Buy, Sell or Hold?

Original post

Some things never change: I remember reading a well-known financial publication in 2015 that quoted market experts, one saying we were in the “fourth quarter” of the bull market.

Another said the bull had years to go. I guess he was the luckier player in that coin flip.

But really… who cares?

Sure, a bull market makes my job easier. More people want to read about the markets when stocks are rising. And it’s not as difficult to pick winning stocks in a bull market.

But a long-term investor shouldn’t get caught up in the “bull or bear” baloney.

Readers of my work know that I focus on Perpetual Dividend Raisers, or companies that have track records of raising their dividends annually.

Let’s say you own shares of AT&T (NYSE: T), which has hiked its dividend every year since it was forced by the federal government to spin off the baby bells. That was 35 years ago.

If you’re a long-term shareholder who plans on holding AT&T for years and collecting its 6.3% (and rising) yield, do you really care if the stock falls 10% or even 20% next year?

If your plan is to use AT&T shares and dividends to fund a college tuition or retirement in 10 years, does it matter if the stock trades at $30 in 2021? Or $50?

There are only two times when a stock’s price should matter:

  1.  When you’re buying the stock
  2.  When you’re selling the stock.

If you are adding to your holdings, then yes, price matters. You don’t want to pay too much. Of course, if the stock slips 10% or 20%, you can buy more shares at a bargain.

Like AT&T at $32? You’ll love it at $27.

But the second scenario – when you’re selling a stock – is even more important.

Many long-term investors let the market dictate whether they’ll buy, sell or hold a position. For example, when markets fall, investors tend to get worried and sell their stocks, often for a loss. When prices rise, they typically buy more stock, paying higher and higher prices because they don’t want to miss out.

As I shared in a piece recently, a study by Fidelity Investments showed that what investors should really be doing is… nothing. (Although, in my opinion, it’s usually a good idea to buy stock in a falling market.)

According to Fidelity’s research, its most profitable accounts were accounts that people forgot that they owned. In other words, accounts that were left alone for years performed significantly better than those that were actively managed by the account holder.

Think about that the next time you’re considering selling a stock into a falling market.

As long as the fundamentals of a company remain strong, don’t let yourself get shaken out of your position. You’ll make more money holding quality stocks (particularly strong dividend payers) over the long term than you will if you try to trade in and out of the market.

Get yourself a portfolio of great companies and try to “forget” about them for a while. Know your investing time horizon and remind yourself that if you need the money in 2029, a bear market or a 10% drop in the stock price in 2021 is like a promise from a political candidate – it means nothing.

Good investing,

Marc