What is Supply and Demand?

Supply and demand
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April is Financial Literacy Month, and our goal is to help you raise your money IQ. In this series, we'll tackle key economic concepts -- ones that affect your everyday finances and investments -- to help you make smarter choices with every dollar decision you face.

Today's concept: supply and demand.

Most folks are familiar with the concept of supply and demand, but most of us also don't give it much thought, which is a mistake. That's because it applies to much more than just business.

First, to review. In basic economics, the law of supply and demand influences prices. If supply of an item is abundant, that will pressure the price downward, and vice versa. In practice, imagine that you're the only one in town selling shoehorns. Because consumers don't have any other places to buy the product, that gives you some pricing power. But if other stores in town start carrying shoehorns, you may have to drop your price to keep customers coming.

In the Stock Market

Similar principles are at work in the stock market. Once stocks are launched into the market via an initial public offering, or IPO, their prices aren't set by the companies behind the stocks, or even the brokerages processing the trading. Instead, they reflect the shares' supply and demand.

As an example, think of retailer J.C. Penney (JCP). Its stock closed at $15.87 per share on April 8. But on April 9, it closed around $13.92, down more than 12 percent in a single day.

What happened? Well, the struggling company's CEO, Ron Johnson, was dismissed, replaced by a former CEO, Mike Ullman. The fact that the stock price sank reflects a lack of confidence in the company -- or a lack of demand for its shares. If investors were more optimistic about the company and Ullman's leadership potential, demand for its shares would have risen, driving the price up.

Meanwhile, shares of Yahoo (YHOO) have surged more than 50 percent since Marissa Mayer took the reins of the company. That increase reflects confidence in her leadership and the company's future -- via an increased demand for shares.

In Our Lives

Shortages and surpluses affect other areas of our lives, too, such as careers. There's a good case to be made for pursuing the career that most excites you, but you would also do well to factor in the supply and demand for that occupation and others.

There are many lists of jobs that are expected to be in great demand in the coming years. The folks at Randstad, for example, a major global staffing company, have listed "13 Hot Jobs for 2013." They include registered nurses, physicians (specializing in urgent care and anti-aging medicine), drug safety specialists, mortgage underwriters, loan documentation specialists, accountants, manufacturing production specialists, industrial engineers, electrical/hardware engineers, customer service representatives, executive assistants, software developers, and IT professionals.

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When certain occupations experience demand significantly greater than supply, salaries and benefits tend to rise as companies try to attract and retain employees.

You see supply and demand in play elsewhere, too. It affects everything from the prices ticket scalpers can command to the price of oil. Let's say the world's oil producers maximized their production. Supply would rise, and the price of oil would likely fall. Since that doesn't sound good to oil producers, they have been known to manage their production. At the supermarket, the prices of many foods are tied to their supply, which is affected by droughts and other factors.

Learning about some simple economic concepts like these can make you a better financial thinker and decision maker.

Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.


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