Short Selling

There are so many different ways to make money in the stock market. The most basic way with stock shares is to buy them low enough and then sell them at a higher price later.

Did you know that it’s possible to make money in the reverse? You can sell shares in the market at a higher price first and then buy them back at a lower price later. This is called short selling.

The concept of short selling had me confused at first. I’d only heard that it was something a lot of traders did when they anticipated a drop in stock prices. None of it made sense until I executed my first short sale.


My First Short 

Many years ago, a certain company messed up royally and was getting a lot of bad press. Shareholders were selling in a panic and the share price was dropping in high volumes. I saw that the price was at around $76 and I believed it would go down more. I lined up my order to sell 600 shares at the current market price and I hit, “Short.”

After that, the price fell considerably. In the order box I clicked on, “Cover,” and I bought back 600 shares at the new market price of $74.75. That is a share price difference of $1.25. With 600 shares, I made $750, excluding commissions.

Broken down, it looks like this:

  • I short sell 600 shares for $76 per share (600 x $76 = $45,600). By doing that, I’m borrowing the shares from my brokerage to sell in the market for that price;
  • The share price falls;
  • Then I buy back (or cover) 600 shares at the current price of $74.75 (600 x 74.75 = $44,850)
  • At the end of my trade, those borrowed shares are returned to my broker. I get to keep the difference in the short sale for a profit of $750;
  • $45,600 – $44,850 = $750.

Despite the order at which the transactions occurred, the concept of buying low (at $74.75) and selling higher (at $76) is still preserved.


The Downside of Short Selling

As great as it sounds to make money when share prices are heading down, short selling is a riskier practice. Here are some reasons to consider:

1.Many investors don’t short sell or even know what that is. This means you don’t always have the majority of the market on your side.

2. Shorting is made possible when your brokerage firm has the shares to loan you from its own inventory of stocks. These stocks are either from the firm’s own positions or from the positions of the firm’s clients. If your broker doesn’t have the shares to loan you, you cannot short sell the stock. You end up missing out.

3. The market is generally optimistic. This means the fear and panic don’t always last as long as you might hope to support your short sell. Price reversals can happen fast. You generally need to have a shorter time horizon for shorts and you need to be watching your positions more closely.

4. When you buy a stock in the standard fashion, the worst thing that can happen is that your share price drops to zero before you’re able to sell it. In this scenario, the most you can lose is the entire amount of your investment. When you short a stock, the share price can go up indefinitely — this means you can lose more than the entire amount of your original position. Potential unlimited losses is what makes shorting considered a high-risk practice.

5. Profits from short selling are normally taxed as income rather than as capital gains. This is not favourable taxation.

6. If the company that you’re short selling is paying out a dividend, you have to pay the dividends owing to your firm or to the client those shares are being borrowed from.


Why I Don’t Short Sell

The reasons above are enough to discourage me from shorting, though there are many more that I haven’t mentioned. Short selling is a more advanced way to make money in the stock market and is best left to the pros. I don’t short stocks anymore because I prefer to own them.

I normally don’t discuss short selling because it’s not for most people, not to mention it’s really confusing. I only feel like it’s relevant to discuss shorting in a market like the current one so that new investors can understand the additional reasons why the prices of their stocks might be going down so much. It’s not just from investors collecting profits or abandoning their stocks out of fear of losing more — it’s also from short sellers trying to profit.

After the short sellers have had their fun and after all the panic selling and pessimism have subsided, it usually takes a while for a stock to recover before going up again with more investor confidence. I’ve got my wish list of stocks to consider buying when all the selling is over, so I’m just waiting for good setups and a better market.


Alternatives to Short Selling

Even when the whole market is negative, I don’t always want to sell my stocks, nor do I short any stocks, as you already know. Sometimes to combat the downward funk, I will buy shares of inverse ETFs to make money in the interim.

Inverse ETFs are exchange-traded funds made up of more complex financial instruments that generate money when the market is moving down. Like a regular ETF, its movements mimic the market index ETF it is modelled after, however, it’s designed to go in the opposite direction. Basically, when the market index goes down, the inverse ETF goes up. 

Index ETFs are often created in a way to move up to 3 times more than the index performance or up to 3 times less. These differences in performance can either enhance your trade or really hurt it when you’re wrong.  You have to be careful and consider this when selecting ETFs.

I still regard buying an inverse ETF a very risky strategy as it’s still in theory ‘shorting’ the market. Also, inverse ETFs tend to have higher management fees because they consist of higher maintenance assets than most regular ETFs. Higher fees and MERs in funds diminish their value and overall returns. For this reason, I usually only buy and sell them for shorter-term swing trades.


Before investing in an inverse ETF or deciding to short sell anything, please consider the risks. At this point in time (it’s December 2018), I think the market will go up a bit more before it goes down again early in the new year. We’re so close to the year’s lowest trading levels of the US markets. I don’t think things will really start moving up again until we at least break below those 2018 levels first.

I know a lot of investors who have been feeling beat up and want to do something to save their portfolios. If you’ve been feeling this way for the last few months, the best thing to do at this point is to think of your future strategies for your portfolio and be ready for them once the market is more positive.

Remember that downswings and bear markets are a normal part of the cycle for stocks – nothing goes only in one direction forever. Going short now after the market has gone down so much is not only is riskier, the returns won’t be as great had you gone short in early fall.

My Best Investment

Back to school

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, I was a fretting teenager about to finish high school. While all the other girls were obsessing over prom and what college they were going to, my own world was crashing around me. My boyfriend dumped me two weeks before prom, leaving me dateless. That was also the year my father became chronically ill and was ordered to go on medical leave. There would be no college fund to support me. I was admitted to the university I had set my sights on, but I had no idea how I was going to afford it.

Humiliated and defeated, I opted to lowball my expectations on everything. I wouldn’t go to prom and I wouldn’t go to university. I had some great excuses to stop caring, so I leaned into them. My friends became my fairy godmothers. One took it upon herself to find me a date. Through her grad date, she managed to set me up with a model/actor (or actor/model?). My other friend made me copy and study her year’s worth of notes for my Biology 12 exam, the most demanding subject I had to study for that year. Because of my friends’ clutch support, I was motivated to keep going.

With Starbucks’ chocolate covered coffee beans to keep me jacked, I crammed like a champ. I aced everything that counted and I finished with honours. My grad date, whom everyone ogled that night, turned out to be a seasoned partier. Instead of binge-drinking at a house party with the other grads after prom, my friends and I followed our dates to a rave in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where we danced until four in the morning. I took a cab home with my bestie as the sun was rising. I finished high school feeling like a rock star.

My next problem was going to be going to university. I got a job, but I couldn’t qualify for a student loan because the tax year prior to my dad’s medical leave stated he made a lot. The financial issue was moot as I didn’t even know what I was going to study even if I could afford school. With no money and no clear ambition, it made no sense for me to go to study at all.

I continued to work. Without any goals to anchor me, I spent my money faster than it came in. I was living the Gen X dream buying beer, candy, and cigarettes, watching movies all day, wondering about the future. I’ve told this story many times before and it’s because it was critical to everything I’ve ever done thereafter. My boss saw how much money I was quickly wasting after each payday. She gave me a talking to and told me how to start saving and investing. Her persuasive sisterly coercion got me going to the bank and getting started. Then after saving for a while, things changed. With money in the bank, I saw school as a possibility. Determined to go to law school, I reapplied to university.

I finished my bachelor’s in record time (thanks, Starbucks coffee beans!). By the end of it, though, I decided not to go to law school. With good financial habits and the benefit of going to university when it was still affordable, I graduated with no student debts. I traveled a lot and lived overseas for a few years but came back to Canada. Even though my studies in humanities was never directly applicable to any line of work I sought, having a degree gave me better job options.

After ten years of drifting, I was still by definition a slacker, but at least I had savings. I brainstormed many possibilities on where I was headed next. I found I was most curious about opening a business. This led to my part-time studies in business school and eventually, further studies and pursuits in investing and the stock market.

Today, I am once again a student. I am deeply curious about how the stock market works on the inside. I know what it is to be a trader/investor, but what happens behind the curtain is what I really want to know next. I am currently enrolled with the Canadian Securities Institute, working towards my Certificate in Equity Trading & Sales. I don’t know exactly where studying this will take me; whether I trade for others or still just myself, I will always be a trader, only a more educated one.

Whether you achieve your career peak and hit your financial goals, learning should never stop. You can take courses or just read books that will help you develop in parts of your life that you feel need focus. In the long run, being dedicated to your personal and professional development really is the best investment.

Earnings Seasons for Stocks

There are a few things that can rock the stock market positively or negatively: a major world event, a major company gets caught up in a scandal, election results, or company earnings.

Four times a year, publicly traded companies announce their quarterly earnings results. Some companies (like Apple) are such sector and market giants that their earnings will affect the whole sector – and sometimes entire market.

Earnings season definitely adds an element of uncertainty. If a stock you’re interested in buying is scheduled to report its earnings, buying it beforehand could work for or against you in a big way. Suddenly it feels like you’re placing a bet instead of making an investment.

It’s great if it gaps up in price. Your portfolio will glow thanks to this stock’s incredible move. You’re an amazing investor and have become unstoppable at picking stocks. It’s in your destiny to be the sage investment advisor among your peers.

If the stock gaps down, the feeling is the complete opposite. You’ll be spending your time looking into why the company had good earnings, yet it still came down hard in price. What horrible luck were you just cursed with?

Financial analysts are always trying to predict the earnings results of major companies. What happens then is that traders start to take their positions and buy shares in anticipation of the price going up in a big way. When the actual earnings report comes out, if the predictions were correct, the price usually goes up by a lot because other investors who were waiting on the sidelines are now acting on the correct information. If the predictions are off by a lot, it can send the share price down – even if the company had a better quarterly earnings report than the analysts predicted.

This doesn’t seem to make sense until you start thinking about the psychology behind pricing. There is one thing you should never lose sight of: Stocks move in price based on investors’ perceptions. Analyst predictions are important because they shape people’s perceptions on what they think is a fair price for shares. So, even if the earnings are predicted to be weak earnings, investors can decide on what is a fair share price based on those predictions. People like predictability, even if the information isn’t always good. We don’t like unpredictability because it increases uncertainty. The root of risk lies in uncertainty. 

If you’re planning on buying a stock that has yet to report its quarterly earnings, you can either wait until after its earnings report comes out, or just buy a fewer number of shares to lower your exposure to risk. Sometimes, after an earnings report, the share price stays the same. If it’s higher or lower in price by a significant amount, then I recommend waiting until it settles down before buying more shares. Any big move will trigger a lot of action before it gets quiet again. The trading volume will eventually go down and the daily price ranges will go back to being average. Refer to any of my lessons on price consolidations under the category, “How I Find and Pick Stocks.”

If you own a stock for a while, you’ll know that the big ups and downs from earnings come and go like the seasons of the year – it does happen four times a year, after all! You need to recognize that you buy a stock for more than just its quarterly reports. You invested in the company because you like its product or service, its sector, its dividend, and hopefully, the low price you got it at (thanks to all the techniques I’ve been trying to teach you!).

Stock Video!

Watch the Loonie to Toonie Stock Video!

Finally! My stock video is ready for the world – specifically the world of people interested in reading stock charts, which I believe is a small, yet growing world. My hope is that one day, reading charts of investments is no longer a practice unique to investment pros, but a basic skill that we all have.

You can hit it big in stocks without ever having to read a chart, but for me, it’s key to my decision process. I created this video to provide a more visual supplement to all the information that I’ve been sharing on how I find and select stocks. 

I’m often asked where to find stocks. I feel it’s important to not only tell you where I find stocks but how I decide on which ones to pay attention to. I hope this helps you in your investment endeavours! 

Stock Picking 5: Selling

Before I discuss selling stocks, let’s do a recap of the Stock Picking posts up until now.

Part 1: Looking for Stocks

Here, I introduce my stock searching process for Canadian and US stocks. I feel more confident in stocks that have higher trading volume. I look for major Canadian stocks under $20 that trade over 10,000 shares a day. For US stocks, they must be over $5 and average at least 500,000 shares a day.

Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

I talk about the different reasons you might want to buy stocks. There are different stocks for different investment objectives better suited by shorter or longer-term time horizons. Whether the time horizon is short, medium, or long, I like to get in early before a stock’s price really starts to take off. To determine this, I look at a stock’s price history chart. For shorter-term trades, I seek additional information by looking at the charts of a stock’s corresponding sector and the market.

Part 3: Factoring in the Sectors and the Stock Market

I generally look for stocks in a sector that has been quiet for a while and is just starting to warm up. I’m not as concerned if a sector has been lagging the market, as long as it’s not going down the tubes, especially if the market isn’t. If I’m interested in several stocks in a sector that is starting to heat up, then I’ll pick the stocks that meet my criteria in volume, price, and charts.

No Stock Picking Here. Just Buy the Market Through ETFs

Stock picking is not for everyone as it’s hard to outperform the market. It’s a matter of strategy, research, and some luck. You can simplify the whole process if you ‘buy the market’ by buying the market index ETF. What’s great is that you can also get extra money from an ETF’s distributions or dividends. You can buy ETFs for the Canadian, US, or international markets, or even sector ETFs. You can have a whole portfolio of just ETFs to meet a variety of investment objectives!

Part 4: Investment Income

Here, I discuss my interest in stocks that pay dividends and how I invest in the blue chippy stocks for my retirement fund. What a great source of income as you can also enjoy a profit if you sell your shares later on at a higher price! For these income-generating stocks, I’m less concerned about their sectors.


Part 5: Selling Your Shares

Objective: To determine when to sell some or all of your stock.

Why Sell Your Shares?

Here are a few reasons to:

  • Bank profits
  • Rebalance your portfolio because you’re aging and you need to reduce your riskier assets
  • You need the money to spend or to invest in other things
  • Tax-loss selling (a capital loss can be subtracted from other capital gains, thus further reducing taxation on profits)
  • Play defense because there’s been an interest rate hike or a recession, so you want to lower your exposure and risk
  • Your stock stops paying a dividend
  • Your stock’s company or sector is in trouble and this is affecting the share price
  • Your stock is an underperforming dud
Banking Profits for Retirement

My retirement fund will consist mostly of investment income-producing assets. I’m optimistic to a fault. This means I sit back thinking that most of the dividend-paying stocks for my retirement fund will be worth a lot more in share price too. When I’m a spry elderly lady, livin’ large, and planning my next world adventure, I’ll sell some of those shares and use the massive profits to pay for my trip. If the markets reach exaggerated highs, I might sell some shares to buy a decent annuity.

Banking Profits for My Swing Trades

For my swing trades, I try to give a stock time as it moves within the profit zone, which is anywhere significantly higher than what I paid in share price. I look at the price charts to try to determine how far they’ll go before they experience a major selloff.

It’s a lot more realistic to expect a cheaper stock to double, triple, or increase multiple times in value. Once my investment has more than doubled in value, I usually sell half to 2/3rds of the shares and keep the rest of my shares in for the longer term. This way, I get back my principal investment and I can reinvest it along with the profits in another stock. If the remaining shares don’t keep going up in share price, I’ll sell them for a smaller profit — or break even at worst.

I’ve mentioned before that I like my Canadian stocks cheaper because my Canadian trading account is less funded. I also like them cheaper because I can buy more shares. I find that in general, Canadian stocks don’t move as quickly in price. I can still make money, even with smaller price moves, since I have a lot of shares. For my US swing trades, I use fewer shares than I do for Canadian stocks because they’re more expensive.

US stocks are good for swing trades mainly because they usually can move a lot more in price in a shorter amount of time than Canadian stocks. In other words, they get a lot of price action. I look for stocks that move on average at least $1 in share price in a day. The downside is, when stocks move faster, you have to act faster. If you’re not paying attention, it might get right into the profit zone and then sell off more quickly than it took to get there.

For more expensive stocks, it will take much longer for your total investment to double in its full value. This can take years. Sometimes you’ll have a jackpot situation where there’s a buyout; however, you can’t just wait and hope for these rare events to happen. So what swing traders do is decide how much of their investment they’re willing to risk losing (not all) and see if they stand to gain at least twice, three times or more that amount.

What…?

A lot of traders talk about ‘stops’ to minimize losses. A stop is basically your uncle point where you decide it’s better to take a calculated loss at a certain price than to lose more than that. Once a stop is determined, a trader will calculate how much he or she expects to gain and whether it’s realistic given the stock’s chart, its sector, the market, etc.


I’ll break down here how stops and setting targets work

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  • Let’s say you bought 100 shares of a stock trading at $59.00 per share. Your investment is $5900. But there’s no way you want to lose an entire $5900 if things go south. And how long will it take for the stock to double in price to $118 a share? 
  • You might determine through analysis of its price history and other data that you will not accept a loss lower than $54 per share. You don’t want to lose more than $5 per share, which is $500. So of your $5900 investment, you’re only risking $500 of it. 
  • For this trade to be worth it, you want to at least get double the money you’re risking. Some traders want more, some are okay with less, it’s a personal thing for each person.
  • Take the $5 risk and to get double the reward would mean a $10 price increase at $69.00 ($1000 profit). Triple reward is a $15 increase at $74.00 ($1500 profit). All because you were willing to risk $500 of your investment.

This is a trade I actually took this week. It had a good earnings report (are see-through yoga pants back in style?) and it jumped close to the triple reward zone. It was good enough for me, so I sold 80% of my shares at $71.90.

For my remaining 20%, I’ll hang on to see if it’ll keep going up. Each time it surpasses another risk-reward multiple ($74, $79, $84, $89), I’ll move the stop up on that. If it breaches any of those multiples, I’ll sell the rest.


I use a very loose form of the stop method as I found it to be a pain to bother with stops. I found that with most of these trades if I’d waited a bit longer, I wouldn’t have taken a loss–instead, I would’ve ended up with a huge gain. I found that once I started to set more loosey goosey expectations as to what I’m willing to lose and what I expect to gain, my trading account started to flourish. Yes, I am a loosey goosey swing trader.

I find that if the stock is of a good company in a strong sector, even if you had to endure the discomfort of underperformance, the only thing you really lose is time. Because once the stock really starts to rock, it was totally worth the wait.

This is why sectors are important. If the sector is strong and your stock is strong or stronger than the sector, then you reduce the chance of sitting painfully through negative numbers. If, however, your stock is much weaker than its sector and is going down while the sector is going up, then there could be something else going on with the company that you might have to look into.

Having said all this, I’m not saying to ignore your threshold for losses. You must figure out what works best for you and trade responsibly out of respect for your money. For me, a good swing trade is more than just price action. It’s a combination of factors such as the company, its sector, and the market. Since I consider multiple reasons, I’m okay with waiting out the unforeseen downturns and I don’t totally wig out if the price gets a little out of whack.

Thanks to a diverse portfolio, I only ever have a small fraction of underperformers while the others do well. Sometimes these turn a corner and become the top performers in my portfolio.


Swing Trading is NOT for Everybody

Why do I swing trade? I don’t live much of a structured life (although I sometimes crave one) nor do I have dependents. I have a higher risk tolerance so I can endure the dry spells and downturns and patiently wait for the profits. I’m quite happy to aggressively grow my account in the mid-term while my more solid stocks grow for the long-term. It’s exciting, interesting, engaging, and I can go on about the fun I get out of being tapped into the markets.

Making money like this isn’t for everybody. I’m only sharing my strategies so that curious readers will have a better idea of what I do with my own money. All of what I write is only for information sharing purposes.

While there is a risk component to any kind of investing, there are many ways to reduce that risk with good diversification. To do this effectively, it’s good to be knowledgeable, even of the investment basics. Most working people, in my opinion, are better off saving regularly for their goals and investing their extra savings with a part of it in conservative stocks and ETFs that pay a dividend. No doubt, a lot of money can be made this way!

Stock Picking 4: Investment Income

Part 4: Earning Investment Income from Stocks

Objective: To buy and hold dividend-paying stocks in my retirement fund.


Over the last couple of months, I’ve held off making any long-term buys for my retirement portfolio as I wanted to wait until after the US election. Now that it’s over, I can see how the markets, sectors, and stocks from both Canada and the US reacted. For the last week, JP and I had been watching stocks and making decisions on what to hold for the long haul. If there’s one thing they all have in common, they all pay a dividend.

The Dividend Income Strategy

The big goal  with stocks is to be able to sell your shares at a higher price for a capital gain or profit. When stocks give their shareholders a dividend, then it makes it less desirable to sell your shares as they’re now a source of income!

If you’re buying stocks purely for dividend income, then the price you pay per share and what the sector and market are doing at the time have little significance. It’s intended as a long-term strategy and the idea is that over time, a dividend-paying stock of a good company should go up in value the longer it’s around and able to maintain dividend payments to its shareholders.

For me, these stocks are intended for my retirement fund. I’m still decades away from retiring, so I haven’t sold these stocks yet! With lesser ability to work and fewer job options, I want to have an investment source of income, and dividends are just that. In my opinion, this is the most simple form of stock investing and from a long-term perspective, the wisest.

If you have a blue chip company like a big bank or utility company you’d like to invest in for dividends, then you can accumulate shares over time, buying whenever it suits you. For me, when my stock goes down in price, I plan to buy more shares as it’s more affordable. I met a guy who buys shares of just one bank stock — his bank. He watches the stock price and whenever his stock takes a hit, he’s buying more shares. Over time, you can accumulate a lot of shares; the more shares you have, the more you make in dividend income.

So if you look up a stock on its company website, they’ll usually have its dividend payment schedule as well as what they pay their shareholders for each share they own. It’s usually on a quarterly basis, but sometimes dividends are paid monthly.

Here are some things to note:

  • Not all companies pay a dividend as they don’t HAVE to;
  • Companies don’t always pay the same amount in dividends each time – they can pay more or less each time;
  • Companies can suspend dividend payments for periods of time if it financially makes sense for them – doing this can often make the stock price go down;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from a Canadian company, you get a tax credit, so you can hold these stocks in non-registered accounts;
  • If the company or your brokerage doesn’t have the DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan) feature to automatically buy more shares, the dividend income just goes into your investment account and you can reinvest it at your discretion;
  • If you’re receiving dividends from US companies, then you should hold these stocks in your RRSP as we have an agreement with the US that investment income in retirement accounts won’t be subject to international withholding tax.

My dividend-paying stocks so far are in utilities, energy, finance, and consumer staples. My discount brokerage doesn’t offer the DRIP option, so the money just comes in regularly into my investment account and it’s nice to see my portfolio increase in value from both the capital appreciation of my stocks and from regular dividend payments.

If you’re off stock picking, you can also buy shares of a dividend income ETF. The dividends that are generated by the stocks in the fund are paid to you in the form of distributions (but also often called dividends). I, too, own a preferred share laddered ETF that pays me a substantial dividend every month!


 Generating a regular investment income from solid dividend-paying stocks of Canadian companies is a great strategy for the long term!

No Stock Picking Here. Just Buy the Market Through ETFs

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When I started trading stocks, I did a lot of my learning in different online chatrooms where traders with their handles would list the stocks they were watching and their likely entry and exit points. Since I traded together with JP, I thought an appropriate handle for a couple would be something that always came in pairs, like ‘Skates’ or ‘Gloves.’ We settled on ‘Antlers’ because it thoroughly amused us whenever someone wrote something like, “Nice call, Antlers!”

Some days, there was little action and it was hard to find hot stocks. When this happened, the play would be to ‘buy the market.’ This meant trading the market ETF (exchange-traded fund). As a very short day trade, ‘trading the market’ is always the dodgiest pursuit (we’re talking going UP and DOWN all day), but I found that for the long-term, this is the way to go for most investors.

Trying to create a portfolio that outperforms the market is a very involved commitment. Picking stocks means searching, researching, and analysis. If you can find some great picks to give your stock portfolio the boost it needs to look better than the market, then keep up the good work.

For the busy investor who recognizes the trouble involved with outperforming the market, market ETFs are a great choice. The commission and MER fees are lower than they are for mutual funds. Additionally, they’re liquid like stocks and you buy them the same way as you would for stocks through your brokerage account. As ETFs are funds that offer the diversification of the different stocks in a market index, you also receive the dividends those stocks pay out in the form of distributions. Add all these benefits to market performance, and you’ve got something good going here!


Below are some ETFs that trade in the TSX. For your research convenience, you can click on their links to access their Fact Sheets and learn more about their distributions and stock holdings.

The following is a list of Canadian market index ETFs. There are a lot more, but these ones have higher volume than most of the other market ETFs in the TSX.

A well-diversified, balanced fund portfolio should have some foreign holdings from the US and globally. Here are few US market ETFs:

The global index ETFs generally have lower trading volume, but in this situation with fewer choices, that’s all right. Here are some to check out:

These are just some of the ETFs. There are hundreds to thousands of others available at different prices.


As you’ve read previously in Stock Picking 3, there are also sector ETFs. There are ETFs for pretty much any investment objective you can think of. There are ETFs with fixed-income assets such as bonds and T-bills, ones that cover specific industries, commodities, and foreign currencies. Please keep in mind that some of the more specialized ETFs require more research and management of the assets in the fund, so they’ll have higher MERs than the market index ETFs.

When I was still newish to investing, my portfolio consisted entirely of mutual funds. It was well-diversified, but I know now that I could’ve done better financially had I invested in ETFs because of the significantly lower MERs and commissions. BUT–I didn’t know what an ETF was back then or even how to open a brokerage account, so it didn’t matter. In the last 10+ years, ETFs have been growing so much in popularity and variety that now you could achieve a well-diversified portfolio consisting only of different types of ETFs.

I don’t own any market ETFs as I like to pick stocks and I especially like picking cheaper stocks. But personally, if I were to invest in ETFs, I’d wait until the new year once it’s clearer where the markets are going with interest rates (will they go up or stay the same?), quantitative easing, and a new US president.

Stock Picking – Part 3: Factoring in Sectors and the Market

Part 3: Factoring in the Sectors and the Stock Market

Objective: To look at how a stock is performing in relation to its sector and the market.


Sectors

Many things can move the market. A major recession. An increase in interest rates. A major election. A major sector going up or down.

In the last couple of years, the oil sector took a big hit due to a saturated market with too many players getting greedy. A lot of the Canadian market is affected by oil because it’s one of our major commodities. So the Canadian market took a huge hit, along with our loonie. This impacted our businesses as it reduced our buying power outside Canada. Having said that, after being so down last year, we had a remarkable recovery and better performance than the US markets since January of this year.

Although the Canadian and US stock markets are different, I often check out the US stock market and sectors to give me an idea of the major trends going on in our part of the world. (I will definitely be looking at the US markets after the election results come out this November!)

The following is my list of sectors and industries that I like to examine. You may be more general or more specific as you can further categorize sectors by looking at the different industries that fall within them. I like to check these out from time to time to see if there are new opportunities, or if current opportunities look like they might run dry soon. Please note that this list doesn’t contain all the sectors and industries.

  • Utilities (XLU)
  • Consumer staples (food & beverages, cigarettes, household & personal care products) (XLP)
  • Healthcare (XLV)
  • Pharmaceuticals (PJP, XPH)
  • Transportation, shipping, and delivery services (IYT)
  • Financial (banking, lending services, and insurance) (XLF)
  • Retail (XRT)
  • Basic materials & construction (IYM)
  • Tech (XLK, AAPL, MSFT)
  • Energy (OIL, XOP, IYE )
  • Home building (XHB)
  • Gold (GLD, GG, AU, NEM)
  • Silver (SLV, SLW, AG/FR.TO)

The way I check out these sectors is by looking at their respective ETFs (exchange-traded funds) or the biggest stocks in those sectors, marked by the blue ticker symbols. If you’re not sure what an ETF is, that means you definitely haven’t yet read my book where I explain ETFs and indexes in easy-to-understand terms (Read it! The eBook is $2 right now!). I look at more than one ETF for some of the sectors.

You can create lists of any stocks you want to keep an eye on when you use freestockcharts.com. I have a list saved for sector ETFs. I can just easily go through my list on freestockcharts.com and check out the charts. Also, you can look up a sector by typing something like,”Retail etf,” anywhere on the screen in FreeStockCharts and a bunch of options will come up and you can select from the multiple options.

chart-1d

I apply the same principles when looking at the charts of each sector as I do stocks. I try to see if the sector has been hot for a while (well above the airplane) or if it’s just starting to warm up (at or below the airplane), or if it’s been quiet and moving sideways (along the runway). If a sector has been moving sideways and just starting to move up, I’m more interested in stocks that fall in that sector because it means there could be new opportunities to buy at lower prices. In investing, this is called “sector rotation.” If a sector is hot, I’ll wait for it and its stocks to cool off.

Remember the main M.O. of a savvy investor is to always look for new opportunities, not to follow a trend that’s far into its season.


The Stock Market

There is a lot of fear-mongering, even among savvy investors, with regards to stock picking and timing your investments with the market. It’s because people hate being wrong. No one wants to give wrong information. But for anyone who’s invested, you know you can be wrong for one month and then be right the next month and be well in the money. You can be right for one or two days and it’ll be months or, in rare cases, years before you’re in the money again.

It is hard to know exactly where the market is headed, but it’s easy to see where it’s been–to me, this is more important than making predictions. The way I see it, if it’s happened already, then you have something real to work with.

For the Canadian stock market, I look at these ETFs:

  • XIU (iShares X&P/TSX 60 Index)
  • XIC (iShares Canadian S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index)

For the US stock market, I look at these ETFs:

  • SPY (S&P 500 index)
  • DIA (SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average)
  • QQQ (Nasdaq 100 Index)
  • IWM (Russell 2000 Index for smaller US companies)

I analyze the charts the same way I do for sectors and stocks on freestockcharts.com. I always compare stocks and sectors against the market. I ask these questions:

  • Is a stock lagging or leading its sector?
  • Is a stock lagging or leading its market (Canadian or US)?
  • Is a sector lagging or leading the markets?

My ideal situation: A sector trading on its own page

If the stock market is moving downwards (for the previous month or longer), but a sector has been moving sideways and is starting to heat up, it’s likely going to lead the market. I’ll be looking for stocks in that sector using the criteria I discussed in Stock Picking Part 1.

My less ideal situation: A sector trading like the market will be more affected by the market

If a sector’s chart looks just like the stock market’s chart over the previous month or more, it’ll likely be affected by the market, so if the market goes down, your sector will likely go down with it too. An individual stock better have an amazing chart (LONG sideways trading–we’re talking about a LONG RUNWAY lasting months!) for me to buy it without a stabilized sector behind it.

The situation I avoid: A sector in trouble

If a sector is weaker than the market and it has been heading down on its own, I’ll avoid it and any stock in that sector until I see the sector stabilize and trade sideways again.

I’m not that concerned with what the stock market is doing. In the past, I’ve been shaken out of some great opportunities because I was staring too hard at the market, trying to predict its next move. As soon as the market sells off just a little bit, I’d freak out and exit my positions, only to have the market recover after (as it always does since the beginning of stock market history). What is most important to me is how a stock is trading relative to its sector and how the sector is trading relative to the market. I’m always looking to get in early, not late after the party has already started.

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I recognize this is advanced information. You really can buy stocks of companies that you like without ever having to look at a chart and do well. This is more about my swing trading strategies which for me, it has been a great way to make money.


When I look for stocks, I always look at their sectors and the market. I check to see whether a stock is leading or lagging its sector and whether the sector is leading or lagging the stock market. 

Is the idea of stock picking getting you down? You can still invest in stocks without having to pick one. Next time, I’ll get into ‘buying the market’ which is code for investing in ETFs!

Stock Picking – Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Part 2: Determine Your Investment Goals

Objective: Identify your investment objectives first, and then let them guide you when you’re choosing a stock.


The main objective for investing in anything is to make money. With stocks, you make money two ways by selling your shares at a higher price than you paid and from dividend payments. Additionally, your decision to invest in a stock could be supported by a number of other reasons. Such reasons will guide you in the selection process.

Here are some reasons to buy a stock:

  • To fund your retirement 
  • For faster portfolio growth
  • To generate dividend income
  • You see potential growth in a particular sector, so you want a good stock from that sector
  • The economy is looking to slow down, so you want to invest in a defensive stock
  • The economy has been in a slump for a while but now business activity is starting to pick up, so you want to buy stocks to get in on the action
  • You like a company for its products, services, or growth potential, so you want to be a shareholder.

My investment objectives vary as I want to invest for the long-term (a fun and comfy retirement life) and the short-term (concerts, trips, and buying a couple of properties in Canada and somewhere hot).

For my retirement portfolio, it’s all about the long game and I’m looking to invest in something that will do me well for years, even decades. So, I look for stocks that have ‘blue chip’ qualities: they pay dividends, they’re well-known, well-established and have been around for a long time, and they usually offer more than one type of product or service which allows them to adapt to various consumer demands and trends. It’s also a bonus when the stocks are in defensive sectors such as utilities and consumer staples. I don’t do much analysis here, I apply a very basic, rudimentary logic.

There is no guarantee these stocks won’t suffer when the economy is slow, but the idea is that even during tough times, they’ll do better or suffer less, and they’ll still likely pay you dividends. If their stock prices take a hit, I’ll likely buy more shares when they start to recover because they’ll be cheaper.

For my swing trades, I look for stocks that look like they’ll do well over the next few months to a year. I look for typically strong stocks that have been quiet for a while and haven’t seen much trading action. When this happens, it’s usually because their sectors have also been quiet. If all the stocks in a particular sector have been down for a while, I’ll narrow down my selection based on the stock price and volume. (See Stock Picking – Part 1.)

The selection process for my swing trades is more involved as I use a very basic form of technical analysis of a stock’s price history to help me decide on where I’m going to buy and where I’m likely going to sell. Technical analysis is about analyzing the price history of a stock in relation to its trading volume, sector, and market environment. 

Many people dispute the validity of technical analysis and prefer to examine the fundamentals of a company’s value in relation to its share price instead. They’re all valid to some degree and many financial pros analyze both the technical and fundamental information.

I prefer to analyze charts because I’d rather see if I’m paying much more than others who got in earlier than me. The lower the price I pay for a stock, the more confident I am in the trade. It’s not a guarantee that the price won’t go lower, but even if it does, I will suffer less by getting in at a lower price than if I bought a stock after it became hot and expensive. I never buy a stock after it makes the news because it’s usually too expensive by then.

chart-1d

Above is a very basic chart of a stock that I actually own. I consider a stock to be ‘quiet’ if it’s trading sideways (the first horizontal line). Think of a stock’s price in terms of flying in an airplane; trading sideways is like starting on the runway. I try to buy either when it’s still on the runway or just as it’s taking off (no higher than where the airplane is). So I just have a quick glance at a stock’s chart to determine if it’s just taken off or if it’s gone far beyond the clouds. If it has long taken off already, I’ll just wait for another sideways setup. Sometimes this wait time could take months to years and I’ll just keep checking the charts every now and then.

For years, I’ve been using freestockcharts.com to look up charts for Canadian and U.S. stocks. It’s FREE and the features and tools for the charts are very similar to what you would use if you had a pro trading account with a brokerage. To look up a stock, you just type the company name and you can select it from the list of options it provides. Sometimes a company will trade on both the Canadian and US stock exchanges, so be sure you’re selecting the proper exchange for you. There are many short and informative tutorials available on its site and on YouTube.

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I look at the charts for everything I buy for both long-term buys and shorter-term swing trades as my goal is always to buy shares at lower prices. For the long-term trades, it’s more important that the stocks meet some ‘blue chip’ criteria. For the swing trades, I rely more on technical analysis, the sectors, and the markets.

Next time, I’ll get into how I analyze sectors and markets!

 

 

Stock Picking – Part 1: Looking for Stocks

green-day

You can decide to buy a stock using very basic logic. It can be as simple as, “My bank is great. I’m going to buy its stock.” And there you go, you own a dividend-paying stock. Those who want to build a more diversified stock portfolio seek more information and try to pick stocks using some strategy.

My process for picking stocks is quite simple and involves less information than what is required by trained financial professionals. I don’t manage other people’s money, only my own, so I’m less stressed out about aligning a certain number of factors before buying or selling a stock.

I usually work with my man, JP, when it comes to selecting stocks, but sometimes we make decisions independently of each other. For this reason, JP and I each have our own investment accounts. My strategy is quite loose in form, but I feel that being rigid will lead to over-analyzing and worry. I’d rather be relaxed and let my trades work when they do because if I panic or get too excited, I’ll sell them too soon.

With stocks, I operate on different time frames. I sometimes day trade, and I always close the position within a day or less. My main thing has become swing trading, which means I’ll hold a position anywhere from over a day to a few weeks or even a few months. And then I’ll do real investing where I’m looking to hold a solid dividend-paying stock until I retire.

I don’t recommend that anyone day trades, it’s a far too risky way to handle your hard-earned money and it’s not investing at all. Many might argue that swing trading isn’t investing either, but it depends on how you look at it. I see it as shorter term investing. Your level of involvement can vary from being very active by watching stocks and the markets, and managing your trades all the time, or you can be more hands-off and just be willing to do such things occasionally. I’m very hands-off with my swing trades. Most of what I’m going to be talking about is related to how I pick stocks for swing trading.

I need to declare that when it comes to managing my money, I have a higher risk threshold than the average person. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed big wins and suffered abysmal losses. My confidence comes from years of experience, training, research, lessons, trade analysis, and self-examination. I’m finally in a place where I’m quite happy with my stocks and current strategy. I’m also happy accepting that if the markets change, I might have to adapt my strategy.

What I’m revealing here today is just to share my method among the curious, not to teach it or to say this is what you should do to make money. My only hope is that you’ll pick up some good ideas and know how to apply whatever is useful to your own decisions.

Just remember that there is no fail-proof way to invest, nor is there one way to make money from investing. Investing is just one aspect of personal finance, which is how you manage your money and make financial decisions. I feel that the other aspects related to personal finance — working, budgeting, managing debt, and saving — are just as important.

I’m going to break down my explanation into parts. Each part will be blogged separately over the next few weeks.


Part 1: Looking for Stocks

Objective: To find major stocks that have higher trading volume


Canadian Stocks: 

I look for stocks that trade a lot in the TSX. I narrow the search process down by looking at the larger stocks in the TSX that are listed in the S&P/TSX 60 Index or the S&P/TSX Composite Index. If you click on those links, you can see the index’s stocks under ‘Constituents.’ If you don’t know what an index is, it means you haven’t read my book yet! You can still refer to the Terminology page for quick reference.

I like stocks that have the higher daily trading volume which means the number of shares bought and sold in a day. So with TSX stocks, I’d like them to trade at least 10K shares a day; the more the stock trades, the more interested I am in it. My TFSA is less funded than my other trading account, so I tend to look for Canadian stocks that are under $20, preferably under $10 so that I can buy more shares.

Rarely do I buy stocks that trade on the TSX Venture Exchange, but if it’s for stocks in a relatively new industry (like cannabis), then I’ll buy the from the venture if it meets all my requirements.

US Stocks:

I use the amazing Screener feature on finviz.com to find US stocks. For free, you can customize different search requirements and save those settings. I’ve created different “presets” for finding current financial stocks, tech stocks, oil stocks, pharma, transports, etc., that suit my preferences. 

The one common feature I use in all my searches is “Average Volume,” so I usually prefer US stocks that trade over 500K shares a day. Some people look for stocks that trade much more, some are okay with less than 500K. If I have too big a list, I’ll also add “Current Volume” to the search criteria and I’ll select over 1M shares because it means it’s currently trading a lot more than its average volume and something unusual could be going on with those stocks.  

I usually look for US stocks that are over $5 in share price, mainly because the higher-priced stocks often, but not always, move more in price so I can make a decent profit in a shorter amount of time. I have more money available in my US trading account too, so I’m able to shoot for higher-priced stocks.

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So that’s basically how I find stocks. I try to select from more popular, higher-volume stocks from the major stock exchanges and I narrow down my selection using preferable price criteria. 

Next time I’ll discuss my process for narrowing down my choices. Stay tuned!

Column Published in Investor’s Digest

 

investors-2

August 26th Issue

 

If you’re interested in investing in exchange-traded funds, you can read about the various ETF strategies I recommend in this issue of Investor’s Digest of Canada! 


Other columns published since…

October 7, 2016 Issue: Getting Heavy Into Metal

November 25, 2016 Issue: The Investor’s Investor and Stock Picking

February 10, 2017 Issue: Smaller Time Frames, Bigger Profits

 

Breaking Up is Really Hard to Do

Exit

Six lbs of fury over Brexit

The world over is talking about the British exit and I feel compelled to express my woes.  It’s official, the UK voted to break up from the EU. A wise friend once told me that in a breakup, the one who decides to leave first wins; they’re emotionally prepared and very likely already have their exit strategy planned out.

So what does this all mean? Does Britain win and the rest of the EU lose? And when the rest of the EU loses, then economically do the rest of us lose too? What is Britain’s exit strategy? How long will this take?

We all have many questions, most of which will take years to answer. The big thing is the uncertainty that comes with all this. The best play is to be defensive. Maybe wait until the markets settle down over the next week or so. In the meantime, look at other investment opportunities. Look for stocks that barely reacted to the news. Did their sectors do the same? If the market moves sideways or goes up, you can take your position. If the market goes down, just be ready for when there is a reversal. If your choices display alpha behaviour in that it does not care what the markets are doing and wants to advance on their own, I say consider going for it, maybe just take fewer shares than you normally would to reduce your risk. The macroeconomic conditions have now changed and makes anything you invest in riskier.

There’s always risk in investing; sometimes there is wisdom in the strategy of sitting on your hands until economic uncertainty and market volatility cool off. Sitting on your hands for too long and not being pro-active in the interim poses another kind of risk: the risk of doing nothing and taking action when it’s too late. The best opportunities occur in the places where you anticipate the start of change, the beginning of a potential shift in trends. Watch the world markets, observe the different sectors and industries, wait for currencies to stop falling, and look for promising changes in employment and housing.

Keep your eye on the EU, and if there is instability for a while, look for signs of recovery. My only hope is that the EU has a plan in place to deal with the exit of a major member. I will now join my newborn niece and weep over this major breakup.

 

Reading Price Charts

XICAt first glance, it looks like the outline of a mountain range, but it’s a price history chart of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) which is an investment fund that trades in the stock market. There are many different styles of charting with a variety of analytical tools and measurements that you can apply to these charts to help predict the price direction. You can look at the price chart of any investment be it a stock, ETF, mutual fund, etc. There is no sure way of predicting price movement, but I find it useful to examine previous and current trends before buying any stocks. Today, I just want to go over what I see when I look at this chart because I’m interested in how the Canadian stock market is performing.

This ETF is the iShares S&P TSX Composite Capped Index Fund. This ETF trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the ticker symbol XIC. It currently has shares of 235 of the largest TSX stocks. Looking at the price history of this particular ETF will give you a good idea of how the Canadian stock market is trending. There is a number of other similar market ETFs, but I like to look at this one. So what do I make of this?

Let’s look at the chart below. I drew some trendlines on the chart to mark the trend directions.

XIC with TLsA: Since early May last year, the market has been on a decline until the end of the year. There were big drops in August and September, followed by a bit of recovery in October. Despite these efforts to go up in the fall, the market maintained its downtrend from spring until the end of 2015.

B: This pessimism in the market was punctuated by a rapid sell-off in late December to mid-January. Has the selling come to an end? I would need some confirmation first before I buy any new stocks.

C: Since mid-January, the market has been recovering. It was only interrupted by a sharper drop in mid-February, but never quite hit the same price lows that we saw in January. This is often a positive sign confirming a turnaround and a good time to buy stocks, which I did myself. The market has been trending upwards since. It’s now the end of April. Will the market continue to go up from here?

Let’s look at this chart a different way. Below, you can see that I removed the trendlines and I drew a horizontal line to look for areas where the market might find difficulty moving through.

XIC with Line

I can see that in October last year, there was a lot of trading around the $22.00 area. I drew a line from there to where we are today. Interestingly, we are currently trading in the same price range.

For investors who bought shares in January and February, this may be a price range that they targeted their investments to go. They might decide to sell some of their shares here or hold on and wait for the trading to occur above $22.15 before they buy more. Will we go up from here?

There’s a popular saying, “Sell in May and go away.” This refers to a lessening of equities investing as we enter summer and this goes until the end of October. It is also worth considering that on June 23, there is a referendum among UK citizens that will determine whether or not the UK will remain an EU member. I think that whether or not the ‘Brexit’ will happen, the results will impact the overall market which could send it much higher or much lower.

My Own Trading

Since February, I had been systematically selling half the shares of the stocks in my portfolio that had doubled in value. I will keep a watchful eye on my stocks to see if they’re prone to a May sell-off or possible market shifts in late June. I’ll either stay in these stocks going forward or sell the rest of my shares depending on their performances.

I trade stocks in the short-term to make quicker profits. Sometimes this is a good plan, other times it means missing out on enjoying bigger profits because I got out too soon. I realize that shorter-term stock traders like me are considered by some as market parasites, that we’re only there to profit from smaller price movements and our money adds no real value to a good company’s stock. This sentiment does not hurt my feelings–this girl’s gotta eat!

True investing differs from just trading: it means being invested for the long haul–you buy shares of a company you respect, receive dividend payments, and you watch its value rise over the years. I do have a few of these too–for these stocks, regardless of what happens from May, I’m all in and for a long time. I may even buy more shares of these stocks in the future if I see good opportunities in the market and in these stocks’ performances.

There are also critics who think that analyzing price charts is just as effective as using tea leaves to make predictions. I don’t totally disagree with this opinion as I simply can’t predict anything with absolute certainty (neither can anyone else, as certain as they may feel).

Analyzing trends in the stock markets and in sectors is simply a way for me to anticipate direction. When the markets are going up, investors are optimistic; when the markets are heading down, investors are pessimistic. I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me for sure whether things will go as I predict, or if some world event will occur to really rock the markets. I simply rely on my plans on when to buy and when to sell, I read the price charts to find these signals, and I consider what is going on in the economy and in the world that could affect a change in investor sentiment.