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Financial instruments
Which one?

There are a number of financial instruments in which we might invest.
Company shares in the share market (equity market) are just one type of instrument.
But for investing or trading, which one(s) should we consider, and which to ignore? 

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Shares, hybrids, CFDs, currencies, futures...?

So you are thinking about investing or trading in the financial markets, and you have heard about a variety of different instruments... shares, CFDs, options, bonds, warrants, futures, forex, foreign currency, etc.. But which one(s) should we look at, and which should we avoid?

This topic potentially opens a can of worms, because of the sometimes complex nature of some instruments. The discussion here will only just scratch the surface. But it is hoped that it will help to clear any fog.


Perhaps the simplest instrument to consider is the simple company shares. 

Shares - example 

By way of a simple example, consider the case where a person (let's call him Fred Smith), wants to build up a company so that he can manufacture some widgets. But he needs some money. In fact, he thinks he needs about one million dollars to get started. 

Fred could arrange to set up a company structure where he has one million shares valued at $1 each, and he offers these shares for sale to his friends. If he listed his company on a public share market then his shares would be available for sale to more people than just his friends. Someone might be able to buy 500 shares for a total cost of $500 (plus any brokerage fee), or as many as 100,000 shares for a cost of $100,000. Anyone owning as many as 100,000 shares would be owning 10 percent of all the shares on issue. Once all shares had been sold, Fred would have $1,000,000 in cash that he could use to run the company.

Of course, over time, as the company operates and sells product, Fred would hope that his company makes a profit so that his shareholders could potentially be paid a dividend. And the perceived value of the shares might rise higher than the original value of $1.

So, shares are one financial instrument in which we could invest. When we refer to company shares and the share market, we could also call them equities, equity securities and the equity market respectively. Shares are also referred to as an "asset class", and a "primary instrument". 

Shares - a comment

For many investors and traders in the financial markets, public company shares are the instrument of choice. They are simple instruments - you pay an amount of money and you are allocated a specific number of shares. If the company is a publicly listed company on a stock exchange, then you can follow the performance of the share price. And from day to day and week to week you could observe the value of your capital investment increasing over time, or perhaps decreasing over time.

Many investors and traders prefer share investing because shares are relatively simple, and the shares in publicly listed companies can be relatively liquid, so that they might be able to sell their shares quickly if they want to. Provided appropriate risk management and money management principles are put into place, investing or trading in the share market is nothing like gambling.

Share prices have a personality

The perceived value of any company's shares can change quickly during the trading day, and from day to day and week to week. It is dependent on many things. The one thing that is certain is that the actual consensus value of a company's shares is the share price that is shown on the price chart. The opinion of the market participants is reflected in the share price chart. If a majority of the real market participants believe that a company's shares are worth more than a particular price level, then the shares will trade at a price that is equal to or higher than that price. Perusing a price chart over time can reveal these price levels. (The study of technical analysis is based on notions like this.)

Case study - classic example of price support and resistance levels.

The sample price chart at right (click on it for a larger version) is a good example of how the opinions of the market participants collectively force the share price to move within a defined price range, until there is a change in the majority opinions. Read more about Support and Resistance levels on the price chart.

Let's think for a moment about the people who follow the performance of a particular company, and who participate in trading the shares of the company. And also the analysts, brokers and commentators who might provide advice or buy/sell/hold recommendations. Those who follow many of the large cap stocks tend to be a different group of people from those who follow, say, the mid-cap stocks, or the small cap stocks. Therefore, their opinions about the intrinsic value of the shares will differ. And this can cause the observations of price movement on the price chart to be a little different from one company to another. We call this the "personality" of the company's share price chart.

Hybrid securities

The term "hybrid security" is used to refer to a variety of instruments which combine elements of both debt securities and equity securities. Some listed companies in Australia issue hybrids from time to time, and often in the form of capital notes. Many investors in hybrids don't fully understand the inherent risks, and risk losing some or all of their funds.

Options (stock options)

A stock option is a contract that gives the owner of the option the right (but not the obligation) to buy or sell an underlying financial instrument (such as company shares) at a specific price and date. Stock options are often used to hedge against adverse share price movements to protect the shares in a share portfolio. Many investors choose not to get involved with options and sell their shares in times of adverse share price movements. Many investors make good income from selling options. Read more at 


A futures contract is a basically an agreement to buy or sell something at an agreed price at a specific date in the future. This usually applies to a commodity, but also to other financial instruments. Read more at

Foreign currency (forex)

A number of online currency exchanges exist where a trader can trade in currencies. For trading purposes, and when referring to currencies, it is normal to refer to a pair of currencies - such as the Australian and US dollar pair, where the value of one of these currencies is quoted in relation to a unit of the other one. For example, at about the current time, the Australian Dollar has been trading around about 76 to 80 US cents.

Forex - a comment

From time to time, investors and traders develop an interest in trading currencies as a perceived way to make money. In reality, this is not easy. To be successful, one needs to have a very good feel for the consensus view of the currency value. This is very difficult because of the many factors that different forex traders use to determine the value. Many people see short-term trading in currencies as akin to gambling.


Perhaps this topic should be closer to the top of this list of instruments because at the time of writing it is the favourite of the month, especially with the news and price performance of Bitcoin.

What are cryptocurrencies? Their concise definition might change a little over time, but they are regarded as a type of digital currency, and use the blockchain technology (read about blockchain at Wikipedia). So they are not like cash, as you can't grab a handful and take it to a bank or shop to exchange for goods or services. However, a typical cryptocurrency can usually be used to purchase goods or services over the internet. Even though Bitcoin might be the most well known cryptocurrency, there are now hundreds of them in existence. See a list of them at

Read more about Bitcoin at Wikipedia

Also see a Bitcoin Quick Starter Guide (at - no recommendations offered).

Read more about cryptocurrencies at


Bonds come in a variety of different types, but in each case a bond is simply a debt security, where the entity that issues the bond is basically borrowing money from the holder of the bond, and agrees to pay back a level of interest, and eventually the actual value of the bond. Read more at

CFDs - Contract For Difference

A Contract For Difference (CFD) is basically an agreement between an investor and the issuer of the CFD to exchange the difference in price of the underlying instrument. An investor/trader can buy a CFD contract for a specific company's shares, and pay a small amount of money up front. At some time down the track the investor can close the contract and if the underlying share price has increased, then the price difference is paid to the investor and the investor has won. If the share price has fallen, and the investor closes the contract, then the investor pays the difference to the issuer and has suffered a loss. 

CFD contracts are offered by a number of CFD providers in various countries. It is normal to have CFD contracts available on share in public listed companies on various stock exchanges, as well as CFD contracts on equity indexes, currency pairs, and on commodities. In some countries CFD trading is referred to as spread betting, and is seen as gambling. Read more at


A warrant is a type of security that entitles the holder of the warrant to buy the underlying stock at a fixed price until the expiry date of the warrant. Buying a warrant can be a way to buy shares on a "down payment" plan - pay some now and the rest later. Read more at

More information

For more information on various financial instruments and asset classes, see


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The information presented herein represents the opinions of the web page content owner, and
are not recommendations or endorsements of any product, method, strategy, etc.
For financial advice, a professional and licensed financial advisor should be engaged.

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Last revised: 24 January, 2018