Number One Rule for Stock Investors
September 17 2019 - Still The No. 1 Rule For Stock Market Investors: Always Cut Your Losses Short By Investors Business Daily
In the battle for investment survival, you can learn a lot from judo. The first and most important lesson in that martial art is the same for the stock market: damage control.
Judo masters begin not by learning how to throw, but how to fall. They practice this skill until it's as natural as breathing. No matter how many times they're flipped, they can rise to fight again.
Highly successful stock pickers go through similar training: They must learn how to cut their losses short. This means selling a stock when it's down 7% or 8% from your purchase price.
Sounds simple, but many investors have learned the hard way how difficult it is to master the most important rule in investing.
No one wants to sell for a loss. It's an admission that you made a mistake. But if you can set your ego aside, you can take a small loss and still be fit enough, both financially and mentally, to invest the next day. Cutting losses quickly prevents you from suffering a devastating fall that's too steep to recover from.
The Mathematics Of Investment Losses Consider the math. Say you buy a stock at 50. For whatever reason, it drops 8% to 46 during the next few days. You promptly unload it and move on. To reclaim that loss, you need to make an 8.7% gain on your next purchase with your remaining capital, which shouldn't be hard to do.
What if you hold on?
You're sure the stock will snap back. Your research convinces you it's worth $100, so why get scared by a minor setback?
There's one problem. The market doesn't care who you are, what you think or how much you believe in a stock. It says you miscalculated, at least in the short term — a message that gets louder as the stock drops 25% to 37-1/2. To get back even, now you need a 33% gain, which is much tougher to come by than that easy 8.7%.
What if the market really doesn't like your stock and slices it in half to 25? You don't need a calculator for this one: To recover a 50% loss requires a 100% gain. How many stocks did you pick last year that doubled in price?
If you limit losses on initial purchases to 7% or 8%, you can stay out of trouble, even if only 1 out of 4 buys delivers a modest profit of 25% or 30%. You can be wrong 3 out of every 4 times and still live to invest another day.
You Can Still Win Big With Many Small Losses
A .250 batting average is nothing to crow about. But even the best hitters in baseball fail more than they succeed. Consider Tony Gwynn, who in 1999 became the 21st member of pro baseball's 3,000-hit club. That year, the former San Diego Padres outfielder finished the season with a batting average of .338. That means he was coming up empty nearly 2 out of 3 times at the plate.
You likely never saw Gwynn fret after grounding out. The same is true for successful investors. They calmly take a small loss and look for the next potential winner.
So leave your emotions behind. Cutting losses with discipline will help keep your head clear when it's time to return to the market. A great paradox of investing is that the ripest buying opportunities occur just after bear markets — when the major stock averages have declined 20% or more.
That's exactly when most investors who haven't cut their losses are reeling and don't want to be hit again. It's hard to think straight after losing thousands of dollars. But the market always recovers. What kind of shape will you be in?
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