiration, it will approach a delta of -1.00.

A derivative is a financial contract which derives its value from the performance of another entity such as an asset, index, or interest rate, called the "underlying". Derivative transactions include a variety of financial contracts, including futures, forwards, swaps, options, and variations of these such as caps, floors, collars, and credit default swaps. Most derivatives are sold over-the-counter (off-exchange) or through an exchange, while most insurance contracts have developed into a separate industry.

A reduction in the ownership percentage of a share of stock caused by the issuance of new stock. Dilution can also occur when holders of stock options (such as company employees) or holders of other optionable securities exercise their options. When the number of shares outstanding increases, each existing stockholder will own a smaller, or diluted, percentage of the company, making each share less valuable. Dilution also reduces the value of existing shares by reducing the stock's earnings per share.

A risk management technique that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. The rationale behind this technique contends that a portfolio of different kinds of investments will, on average, yield higher returns and pose a lower risk than any individual investment found within the portfolio. Diversification strives to smooth out unsystematic risk events in a portfolio so that the positive performance of some investments will neutralize the negative performance of others. Therefore, the benefits of diversification will hold only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated.

A procedure for valuing the price of a stock by using predicted dividends and discounting them back to present value. The idea is that if the value obtained from the DDM is higher than what the shares are currently trading at, then the stock is undervalued.

A measure of the sensitivity of the price (the value of principal) of a fixed-income investment to a change in interest rates. Duration is expressed as a number of years. Rising interest rates mean falling bond prices, while declining interest rates mean rising bond prices.

F

The nominal value or dollar value of a security stated by the issuer. For stocks, it is the original cost of the stock shown on the certificate. For bonds, it is the amount paid to the holder at maturity (generally $1,000). Also known as "par value" or simply "par".

A method of evaluating a security that entails attempting to measure its intrinsic value by examining related economic, financial and other qualitative and quantitative factors. Fundamental analysts attempt to study everything that can affect the security's value, including macroeconomic factors (like the overall economy and industry conditions) and company-specific factors (like financial condition and management).
The end goal of performing fundamental analysis is to produce a value that an investor can compare with the security's current price, with the aim of figuring out what sort of position to take with that security (under-priced = buy, overpriced = sell or short).

This method of security analysis is considered to be the opposite of technical analysis.

G

An equity investment strategy that seeks to combine tenets of both growth investing and value investing to find individual stocks. GARP investors look for companies that are showing consistent earnings growth above broad market levels (a tenet of growth investing ) while excluding companies that have very high valuations (value investing). The overarching goal is to avoid the extremes of either growth or value investing; this typically leads GARP investors to growth-oriented stocks with relatively low price/earnings (P/E) multiples in normal market conditions.

H

A fund, usually used by wealthy individuals and institutions, which is allowed to use aggressive strategies that are unavailable to mutual funds, including selling short, leverage, program trading, swaps, arbitrage, and derivatives. Hedge funds are exempt from many of the rules and regulations governing other mutual funds, which allows them to accomplish aggressive investing goals. They are restricted by law to no more than 100 investors per fund, and as a result most hedge funds set extremely high minimum investment amounts, ranging anywhere from $250,000 to over $1 million. As with traditional mutual funds, investors in hedge funds pay a management fee; however, hedge funds also collect a percentage of the profits (usually 20%).
 

The highest peak in value, that an investment fund/account has reached. This term is often used in the context of fund manager compensation, which is performance based.
The high-water mark ensures that the manager does not get paid large sums for poor performance. So if the manager loses money over a period, he or she must get the fund above the high-water mark before receiving a performance bonus. For example, say after reaching its peak a fund loses $100,000 in year one, and then makes $250,000 in year two. The manager therefore not only reached the high-water mark but exceeded it by $150,000 ($250,000 - $100,000), which is the amount on which the manager gets paid the bonus.

A category of mutual fund that is characterized by portfolio that is made up of a mix of stocks and bonds, which can vary proportionally over time or remain fixed. Morningstar separates hybrid funds into domestic hybrid and international hybrid categories.
In the hybrid category, balanced funds tend to stick to a relatively fixed allocation of stocks and bonds. Actively managed asset allocation funds tend to have portfolios with a mix of stocks and bonds that responds to market conditions as perceived by the fund manager. Passively managed asset allocation, life-cycle and target-date funds generally have a stock-bond mix that changes over a lifetime, moving progressively from aggressive to more conservative structures.

I

A situation in which an option's strike price is below the current market price of the underlier (for a call option), or above the current market price of the underlier (for a put option). Such an option has intrinsic value.

A type of mutual fund with a portfolio constructed to match or track the components of a market index, such as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500). An index mutual fund is said to provide broad market exposure, low operating expenses and low portfolio turnover.

Linking adjustments made to the value of a good, service or other metric, to a predetermined index. Indexation requires the identification of a price index and whether a linking the value to the price index, will accomplish the organization's goals. Indexation is most commonly used with wages in a high inflation environment.

The price at which publicly issued securities are made available for purchase by the investment bank underwriting the issue. A security's offering price includes the underwriter's fee and any management fees applicable to the issue.

A supply of capital belonging to numerous investors that is used to collectively purchase securities while each investor retains ownership and control of his or her own shares. An investment fund provides a broader selection of investment opportunities, greater management expertise and lower investment fees than investors might be able to obtain on their own. Types of investment funds include mutual funds, exchange traded funds, money market funds and hedge funds.

L

The degree to which an asset or security can be bought or sold in the market without affecting the asset's price. Liquidity is characterized by a high level of trading activity. Assets that can be easily bought or sold are known as liquid assets.

 

M

The total dollar market value of all of a company's outstanding shares. Market capitalization is calculated by multiplying a company's shares outstanding by the current market price of one share. The investment community uses this figure to determine a company's size, as opposed to sales or total asset figures. Frequently referred to as "market cap."

A broker-dealer firm that accepts the risk of holding a certain number of shares of a particular security in order to facilitate trading in that security. Each market maker competes for customer order flow by displaying buy and sell quotations for a guaranteed number of shares. Once an order is received, the market maker immediately sells from its own inventory or seeks an offsetting order. This process takes place in mere seconds.

The act of attempting to predict the future direction of the market, typically through the use of technical indicators or economic data. Some investors, especially academics, believe it is impossible to time the market. Other investors, notably active traders, believe strongly in market timing. Thus, whether market timing is possible is really a matter of opinion. What we can say with certainty is that it's very difficult to be successful at market timing continuously over the long-run. For the average investor who doesn't have the time (or desire) to watch the market on a daily basis, there are good reasons to avoid market timing and focus on investing for the long-run.

The rate of acceleration of a security's price or volume. The idea of momentum in securities is that their price is more likely to keep moving in the same direction than to change directions. In technical analysis, momentum is considered an oscillator and is used to help identify trend lines.

An investment vehicle that is made up of a pool of funds collected from many investors for the purpose of investing in securities such as stocks, bonds, money market instruments and similar assets. The manager invests the fund's capital and attempts to produce capital gains and income for the fund's investors. A mutual fund's portfolio is structured and maintained to match the investment objectives stated in its prospectus.

N

A mutual fund's price per share or exchange-traded fund's (ETF) per-share value. In both cases, the per-share dollar amount of the fund is calculated by dividing the total value of all the securities in its portfolio, less any liabilities, by the number of fund shares outstanding.

O

A type of mutual fund that does not have restrictions on the amount of shares the fund will issue. If demand is high enough, the fund will continue to issue shares no matter how many investors there are. Open-end funds also buy back shares when investors wish to sell.

A financial derivative that represents a contract sold by one party (option writer) to another party (option holder). The contract offers the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) a security or other financial asset at an agreed-upon price (the strike price) during a certain period of time or on a specific date (exercise date).
Call options give the option to buy at certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go up. Put options give the option to sell at a certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go down.

A call option with a strike price that is higher than the market price of the underlying asset, or a put option with a strike price that is lower than the market price of the underlying asset. An out of the money option has no intrinsic value, but only possesses extrinsic or time value. As a result, the value of an out of the money option erodes quickly with time as it gets closer to expiry. If it still out of the money at expiry, the option will expire worthless.

P

A valuation ratio of a company's current share price compared to its earnings per share. Calculated as:

For example, if a company is currently trading at $43 a share and earnings over the last 12 months were $1.95 per share, the P/E ratio for the stock would be 22.05 ($43/$1.95). EPS is usually from the last four quarters (trailing P/E), but sometimes it can be taken from the estimates of earnings expected in the next four quarters (projected or forward P/E). A third variation uses the sum of the last two actual quarters and the estimates of the next two quarters. Also sometimes known as "price multiple" or "earnings multiple."

A class of ownership in a corporation that has a higher claim on the assets and earnings than common stock. Preferred stock generally has a dividend that must be paid out before dividends to common stockholders and the shares usually do not have voting rights. The precise details as to the structure of preferred stock is specific to each corporation. However, the best way to think of preferred stock is as a financial instrument that has characteristics of both debt (fixed dividends) and equity (potential appreciation). Also known as "preferred shares".

A formal legal document, which is required by and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that provides details about an investment offering for sale to the public. A prospectus should contain the facts that an investor needs to make an informed investment decision.

An option contract giving the owner the right, but not the obligation, to sell a specified amount of an underlying asset at a set price within a specified time. The buyer of a put option estimates that the underlying asset will drop below the exercise price before the expiration date.

Q

A very common term which actually refers to two numbers - the highest bid price currently available for a security or commodity and the lowest ask price currently available for the same security/commodity. A security or commodity's quotation represents two pieces of information: the price an investor would need to pay to purchase an asset at a particular moment in time (the lowest price "asked" by sellers) and the price an investor would receive for the same asset if they sold it at the same time (the highest "bid" by potential buyers). Taken together, the difference between the two represents the liquidity cost an investor incurs when trading an asset, since they must buy at the bid price and sell as the ask price.

R

The amount of net income returned as a percentage of shareholders equity. Return on equity measures a corporation's profitability by revealing how much profit a company generates with the money shareholders have invested.
ROE is expressed as a percentage and calculated as:

Net income is for the full fiscal year (before dividends paid to common stock holders but after dividends to preferred stock.) Shareholder's equity does not include preferred shares.
Also known as "return on net worth" (RONW).

Refers to a special kind of convertible corporate bond that automatically converts itself into shares of the company's stock in the event that the underlying stock drops below a certain price. This stands in contrast to traditional convertible bonds, which the bondholder may or may not choose to convert into shares of company stock. These revertible bonds generally have a time limit or expiration date when the bond will automatically convert into stock or forever remain a bond. Typically, these bonds pay very high interest rates and are offered by companies that are considered well-below investment grade. They are also known as reverse convertible bonds.

The chance that an investment's actual return will be different than expected. Risk includes the possibility of losing some or all of the original investment. Different versions of risk are usually measured by calculating the standard deviation of the historical returns or average returns of a specific investment. A high standard deviation indicates a high degree of risk.
Many companies now allocate large amounts of money and time in developing risk management strategies to help manage risks associated with their business and investment dealings. A key component of the risk management process is risk assessment, which involves the determination of the risks surrounding a business or investment.

The return in excess of the risk-free rate of return that an investment is expected to yield. An asset's risk premium is a form of compensation for investors who tolerate the extra risk - compared to that of a risk-free asset - in a given investment.
For example, high-quality corporate bonds issued by established corporations earning large profits have very little risk of default. Therefore, such bonds will pay a lower interest rate (or yield) than bonds issued by less-established companies with uncertain profitability and relatively higher default risk.

S

A market where investors purchase securities or assets from other investors, rather than from issuing companies themselves. The national exchanges - such as the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ are secondary markets. Secondary markets exist for other securities as well, such as when funds, investment banks, or entities such as Fannie Mae purchase mortgages from issuing lenders. In any secondary market trade, the cash proceeds go to an investor rather than to the underlying company/entity directly.

A ratio to measure risk-adjusted performance. The Sharpe ratio is calculated by subtracting the risk-free rate - such as that of the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond - from the rate of return for a portfolio and dividing the result by the standard deviation of the portfolio returns.

A situation in which an analyst or investor uses a systematic form of analysis to conclude that a particular stock will make a good investment and, therefore, should be added to his or her portfolio. The position can be either long or short and will depend on the analyst or investor's outlook for the particular stock's price. Stock picking can be a very difficult process because there is never a foolproof way to determine what a stock's price will do in the future. However, by examining numerous factors, an investor may be able to get a better sense of future stock prices than by relying on guesswork. Because forecasting is not an exact science, an investor or analyst who uses any forecasting technique should include a margin of error in the calculations.

A type of security that signifies ownership in a corporation and represents a claim on part of the corporation's assets and earnings.
There are two main types of stock: common and preferred. Common stock usually entitles the owner to vote at shareholders' meetings and to receive dividends. Preferred stock generally does not have voting rights, but has a higher claim on assets and earnings than the common shares. For example, owners of preferred stock receive dividends before common shareholders and have priority in the event that a company goes bankrupt and is liquidated.
Also known as "shares" or "equity."

A financial instrument that is created artificially by simulating another instrument with the combined features of a collection of other assets.

T

An investment approach that involves looking at the "big picture" in the economy and financial world, and then breaking those components down into finer details. After looking at the big picture conditions around the world, the different industrial sectors are analyzed in order to select those that are forecasted to outperform the market. From this point, the stocks of specific companies are further analyzed and those that are believed to be successful are chosen as investments.
An investor may use different criteria when deciding to employ the top-down approach. For example, an investor may consider such factors as geography, sector and size. What is important with this approach is that a big picture perspective is taken first before looking at the details. Although there is some debate as to whether the top-down approach is better than the bottom-up approach, many investors have found the top-down approach useful in determining the most promising sectors in a given market.

U

A public limited company that coordinates the distribution and management of unit trusts amongst countries within the European Union. These funds can be marketed within all countries that are a part of the European Union, provided that the fund and fund managers are registered within the domestic country. The regulation recognizes that each country within the European Union may differ on their specific disclosure requirements.

The security on which a derivative derives its value. For example, a call option on Google stock gives the holder the right, but not the obligation, to purchase Google stock at the price specified in the option contract. In this case, Google stock, is the underlying security. In derivative terminology, the underlying security is often referred to simply as "the underlying." An underlying security can be any asset, index, financial instrument or even another derivative. Generally, an underlying security's value should be independently observable by both parties, so that there is no potential for confusion regarding the value of the derivative. Investors dealing in derivatives must closely research the underlying security in order to ensure that they fully understand the factors affecting the value of the derivative.

V

A statistical measure of the dispersion of returns for a given security or market index. Volatility can either be measured by using the standard deviation or variance between returns from that same security or market index. Commonly, the higher the volatility, the riskier the security.
In other words, volatility refers to the amount of uncertainty or risk about the size of changes in a security's value. A higher volatility means that a security's value can potentially be spread out over a larger range of values. This means that the price of the security can change dramatically over a short time period in either direction. A lower volatility means that a security's value does not fluctuate dramatically, but changes in value at a steady pace over a period of time.