When it comes to investing, the decision of when to buy a stock can sometimes be easier than knowing when is the appropriate time to sell a stock.
Buy recommendations are prevalent and stem from a wide variety of sources, including investment newsletters, analysts, stockbrokers and investment managers. However, few offer much advice on when it is best to sell a stock. Here are five tips on when it might be time to sell.
- Knowing when to sell an investment is just as, or perhaps even more important than knowing when to buy.
- There are several good reasons to sell your holdings, both to lock in profits at the right time or to stem losses before they grow too large.
- Having both fundamental and technical indicators, such as stock price target in mind, as well as keeping an eye on corporate actions and news is key to timing an exit.
5 Tips On When To Sell Your Stock
1. It Hits Your Price Target
When initially buying a stock, astute investors establish a price target, or at least a range in which they would consider selling the stock. Each stock purchase should also include an analysis on what the stock is worth, and the current price should ideally be at a substantial discount to this estimated value. For instance, selling out of a stock when it doubles in price is a worthy goal and implies that an investor thinks it is undervalued by 50%.
It is difficult for even the most seasoned investor to come up with a single price target. Instead, a range is more realistic, as is deciding to sell off the position as it is rising, in order to lock in gains.
2. Deterioration in the Fundamentals
Along with keeping track of a firms stock price after establishing a price target, monitoring the performance of the underlying business is important. A key reason to sell is if the business fundamentals decline. In an ideal world, an investor will realize a deterioration in sales, profit margins, cash flow or other key operating fundamentals before the stock price starts to decline. More experienced analysts may read deep into the financial statements, such as filing footnotes that other investors are more likely to miss.
Fraud is one of the more serious fundamental flaws. Investors who were early to spot financial fraud from the likes of WorldCom, Enron and Tyco were able to save substantial sums as the share prices of these respective firms plummeted.
3. A Better Opportunity Comes Along
Opportunity cost is a benefit that could have been obtained by going with an alternative. Before owning a stock, always compare it with the potential gains that could be obtained by owning another stock. If that alternative is better, then it makes sense to sell the current position and buy the other.
Accurately identifying opportunity cost is extremely difficult, but could include investing in a competitor if it has equally compelling growth prospects and trades at a lower valuation, such as a lower price to earnings multiple.
4. After a Merger
The average takeover premium, or price at which a company is bought out, generally ranges between 20-40%. If an investor is lucky enough to own a stock that ends up being acquired for a significant premium, the best course of action may be to sell it. There may be merits to continuing to own the stock after the merger goes through, such as if the competitive position of the combined companies has improved substantially.
However, mergers have a lousy track record of being successful. Additionally, it can take many months for a deal to be completed. Therefore, from an opportunity cost perspective, it can make sense to find an alternative investment opportunity with better upside potential.
5. After Bankruptcy
This may seem obvious, especially because, in the vast majority of cases, a bankrupt company becomes worthless to shareholders. However, for tax purposes it is important to sell or realize the loss so that it is used to offset future capital gains, as well as a small percent of regular income each year.
Selling a stock right after bankruptcy will often result in a large loss, but you may still be able to recover some cents on the dollar.
The Bottom Line
The decision to sell a stock is indeed a combination of art and science. There are a number of considerations to make, such as those above, when deciding if stock gains have run their course or are likely to continue. A common-sense strategy is to sell as a stock rises in order to lock in gains over time and to sell into losses in order to avoid them from spiraling out of control.
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