Introduction to Short Selling

There is saying that no matter what is going on with the stock market, you can always make money somewhere. But what if the stock market is crashing or prices are on the decline? How then can you make money? This is where the need for short selling becomes apparent. With the ability to both buy long and short sell the market, you are now capable of making money regardless of which direction the market heads towards. But what is short selling and how does it work? Let’s take a look into the less appreciated form of making money in the stock market known as short selling.

What is Short Selling?

Short selling is the method by which investors and traders profit only if the price of a stock goes down. It is the opposite of buying long, which is the process of buying stocks and profiting only when they go higher in price. It is a risky strategy with limited upside, but it does enable you to make money if stock market prices are on the decline.

How does it Work?

The process of short selling stock works by first borrowing stock that you do not own. This can be considered the “buying” (or acquiring your shares) part of short selling. When you wish to no longer keep your borrowed shares, it is known as ‘buy to cover’ as you are buying the shares to cover the shares you borrowed. When you buy to cover, you purchase the shares at their new price versus the original price you short sold them at. If the new price is lower than the original short sell price, you’ve made a profit.

Here’s an example of short selling in action:

Suppose you short sell 100 shares of XYZ stock at $10 per share. You now are borrowing 100 shares of XYZ stock. Then XYZ drops in price to $95 per share, and you want to cash out and take your profits. So you ‘buy to cover’, which means you buy XYZ stock at $95 per share, and returned the shares to the lender of the XYZ stock who you orignally borrowed from. You then profitted $5 per share.

Downside of Short Selling

The biggest issue with short selling is the maximum return on your investment is 100 percent. This is because the most a stock price can go down is 100 percent. This is a problematic restriction to short selling by comparison to buying long. This is because when you buy long a stock you can theoritically make an unlimited percentage gain on your investment since stock prices have no rising limit. That’s just stock market mathematics for you.

Further, short selling only works as a short term strategy. History tells us that the stock market is always going higher in terms of prices, so short selling the stock market definitely wouldn’t be a smart idea if you are a long term investor. If you wish to be profitable with short selling, you need to be more focused on the short term, which means being more actively involved with your portfolio.

One thought on “Introduction to Short Selling”

  1. Short selling has unliimited downside and limited upside. You also incur interest payments on borrowed shares. Another strategy is to buy put options. The gains are greater with the same movement in stock, however there is also the time element. Although options and short selling can also be used with ETFs as a hedge or wager on the indices, I don’t engage in those practices myself. Selling covered calls of stocks you plan to sell anyway can make you a little extra change, but the long term investor should stick to staying long in the market. The short term investor should stick to money markets or CDs.

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