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Growing Your Portfolio While Cutting Stock Investing Risk

With stocks at all-time highs, it’s important to consider managing portfolios and reducing stock investing risk. These tips will help.


Most investors think they can handle market volatility pretty well but the data shows they tend to be panic sellers. And with stocks at all-time highs, now’s the ideal time to develop a strategy for managing that volatility when it inevitably returns.

Here are some ways you can “stay calm and carry on” by using some portfolio shock absorbers to cushion the blow when markets turn against you.

The Golden Rule – Trailing Stop Loss

We have all been there. You buy a stock or fund and it appreciates in value rapidly. Then it stumbles and begins to decline. What do you do? Should you buy more, let it ride, or sell?


Save yourself a lot of pain and agony by following a simple rule. If a position ever falls more than 25% from its high, sell it immediately and reassess the situation.

Some may counter that this 25% rule is a bit arbitrary but no doubt a 25% decline from a high is about as much stock investing risk as most investors can handle. This sort of decline also indicates that the fundamentals have broken down and it’s time to pause and revisit a holding. More risk-averse investors may want to have a tighter stop-loss policy set at 10% to 20%.

Hedging Investing Risk with ETF Put Options

Many ETF investors are unaware that roughly 40% of ETFs have options that can be used to hedge positions. For some ETFs, option maturities go out as far as four years.

The easiest way to find out if options are available for a specific ETF is to go to Yahoo Finance and put in the ticker. On the left side will be a menu. Just click on the “options” link and, if options are available, they will come up for review.

Before jumping into options trading, you should consult with your financial advisor and do some research on the basics. You can keep it simple like checkers, or get a bit more sophisticated like chess. If you have large positions that cannot be hedged in something like a retirement account or an equity stake with an employer, consider sector ETFs as a partial analog for hedging individual stock investing risk.

Cash Can Be King

Many investors have a hard time holding cash in a portfolio. Cash has to be put to work for a portfolio to grow but it is a lot smarter to do it gradually than to throw it in the market at once.

Likewise, going 100% cash in your portfolio is almost always a blunder. But in a sharp market downturn when your positions hit their stop limits, let some cash accumulate and then follow a calm plan to put it to work.

As Warren Buffet puts it, when great stocks are on sale, you need to back up the truck of cash rather than use a thimble.

Inverse ETF Hedges

You should also be aware that there are exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that move opposite the markets. For example, if you had a very strong belief that emerging markets were very overvalued, you might consider hedging your positions with ProShares Short MSCI Emerging Markets (EUM) which moves opposite the MSCI Emerging Market index. There are inverse and leveraged ETFs out there on a wide range of assets from oil to gold to Treasuries.

Use these carefully since they are not meant to be long-term positions but rather short-term allocations in times of volatility, whenever they return.

It will help to stay optimistic and with your financial plan if you use some of these strategies. Keep calm with these portfolio shock absorbers. They will help you manage stock investing risk and avoid panic selling.


Carl Delfeld is a member of the Cabot investment team, and chief analyst of Cabot Explorer.