Isn’t it nice to have the answers before the question is asked? Of course it is. That’s easy!
So how would this work when it comes to investing? Someone much wiser than me once said that if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there. This couldn’t be more true than when it comes to investing. And often it will be a lot more dangerous. So there’s never a bad time to become wiser about your investing process. If you learn something today that you didn’t know yesterday, and it will help you tomorrow, is there ever a bad time to learn that? Not really. So, if you start the process by knowing the answers to the 6 questions that follow, the investment risks should be greatly reduced. You have to understand that the risks cannot be eliminated, but they can be understood and managed to some degree.
So what are the 6 investment questions?
- What investment – stock, mutual fund, exchange traded fund – do you want to buy?
- Is now a good time to buy it?
- How much of it should you buy?
- What do you do with it if it’s a winner?
- What do you do with it if it’s a loser?
- What do you do with it if it’s simply a laggard?
Let’s take them one at a time.
What to buy?
That’s really up to you and not the focus of this particular article. Whatever your process of selection, we’re going to assume you have found something you feel good about for the right reasons. We certainly have a very clear process for selecting the investments we choose for our clients and you should too.
Is now a good time to buy it?
That’s a tougher one to answer. It will likely depend on several issues: Is the overall market positive or negative? Is the sector or asset class you are looking at positive or negative? Is the price attractive? Based on what criteria? The list of considerations may seem daunting, but all of these questions are important to understand before investing.
How much should you buy?
This has proven to be the most misunderstood question that we’ve come across over time, and we’ll provide a more detailed answer in a moment.
What do you do if it’s a winner?
Do you have a specific plan of keeping it or selling it at some point? Successful investors have this determined before they buy.
What do you do if it’s a loser?
Not all good ideas work out as planned. You need to know at what point you will dump a loser, and you need to know that price point before you buy it, otherwise all of this becomes a guessing game.
What do you do if it’s simply a laggard?
This is something that most people we’ve had this discussion with have never thought about. If your dollars are just sitting there in a lagging investment, are there other investments that would be more productive or have more potential? Again, having a process to determine this in the beginning will result in better investment outcomes.
How much to buy? (Take 2)
We’re now back to the issue of how much to buy. This is by far the most difficult question. And one that rarely has a satisfactory answer in our opinion. Rather than simply picking an arbitrary percentage of your overall portfolio or an arbitrary number of shares, why not base it on how much risk you want to take with that specific investment.
Let’s examine this process.
We’ll assume you have a $500,000 portfolio and are willing to risk 1% of that on any given investment choice. That equals $5,000 of risk. Let’s say the stock is selling for $40 per share and you have determined that if it falls to $35 you will sell it because it’s a loser as discussed above. You now have $5 of risk – the current price minus the stop loss price – so divide the risk of $5 into the portfolio risk of $5,000 and you get 1,000. You buy 1,000 shares. You have taken 1% risk to buy the stock and it represents $40,000 of value, or 8.0% of your portfolio. Does that seem like too high of a percentage? Why? You have clearly defined the amount you are willing to risk, and logical math does the work. There is nothing arbitrary here. If the price falls to $35, you sell it. It’s a loser. If the price moves up to $50, things are looking good and you simply move up your stop loss price up to $45, which will now represent your 1% risk factor for this specific investment.
You now have the answers to all six of the investment questions asked. What, when, how much, as well as what to do if it’s a winner, loser, or laggard. As stated in the beginning, isn’t it nice to have the answers before the question is asked. This process gives you answers and should also give you better investment results without the worry of not knowing what you don’t know.