Letting Profits Run

“Let your winners run, and cut your losses quickly.” – Jesse Livermore

Ancient Greek Runners from a pottery shard. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia

This is pretty good advice when it comes to investing. The legendary investor Jesse Livermore coined this “trading commandment” a century ago. But it’s hard to put into practice. Studies show investors fear losses more than they enjoy winners. When a stock goes up we take the gain, often too early, in order to eliminate the risk of losing it later. On the other hand, we hang onto a falling stock in the hope of getting back to even.

As a result, many folks take small gains and let their losses run—the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do. Over time, selling winners and holding losers gives us a portfolio of frogs and toads. So how do we avoid this?

Photo: WikiImages. Source: Pixabay

First, we have to understand that our cost-basis is irrelevant to the stock’s performance. The stock doesn’t know that we own it. Many investors think a loss isn’t real unless they’ve realized it. But that’s another mistake. If a stock’s price goes down, we have the loss. The price decline may be irrational, or it may improve the stock’s potential return, but the loss has happened. Hoping the price will come back up won’t do anything. Hope is not a plan.

On the other hand, trimming a winning position is good risk-management. If a winner grows until its performance dominates the portfolio, that’s an excessive bet on one company. It doesn’t matter how the exposure grew—it’s too high, and should be cut back.

Letting winners run while trimming them is part of sound portfolio management. It’s unfortunate that more investors don’t – or can’t – take this advice.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

By |2017-08-30T05:58:43+00:00August 30th, 2017|Global Market Update|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mr. Tengdin is the Chief Investment Officer at Charter Trust Company and author of “The Global Market Update”. The audio version of each post can be heard on radio stations throughout New England every weekday. Mr. Tengdin graduated from Dartmouth College, Magna Cum Laude. He received his Master of Arts from Trinity Divinity School, Magna Cum Laude and received his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation in 1992. Mr. Tengdin has been managing investment portfolios for over 30 years, working for Bank of Boston, State Street Global Advisors, Citibank – Tunisia, and Banknorth Group. Throughout his career, Mr. Tengdin has emphasized helping clients manage their financial risks in difficult environments where they can profit from investing in diverse assets in diverse settings. - Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all! - And Follow me on Twitter @GlobalMarketUpd

Leave A Comment