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10 golden rules for investing in stocks

April 15, 2009 09:04 IST

The fact is that few investors can hope to build real wealth without investing in equity. Necessary as investment knowledge is, by itself, however, it is not sufficient to ensure investment success.

In fact, many an expert holds that emotional maturity is the ultimate key to sustained profitable stock market  investing. Overcoming bouts of panic and greed in down and up market phases is not an easy matter to master. Here are ten rules to help you do precisely that...

There is no such thing as a good stock

There are only good companies. When someone tells you 'this is a good stock' you need to look beyond the stock chart. Why is the company a good company? How will it grow its business? If you can't answer these questions, you don't know what you own.

Have a premise

When you buy a stock you must have a premise. A premise is a reason why that particular stock will go up. For best results, the premise will be one that explains why the company's line of business will increase, and why the marketplace will value that business at current or higher multiples. Without a premise, you don't own an investment, you just own a stock.

Think trends. Buy stocks

If you really want to invest in big growth stocks, you need to invest in secular trends. Secular trends are events unrelated to either the economy or individual company events. The advent of the PC, the birth of the Internet, and the desire for wireless phones, are all secular trends. The biggest investment winners are those companies which are ideally placed to reap the benefits of large secular changes.

Microsoft and Intel rode the transition to PCs as computing power became cheaper and cheaper. Nokia, Motorola, Qualcomm, and Ericsson all found them-selves unable to keep up with demand in the mid 1990s, when wireless phones finally reached the critical price points. If you want really big winners, find the trend, then find the stocks.

Know your risk tolerance

The biggest mistake most investors make is to buy positions with more risk than they can really tolerate. This is where most people got hurt in the Internet bubble burst. They had no idea they owned risky stocks. If you can always tolerate, both financially and emotionally, the complete loss of your entire position, you obviously will be okay. But most people aren't in that position. Figure out how much downside you can live with without having to sell. Figure this out before you buy the stock.

Don't average down to feel better

'Averaging down' is often a way to lose more. If you believe in the company, and the price goes down, you may want to invest more. But if you, like many others, purchase more simply to lower your 'break even' stock price, you are making a mistake. If you find yourself calculating new 'average price per share' points, you might be averaging down for the wrong reason.

Don't miss the train to shave a dime

If you are investing in a major trend through a stock, and have a multi-year investment horizon, what difference does a few cents per share make on your purchase? Many investors try to place buys with limit orders just below the ask, and wind up missing the purchase.

If you really want a stock, particularly a big position, place a limit order at the ask, or even slightly higher. You will at least get the order. This is especially important if you are trying to buy far more shares than the current ask size. If you are right about the trend, you will never miss the extra ten cents per share.

Don't buy hot and watch cold

Many investors buy a 'hot stock' and immediately look for big gains. When they don't happen, the stock falls away from the daily attention list. Pretty soon it starts to edge downward, and, emotionally, the investor stops watching it.

Pain avoidance is common to us all. But you can't let pain avoidance prevent you from watching your stock. If you do, you often take a look two months later and find the stock is far from hot, and you are now presented with a really painful decision.

A hold is as good as a buy

There is no such thing as a 'hold' decision. If you wouldn't buy the stock again today, assuming you had additional money, you should either sell, or admit that you are confused. Resolve the confusion. The hold condition often happens when you have owned a stock for years, are way ahead of your basis, and are basically happy.

But what is driving the stock today? What will make the price rise in the future? Why would you buy the stock today, assuming you didn't own it? If you don't know, you don't have a premise for this stock. See rule 2.

Don't be an inadvertent long-term holder

When your premise doesn't work out, or you no longer believe in the stock, you must sell, even if it means a loss. Holding on just to 'get my money back' is the single biggest reason for losing more money. Who owned all those stocks that lost 98 per cent of their value in 2000? A good percentage was owned by people who turned into long-term holders inadvertently, when they made the decision to just stick it out.

You will lose money

You won't be right every time. If you are going to be an investor, you need to become accustomed to losing money on some positions. This rule is the natural consequence of living up to rules 5, 7, and 9. Taking losses is often the only way you can save your capital from further losses.

(Excerpt from Investing Rules from the Masters: Money-Making Lessons from 105 of the World's Experts.  Published by Vision Books)

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