A Beginner’s Guide to Asset Classes

A Beginner’s Guide to Asset Classes

The investment landscape can be very dynamic and ever-evolving. But those who take the time to understand the basic principles and the different asset classes will reap huge gains in the long run.

The first step is to learn to distinguish between the different types of investments and their degree of risk.

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  • Investing can be a daunting opportunity for beginners, with a huge variety of potential assets to add to the portfolio.
  • The investment risk ladder defines asset classes based on their relative risk, with cash being the most stable investment and alternative often the most volatile.
  • Sticking with index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that reflect the market is often the best course of action for a new investor.

How to invest in stocks: a beginner’s guide


Understand the investment risk ladder

Below are the major asset classes, in ascending order of risk, on the investment risk ladder.


Bank cash deposit is the simplest, most easily understood and most secure investment asset. It not only gives investors accurate knowledge of the interest they will earn but also ensures that they will get their capital back.

On the downside, the benefits earned from cash in a savings account rarely outweigh inflation. Certificates of Deposit (CDs) are less liquid instruments, but they usually offer higher interest rates than those found in savings accounts. However, the money put into a CD locks in for a while (months to years), and there are likely to be early withdrawal penalties.


A bond is a debt instrument that represents a loan that an investor makes to a borrower. A typical bond will involve either a company or government agency, where the borrower will issue a fixed interest rate to the lender in exchange for the use of his capital. Bonds are common in organizations that use them to finance operations, purchases, or other projects.

Bond prices are mainly determined by interest rates. As a result, it trades heavily during periods of quantitative easing or when the Federal Reserve – or other central banks – raise interest rates.

investment funds

A mutual fund is a type of investment where more than one investor pools their money together to purchase securities. Mutual funds are not necessarily passive, as they are managed by portfolio managers who allocate and distribute pooled investment in stocks, bonds, and other securities. Individuals can invest in mutual funds for as little as $1,000 per share, allowing them to diversify into up to 100 different shares held in a given portfolio.

Mutual funds are sometimes designed to mimic basic indexes such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. There are also many actively managed mutual funds, which means that they are updated by portfolio managers who carefully monitor and adjust their allocations within the fund. However, these funds generally have larger costs – such as annual management fees and front-end fees – that can reduce investor returns.

Mutual funds are valued at the end of the trading day, and all buying and selling transactions are similarly executed after the market closes.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become very popular since their emergence in the mid-1990s. ETFs are similar to mutual funds, but they trade throughout the day on a stock exchange. In this way, they reflect the buying and selling behavior of stocks. This also means that its value can change significantly during the trading day.

ETFs can track an underlying index such as the S&P 500 or any other basket of stocks from which the ETF issuer wants to identify a particular ETF. This can include anything from emerging markets to commodities, individual business sectors such as biotechnology or agriculture, and more. Due to the ease of trading and wide coverage, ETFs are very popular among investors.


Shares of stock allow investors to participate in the success of the company through increases in the share price and through dividends. Shareholders have a claim to the assets of the company in the event of liquidation (i.e., the company goes bankrupt) but they do not own the assets.

Owners of common stock have voting rights at shareholder meetings. Preferred stock holders do not have voting rights but receive preference over common shareholders in terms of dividend payments.

alternative investments

There is a wide world of alternative investments, including the following sectors:

    • Real estate: Investors can acquire real estate by direct purchase of commercial or residential real estate. Alternatively, they can buy shares in real estate investment trusts (REITs). Real estate investment trusts work like mutual funds where a group of investors pool their money together to purchase real estate. They trade like stocks on the same stock exchange.
    • hedge funds And private equity fundsAlpha: Hedge funds may invest in a group of assets designed to generate returns that exceed market returns, called “alpha.” However, performance is not guaranteed, hedge funds can experience incredible shifts in returns, and sometimes the market underperforms by a large margin. These vehicles are usually only available to accredited investors, and often require a high initial investment of $1 million or more. They also tend to impose net wealth requirements. Both types of investment may tie the investor’s money for extended periods of time.
    • goodsCommodities: Commodities refer to tangible resources such as gold, silver, and crude oil, as well as agricultural products.



How to invest reasonably, appropriately and simple

Many seasoned investors are diversifying their portfolios using the above asset classes, with a mix that reflects their risk tolerance. A good tip for investors is to start with simple investments, and then gradually expand their portfolio. Specifically, mutual funds or ETFs are a good first step, before moving on to individual stocks, real estate, and other alternative investments.

However, most people are too busy to worry about monitoring their investment portfolios on a daily basis. Therefore, sticking with index funds that reflect the market is a viable solution. Most individuals only need three index funds: one that covers the US stock market, one that focuses on international stocks, and a third that is a broad bond index, says Stephen Goldberg, principal at Tweddell Goldberg Wealth Management and a longtime mutual fund columnist at Kiplinger.com. .


bottom line

Investment education is essential – like avoiding investments you don’t fully understand. Rely on sound recommendations from experienced investors, while rejecting “hot advice” from untrustworthy sources. When consulting professionals, look for independent financial advisors who only get paid for their time, rather than those who collect commissions. Above all, diversify your holdings across a wide range of assets.