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Buy, Sell or Hold? The Pain Of Giving Advice

My brother came to me for some advice last night. It was almost midnight and he was still tense and troubled.  You see, he’s getting married soon and he’s been preparing for it for the longest time. He’s your typical good boy.  Sound mind, good sense – a responsible guy.

I thought he was worried because he wasn’t sure about pushing through with the wedding. But I found out that he was being troubled by the stock portfolio he had set up with an offshore LOM bank account. There wasn’t anything wrong with the company itself, in fact LOM are great, it was stock portfoliomore the way he had handled his own stocks.  He had put almost all his savings in stocks, mainly blue chips.  He tried to diversify his holdings across different industries. Power generation, retail, airline and tech industries.  But, as a whole, his portfolio was down 20 percent.

Now he needed money to pay for his wedding costs and other things related to settling down.  What was he going to do?

He could still hold his position for some time and wait for the prices to improve.  Anway, his wedding was still scheduled mid-2016.  Maybe near that future time, he could already be seeing green and even be making some money.

But then again, what if the prices went down even more? His now 20 percent loss could turn to a 50 percent loss by that time.  So maybe he should just sell now while the loss was still tolerable for him.  He’d cry a bit and lick his wounds but he can move on.

Or a third possibility would be that he and the market are just overreacting negatively right now.  Maybe the stocks in his portfolio are actually undervalued and he should be buying some more at the current bargain prices and thereby even reduce his average cost a bit more.

Hold, sell or buy?  Those three options kept him awake at night.  Hold, sell or buy.

Now I’m not the type to give advice to family. I’ve learned the hard way that family members are the worst clients.  They tend to blame you more than third parties.  Institutions are the easiest to deal stock portfoliowith because the accountant or fund manager representing the institution doesn’t have his personal money on the line.  He accepts losses as part of the game.  He understands how the market works and takes responsibility for his decision to buy, sell or hold.

Retail investors are more emotional with their trades. I guess it’s because we are talking about their personal hard earned money.  It’s more difficult to break it to them that they have a loss to cut.

But family members are the worst. I won’t generalize.  But I’m just referring to my personal experiences.  Family members would blame me if the stock price went up.  “You should have told me it was going up some more. I could have added to my position.”  Even worse, they blame me for a stock they didn’t buy if they hear about it in the news that the price went up.  They also point the finger when the stock price goes down.  “What am I gonna do now?  Your recommendation failed and I’m worse off than before.”

So what do I tell my brother?  Buy, sell or hold?

In reality it depends on my brother’s investment horizon. Is he in it for the short-term or the long-term?  It also depends on how much he’s willing to risk.  Of course it also depends on our outlook of the future.  Will Yellen hike interest rates this December?  Are we entering a bear market? Or is this just wave 4 of a supercycle?  The problem is all the answers are relative and unsure. Even my brother can change his mind about his intentions and investment horizon.  And not even the US Fed knows what will happen precisely after it decides to hike, cut or maintain interest rates.  Even the talking heads monitoring and giving their expert opinions about the stock market are useless at predicting a market crash.  Otherwise, nobody would have been wiped-out in the dotcom bubble of 2001 or the housing bubble of 2008.  In short, we are all fumbling, and winging it as we go.  That’s why every time someone advices an investor in the stock market, he wraps up with the caveat “invest only what you can afford to lose.”  Yeah, that sucks.  But the stock market investor just goes ahead and signs the client account information form and proceeds to buy the stock recommendation.

And so, to my brother, I said, “You should sell now if you feel that you won’t be able to handle it should your loss increase further.”  Then I lectured him about how he should have set a ten percent stop loss.  I told him that the US Fed might hike rates in December and that will most likely send the market south even more.  He looked at me with much pain and said, “maybe I’ll just wait a bit more.”  I said “It’s really up to you.  Anyway those are good companies you have and it is December anyway.  There’s still a chance for it to go up.”

With a sigh of relief, I was glad he didn’t take my advice.  Sort of.  I don’t even know what kind of advice that was.  At least he won’t blame me. I hope.