Every day, the stock market seems to continue its precipitous drop towards worthlessness, crushing hopes, dreams, and investors in a flurry of dizzying price movements. Yet there is an answer; a light in the darkness, used by the masters of investment to generate excess returns even ” no, scratch that, – especially in falling markets like this one.
Masters of short term stock speculation have long known about an ill-understood trading technique shunned by the masses. This technique makes money as stock prices fall, rather then profiting as they rise. This technique is known as shorting stock. Unlike purchasing a stock, where you buy it, and then hope that it goes up in value, or that you can collect the dividends from the stock far into the future, shorting a stock is a simple technique the masters use when they believe the stock will go DOWN. A risky play under normal conditions, but in a market like this, where most everything is dropping like a rock, its much safer then buying stocks.
While counter-intuitive, shorting stock is less complicated then you might think. The goal when shorting stock is the same as when buying; your trying to buy low, and sell high. The only difference is that you do it in the other order. You sell stock today, and you buy it tomorrow (or some other time in the future), hopefully for less. By doing so, you make a profit equal to the difference between your buying and selling prices.
An example… In late August 2008, Ford was trading for around 4.50. If you decided to short 100 shares of ford at that point, then you would borrow 100 shares of Ford from your broker and sell them for a total of $450. In late October 2008, Ford was down to the 2.25 range. At that point, you could buy back the 100 shares you sold for $225, return the 100 shares to your broker, and all in all, you made $225. In essence, you sold high, then bought low. Its just like buying low, and selling high ” it just operates in reverse. This would be a good time to re-read this paragraph, its that important.
A more abstract, but ultimately easier way to think of shorting is a way of owning a negative number of shares. If when you own 10 shares, and a stock goes down by $100 , you lose $1000. If you own negative 10 shares, and a stock goes down by $100, you gain $1000. Simple as that. Naturally, an increase in price works the same way ” a price increase means owning a negative number of shares leads to a loss, but in a bear market, thats a rare thing.
Of course, when playing the markets, there is always potential for losses. When shorting during a bear market, you should keep an eye on recent developments. A bailout such as the one received by financial stocks could easily send some once floundering stocks into a new uptrend, and when such things occur, you must be quick to cut your losses. Perhaps the biggest risk to a short play is the end of the bear market. The end of bear markets are typically highlighted by a powerful upwards move, regardless of the bad news going on at the time. When in doubt, get out.
A typical risk-management choice many professionals use is the 5% rule. When your trading stocks, dont risk more then 5% of your portfolio on any one position, and preferably less. So with the $20000 portfolio, risk no more then $1000 on a trade. This doesnt mean you cant invest more then $1000 per trade. It just means that your stop loss should be triggered before $1000 is lost. So if you short a stock at $20, and have a stop loss at $25, then you can buy up to 200 shares (far more then the actual value of your portfolio). If your time span is shorter, then you should use a smaller percentage, while if your timespan is longer then a couple months, the 5% rule could be adjusted as high as 10% (for the risk-tolerant).
When it comes to stock picking, some people would call this a challenging market. And traditionally, we have been taught that buying low and selling high is the idea scenario, so looked at from that sense, perhaps it is a challenging market. Or is it? With everything covered already in this short document, you have already learned that a so called “challenging market” can be a bonanza for those who have learned how to short a stock or etf.
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