While it may be true that in the stock market there is no rule
without an exception, there are some principles that are tough to
dispute. Let's review 10 general principles to help investors get a
better grasp of how to approach the market from a long-term view. Every
point embodies some fundamental concept every investor should know.
1. Sell the losers and let the winners ride!
Time and time again, investors take profits by selling their
appreciated investments, but they hold onto stocks that have declined in
the hope of a rebound. If an investor doesn't know when it's time to
let go of hopeless stocks, he or she can, in the worst-case scenario,
see the stock sink to the point where it is almost worthless. Of course,
the idea of holding onto high-quality investments while selling the
poor ones is great in theory, but hard to put into practice. The
following information might help:
- Riding a Winner - Peter Lynch was famous
for talking about "tenbaggers ", or investments that increased tenfold
in value. The theory is that much of his overall success was due to a
small number of stocks in his portfolio that returned big. If you have a
personal policy to sell after a stock has increased by a certain
multiple - say three, for instance - you may never fully ride out a
winner. No one in the history of investing with a
"sell-after-I-have-tripled-my-money" mentality has ever had a tenbagger.
Don't underestimate a stock that is performing well by sticking to some
rigid personal rule - if you don't have a good understanding of the
potential of your investments, your personal rules may end up being
arbitrary and too limiting. (For more insight, see Pick Stocks Like Peter Lynch .)
- Selling a Loser - There is no guarantee
that a stock will bounce back after a protracted decline. While it's
important not to underestimate good stocks, it's equally important to be
realistic about investments that are performing badly. Recognizing your
losers is hard because it's also an acknowledgment of your mistake. But
it's important to be honest when you realize that a stock is not
performing as well as you expected it to. Don't be afraid to swallow
your pride and move on before your losses become even greater.
In both cases, the point is to judge companies on their merits
according to your research. In each situation, you still have to decide
whether a price justifies future potential. Just remember not to let
your fears limit your returns or inflate your losses. (For related
reading, check out To Sell Or Not To Sell .)
2. Don't chase a "hot tip".
Whether the tip comes from your brother, your cousin, your neighbor
or even your broker. you shouldn't accept it as law. When you make an
investment, it's important you know the reasons for doing so; do your
own research and analysis of any company before you even consider
investing your hard-earned money. Relying on a tidbit of information
from someone else is not only an attempt at taking the easy way out,
it's also a type of gambling. Sure, with some luck, tips sometimes pan
out. But they will never make you an informed investor, which is what
you need to be to be successful in the long run. (Find what you should
pay attention to - and what you should ignore in Listen To The Markets, Not Its Pundits .)
3. Don't sweat the small stuff.
As a long-term investor, you shouldn't panic when your investments
experience short-term movements. When tracking the activities of your
investments, you should look at the big picture. Remember to be
confident in the quality of your investments rather than nervous about
the inevitable volatility of the short term. Also, don't overemphasize
the few cents difference you might save from using a limit versus market
Granted, active traders will use these day-to-day and even
minute-to-minute fluctuations as a way to make gains. But the gains of a
long-term investor come from a completely different market movement -
the one that occurs over many years - so keep your focus on developing
your overall investment philosophy by educating yourself. (Learn the
difference between passive investing and apathy in Ostrich Approach To Investing A Bird-Brained Idea .)
4. Don't overemphasize the P/E ratio.
5. Resist the lure of penny stocks.
A common misconception is that there is less to lose in buying a
low-priced stock. But whether you buy a $5 stock that plunges to $0 or a
$75 stock that does the same, either way you've lost 100% of your
initial investment. A lousy $5 company has just as much downside risk as
a lousy $75 company. In fact, a penny stock is probably riskier than a
company with a higher share price, which would have more regulations
placed on it. (For further reading, see The Lowdown on Penny Stocks .)
6. Pick a strategy and stick with it.
Different people use different methods to pick stocks and fulfill
investing goals. There are many ways to be successful and no one
strategy is inherently better than any other. However, once you find
your style, stick with it. An investor who flounders between different
stock-picking strategies will probably experience the worst, rather than
the best, of each. Constantly switching strategies effectively makes
you a market timer. and this is definitely territory most investors
should avoid. Take Warren Buffett's actions during the dotcom boom of
the late '90s as an example. Buffett's value-oriented strategy had
worked for him for decades, and - despite criticism from the media - it
prevented him from getting sucked into tech startups that had no
earnings and eventually crashed. (Want to adopt the Oracle of Omaha's
investing style? See Think Like Warren Buffett .)
7. Focus on the future.
The tough part about investing is that we are trying to make informed
decisions based on things that have yet to happen. It's important to
keep in mind that even though we use past data as an indication of
things to come, it's what happens in the future that matters most.
A quote from Peter Lynch's book "One Up on Wall Street" (1990) about
his experience with Subaru demonstrates this: "If I'd bothered to ask
myself, 'How can this stock go any higher?' I would have never bought
Subaru after it already went up twentyfold. But I checked the
fundamentals. realized that Subaru was still cheap, bought the stock,
and made sevenfold after that." The point is to base a decision on
future potential rather than on what has already happened in the past.
(For more insight, see The Value Investor's Handbook .)
8. Adopt a long-term perspective.
Large short-term profits can often entice those who are new to the
market. But adopting a long-term horizon and dismissing the "get in, get
out and make a killing" mentality is a must for any investor. This
doesn't mean that it's impossible to make money by actively trading in
the short term. But, as we already mentioned, investing and trading are
very different ways of making gains from the market. Trading involves
very different risks that buy-and-hold investors don't experience. As
such, active trading requires certain specialized skills.
Neither investing style is necessarily better than the other - both
have their pros and cons. But active trading can be wrong for someone
without the appropriate time, financial resources, education and desire.
(For further reading, see Defining Active Trading .)
This is not to suggest that you should devote your entire portfolio
to small-cap stocks. Rather, understand that there are many great
companies beyond those in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), and
that by neglecting all these lesser-known companies, you could also be
neglecting some of the biggest gains. (For more on investing in small
caps, see Small Caps Boast Big Advantages .)
10. Be concerned about taxes, but don't worry.
Putting taxes above all else is a dangerous strategy, as it can often
cause investors to make poor, misguided decisions. Yes, tax
implications are important, but they are a secondary concern. The
primary goals in investing are to grow and secure your money. You should
always attempt to minimize the amount of tax you pay and maximize your
after-tax return, but the situations are rare where you'll want to put
tax considerations above all else when making an investment decision
(see Basic Investment Objectives ).