For many investors, buying a stock is much easier than deciding when to sell it. Buy recommendations are prevalent and stem from a wide variety of sources, including investment newsletters, analysts, stockbrokers and investment managers. However, few offer much advice on when it is best to sell a stock. Here are five tips on when it might be time to sell.

SEE: When To Sell Stocks

It Hits Your Price Target
When initially buying a stock, astute investors establish a price target, or at least a range in which they would consider selling the stock. Each stock purchase should also include an analysis on what the stock is worth, and the current price should ideally be at a substantial discount to this estimated value. For instance, selling out of a stock when it doubles in price is a worthy goal and implies that an investor thinks it is undervalued by 50%. It is difficult for even the most seasoned investor to come up with a single price target. Instead, a range is more realistic, as is deciding to sell off the position as it is rising, in order to lock in gains.

A Deterioration in the Fundamentals
Along with keeping track of a firm's stock price after establishing a price target, monitoring the performance of the underlying business is important. A key reason to sell is if the business fundamentals decline. In an ideal world, an investor will realize a deterioration in sales, profit margins, cash flow or other key operating fundamentals before the stock price starts to decline.

More experienced analysts may read deep into the financial statements, such as filing footnotes that other investors are more likely to miss. Fraud is one of the more serious fundamental flaws. Investors who were early to spot financial fraud from the likes of WorldCom, Enron and Tyco were able to save substantial sums as the share prices of these respective firms plummeted.

A Better Opportunity Comes Along
Opportunity cost is a benefit that could have been obtained by going with an alternative. Before owning a stock, always compare it with the potential gains that could be obtained by owning another stock. If that alternative is better, then it makes sense to sell the current position and buy the other. Accurately identifying opportunity cost is extremely difficult, but could include investing in a competitor if it has equally compelling growth prospects but trades at a lower valuation, such as a lower price to earnings multiple.

After a Merger
The average takeover premium, or price at which a company is bought out, generally ranges between 20 and 40%. If an investor is lucky enough to own a stock that ends up being acquired for a significant premium, the best course of action may be to sell it. There may be merits to continuing to own the stock after the merger goes through, such as if the competitive position of the combined companies has improved substantially. However, mergers have a lousy track record of being successful. Additionally, it can take many months for a deal to be completed. Therefore, from an opportunity cost perspective, it can make sense to find an alternative investment opportunity with better upside potential.

After Bankruptcy
This may seem obvious, especially because, in the vast majority of cases, a bankrupt company becomes worthless to shareholders. However, for tax purposes it is important to sell or realize the loss so that it is used to offset future capital gains, as well as a small percent of regular income each year.

The Bottom Line
The decision to sell a stock is a combination of art and science. There are a number of considerations to make, such as those above, when deciding if stock gains have run their course or are likely to continue. A common-sense strategy is to sell as a stock rises, in order to lock in gains over time.

Related Articles
  1. Investing Basics

    5 Ways to Double Your Investment

    So if you want to go double, consider these five classic strategies to help turn your vision into a reality.
  2. Economics

    What are Acquisition Costs?

    A company can recognize acquisition costs as those costs used to buy property and equipment.
  3. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    4 Mutual Funds Warren Buffet Would Buy

    Learn about four mutual funds Warren Buffett would invest and recommend to his trustee, and discover detailed analysis of these mutual funds.
  4. Investing News

    4 Value Stocks Worth Your Immediate Attention

    Here are four stocks that offer good value and will likely outperform the majority of stocks throughout the broader market over the next several years.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 4 Best Buy-and-Hold ETFs

    Explore detailed analyses of the top buy-and-hold exchange traded funds, and learn about their characteristics, statistics and suitability.
  6. Investing

    How ETFs May Save You Thousands

    Being vigilant about the amount you pay and what you get for is important, but adding ETFs into the investment mix fits well with a value-seeking nature.
  7. Bonds & Fixed Income

    High Yield Bond Investing 101

    Taking on high-yield bond investments requires a thorough investigation. Here are looking the fundamentals.
  8. Retirement

    How Robo-Advisors Can Help You and Your Portfolio

    Robo-advisors can add a layer of affordable help and insight to most people's portfolio management efforts, especially as the market continues to mature.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Muni California Mutual Funds

    Discover analyses of the top three California municipal bond mutual funds, and learn about their characteristics, historical performance and suitability.
  10. Professionals

    Hard and Soft Due Diligence: What's the Difference?

    Learn about the differences between "hard" and "soft" due diligence in a mergers and acquisitions deal (M&A) and why soft diligence is increasingly important.
  1. What licenses does a hedge fund manager need to have?

    A hedge fund manager does not necessarily need any specific license to operate a fund, but depending on the type of investments ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can mutual funds invest in hedge funds?

    Mutual funds are legally allowed to invest in hedge funds. However, hedge funds and mutual funds have striking differences ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. When are mutual funds considered a bad investment?

    Mutual funds are considered a bad investment when investors consider certain negative factors to be important, such as high ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What fees do financial advisors charge?

    Financial advisors who operate as fee-only planners charge a percentage, usually 1 to 2%, of a client's net assets. For a ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What does a high turnover ratio signify for an investment fund?

    If an investment fund has a high turnover ratio, it indicates it replaces most or all of its holdings over a one-year period. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the difference between passive and active asset management?

    Asset management utilizes two main investment strategies that can be used to generate returns: active asset management and ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Purchasing Power

    The value of a currency expressed in terms of the amount of goods or services that one unit of money can buy. Purchasing ...
  2. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  3. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  4. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  5. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  6. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!