Back in mid-June 2022, the S&P 500 entered bear market territory, and the Federal Reserve increased rates by the largest margin since the mid-1990s. Together, this made investors nervous. Along with worrying about an economic downturn, some fear a full-blown recession may be just around the corner. As a result, they’re re-evaluating their portfolios and wondering if now is the time to sell stocks at a loss. If you’re trying to decide what’s best. Here’s what you need to consider.
How Market Downturns Alter the Picture
Market downturns are intimidating. This particularly true to two kinds of investors. For those nearing or in retirement, declining stock values are worrisome as they may soon impact the investor’s quality of life. The value of their portfolio serves as a source of retirement income. Thus, causing declines to have a potentially immediate impact on their short- and long-term financial well-being.
Another type of investor that often gets worried about market downturns is those that are newer to investing. For those who weren’t involved in the markets during the last major recession – such as the market crash of 2008. There may be more fear about what lies ahead. That could make selling seem like an attractive option. Since it could prevent future financial losses.
However, what’s important to remember is that wide stock declines aren’t typically permanent. Additionally, those who maintain their portfolios and those who continue to invest can often come out ahead in the long run. This is only if they stick with it. That’s good news for buy-and-hold investors. These are investors who don’t need to tap the funds within the next few years. For them there’s a decent chance their portfolio value will recover.
But that doesn’t mean it’s never wise to sell stocks at a loss; it’s simply that making broad decisions about an entire portfolio isn’t the best idea. Investors should always look at the potential value of any particular holding to determine whether it makes sense for their goals, allowing them to make strategic choices regardless of market conditions.
When Selling Stocks at a Loss Makes Sense
There are a handful of situations where selling a stock at a loss does make sense. The primary one is when the company’s outlook has significantly changed. Now, all businesses experience some degree of ups and downs, so slight shifts in value aren’t necessarily enough to justify a sale. However, if the company’s future prospects are fundamentally altered by a particular event, it’s possible it is no longer a wise investment, and selling at a loss could be a good move.
Another reason to sell stocks at a loss involves taxes. By selling stocks at a loss, you can potentially offset any income or capital gains generated by stronger investments. The strategy is known as tax-loss harvesting, and it’s worth considering if a particular stock lost value and it no longer makes sense for your portfolio at large.
Selling stocks at a loss because you genuinely need the cash may also make sense. Along with the potential tax benefits, it may allow you to cover a cost without having to worry about incurring debt. While it’s usually better to use an emergency fund first, if that’s fully tapped and you still need cash, this might be better than selling stocks with additional growth potential.
Finally, if you need to rebalance your portfolio, selling losing stocks is usually better than liquidating strong performers or those with ample potential. It allows you to accomplish the goal while improving your overall financial picture. Plus, you could get some tax benefits, which is a bonus.
When Selling Stocks at a Loss Isn’t Wise
Usually, the main time when selling stocks at a loss isn’t smart is if the downturn is likely temporary. For companies that are stable and have the potential to grow and thrive, the odds are good that the stock price will recover. In fact, downturns could be the right time to actually purchase more stocks, as you may get them at a bargain price, giving you stronger gains when there’s a recovery.
If the stock value fell, but it comes with a solid dividend, then selling might not be the wisest choice either. That’s mainly true if the company is reasonably healthy and was simply overvalued at the time of purchase. In this case, the dividends may offset that loss, making the buy-and-hold approach a better fit in this situation. Just make sure that the value isn’t likely to decline dramatically long-term, barring normal market fluctuations or broad downturns that aren’t reflective of the company’s health.
Finally, never sell a stock if emotions are all that’s driving that choice. Investment decisions should always be based on logic, research, financial goals, and similar factors. Usually, rash choices will work against you. So, if you’re motivated by emotion, take a step back, look at the situation objectively, and then decide what’s best.
Do you have any other tips that can help someone figure out when to sell stocks at a loss? Do you think selling stocks now is a wise move, or are people better off waiting until the market stabilizes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.