Sell Winners And Buy Losers – Asset Rebalancing

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Isn’t this the craziest, most counter-intuitive investment advice you’ve ever heard? Why would I sell a stock if it’s making me money…LOTS of money? Long ago, I used to think in this type of way, but there are many reasons why it is important to take this advice.


Now I believe this is valuable advice that I learned from author Ric Edelman in his book “The Lies About Money: Why You Need to Own the Portfolio of the Future”.


Actually, I kind of knew it before too in the back of my head from Warren Buffet’s famous quote “I will tell you how to become rich. Close the doors. Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” This is basically to buy low and sell high. Of course, it’s easy to understand, but hard to do like so many other things, like mastering a backhand in tennis or a hook shot in basketball.

Art of Rebalancing

The act of asset allocation or rebalancing, which is another term is simply selling some of your stocks that made money and buying some more of the stocks that lost money (hoping that they will bounce back and do well). How often should you do this seemingly ridiculous exercise?


According to Market Watch, it recommends every quarter. The author of this article did an experiment and found out that a portfolio which is rebalanced quarterly ends up with the highest account value: Market Watch Recommendation


Importance of Rebalancing

Ric Edelman stresses the importance of rebalancing. What if you set your investment strategy to have 40% in mid-cap stocks, 40% in large cap and 20% in bonds three years ago? Now in 2017, the percentage you have in mid-cap has shot up to over 60% AND your large-cap went down 10%.


Your asset allocation is misaligned with your original investment strategy. Furthermore, if you don’t sell some of those winning mid-cap stocks, you won’t be able to lock in those gains.  And if you don’t buy some of those loser stocks, you may miss out on the chance of those stocks bouncing back and getting in on a cheaper price. Edelman says the main reason to do this exercise is to reduce risk. If you make a profit in the process, that’s a byproduct. I’m not saying to time the market.


I’m simply illustrating the importance of rebalancing to reset to your original investment strategy. Here’s an excerpt from The Lies About Money: Why You Need to Own the Portfolio of the Future which explains it better than I can (click to expand):


It’s very hard to sell something that is doing well. I don’t disagree with that statement. But it’s also the responsible thing to do if you are over-allocated in a particular position. I recently had to do this for a few shares of Amazon and… that was a tough one. It is doing crazy good and I bought it several years ago so you can imagine.

In Edelman’s book The Lies About Money, he talks about a client of his. He suggests to this client that he should reallocate some of his earnings to adjust to his original investment plan based on new circumstances that have been presented. The client agrees that the plan makes sense. Edelman then says the tax liability for the profits as a result of the proceeds of the proposed transactions will amount to $60k to which the client is shocked!


Long story short, the client decides to leave the portfolio as is. A couple of months later, his portfolios which were worth over a million dollars has dropped to six digits because he did not reallocate his holdings just to avoid the tax liability. Edelman goes on to say that paying taxes is a good thing. You can either get profits and pay taxes or have no profits and no taxes. Rebalancing forces you to buy low and sell high and as illustrated by Forbes can result in a higher value as compared to a portfolio which has never been rebalanced at all – “25 year period, the rebalanced portfolio ended with a higher return: a $10,000 investment became $97,000 vs. $89,000 for the un-rebalanced portfolio”.


Apart from this, rebalancing also forces you to revisit your portfolio, see if the fees being charged in your funds are what you expected them to be. Or maybe check if dividends are being reinvested or placed in your cash account, whichever option you selected. 

If you’re investing on a consistent basis, it’s important to rebalance your investments too on a consistent basis. Both go hand in hand. How about creating a quick checklist to make sure your portfolio is proper:


  1. Is my portfolio mix appropriate based on my age/expectation (i.e. 70% stocks 30% bonds)?
    1. If not steps to take:
      1. _______________
      2. _______________
  2. Are dividends being reinvested (check a couple to see if amount paid and reinvested is accurate)?
  3. Are fees what I expect them to be?


So do you rebalance your portfolio? If so, how often and do you have any suggestions to make the process more efficient?



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