What is a Short Sale?


The term “short sale” has come more into the popular vernacular lately in reference to the real estate transaction in which the lender allows the borrower to sell a house for less than is owed for the property.  In stocks and other securities a short sale is something entirely different.  Today I will discuss short sales as they relate to securities.

In securities, a short sale goes as follows – An investor (or speculator) calls her broker and says that she wants to sell 100 shares of company XYZ short at $50 per share.  Her broker goes out and borrows the shares (usually from someone who has a margin account who is currently on margin) and then sells the shares for $50.  The broker deposits the proceeds, less commissions, in the investor’s account.  At some later date, to close the transaction, the investor must purchase the shares, replacing those that were borrowed.  (Note that this person will probably not know that the shares were every borrowed, and if he decides to sell his shares during the period shares from another person must be found and used for the sale.)  If the company pays a dividend while the short seller still has the position open she must pay the dividend to the person from whom the shares were borrowed (who again doesn’t know they are gone).

 

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If the investor who did the short sale is able to buy the shares back at a lower price, say $40 per share, she will make the difference in price ($50-$40)x100 = $1000, minus commissions and any dividends she had to pay.  If the stock rises above the price she sold them for and she closes the position, she will lose money.  Obviously, stocks are sold short when an investor thinks it will decline in price.  Because stocks naturally tend to increase in price (because of inflation if nothing else), selling short is not a long-term strategy.

Now that I’ve explained the basics, you may wonder if short selling is a good strategy for and investor.  After all, why not make money when the market is going down as well as when it is going up.  The issue is that you really don’t know very often when the market will be going down.  You can certainly tell when the market is overpriced, but that does not mean that the market won’t continue to be overpriced, or even get more overpriced, before stocks finally pull back.  Sometime earnings will also increase rapidly, making stocks fairly priced again.

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There are maybe two situations where short selling might be worth it.  The first is called selling short against the box.  In this strategy you sell short shares of a stock you already own, telling your broker that you want to sell short against the box.  He will then borrow and sell some shares, yet leave your original position alone, meaning that you’ll have both a long position and a short position.  When you are ready, you simply tell your broker to wash the two positions and you close both sides.  The reason for doing this is if you want to take a profit in case the stock is about to decline, but want to move the gain into a future year for taxes.

The other time is when the market is really, really overpriced and ready for a fall, or you see something coming like the 2008 housing crisis, and you want to protect your portfolio without selling everything.  In this case, you can take some short positions, effectively going neutral or near neutral on the market, as a way to protect yourself,  For example, in 2007 I was shorting mortgage companies since I figured they would decline when the housing boom ended.

 

 

Have a question?  Please leave it in a comment.  Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Accounts You Need to Have for Financial Security


Today I wanted to talk about how one in general should be allocating funds.  As stated previously, this blog is primarily concerned with strategies to grow funds quickly, assuming that an investor is starting out with little money but working a steady job with a reasonable income.  It also assumes that an individual has scaled her “lifestyle” so that she is making more than she is spending.  This is the most basic requirement for becoming wealthy.  Virtually everyone can scale back to have extra income left over, but it takes a degree of sacrifice and patience since one will need to wait a bit longer to buy things but they will be quite a bit less expensive when one does (because one will be paying cash rather than buying them on credit).

The first place a person should put extra income is in a cash account that is readily accessible.  This should be built up until it contains enough to cover several months worth of expenses.  These funds are used to take care of the various unexpected expenses that occur (such as the car breaking down, heater going out, roof leaking, unexpected surgeries, etc…).  These funds should be guarded judiciously and not spent for things such as vacations, shopping, etc… since these are the funds that prevent you from needing to take out loans or run up the credit cards if something happens.  This account will also be used to live on if one loses one’s job, allowing time to find a good job, not just one taken out of desperation.

                                   

The second account is a retirement account.  This is the money you will live on when you’re ready to retire and also should be guarded carefully.  The only reason to access this kind of account is if you’re about to be out on the street if you don’t.  Absolutely don’t use this money for any other purpose, including taking out a loan against it.  The reason is that if you start saving in your 20’s each dollar will be worth over $128 when you retire, so if you take out $10,000, for example, you just robbed yourself of $128,000 in retirement worth, which translates into $12,000 per year in income.  This account should be filled with index funds when you’re young and gradually be filled with more dividend paying stocks, bonds REIT’s, and cash as you get closer to retirement.

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The third account is your investment account.  This is the account that will use the strategies in this newsletter to grow large, allowing you the financial freedom at some point to work or not work, as you choose.  This account will be invested in stocks starting with 1-3, and eventually growing to 10-20 as your wealth builds to the $500,000 – $1 million range.   Because the money in this account is not critical – you still have enough money to pay for emergencies and fund your retirement with the other two accounts – you can afford to take the risk of one or two of your positions taking a substantial loss.  Also, if you find you are not a good stock picker, such that your investment account does not do as well as the markets, the other accounts will make sure you end up in a good position as well.

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Don’t Conserve – Use the Water You Need


If you live in a desert with a very limited water source and there are a lot of people around, ignore what I am about to say.  If you live in a place where water falls from the sky regularly, let me be a Green heretic and go against the common wisdom by saying:

Use all of the water you need.

Doing so makes the most sense financially, and really sets us up to be able to provide for future needs.  Here’s why:
A utility needs to maintain a certain amount of equipment.  They also need to do functions like billing and customer service.  All of these things require a certain number of people.  Once you get past a certain threshold of water production, the number of people needed does not change that much if you increase the amount of water needed.  You still need a certain number of people to maintain the equipment, and usually you’ll just buy the same numbers of larger equipment if you need more production, rather than buy more pumps, motors, etc….  The larger equipment in fact will usually be more efficient, meaning the cost to produce each gallon will decline as the utility produces more water.

 

              

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The other factor is that most of the cost is people, not electricity or other resources.  Sure, you will use more electricity cleaning and pumping more water, but again the cost per gallon produced will probably decline as you use bigger, more efficient equipment.  Unless the number of customers changes dramatically, you’ll also still need to be paying the same number of people to send out bills, maintain equipment, and do other administrative tasks.   In fact with modern computer tools, things like billing cost about the same whether you have a million customers or two million.  Customer interaction things like the service desk are the only areas where more employees may be needed.  If you cut the use per customer, you’ll save a little on electricity, but you’ll still have all of the other costs.  Since the utility will be producing fewer gallons, yet their costs will stay about the same, you’ll end up paying more for less water.

So lets say that you decide to turn off the water while you soap up in the shower, then just turn the water on briefly to quickly wash off, cutting your shower water usage from 20 gallons per shower to three gallons.  You might be able to cut your water bill by doing this.  But let’s now say that everyone in the town does so, such that the utility now sells 5 million gallons of water each year instead of 10 million.  They still have the same equipment, which they’re probably paying off on a 30-year bond or something.  They also still have the same number of customers, meaning they will still need to send out the same number of phone calls and send out the same number of bills.  They also have the same number of homes to supply, meaning they’ll need to do the same number of repairs and upgrades.  They might even discover that sewer line repairs will become more frequent since there will be less water mixed in with the sludge, causing pipes to clog.  The result will be that you’ll end up paying the same amount each month for your water bill as you were when you took a regular shower, yet you’ll have a miserable shower in the morning instead of a pleasant one.

 

 


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Utilities are also loath to cut employees, so they probably won’t slash staff even if they didn’t need as many people.  They’ll also still need to pay off the equipment they bought when there was more demand, so they’ll still need the same amount of money to operate.  They have no competitors so it isn’t like customers will transfer somewhere else if prices are raised, and the regulators aren’t likely to demand that they cut staff or swallow the costs of equipment they purchased when there was more demand, so the utilities can just say they need to raise prices due to cuts in usage and they’ll be able to do so.  You use half of the water, but your bill stays the same since the price per gallon doubles.

So instead of conserving and saving, use what you need.  This doesn’t mean that you should be wasteful with water.  Don’t leave a hose on, running water down the street all day for no reason.  Don’t leave the shower running through the night while you sleep.  It just means to use what you need to live a comfortable life so that the utility will set themselves up to produce that much water.

 


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But what about the power usage?  Shouldn’t we save the energy needed to make water?  The free markets have a great way of figuring out ways to meet needs.  If everyone cuts back to nothing, such that the amount of power we produce is easily made using existing technologies and infrastructure, we’ll never see improvements.  We want people to be building the infrastructure and developing the technologies we need to supply the power needed int he future.  If we use the amount we need (again, not being wasteful), we’ll see people come forward to build the needed infrastructure and make power more efficiently and with resources we don’t currently use extensively like biomass, solar, and wind.  So we can either conserve and be miserable, never providing entrepreneurs and industrialists with the incentive to improve things, eventually needing to cut back even further as populations expand, or we can use what we need and provide the funding and incentive to make cold fusion or cars that run on water.  I say use what you need.

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.