The Basics of Stocks, ETFs, Options and Futures

Even the best at online stock trading admit that learning all the ins and outs of the industry makes for a daunting task. Entry into the field involves mastery over its often opaque jargon and complex concepts. At Lightspeed, we strive to design trading tools that assist everyone from the most experienced traders to those just looking to get started.

Part of that endeavor involves education. To that end, we have provided a short glossary of some basic stock market terminology to help beginning traders on their way. Those with more experience can always stand to review their knowledge, as well.

trading platform chart with volume chart

Securities — like stocks, exchange-traded funds, options, and futures — form the core of traders’ day-to-day lives. These assets represent investments. Subsequently, they allow companies, commercial enterprises, and municipalities to raise new capital.


Although practically everyone recognizes the term “stocks,” public understanding remains low as to how they actually function. These securities denote ownership in a corporation. This ownership entitles the shareholder (the person who owns the stock) to a part of the corporation’s earnings and assets. Generally, stocks consist of two different types:

  • Common – This kind of stock typically allows the owner to collect dividends and grants them voting power at shareholders’ meetings.

  • Preferred – Most often, these stocks do not grant the owner voting rights. However, these shareholders will have a higher claim than those with common stocks. When it comes time to receive dividends, or if a company declares bankruptcy and becomes liquidated, shareholders with preferred stocks have priority.

Exchange-traded-funds (ETFs)

On the stock market, ETFs trade like stocks but more closely resemble mutual funds. They hold stocks, commodities, and other assets while remaining tradeable themselves. Because they reflect an index, their prices change throughout the day. In contrast, mutual funds have their net asset values (NAV) calculated at the end of the business day. ETFs, combine the flexibility of stocks with the diversification inherent in mutual funds. That, in addition to their tax efficiency and low costs, makes ETFs an appealing choice for many traders.


These highly versatile securities represent sellable contracts. Those who sell options give buyers the license to buy or sell a particular asset at a previously agreed-upon “strike price” at a specific time. Option speculation highlights the buyers’ disparate views of the asset’s projected value.

  • Call Option – This option allows the buyer to buy the asset at a certain price, meaning that they believe the option will go up in value, thus earning them a profit. In this instance, the seller typically believes that the value will go down.

  • Put Option – Conversely, the put option allows the buyer to sell at a predetermined price, which means that they think the value will go up. The option seller in this case likely expects the value to go down.

Due to their high liquidity, options usually carry more leverage than stocks but require less capital, giving traders with less buying power more choices when diversifying their portfolios.


Futures, like options, consist of sellable contracts. However, unlike options, futures require the holder to fulfill the terms of the contract at the time of expiration. In practice, traders can still buy or sell futures in much the same way as options. Futures help to manage potential increases or decreases in the value of the contract’s underlying assets, allowing them to speculate or hedge their investments.

Trade stock, options and futures

Lightspeed offers active and professional traders highly accurate market data, complex order management, fast executions, and multiple routing destinations.

Lightspeed Financial Services Group LLC is not affiliated with these third-party market commentators/educators or service providers. Data, information, and material (“Content”) are provided for informational and educational purposes only. This content neither is, nor should be construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any securities or contracts. Any investment decisions made by the user through the use of such content are solely based on the user's independent analysis taking into consideration your financial circumstances, investment objectives, and risk tolerance. Lightspeed Financial Services Group LLC does not endorse, offer or recommend any of the services or commentary provided by any of the market commentators/educators or service providers, and any information used to execute any trading strategies are solely based on the independent analysis of the user.

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Equities, equities options, and commodity futures products and services are offered by Lightspeed Financial Services Group LLC (Member FINRA, NFA and SIPC). Lightspeed Financial Services Group LLC’s SIPC coverage is available only for securities, and for cash held in connection with the purchase or sale of securities, in equities and equities options accounts. You may check the background of Lightspeed Financial Services Group LLC on FINRA’s BrokerCheck.

Options trading entails significant risk and is not appropriate for all investors. Certain complex options strategies carry additional risk. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options

ETFs are subject to market fluctuation and the risks of their underlying investments. ETFs are subject to management fees and other expenses.