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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What to do when stock prices fall?

Most small investors – particularly the recent entrants to the stock market – are ‘bulls’. That means, they buy a stock at a certain price and expect the price to quickly move higher so that they can sell and make a tidy profit without going through Step 1 (see below).

The idea is not entirely wrong. Being a bull is usually more ‘fun’. When you buy a stock and it starts to rise rapidly, you tend to feel elated and proud that you have made a smart choice. But it is no fun at all when the stock you have bought recently suddenly turns around for no rhyme or reason, and starts falling like a stone.

Your elation vanishes into thin air. Your pride takes a beating. You can’t confide to friends or family because they will either laugh at you or scold you for being a greedy gambler. You start losing sleep and look for ways to recover from the situation.

One of the worst things to do is to buy more as the stock price keeps falling. Your ‘average’ price goes down, but your losses keep on increasing. You eventually lose hope, and either sell when the stock price is near its bottom, or become a reluctant long-term investor.

So, what was wrong in being a bull? Forgetting that there is always another animal called a ‘bear’ in the stock market. While bulls are strong and can sweep aside all resistances when they are excited and charging, they are basically peaceful vegetarians.

Bears, on the other hand, are vicious and cunning meat-eating predators. In the stock market, a handful of professional bears make mincemeat out of the hordes of peaceful small investor bulls. What helps the bears is that they only need to pay a margin amount for shorting a stock which they may not even own. Then they square off the deal at a lower price and pocket the profit.

How do you avoid being decimated by bears? Follow three simple steps:

1. Do your homework before buying a stock. Is it fundamentally strong? Does the company have growth opportunities? Does the business model generate adequate cash from operations? What is the reputation and track record of the promoters?

Learn about some basic ratios like P/E, P/BV, Debt/Equity, Market Cap/Sales, Return on Assets. (Most of these concepts have been covered in different blog posts.)

2. Buy any stock with an adequate Margin of Safety

3. In spite of doing your home work and buying with a Margin of Safety, a stock’s price may start to fall after you buy it. Avoid a big loss by taking a small one. Learn how to set a stop-loss.

That was the long answer. The short answer is: Sell, and sit on the cash. Go to Step 1 above. Don’t go to Step 2 before becoming thoroughly conversant with Step 1.

Related Posts

How to lose more money and become a better investor
What exactly is the Margin of Safety?
What is the Return on Assets (RoA) ratio?

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