When to Sell Stocks

When the market has been on a long term rise it is often wise to consider when to sell stocks. Even buy and hold long term investors need to get out of stocks that have run their course. In retrospect, fundamental analysis of saddle makers, wagon makers and carriage makers at the start of the 20th century would have told investors that these businesses would shrink as Henry Ford and others began to mass produce automobiles and trucks. There was a time when investment analysts told their clients to never sell IBM. Big Blue was the king of the computer world. Then Apple came along and invented the desktop computer. IBM missed the boat and its stock fell by half and it cobbled together the PC system. As Bill Gates says in his book, The Road Ahead, IBM created multiple billionaires who fixed the mistakes in the design of the IBM PC. When Apple went public in 1985 it was not only time to buy Apple but when to sell stocks like IBM that were so heavily dependent on main frame computers. The stock market has gone up for a year and many stocks are probably over bought. With the likelihood of a market correction in mind here are a few thoughts about when to sell stocks and how to decide which ones.

Interest Rates and Stock Prices

We recently wrote about possible stock picks for 2014. Because interest rates are likely to rise this year we noted that utility stocks are likely to fall in price. At the same time their dividends will likely remain the same. So we suggested that one might consider buying utilities such as the Southern Company after rates go up. If you believe that the Federal Reserve will continue to pare back its quantitative easing stimulus program, when to sell stocks such as utilities is probably right now. As the economy slowly improves rates will go up and high paying dividend stocks like utilities will go down in value. These are great stocks for the long term but not on the eve of a rate hike. When to sell stocks like these, is when times are good and rates are low. When to buy stocks like these is when rates go up, their prices go down, and the value of their dividends rises significantly.

Overbought Markets and Stocks

There are times, perhaps even now, what an individual stock or the entire market has been going up for months or even years. New investors enter the market with the perception that any stock they buy will go up in price. However, there are sectors such as gold investments that have recently gone bad. It should have been obvious to smart investors that gold would not go up forever. New investors believed the hype that currencies would fail and that gold would be king. The market was overbought and when interest rates started to go up and the economy started to mend and when the US dollar rose, gold took a nose dive and fell more than fifty percent. When to sell stocks is when the entire world is buying them and driving prices up beyond where fundamental dictate. When considering when to buy stocks look at profit to earnings ratios, intrinsic stock value, margin of safety, and technical analysis of market sentiment. When to sell stocks is when these fundamentals are bad and the market is ignoring them.

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