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.
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.
Test Your Financial Fluency
What is Supply and Demand?
From taxes and credit to saving and money management, you can get lost in the complexity and abundance of financial issues. But by learning some simple fundamentals, you can take control of your finances and feel secure in your money management skills.
How well do you know the basics of personal finance?
Put your knowledge to the test with this 12-question quiz.
A. Under your mattress
D. Bank savings account
You want money you plan to use within the next three to five years to be safe and easily accessible. Lock it up in a savings or money market account. You won't earn much interest on it with rates so low, but you also won't lose any of it to the volatility of the stock market. You can find search for which accounts are offering the best rates on Bankrate.com.
A. Suck up to the boss
B. Get a second job
C. Adjust your tax withholding
If you typically get a tax refund each spring (and most of you do), file a new Form W-4 with your employer to increase the number of exemptions you claim - and lower the amount Uncle Sam takes from your paycheck. Try our easy-to-use tax withholding calculator to help you figure the right number for your situation.
A. Pay bills on time and keep credit-card balances low
B. Limit applications for new credit and keep old accounts open
C. Sweet-talk the credit-card company phone rep
The simple act of paying bills on time and keeping your balances low accounts for 65% of your credit score. New credit and the length of your credit history make up 25% of your score. The remaining 10% factors in the types of credit you use. Sorry, sweet-talking will get you nowhere.
A. Treasury bonds
B. Money market account
D. Residential real estate
Stocks fare best over long stretches of time. Take the 20-year period through 2012, for example. The average taxable U.S. money-market fund returned 2.8% annualized. Residential real estate, as measured by Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller index, did just slightly better with 3.0% annualized. Barclay's U.S. Treasury index earned 6.3% a year, on average. And the S&P 500 trumped them all, delivering 8.2% annualized.
A. Life insurance
B. Health insurance
C. Auto insurance
You only need life insurance if you have someone depending on you financially. Bob is unwed and childless, so he doesn't need it. However, he will need health insurance and auto insurance to protect himself against disaster.
B. 529 plan
C. Municipal bonds
D. Certificate of deposit
E. None of the above
A bank CD falls under federal protection if it's FDIC insured. That means up to $250,000 is protected in case a bank goes under, and you get up to $250,000 of insurance at each bank where you buy CDs. Municipal bonds, 529 plans, 401(k)s and other investments are not covered. You invest at your own risk.
Ashley, age 20, contributes $3,000 per year to an individual retirement account for ten years, then stops, letting her money sit in the account. Adam, age 30, contributes $3,000 each year to an IRA for 35 years. Who will have more money at age 65, assuming they get identical investment returns?
Ashley comes out ahead, thanks to the magic of compounding. Even though she stopped contributing after only ten years, her money will grow to about $694,000 by the time she retires, assuming an 8% annual return. Adam, who got a late start, but pitched in more money out of pocket, will amass about $558,000.
A. Your credit score
B. Your car make and model
C. Your car color
D. Your address
Insurers look at a variety of factors to calculate your risk, but the color of your car isn't one of them. Your financial habits, the type of car you drive and where you drive do matter.
A. At age 16
B. At age 18
C. When they get their first job
D. When their income reaches certain levels
A child's age or job has nothing to do with it. Rather, the IRS cares about how much the child made and the source of the income. For example, children who have investment income of more than $950 or have wage income of more than $5,950 in 2012 need to file a return. Children who receive a paycheck and have taxes withheld may want to file even if they don't have to - they could reclaim most or all of their income taxes.
You can withdraw contributions you made to a Roth IRA at any time, for any purpose without paying any taxes or penalties, and without having to pay it back - ever.
Any money you put into your Roth IRA is yours for the taking - even if you aren't retired. The money your account earns, however, cannot be touched until you're 59½ and have had a Roth for at least five years. Otherwise, you'll owe taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty on earnings. An exception: Once the money's been in your account for five years, you can tap your earnings to buy your first home.
B. Notify your bank and credit-card companies
C. Contact the credit bureaus
D. Call the Social Security office
Put your tears of frustration on hold. First, notify your credit-card companies and bank to monitor your accounts for fraudulent charges, just in case your wallet falls into the wrong hands. Second, contact the credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on your report. This will require lenders to make an effort to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. It also gives you a free copy of your credit report so you can review it for suspicious activity.
A. Upgrade your lifestyle: You've been pinching pennies for too long. It's time to reward yourself and live it up.
B. Maintain your lifestyle: Take this opportunity to pay off your high-interest debts and boost your savings. It's time to get ahead.
Sure, it's tempting to spend the money, but using it to strengthen your financial footing is the smarter choice that'll pay off exponentially in the long run.