My Personal Finance Journey

Personal finance observation, musing and decisions in a journey toward financial independence by 2020 with at least $3 million.

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Why Did I Sell All My Stock? (And Not)

Contributed by mm | January 9, 2009 9:57 AM PST

My stock picking days are finally over, for now. Back in April 2003, I bought my first stock -- Pre Paid Legal Service (PPD). Over the six and half years since, I bought a total of 33 stocks. As late as May, I was sitting on almost quarter-a-million portfolio of individual stocks, including many financial stocks (AIG, BAC, JPM, LFG, MMC, WTM, just to name a few) -- what a good portfolio it was in a financial crisis :-)

And with the market testing new lows every other day, my portfolio was taking one nosedive after another. For a moment I was in denial, and hesitated to share the losing record, especially to a special reader of my blog -- my wife. Knowing that we won't touch on the investment portfolio for at least a decade, and stock market will surely recover in the long run, I felt it was not necessary to create a lot of anxiety under the same roof.

In retrospect, the biggest lesson I learned from loading more and more financial stocks between 2007 and 2008 is: I acted blindly. With 60-hour work weeks, I should have known that I cannot dedicate enough time to study each company and keep track of all developments. My corporate finance background should have helped me, but without a lot of time to study my portfolio holdings as much as I study the corporate P&L I'm managing, it is no surprise that I chose the wrong path.

I'm still self forgiving -- after all, many professionals paid to do all the stock research fell to the same value traps of the financial companies. (Dodge & Cox, Third Avenue, Bill Miller, etc.)

Anyway, I gradually sold one stock after another, and sold all my remaining holdings of Bank of America (BAC) and JP Morgan (JPM) in December. Today, I only hold onto one stock: Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.B).

Still, if I haven't made it clear, I still own a lot of stocks indirectly thru mutual funds. I chose to be light on equity investments -- currently having as much as 70% of my portfolio in cash -- but I'm establishing automatic investment plans to invest into mutual funds on a weekly basis. More on this in a separate post.

So the record for my imperfect six-and-half-year stock picking career:

- Companies went belly up (or almost):
○ (BYND) - an online electronics retailer that went down in the .com crash in 2001
○ NetBank (NTBK) - the online banking pioneer that went out of business in 2003
○ Orthodontic Centers of Americas (OCA) - An orthodontic chain running out of cash in 2005
○ LandAmerica Financial Group (LFG) - a title insurance company that declared bankruptcy after a failed merger. (2008)

- Biggest losers:
○ American International Group (AIG) - $23,863 loss (not dead, but next to worthless)
○ Citigroup (C) - $16,531 loss (no more off-balance-sheet SPV please)
○ Americas Express Co. (AXP) - $13,976 loss (yet another financial company -- will credit card default be the next shoe to drop?)

- Biggest winners
○ Apollo Group (APOL) - $14,449 gain (the online university is gaining steam in the recession)
○ Pre Paid Legal Services (PPD) - $10,793 gain (my first stock pick is a winner!)
○ Altria Group (MO) - $2,550 gain (I don't smoke, but tobacco company is still a cash cow)

More PFBlog Articles You Might Find Interesting ...

This Post Has Received 14 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.

asad Commented on January 9, 2009

well be glad you stayed away from WM that was a hit I am still recovering from.

rob Commented on January 10, 2009

DE is the stock to own/buy. CAT as well. I was in your shoes up HUGE through AUG 08. Then decided to take a break and put half the $$$ into 2035 Freedom Fund thinking it's a safe haven. Oops... Thankfully I've got tons of cash still and a great job that allowed my to majorly load up in stocks in NOVEMBER. WHAT a move.

EasyLearnStockMarket Commented on January 10, 2009

Personally, I think you're bailing at the wrong time - of course come DOW 6000 you'll look like the genius and I'll be writing a post on my blog about I how commented at DOW 8600 that you'd be crazy to sell now :)

No matter what, best luck to you.


Deborah Commented on January 10, 2009

I have been following you for some time and I think you did better then many and the reason is that you did not hold on to those stocks waiting for them to give back what they owed you. You cut smaller losses that hurt and prevented them from becoming bigger losses that hurt more.

I remember when you picked up Citigroup. I was a voice of caution against that one.

jdutty Commented on January 11, 2009

dont beat your self up to much. Everyone got hit from the market down turn. I agree with the above poster that this may not be the right time to jump out but what do i know. Last week I moved some cash into my index funds-cash that I just had sitting on the side(I didnt outsmart the market, I was saving for a downpayment for a house that never happened).

CPA1298 Commented on January 12, 2009

I don't think you learned much of a lesson when you say "My stock picking days are finally over, for now". Picking stocks is a loser's bet; stay in index funds.

Amit C Commented on January 16, 2009

Smart move.

I pointed out the stock returns are not worth it a year back, see comment.

Let us know what you decide next, it is always insightful.


Joseph @ Debit versus Credit Commented on January 17, 2009

I'm interested to see how your decision to sell individual stocks holds out in the near future.

I'd be even more interested to see percentages on your losses and gains though. A number doesn't mean much without other numbers to back it up. So how much (percentage wise) did you really lose and gain on those companies?

Financialchoices Commented on January 18, 2009

Can't blame you for selling. Any plans on using some of that cash to purchase a home?

AmericasChoice Commented on January 20, 2009

This was really a great post, and this blog is really boosting my knowledge in the financial industry which is a great help as I run several credit websites, making it very important to get all the up to date finance info I can. Good luck to everyone in the new year.

P.S. I definitely recommend subscribing to this blog's feeds, they are a wealth of information.

Cary Commented on January 20, 2009

Curious how you fail to post monthly statements over the worst downturn in our lives. Please provide details or you will have very little credibility with your readers.

The Passive Dad Commented on February 13, 2009

When you say your stock picking days are over, are you getting out of the market completely? Do you have retirement money still in stocks? What about index funds or etfs? Just curious why you would dollar cost average at these lows.

JD Commented on April 3, 2009

Seems like you've abandoned your blog once again. While it was not a bad move to get out of your stocks when you did you were obviously very late considering this banking crisis became pretty apparent a year earlier. Now that you sold everything and took those losses, did you get back in and enjoy the huge run-up over the past 4 weeks? The greatest 4-week run-up in stocks since 1933 I believe. You were always partial to the financials, which did horrible over the past year, but over the past 4-weeks most of them have doubled or tripled. I'm assuming you were not in the market recently. The fact that you seem to make horrible investment decisions isn't what causes you to lose credibility on your blog, it can actually add to it if you post what you learn from your mistakes and let your mistakes serve as a warning to others. You lose credibility because you never update your blog any more. When your net worth was increasing each month you posted very actively and thought you were a genius by the way you described your investment style. When it turned out your investments were some of the worst in the stock universe and you lost all your gains plus much more you disappeared. If this is just going to be a bull market blog you should make that clear.

traubbagebrok Commented on April 13, 2009

I'm new to this blog. Apologize for asking this though, but to OP...
Do you know if this can be true; ?
it came off
Thanks :)

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