Bruce Jackson
Bruce Jackson

When should I sell? This is one of the most frequent questions we hear.

As fundamental investors, we at The Motley Fool say “almost never”.

We’ll come back to that shortly, but in the meantime, here are five reasons we do sell shares.

Reason No. 1: Better opportunities

Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong at all with a company or its share price: There are simply better opportunities elsewhere that will bring us more bang for our bucks. We will consider selling a less attractive share (even at a loss!) if we think we can get a better deal elsewhere.

Reason No. 2: Business changes

There’s no way around it: Businesses change — sometimes significantly. We could be talking about a major acquisition, a change in management, or a shift in the competitive landscape.

When this occurs, we incorporate the new information and re-evaluate to see if the reasons we bought the company in the first place still hold true. We will consider selling if:

  • The company’s ability to crank out profits is crippled or clearly fading.
  • Management undergoes significant changes or makes questionable decisions.
  • A new competitive threat emerges or competitors perform better than expected.

We’ll also take into account unfavourable developments in a company’s industry.

Here, it’s important to delineate between temporary and permanent changes. In a downturn, financial figures may suffer even for the best-run companies. What’s important is how these businesses take advantage of the effects on their industry to improve their competitive position.

Reason No. 3: Valuation

We’re all for the long-term here, but sometimes Mr. Market shows our shares too much love. We will consider selling if a share price has run up to a point where it no longer reflects the underlying value of the business.

Reason No. 4: Faulty investment thesis

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, you’ll just plain miss something. You should seriously consider selling if it turns out your rationale for buying the share was flawed, if your valuation was too optimistic, or if you underestimated the risks.

Reason No. 5: It keeps us up at night

It is tough to put a dollar value on peace of mind.

If you have an investment whose fate has whirled such that it now causes you to lose sleep, that could be a great cue to move your dollars elsewhere.

We save and invest to improve our quality of life, after all, not to develop ulcers. Adding insult to injury, stressing about a share might cause you to lose focus and make rash decisions elsewhere in your portfolio.

Remember, there’s no trophy or prize for taking on risk in investing. Stick with what you’re comfy with.

When not to sell

So that’s when you fold ‘em. But holdin’ ‘em?

The Motley Fool encourages long-term investing, not speculation. Over the course of what we hope will be a prosperous investing career for you, the market will rise and fall. Recessions and booms will happen. And all the while, you must stay focused on the long term.

Markets are volatile. Share prices go up and down. When they fall, they tend to fall quickly. If and when this happens, some people panic. They sell, for no other reason than the market is falling.

If it sounds stupid, it is. The bottom line is, of all the reasons to sell, fear is never one of them. You’ll do well to remember that next time the market goes into one of its periodic downturns.

Bruce Jackson,

The Motley Fool

The Motley Fool