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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A common investing mistake - and its remedy

A common investing mistake made by many small investors is to wait far too long, and let buying or selling opportunities slip away. When the stock market is rising, and portfolio values go up in leaps and bounds, the tendency is to hang on to the stocks or funds in the portfolio to try and squeeze out the maximum amount of profit. The wait to sell keeps getting longer and longer and one fine day, the market cracks for no apparent reason. The investor rues the fact that a selling opportunity near the top was missed.

When the stock market is falling, the same psychology plays out in reverse. Investors try to buy a selected stock or fund at the lowest possible price, and keep waiting and waiting to buy at even lower prices. Out of the blue, the market turns and starts to rise - as if throwing caution and common sense to the winds. A buying opportunity near the bottom is missed.

Seasoned professional investors find it tough to correctly time stock market tops and bottoms. Imagine how much more difficult it is for amateur investors to catch market tops and bottoms. It is not worth trying unless one has become adept at identifying technical signals - and that takes years of practice.

There is a simple way to remedy the mistake of waiting too long and losing opportunities. Inculcate the habit of being fully invested. Regardless of whether the stock market is moving up or down. But it requires a bit of planning and a large dose of discipline. First of all, investors require a financial plan based on their income, savings and existing and future financial commitments. Help can be sought from a professional financial planner (for a fee) or a CA friend (for free). But it isn't rocket science. Knowledge of Class 5 arithmetic is good enough to do it yourself.

Then one needs an asset allocation plan, based on risk tolerance. This post explains the concept of an asset allocation plan. Once the plan is in place, investors should have the discipline to stick to the plan at least for two or three years. Change the plan only if things don't work out. Investing without a plan is like travelling without a destination.

If the asset allocation plan indicates it is a good time to buy (because the equity portion of the allocation has fallen below a pre-set threshold level), start buying systematically. By using cost averaging or value averaging concepts. Read about these concepts in this post. Identify a couple of good stocks or funds. Then decide how much of each you want to buy value-wise. Spread out the buying over a few months, till your asset allocation plan is rebalanced.

If the asset allocation plan indicates it is time to sell (because the equity portion of the allocation has exceeded a threshold level), don't wait any longer. Start booking profits partially. To find out more about partial profit booking, read this post. Remember to keep the flowers and cut the weeds in the portfolio first.


Salil said...

Excellent post Subhankar.
Thank you

Jasi said...

A very nice bird's eye view, crash course into the world of investing. Could not have been put in a better way using the amount of words you did. Fantastic!
Please keep writing.

Subhankar said...

@Salil: I should be thanking you, Salil. Your query motivated me to write this post.

@Jasi: You are always generous with your comments, Jasi. Appreciate it.