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Five Ways to Bank Gains and Manage Winning Trades

Setting a sound strategy is the key to long-term investing

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Most investors become so focused on their losers that they have no idea how their winners are performing…until they become losers and start paying attention to them.As far as I am concerned, that’s bass-ackward.What they should be doing is figuring out how to harvest their winners, especially now that the six-week rally we’ve enjoyed appears to be losing steam.If you’ve been raised under the old axiom of “cut your losses and let your winners run,” this may seem counterintuitive.But, if you really want to succeed in today’s markets, you have to consistently sell your winners. That way, you continually cycle your capital into brand new opportunities.

It’s not much different than what regularly happens in the produce department at the grocery store. Places like Safeway  (NYSE:SWY) always replenish the tomatoes and the like to keep them fresh.

You should do the same with the “inventory” in your portfolio because if you let your stocks sit on the shelf too long, they’ll eventually go bad – just like fruit that’s past its expiration date.

Here are some of my favorite tactics to help you lock in profits instead of letting irrational behavior and emotion take over when the markets suddenly have a mind of their own.

1) Recognize every day is a new day

This one is very simple. If the original reasons why you bought something are no longer true, ditch it – win, lose or draw.

You can’t risk falling in love with your assets any more than you can let them rust – yet that’s exactly what most investors do. They buy something then assume that it will somehow plod along on autopilot.

This is a variation of what I call the “greater fool theory” as in some greater fool is going to come along at a yet-to-be-determined point in the future and pay you more for a given investment than you paid to buy it.

I can’t imagine what these folks are thinking.

Today, more than ever, you’ve got to continually re-evaluate your investments to ensure that they stand on their own merits and are worth the risk of continued ownership.

2) Sell into Strength

Most investors have been taught to let their winners run. I’m all for that – don’t get me wrong – but ask yourself why the professionals take money off the table whenever they’ve got winners on their hands.

Answer – they know that the longer a bull runs, the higher the odds of a reversal.

That’s why they begin “lightening up” or systematically selling positions or even portions of positions when prices are rising. We use the same philosophy at Money Map Press.

Investors who have grown used to the “set it and forget it” approach typically don’t like this method. They argue that they will leave money on the table if something keeps going up.

Of course, they’re absolutely correct. Selling prematurely can lead to reduced profits.

But what I am talking about has nothing to do with selling early. In today’s markets, I think it’s far more important to recognize that systematic selling when the markets are rising and liquidity is high helps you a) lock in profits before a reversal arrives and b) reduces the potential for future losses.

And if the markets continue to rally?

That’s a logical question I get all the time. My response is always the same…so what?

If a rally has legs, there’s nothing stopping you from redeploying your gains into new opportunities. Hopefully, you’ll be smart enough to manage those, too.

3) Use trailing stops

This sounds pretty self-explanatory but you’d be amazed at how many people I talk with every year that don’t use them, despite the fact that most brokerages and online trading platforms have these features built in and available for free.

Trailing stops, in case you are not familiar with them, are essentially price targets that work in reverse.

They are typically calculated as a percentage of purchase price. For instance, a 25% trailing stop on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) at $657.41 is $493.06. If the stock dropped to $493.06, the order would execute and carry you out of the trade.

Variations include specific dollar-based stop losses, calendar stops and contingency orders – all of which typically rise in lock step as the price of your investment rises.

What I like about trailing stops is that they offer an unemotional, unbiased exit path when any investment begins to move against you. But that’s the catch. You have to give up some ground before you’re carried out of the trade.

As is the case with any investment strategy, there are people who don’t like trailing stops because they get bounced out of trades that seem to immediately turn around and head higher without them.

I can’t say I blame them. Floor traders, hyperactive day traders and quants with computers that would make NASA envious love to “shake the monkeys” from the trees and “run the stops.” Both are euphemisms for deliberate actions intended to exploit the protective actions of others for gain.

It doesn’t bother me most of the time because I have an investor’s mentality. Therefore the daily volatility associated with this kind of gamesmanship is just noise and hitting the occasional stop is just part of the game.

If I am day trading, that’s another matter entirely – and a subject for another time because setting trailing stops in a day-trading environment is a discipline all its own.

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