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Market wisdom from one of Canada’s most respected professional investment managers

By Patrick McKeough  | Monday, November 11, 2013

There are lots of references in the financial media to “shorts”– those seeking to profit from stocks that fall in price. But this strategy comes with considerable risk. When you decide to sell a stock short, you borrow that stock from a broker and then sell it. But you eventually have to buy the stock back on the market in order to return it to its owner. There are three big disadvantages to the short-selling strategy.

If the stock falls in price while you are “short,” you can buy it back at a lower price. You have then made a profit. But if the stock rises in price, you’re obliged to buy it back at a higher price than you sold it, and you lose money.

Short selling stocks can make you money twice as fast as simply buying stocks. That’s because stocks tend to fall about twice as fast as they rise. But many “shorts” wind up losing money, because short selling lacks these three key advantages of investing in stocks:

The advantages of buying a stock

Advantage #1: Investors can earn income from dividends.

Advantage #2: Investors can usually hold on to their stocks indefinitely, and sell only when they wish.

Advantage #3: Time works in an investor’s favor, since well-managed companies tend to expand over long periods.

Three big disadvantages of short selling stocks

Disadvantage #1: Short-sellers don’t earn any income. Instead, they have to make good on dividends that the stock’s owner would receive. Right now, the average yield on the S&P/TSX Composite Index is 2.73%. So, on average, today’s short-sellers miss out on a 2.73% yield, and have to pay out that much to the stock’s owners, for an average disadvantage (compared with buying the stock) of 5.46% a year.

Disadvantage #2: Short-sellers can be forced to return shares they’ve borrowed with little notice, if the owner calls it in. If your broker can’t find new stock to borrow, you can be forced to buy the stock back in the market. This may force its price up.

Disadvantage #3: Time works against you when you are short selling, because companies tend to grow over long periods.

Our investment advice

Above all, it’s important to remember that the odds in short selling are upside down. When you buy, your potential gain is unlimited, but all you can lose is 100%. When you sell short, your maximum gain is 100%, if the stock you short drops to zero. But a short-seller’s potential loss is unlimited, because there’s no telling how high a stock can go.

This post originally appeared on TSI Network.

Patrick McKeough, host of the investment website, has been a professional investment analyst for more than three decades. He is also a portfolio manager and the editor and publisher of four investment advisories: The Successful InvestorWall Street Stock ForecasterStock Pickers Digest, and Canadian Wealth Advisor. Follow Pat on Twitter and Facebook.

Notes and Disclaimer

© 2013 by Fund Library. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part by any means without written permission is prohibited.

The foregoing is for general information purposes only and is the opinion of the writer. No guarantee of investment performance is made or implied. It is not intended to provide specific personalized advice including, without limitation, investment, financial, legal, accounting or tax advice. Please contact the author to discuss your particular circumstances.

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