Penny Stock Investment Tips for Beginners

a penny on a stock chart
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It's important for new penny stock investors to familiarize themselves with the basics before jumping in. Avoiding common pitfalls can help limit losses and spot legitimate investment opportunities.

What to Avoid

  • Stocks listed on low-quality exchanges such as OTC Markets Group (formerly The Pink Sheets)

  • Free stock pick offers

  • Confirmation bias

What to Look For

  • Stocks listed on major exchanges or the NASDAQ-owned OTC Bulletin Board

  • Stock picks with 100-percent unbiased guarantees

  • Stop-loss and limit orders

Where to Trade Penny Stocks

There is a wide range of stock markets upon which penny stocks can trade. However, these exchanges are not all created equal. One of the most effective methods of avoiding the risks of low-priced shares, while dramatically improving your potential odds of success, is knowing where to trade.

Considering that penny stocks are any shares that trade for less than $5, there are plenty of penny stocks on many of the major exchanges like the NYSE and the NASDAQ. There are even a few which trade for less than one dollar but still trade on these "big-board" markets. However, you will typically find most penny stocks trading at the following locations:

  • The Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB): This is owned by the NASDAQ, and as such has listing fees, standards, and reporting requirements. The companies trading upon it have a responsibility to provide the shareholders (you) with timely financial documentation. Higher-quality penny stocks list here when they are just shy of attaining the status that comes with the NASDAQ or NYSE.
  • The OTC Markets Group (POTCQX, OTCQB, OTC Pink): Formerly known as The Pink Sheets, these markets are considered very risky for penny stock investors. Since they have such a low standard to get started, and almost non-existent fees, just about any company can be publicly traded on them. By avoiding penny stocks trading on these markets, you can reduce the vast majority of downside risks of investing in low-priced shares.

    What to Know About Free Stock Picks

    Avoid free stock picks. Penny stocks are lightly followed and typically very thinly traded. This, combined with their super-low price per share, makes them the ideal vehicle for promoters and scam artists.

    Some scammers will buy up a ton of some near-bankrupt, almost lifeless penny stock, then use lies and exaggerations to push the share price much higher. They might say the company is about to get some huge business deal with Google or their neighbor just struck gold in their similar mine, or they are going to land a major FDA clearance. That typically helps increase the value of the penny stock, which creates a profit for the promoter or scam artist. As the shares increase in value, they sell their holdings.

    These shares usually collapse back down to near-worthless status once the promoter has taken their profits and moved on. 

    There are also other reasons for putting out free stock picks. In many cases, the actual companies themselves are paying various people or services to tell the world about their business. It's common to have a small, publicly traded penny stock pay a lot of money to get the right kind of exposure to help lift their share price. The aim is to issue more stock at a higher price and raise money more easily.

    Remember that free stock picks usually exist because of the vested interests of the company or the promoter. There are some exceptions, such as in the case of top book publishers, like John Wiley & Sons, who produce works like, "Penny Stocks for Dummies." Their exhaustive vetting process alone is usually thorough enough to provide you with some serious confidence in who they choose.

    Learning to Trade Penny Stocks

    It can be helpful to start with paper trading, or simulated trading that allows you to practice without risking actual money. By keeping track of pretend money, and making imaginary trades, you'll learn what tactics work and what sorts of penny stocks provide you with the greatest profits. If you lose on your trades, you don't lose cash in real life, and ideally, you'll learn some things that you might be doing wrong.

    The beauty is that all it requires is a pencil and a pad (and an internet connection). Paper trade until you consistently show profits from the penny stocks you would have traded. Then you can be more confident as you make the jump to real money.

    When choosing where to trade, do not rely on any site that can't point to a 100-percent unbiased guarantee. Regardless of what they call it, you only want to trust a website or service that ensures your best interests are front and center. They should commit to everyone that they will not trade in the shares they tell their customers about, and that they're not simply touting their own investments.

    Tools and Tips for Penny Stock Trading

    There are plenty of interesting and simple online tools which can be used to improve your trading results, such as the Relative Strength Index (RSI). This is just one example from among dozens of possible technical analysis (TA) options, and you will need to discover and decide which ones work best for you. You may need to paper trade to figure out the best TA tools for you and your strategy. Besides these sorts of technical analysis indicators, there are a few "tried and true" rules:

    • Beware of confirmation bias: With penny stocks, beware of confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret information in a way that that conforms to your preexisting beliefs. This is something that afflicts nearly every human being and most new investors (or rookie poker players). Seeing what you want to see (albeit usually subconsciously) can be incredibly costly.
    • Use limit orders: Always use limit orders rather than market orders, when trading penny stocks. The very act of buying or selling shares in a company that is thinly traded can result in the price moving due to your trade. In other words, your buy might cause the shares to temporarily and artificially increase, then drop back down as soon as your purchase has been filled.
    • Use stop-loss orders: Possibly the single most important tactic for investing well in penny stocks is to use stop-loss orders. Basically, you commit early on to immediately sell your shares if the price dips to a certain point. If you stick to this self-imposed rule, you limit your downside, but at the same time you remain open to the tremendous upside that penny stocks could provide. You may see better overall trading results by selling your losing positions very early and letting your gains run.