The indexes are at record highs and anyone not obsessed with fighting this market is sitting on a pile of profits. The question now becomes, “what should we do with these profits?”
The first thing to remember is markets move in waves. Everyone knows this but people often forget this simple idea in the heat of battle. When it feels like all hope is lost and we are on the verge of a far larger crash is the exact moment prices bottom and bounce. The same goes for the upside, the moment this starts feeling is easy is right before it turns hard.
I’ve been doing this far too long to attempt picking tops. And even if I were picking a top, this probably wouldn’t be it. That said, we don’t have to pick tops in order to make decisions that protect our profits. It’s been a good run. Stocks are up more than 100 points since last week’s intraday lows. And we are nearly 20% higher than last fall’s test of 2,800 support. Could we rally another 100 points next week? Absolutely. Could we advance another 20% over the next three months? Sure. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we will.
We can look back in history and find several instances where the market advanced 40% over 6 months. But when you consider it took 100 years to accumulate that handful of instances, just because something is possible doesn’t mean we should trade using those assumptions. While these things can and have happened, we shouldn’t expect them to happen. Instead, we should treat this market like any other market until it tells us otherwise; two-steps forward, one-step back.
There are two sensible ways of dealing with profits. First, if we are in this to make money, the only way we do that is by selling our winners. No matter how much we like a position, we cannot make money unless we sell it. The problem is selling a position means giving up on further upside and no one wants to do that. But if we remember that most people lose money in the stock market, then we probably don’t want to do what most people do. And most of the time that means selling stocks we don’t want to sell.
Now maybe it is just too hard for us to part with our favorite position. The second alternative is to take this decision out of our hands. Take a moment when everything looks good and the market is not pressuring you in any way. Look at the chart and pick a point where if the market falls to this level, you think you should get out. Write that level down and commit to selling at this price if the market dips back to it. If you are lucky and prices keep moving higher, repeat this exercise every week or two. Keep moving your stops up until that fateful day when the market finally forces you out and you collect your pile of profits.
While this seems like an either/or decision, very few things in the market are binary. Sometimes the best solution is doing a little bit of both. Take some profits proactively and follow the rest of your position higher with a trailing stop. That gives you the best of both worlds. But no matter what you decide, please decide to do something and commit to it. If you wait until the market starts dipping before making a trading decision, chances are emotions will cloud your judgment and you will be moving in lockstep with the masses that lose money.
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Tags: S&P 500 Nasdaq $SPY $SPX $QQQ $IWM
Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and financial analyst that has successfully traded stocks and options for nearly three decades. He has an undergraduate engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines and two graduate business degrees from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes engineering at Fortune 500 companies, small business consulting, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two children.
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