10 Tips For The Successful Long-Term Investor
While it may be true that in the stock market there is no rule without an exception, there are some principles that are tough to dispute. Let's review 10 general principles to help investors get a better grasp of how to approach the market from a long-term view. Every point embodies some fundamental concept every investor should know.
Sell the losers and let the winners ride!
Time and time again, investors take profits by selling their appreciated investments, but they hold onto stocks that have declined in the hope of a rebound. If an investor doesn't know when it's time to let go of hopeless stocks, he or she can, in the worst-case scenario, see the stock sink to the point where it is almost worthless. Of course, the idea of holding onto high-quality investments while selling the poor ones is great in theory, but hard to put into practice.
Don't chase a "hot tip"
Whether the tip comes from your brother, your cousin, your neighbor or even your broker, you shouldn't accept it as law. When you make an investment, it's important you know the reasons for doing so; do your own research and analysis of any company before you even consider investing your hard-earned money. Relying on a tidbit of information from someone else is not only an attempt at taking the easy way out, it's also a type of gambling. Sure, with some luck, tips sometimes pan out. But they will never make you an informed investor, which is what you need to be to be successful in the long run.
Don't sweat the small stuff
As a long-term investor, you shouldn't panic when your investments experience short-term movements. When tracking the activities of your investments, you should look at the big picture. Remember to be confident in the quality of your investments rather than nervous about the inevitable volatility of the short term. Also, don't overemphasize the few cents difference you might save from using a limit versus market order.
Granted, active traders will use these day-to-day and even minute-to-minute fluctuations as a way to make gains. But the gains of a long-term investor come from a completely different market movement - the one that occurs over many years - so keep your focus on developing your overall investment philosophy by educating yourself.
Don't overemphasize the P/E ratio
Investors often place too much importance on the price-earnings ratio (P/E ratio). Because it is one key tool among many, using only this ratio to make buy or sell decisions is dangerous and ill-advised. The P/E ratio must be interpreted within a context, and it should be used in conjunction with other analytical processes. So, a low P/E ratio doesn't necessarily mean a security is undervalued, nor does a high P/E ratio necessarily mean a company is overvalued.
Resist the lure of penny stocks
A common misconception is that there is less to lose in buying a low-priced stock. But whether you buy a $5 stock that plunges to $0 or a $75 stock that does the same, either way you've lost 100% of your initial investment. A lousy $5 company has just as much downside risk as a lousy $75 company. In fact, a penny stock is probably riskier than a company with a higher share price, which would have more regulations placed on it.
Pick a strategy and stick with it
Different people use different methods to pick stocks and fulfill investing goals. There are many ways to be successful and no one strategy is inherently better than any other. However, once you find your style, stick with it. An investor who flounders between different stock-picking strategies will probably experience the worst, rather than the best, of each. Constantly switching strategies effectively makes you a market timer, and this is definitely territory most investors should avoid. Take Warren Buffett's actions during the dotcom boom of the late '90s as an example. Buffett's value-oriented strategy had worked for him for decades, and - despite criticism from the media - it prevented him from getting sucked into tech startups that had no earnings and eventually crashed.
Focus on the future
The tough part about investing is that we are trying to make informed decisions based on things that are yet to happen. It's important to keep in mind that even though we use past data as an indication of things to come, it's what happens in the future that matters most.
A quote from Peter Lynch's book "One Up on Wall Street" (1990) about his experience with Subaru demonstrates this: "If I'd bothered to ask myself, 'How can this stock go any higher?' I would have never bought Subaru after it already went up twentyfold. But I checked the fundamentals, realized that Subaru was still cheap, bought the stock, and made sevenfold after that." The point is to base a decision on future potential rather than on what has already happened in the past.
Adopt a long-term perspective
Large short-term profits can often entice those who are new to the market. But adopting a long-term horizon and dismissing the "get in, get out and make a killing" mentality is a must for any investor. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to make money by actively trading in the short term. But, as we already mentioned, investing and trading are very different ways of making gains from the market. Trading involves very different risks that buy-and-hold investors don't experience. As such, active trading requires certain specialized skills.
Many great companies are household names, but many good investments are not household names. Thousands of smaller companies have the potential to turn into the large blue chips of tomorrow. In fact, historically, small-caps have had greater returns than large-caps; over the decades from 1926-2001, small-cap stocks in the U.S. returned an average of 12.27% while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) returned 10.53%.
This is not to suggest that you should devote your entire portfolio to small-cap stocks. Rather, understand that there are many great companies beyond those in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), and that by neglecting all these lesser-known companies, you could also be neglecting some of the biggest gains.
Be concerned about taxes, but don't worry
Putting taxes above all else is a dangerous strategy, as it can often cause investors to make poor, misguided decisions. Yes, tax implications are important, but they are a secondary concern. The primary goals in investing are to grow and secure your money. You should always attempt to minimize the amount of tax you pay and maximize your after-tax return, but the situations are rare where you'll want to put tax considerations above all else when making an investment decision.
There are exceptions to every rule, but we hope that these solid tips for long-term investors and the common-sense principles we've discussed benefit you overall and provide some insight into how you should think about investing.