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Every now and then the market undergoes a correction.

I have saved up some money (around $80,000) and I'm currently investigating strategies for using market corrections as an investment opportunity.

Question: What's the best strategy for investing money during a correction?

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    Which way do you think it will correct? When do you think it will happen? – D Stanley Mar 27 '17 at 13:59
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    You're basically asking how to time the market. This is rarely a successful long-term strategy. – Barmar Mar 27 '17 at 18:49
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    If there was any clear cut way of doing this then everyone would be doing it. – Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '17 at 20:11
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    The best way to make money during a market correction is to know when the correction will take place, coincidentally there's no way to know when a correction will take place. – quid Mar 27 '17 at 22:31
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    Obligatory Will Rogers quote: "Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it." – Pete Becker Mar 28 '17 at 11:31

10 Answers 10

63

What's the best strategy? Buy low and sell high.

Now. A lot of people try to do this. A few are successful, but for the most part, people who try to time the market end up worse. A far more successful strategy is to save over your entire lifetime, put the money into a very low-cost market fund, and just let the average performance take you to retirement.

Put another way, if you think that there is an obvious, no-fail, double-your-money-due-to-a-correction strategy, you're wrong. Otherwise everyone would do it. And someone who tells you that there is such a strategy almost surely will be trying to separate you from a good amount of your money.

In the end, $80K isn't a life-altering, never-have-to-work-again amount of money. What I think you ought to do with it is: pay off any credit card debts you may have, pay a significant chunk of student loan or other personal loan debts you may have, make sure you have a decent emergency fund set aside, and then put the rest into diversified low-cost mutual funds. Think of it as a nice leg-up towards your retirement.

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    It'll be life-altering alright when his wife leaves him because he blew their life savings on shorting the S&P. You have a fair point, but I think sometimes one ought not be cavalier with hard won money. – Superbest Mar 27 '17 at 23:55
  • Only 5% traders regularly beat the market? Source: Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game. – Mars Robertson Mar 28 '17 at 10:24
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    "And someone who tells you that there is such a strategy almost surely will be trying to separate you from a good amount of your money." Either that or they're engaged in insider trading. – Shufflepants Mar 28 '17 at 13:50
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    @Shufflepants insider trading is not a strategy. – mustaccio Mar 28 '17 at 18:42
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    @mustaccio Sure it is. It's just a very high risk one. Instead of just losing your money, you'll most likely go to jail as well. – Shufflepants Mar 28 '17 at 20:06
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The best way to make money during a market correction is to be a financial services company handling transactions for people who think they can beat the market, and charging a percentage commission on each transaction, while keeping your own money somewhere nice and safe, stable and low-fee.

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    The folks who got rich during the '49 Klondike rush were selling picks & shovels, not prospecting for gold – Mawg Mar 30 '17 at 8:56
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    Once you advice being a financial services company, it is no longer personal finance anymore. – Mindwin Mar 30 '17 at 12:27
  • @Mindwin I initially misread this as invest in a financial services company, which also seems like a valid strategy. – IllusiveBrian Mar 30 '17 at 13:42
  • @IllusiveBrian: a strategy which suffers from the same timing flaw, though. – MSalters Mar 30 '17 at 16:05
  • @Mawg "'49 Klondike rush"?? Perhaps you meant 1849 California or 1890s Klondike – chux - Reinstate Monica Mar 30 '17 at 16:47
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As ChrisInEdmonton describes, shorting has an asymmetric risk/reward ratio. And put options have a time cost, if you think the market is overvalued and buy lots of puts, but they expire before the market finally corrects, you can lose your entire investment.

Betting on market timing of any kind is extremely difficult to do, some would argue it's impossible. "The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent" is a favorite wall street trader saying. Instead of playing a game that's difficult to win, the better option is to play one you can win. That's to learn how to value individual investments well and accumulate cash until you can find investments that are under-valued to invest in.

The best way to learn to value investments is to read Graham and Buffett. "The Intelligent Investor" is a good starting point, and you can read all of Buffett's investor letters for the last 30 years + for free on the Berkshire Hathaway web site. Finally the textbook on valuing stocks and other investments is "Securities Analysis" the 6th edition is only version to get, it was updated with Buffett and other leading value investors oversight.

A basic overview of valuing investments is that every investment has an "intrinsic value" consisting of it's future cash flows, discounted for the time it takes to receive them. The skill is being able to estimate how likely those cash flows are to happen. a) Is it a good business? Does it have a moat, i.e. barriers that make it hard for competitors to duplicate it? b) Will management invest or distribute those cash flows wisely?

Then your strategy is to not even worry about the market, spend your time looking at individual stocks and investments and wait until some come along that's well undervalued. That may be during a market correction, or it may be tomorrow. And it's not just good enough to intelligently value your investments, you also have to have psychological fortitude to not panic and to think for yourself. Buffett describes it best.

Ben Graham, my friend and teacher, long ago described the mental attitude toward market fluctuations that I believe to be most conducive to investment success. He said that you should imagine market quotations as coming from a remarkably accommodating fellow named Mr. Market who is your partner in a private business. Without fail, Mr. Market appears daily and names a price at which he will either buy your interest or sell you his.

Even though the business that the two of you own may have economic characteristics that are stable, Mr. Market’s quotations will be anything but. For, sad to say, the poor fellow has incurable emotional problems. At times he feels euphoric and can see only the favorable factors affecting the business. When in that mood, he names a very high buy-sell price because he fears that you will snap up his interest and rob him of imminent gains. At other times he is depressed and can see nothing but trouble ahead for both the business and the world. On these occasions he will name a very low price, since he is terrified that you will unload your interest on him.

Mr. Market has another endearing characteristic: He doesn’t mind being ignored. If his quotation is uninteresting to you today, he will be back with a new one tomorrow. Transactions are strictly at your option. Under these conditions, the more manic-depressive his behavior, the better for you.

But, like Cinderella at the ball, you must heed one warning or everything will turn into pumpkins and mice: Mr. Market is there to serve you, not to guide you. It is his pocketbook, not his wisdom, that you will find useful. If he shows up some day in a particularly foolish mood, you are free to ignore him or to take advantage of him, but it will be disastrous if you fall under his influence. Indeed, if you aren’t certain that you understand and can value your business far better than Mr. Market, you don’t belong in the game.

Lastly learning to value investments isn't just useful in the stock market, they are applicable to investing in any investment such as bonds, real estate, and even buying your home or running a business.

8

There are several ways to protect against (or even profit from) a market correction.

Ways to protect your portfolio

Long / short

Hedge funds do this by hedging, that is, buying a stock that they think is strong and selling short a paired stock that is weak. If you hold, say, a strong retail company in your portfolio, you might sell short an equal weight of a weak retail company.

Married puts

These are like buying insurance on your portfolio. If you own 300 shares of XYZ, currently trading at $68, you buy puts at a level at a strike price that lets you sleep at night. For example, you might buy 3 XYZ 6-month puts with a strike price of $60.

A disadvantage is that the puts are wasting assets, that is, their time premium (which you paid for at the outset) becomes zero at expiration. (This is why it is like insurance. You wouldn't complain that your insurance premium was lost when you purchase insurance on your house and the house doesn't burn down, would you? Of course not. The purpose of the insurance is to protect your investment.)

Note that as these puts are married, they only protect your portfolio. Instead of profiting from a correction, you would merely protect your portfolio during a correction. (No small feat!)

Market puts

If your portfolio is similar to the market, you can buy S&P index puts. If your market reflects a lot of technology, you can buy technology sector puts.

Say you have a portfolio of $80K that reflects the market. You could buy out-of-the-market puts (again reflecting your tolerance for loss). Any losses in your portfolio after the puts go in-the-money would be (more or less) offset by gains in the puts.

An advantage is that the bid/ask spread is smaller for the S&P. You would pay less for the protection. Also, the S&P puts are cash settled (meaning you get money put in your account on the business day after expiration day).

A disadvantage is that the puts do not linearly go up as the market drops. (Delta hedging is a big deal in and of itself.) Another disadvantage is that they are wasting assets (see the Married puts section, previous).

While the S&P puts can be used to maintain your market portfolio in the midst of a correction, you could purchase more puts than needed. If you had correctly timed the market, then your portfolio with puts would increase. (Your mileage may vary; some have predicted an imminent market crash way too often.)

Collars

Collars involve selling out-of-the-money calls and using the premiums to buy out-of-the-money puts. There are many varieties of collars, but the most straightforward is to sell 1 call and buy 1 put for every 100 shares. (This can also be done for index puts and calls.)

This has the effect of simultaneously:

  • limiting your upside (the stock will be called away if it is above the strike at expiration) and
  • limiting your downside (you can put the stock to the put seller if it is below the put's strike at expiration, or simply sell it for cash if you want to keep the stock)

You get your insurance for almost free. But again, it is protecting your portfolio.

Profiting from a market correction

Bear put spreads

As the name implies, you make money when the market goes bearish.

Bear put spreads involve buying puts at a close strike price and selling an equal number of puts at a lower strike price than the first. You have a defined maximum loss (the premium you paid for the higher put minus the premium you received for the lower put). You have a defined maximum gain (the difference between strikes minus the defined maximum loss).

Outright put buys

Buy S&P 500 index puts. If you buy deep out-of-the-money puts, it won't cost much, but you have little probability of it paying off. But if they go in-the-money, there could be a sizable payoff. This is similar to putting one chip on red 18 on the roulette wheel. But rather than paying off 35:1, it is a variable payoff. If you're $1 in the money, you just get $100. If you're $12 in the money, you have a $1200 payoff.

If you buy at-the-money puts, it will cost a lot, and your probability will be about 1 in 2 that you will pay off. In our roulette analogy, this is like putting 30 chips on the Even bet of the roulette wheel. The variable payoff is as in the previous paragraph. But you're more likely to get a payoff. And you will lose it all of the roulette ball lands on an Odd number, 0, or 00. (That is, the underlying of your put goes up or stays the same.)

Shorting overpriced stocks

If your research shows you what good stocks to buy, it may also tell you which stocks are ripe for a fall. You could short-sell these stocks or buy puts on them.

Shorting overpriced sectors

Similar to short-selling stocks or buying puts, you could sell short overpriced sectors or buy puts on them.

Short and double-short ETFs

There are ETFs that will allow you benefit from falling prices without needing to have a margin agreement or options agreement in place.

Conclusion

Sorry to have a lengthy answer. Many other answers emphasize that one shouldn't try to time the market. But that is not the OP's question. Provided here are both:

  • ways to protect a portfolio during a market correction and
  • ways to profit from a market correction.
  • +1 for being the only answer to mention Short ETFs 👍🏻 – rbrtl Mar 29 '17 at 10:27
  • A thorough response that actually addresses the question. Although I disagree with recommending some of these strategies to a beginner, it's important for them to know that they are out there. – Andrew Mar 30 '17 at 16:51
  • Thank you, @Andrew. I will add that all of these strategies (save the Short and Ultra-short ETFs) require a margin agreement, an options agreement, or both. – rajah9 Mar 30 '17 at 18:40
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If you are sure you are right, you should sell stock short. Then, after the market drop occurs, close out your position and buy stock, selling it once the stock has risen to the level you expect.

Be warned, though. Short selling has a lot of risk. If you are wrong, you could quite easily lose all $80,000 or even substantially more. Consider, for example, this story of a person who had $37,000 and ended up losing all of that and still owing over $100,000. If you mistime your investment, you could quite easily lose your entire investment and end up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

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    An alternative to short selling is the purchase of put options. They also will increase in value if the underlying security drops in price, but they don't carry the unlimited loss potential of a naked short sale (at the cost of potentially losing your entire limited investment if your timing is off). There are a lot of details involved in how options work, so they aren't for beginner investors, but they can be used to better strike a balance between risk and return than strategies that only involve long and short stock positions. – Jason R Mar 27 '17 at 18:59
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    Short selling has exactly the same amount of risk as buying long as long as you use appropriate risk and money management and position sizing strategies. The reason that person lost more than the initial investment was because of too much greed, overtrading and no risk management. – Victor Mar 27 '17 at 20:08
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    @Victor buying long has an implicit risk management of your security could go to $0, and that's all you can lose. Selling short does not have that loss ceiling built in. Obviously, one should use all of the practices you mention in any trade, but that difference is why short positions are not suitable for the undisciplined trader. – Jimmy Mar 27 '17 at 20:14
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    @Victor Did you even read the article? The stock went up 800% in one day and he got a margin call. Where is the greed? Where is the overtrading? – JimmyJames Mar 27 '17 at 20:24
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    @quid That's all fine but it's a pretty clear illustration of how shorts have a different risk profile than long bets. Specifically that you can potentially lose more than you can possibly gain. Nothing in this answer or the comments say 'never use shorts'. The point is that they are not as simple as a long trade. Your suggestion that a hedge should be used implies that you agree. What's the controversy? – JimmyJames Mar 28 '17 at 13:53
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There are a few ways to make money from a market correction:

  • Rebalance a diversified portfolio after the correction
  • If you see signs that the correction is about to happen, purchase an inverse ETF or short broad market ETFs directly yourself.
3

Do you want to do it pre or post correction?

If you're bearish on the market the obvious thing to do is short an index. I would say this is kind of dumb. The main problem is that it may take months or years for the market to crash, and by then it will have gone up so much that even the crash doesn't bring you profit, and you're paying borrowing fees meanwhile as well. You need to watch the portfolio also, when you short sell you'll get a bunch of cash, which you most likely will want to invest, but once you invest it, the market can spike and pummel your short position, resulting in negative remaining cash (since you already spent it). At that point you get a margin call from your broker. If you check your account regularly, not a big deal, but bad things can happen if you treat it as a fire and forget strategy.

These days they have inverse funds so you don't have to borrow anything. The fund manager borrows for you. I'd say those are much better.

The less cumbersome choice is to simply sell call options on the index or buy puts. These are even cash options, so when you exercise you get/lose money, not shares. You can even arrange them so that your potential loss is capped. (but honestly, same goes for shorts - it's called a stop loss)

You could also wait for the correction and buy the dip. Less worrying about shorts and such, but of course the issue is timing the crash. Usually the crashes are very quick, and there are several "pre-crashes" that look like it bottomed out but then it crashes more. So actually very difficult thing to tell. You have to know either exactly when the correction will be, or exactly what the price floor is (and set a limit buy). Hope your crystal ball works!

Yet another choice is finding asset classes uncorrelated or even anticorrelated with the broader market. For instance some emerging markets (developing countries), some sectors, individual stocks that are not inflated, bonds, gold and so on can have these characteristics where if S&P goes down they go up. Buying those may be a safer approach since at least you are still holding a fundamentally valuable thing even if your thesis flops, meanwhile shorts and puts and the like are purely speculative.

2

Depends on how long you're willing to invest for. Broadly speaking, the best (by which I mean, more reliably repeatable) way to make money from market corrections is to accept them as a fact of life, and not sell in a panic when they happen, such that the money you already invested can ride back up again.

Put another way, just invest your money in one or two broad, low cost index funds with dividends reinvested (maybe spreading your investment over the course of six months or so) and then let time do its work.

Have you worked out how much you've missed out on by holding your money as cash all this time (I presume you've been saving up a while) instead of investing it as you went? I suspect that by waiting for your correction, you've already missed out on more than you're going to make from that correction.

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A lot of people here talk about shorting stocks, buying options, and messing around with leveraged ETFs. While these are excellent tools, that offer novel opportunities for the sophisticated investor, Don't mess around with these until you have been in the game for a few years. Even if you can make money consistently right out of the gate, don't do it. Why? Making money isn't your challenge, NOT LOSING money is your challenge.

It's hard to measure the scope of the risk you are assuming with these strategies, much less manage it when things head south. So even if you've gotten lucky enough to have figured out how to make money, you surely haven't learned out how to hold on to it. I am certain that every beginner still hasn't figured out how to comprehend risk and manage losing positions. It's one of those things you only figure out after dealing with it. Stocks (with little to no margin) are a great place to learn how to lose because your risk of losing everything is drastically lower than with the aforementioned tools of the sophisticated investor. Despite what others may say you can make out really well just trading stocks.

That being said, one of my favorite beginner strategies is buying stocks that dip for reasons that don't fundamentally affect the company's ability to make money in the mid term (2 quarters). Wallstreet loves these plays because it shakes out amateur investors (release bad news, push the stock down shorting it or selling your position, amateurs sell, which you buy at a discount to the 'fair price'.)

A good example is Netflix back in 2007. There was a lawsuit because netflix was throttling movie deliveries to high traffic consumers. The stock dropped a good chunk overnight.

A more recent example is petrobras after their huge bond sale and subsequent corruption scandal. A lot of people questioned Petrobras' long-term ability to maintain sufficient liquidity to pay back the loans, but the cashflow and long term projections are more than solid. A year later the stock was pushed further down because a lot of amateur Brazilians invest in Petrobras and they sold while the stock was artificially depressed due to a string of corruption scandals and poor, though temporary, economic conditions.

One of my favorite plays back in 2008-2011 was First Solar on the run-up to earnings calls. Analysts would always come out of these meetings downgrading the stock and the forums were full of pikers and pumpers claiming heavy put positions. The stock would go down considerably, but would always pop around earnings. I've made huge returns on this move. Those were the good ole days.

Start off just googling financial news and blogs and look for lawsuits and/or scandals. Manufacturing defects or recalls. Starting looking for companies that react predictably to certain events. Plot those events on your chart. If you don't know how to back-test events, learn it. Google Finance had a tool for that back in the day that was rudimentary but helpful for those starting out. Eventually though, moreso than learning any particular strategy, you should learn these three skills:

1) Tooling: to gather, manipulate, and visualize data on your own. These days automated trading also seems to be ever more important, even for the small fish.

2) Analytical Thinking learn to spot patterns of the three types: event based (lawsuits, arbitrage, earnings etc), technical (emas, price action, sup/res), or business-oriented (accounting, strategy, marketing). Don't just listen to what someone else says you should do at any particular moment, critical thinking is essential.

3) Emotions and Attitude: learn how to comprehend risk and manage your trigger finger. Your emotions are like a blade that you must sharpen every day if you want to stay in the game.

Disclaimer: I stopped using this strategy in 2011, and moved to a pure technical trading regime. I've been out totally out of the game since 2015.

1

For a non-technical investor (meaning someone who doesn't try to do all the various technical analysis things that theoretically point to specific investments or trends), having a diverse portfolio and rebalancing it periodically will typically be the best solution.

For example, I might have a long-term-growth portfolio that is 40% broad stock market fund, 40% (large) industry specific market funds, and 20% bond funds. If the market as a whole tanks, then I might end up in a situation where my funds are invested 30% market 35% industry 35% bonds. Okay, sell those bonds (which are presumably high) and put that into the market (which is presumably low). Now back to 40/40/20.

Then when the market goes up we may end up at 50/40/10, say, in which case we sell some of the broad market fund and buy some bond funds, back to 40/40/20. Ultimately ending up always selling high (whatever is currently overperforming the other two) and buying low (whatever is underperforming).

Having the industry specific fund(s) means I can balance a bit between different sectors - maybe the healthcare industry takes a beating for a while, so that goes low, and I can sell some of my tech industry fund and buy that.

None of this depends on timing anything; you can rebalance maybe twice a year, not worrying about where the market is at that exact time, and definitely not targeting a correction specifically. You just analyze your situation and adjust to make everything back in line with what you want.

This isn't guaranteed to succeed (any more than any other strategy is), of course, and has some risk, particularly if you rebalance in the middle of a major correction (so you end up buying something that goes down more). But for long-term investments, it should be fairly sound.

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