How Stocks and the Stock Market Work

Selling Shares

Let's say that you've always dreamed of opening a pizzeria. You love pizza, and you've done your homework to figure out how much it would cost to launch a new pizza business and how much money you could expect to earn each year in profit. The building and equipment would cost $500,000 up front, and annual expenses (ingredients, employee salaries, utilities) would cost an additional $250,000. With annual earnings of $325,000, you expect to make a $75,000 profit each year. Not bad.

The only problem is that you don't have $750,000 (building + equipment + expenses) in cash to cover all of those costs. You could take out a loan, but that accrues interest. What about finding investors who would give you money in exchange for a share of the ownership of the restaurant?

This is the logic that companies use when they make the decision to issue stock to private or public investors. They believe that the company will be profitable enough that investors will see a good return. In this case, if investors paid a total of $750,000 for shares in the pizza restaurant, they could expect to earn $75,000 annually. That's a solid 10 percent return.

As the owner of the pizza restaurant, you can set the initial price of the company, as well as the total number of shares of stock you want to sell. Interestingly, the price of the pizza business doesn't have to correlate with the actual value of the assets or the company's current profitability. You can set the price so that it reflects the future value of the investment. For example, if you set the price at $750,000, investors could expect a 10 percent return. If you set the price at twice that much, $1,500,000, investors would still get a respectable 5 percent return.

If you issue a lot of shares, that would lower the price of each individual share, perhaps making the stock more attractive to lone investors. Another consideration is ownership. Each person who buys a share of stock essentially owns a piece of the company and has a say in how the company is run. We'll talk more about shareholders in a later section. But for now, it's important to understand that, as the owner, you may wish to buy a majority of the available shares yourself so that you remain in majority control of the company.

We'll talk more about stock prices later. In the meantime, let's talk about stock exchanges -- the clearinghouses where the world's biggest companies sell shares by the millions each day.