Cutting Losses with Fisher’s 3 Golden Sell Rules
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Today we are going to revisit investing giant Phil Fisher, but rather than rehashing his accomplishments and overall philosophy, we will dig deeper into his selling discipline. For most investors, selling securities is much more difficult than buying them. The average investor often lacks emotional self-control and is unable to be honest with himself. Since most investors hate being wrong, their egos prevent taking losses on positions, even if it is the proper, rational decision. Often the end result is an inability to sell deteriorating stocks until capitulating near price bottoms.
Selling may be more difficult for most, but Fisher actually has a simpler and crisper number of sell rules as compared to his buy rules (3 vs. 15). Here are Fisher’s three sell rules:
1) Wrong Facts: There are times after a security is purchased that the investor realizes the facts do not support the supposed rosy reasons of the original purchase. If the purchase thesis was initially built on a shaky foundation, then the shares should be sold.
2) Changing Facts: The facts of the original purchase may have been deemed correct, but facts can change negatively over the passage of time. Management deterioration and/or the exhaustion of growth opportunities are a few reasons why a security should be sold according to Fisher.
3) Scarcity of Cash: If there is a shortage of cash available, and if a unique opportunity presents itself, then Fisher advises the sale of other securities to fund the purchase.
Reasons Not to Sell
Prognostications or gut feelings about a potential market decline are not reasons to sell in Fisher’s eyes. Selling out of fear generally is a poor and costly idea. Fisher explains:
“When a bear market has come, I have not seen one time in ten when the investor actually got back into the same shares before they had gone up above his selling price.”
In Fisher’s mind, another reason not to sell stocks is solely based on valuation. Longer-term earnings power and comparable company ratios should be considered before spontaneous sales. What appears expensive today may look cheap tomorrow.
There are many reasons to buy and sell a stock, but like most good long –term investors, Fisher has managed to explain his three-point sale plan in simplistic terms the masses can understand. If you are committed to cutting investment losses, I advise you to follow investment legend Phil Fisher – cutting losses will actually help prevent your portfolio from splitting apart.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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