As a professional, I always believed that the key to success was to have a sound strategy and good stock selection. I’m still convinced this is true.
At the same time, good execution of my plan through competent trading–buying and selling the stocks in my portfolio–while a secondary objective, could add or subtract a percentage point from my overall performance during a year. Given that the typical active portfolio manager underperforms the S&P 500 by around one percentage point yearly, good trading can be worth its weight in gold. Having been blessed with good traders most of my career, and cursed with one horrible trader I couldn’t get rid of for about a year, believe me I know the difference between the two.
The main tool we as individuals have to control the trades we do is our choice between limit and market orders.
types of orders
A market order is one where our instructions are to buy a certain amount of a stock at the market price, that is, the price at the time the human or computer that will transact for us receives the order. Except in the most unusual circumstances–I can’t remember this ever happening with an order of mine–the transaction will always occur. Sometimes, the price will differ a little from what we’ve seen on the screen a moment before entering the order, but in practical terms we’ll always buy/sell the stock.
A limit order, on the other hand, is one where we specify the exact price where we want the transaction to happen. That may or may not occur on a given day. Limit orders take two main forms, day and GTC (Good Til Cancelled). GTC orders are, technically speaking, really not exactly what the name says. They most often are tagged with a time limit, say, three or six months, after which they expire if not renewed. When entering an order online, a message will typically pop up giving an expiration date.
As regular readers will know, I’m a growth stock investor. For people like me, I believe firmly in the cliché that the more important decision is how we sell, not how we buy (more about this on Monday).
I tend to buy in two or three transactions. I’ll almost always use a market order, for about a third of what I ultimately intend to own ,just to establish a new position. I’ve found over the years that owning a small amount of a stock focuses my mind on it in a way that simply thinking about it, or having it in a paper portfolio, doesn’t. This also protects me a bit from the stock running away on the upside before I’ve finished buying.
My intention will be to buy the rest in one or two more transactions, hopefully at progressively lower prices. If the market allows me, I’ll use limit orders to acquire the rest. I may decide, however, that I don’t have enough time to do so before others discover the stock. If so, I’ll buy the rest at market.
If I change my mind about a stock, that is, if I realize that my favorable view is probably wrong, I’ll sell all I own at market–and relatively quickly. On the other hand, if the stock has gone up a lot, and my sale is motivated by price, I’ll usually use limit orders.
For example, one of my sons and I own both own Tesla (TSLA), at his suggestion. We decided to sell half of our holding at $260 (I’m thinking the rest should go at $275, but I haven’t broached the subject with him yet). We placed a limit order about a week ago. It hit yesterday. (For what it’s worth, I think a large convertible bond offering is imminent and that, like last year, it will mark a near-term top in the stock. And, of course, we can’t forget that this is a highly speculative, if intriguing, issue.)
More on Monday.