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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some strategies about selling stocks

Why discuss stock selling strategies just when the Sensex is showing some signs of life after an 8 months long corrective move? Isn’t this a good time to buy and make some money?

The answer depends on what type of investor you are. If you want to play the momentum in the short-term, by all means buy and book profits after a gain of 3 or 5 points. May be even 8 or 10 points. Which isn’t bad at all – if you are trading thousands of shares. Such a strategy can be followed at any time.

But many small investors don’t have big money at their disposal. They can buy 200 or 500 shares at a time (I’m not talking about penny stocks here). A 5 or 10 point gain is neither here nor there – compared to the risks involved. May be this isn’t such a great time to buy after all – since the index is just about 10% below its all-time high.

Instead of having an ad-hoc hit-and-miss strategy, have a plan. For buying, holding and selling. The ‘Margin of Safety’ concept works well for buying. P/E bands work well too – for buying, holding and selling. I prefer to use an asset allocation plan for timing buy-sell-hold decisions.

Today, I want to discuss a few selling strategies. Before you buy any stock, decide on a selling plan – based on your risk tolerance, time horizon and individual preference. As a long-term investor, I prefer to have a three years time horizon for any stock to perform. You can just as well choose a one year or two years time frame. Anything less than a year, and you will be treading the fine line between an investor and a speculator.

Once you decide on a time frame, pick a realistic price point. 100% gain in 1 year may happen once or twice, but is not a realistic goal. But a 50% gain in two years, or a 100% gain in three years may be more achievable. When the price target is reached, it is best to sell out entirely. But if you feel that more upside is left, book partial profits, and hold on to the rest with a trailing stop-loss. If the price target is not reached, don’t hold on with the hope that it will be reached ‘some day’. Just sell.

If by partial profit booking you have withdrawn your original investment, don’t ever think that the balance holding is ‘free’. It isn’t. It has an opportunity cost. If the market dives and your balance holdings drop by 50%, you have lost real money. A trailing stop-loss will save you from such a calamity.

Supposing you have a two years time frame with a 50% appreciation target. After six months, the stock suddenly starts to flare up and gains 50%. What should you do? Wait for your two years time frame, or sell now? Sudden flare-ups in stock prices occur for different reasons - insider buying, some company-specific news that you may not have heard yet, a fundamental change in the sector, a merger or acquisition.

Why bother with reasons? If your target is reached, sell – even if it means paying short-term capital gains tax. After all, tax is paid from profits – so you are still ahead.

So far, I have discussed selling strategies when your stock is in profit. What if you buy a stock and it keeps falling down? Have a strict selling strategy – a 3% or a 8% or a 15% stop-loss, depending on the type of stock and the planned period of holding. Have the discipline to sell as soon as the stop-loss is hit on a closing basis.

Learn to be unemotional and unexcited about your buy-sell-hold decisions. Treat them like any monetary transaction – like buying a cup of coffee or getting a hair-cut.

Related Posts

What exactly is the Margin of Safety?
How to reallocate your assets

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