Managing the downside - basic risk management for tough markets

Friday, Jun 17 2016 by
Managing the downside  basic risk management for tough markets

I genuinely do sympathise with anyone who started investing in stock markets for the first time in January 2016. It's not been an easy environment - but let’s get one thing straight it’s not exactly been bad. If you've invested through 2000 and/or 2008 you'll know what bad really is and it’s much, much worse than it is now. The year to date return for the FTSE 100 is a 4.4% fall, which is pretty much on par with last year’s lame showing and perfectly in the range of normal for stock markets. From comments on the website it’s been clear that many investors are nursing losses worse than this and with all the recent uncertainty over Brexit they are wondering what to do. What’s going to happen next? Well I’ve learnt the futility of forecasting so can proudly say I have absolutely no idea, but I do know what’s happened in the past and while history never repeats, it often rhymes. So let’s read the rhyme.

FTSE 100 return history

In my database I’ve got FTSE 100 price histories back to 1984. That’s a period that covers 2 massive bear markets and one of the longest bull markets in history. It’s not long enough for a complete analysis, but it’s probably a pretty good proxy for what happens in the stock market in general. I don’t like the FTSE 100 as an index at all, but it’s the UK bellwether and widely followed so it’s a good enough place to start.

The image below shows the annual percentage return each calendar year since the end of 1984. As you can see it’s a picture that shows lots of positive years interspersed with some vicious setbacks.


The FTSE has returned an average annual return (excluding dividends) of 6.7% per year in this period and the standard deviation from the average is 15% annually. So in a typical year the FTSE has returned anything between a loss of 8% and a gain of 22%.

In this 33 year period there have been 23 up years and 10 down years. The average investor in FTSE stocks will have seen a gain year on year around two thirds of the time. Below is a histogram of the returns which helps us visualise the distribution. The height of each column in the histogram is the number of years that have…

Unlock this article instantly by logging into your account

Don’t have an account? Register for free and we’ll get out your way


As per our Terms of Use, Stockopedia is a financial news & data site, discussion forum and content aggregator. Our site should be used for educational & informational purposes only. We do not provide investment advice, recommendations or views as to whether an investment or strategy is suited to the investment needs of a specific individual. You should make your own decisions and seek independent professional advice before doing so. Remember: Shares can go down as well as up. Past performance is not a guide to future performance & investors may not get back the amount invested.

Do you like this Post?
45 thumbs up
0 thumbs down
Share this post with friends

34 Comments on this Article show/hide all

Edward Croft 17th Jun '16 15 of 34

In reply to muckshifter, post #11

Muckshifter - I think it's just my bad English and writing actually. I bash these articles out and don't proof read them enough... my touch typing is fast but sloppy. Apologies !

Thanks @crazycoops for the kind words... it's good to get some dialogue going on this subject.

Blog: Follow @edcroft on Twitter
| Link | Share
starleg 17th Jun '16 16 of 34

In reply to Edward Croft, post #7

I am sure you are right about the stops Ed, I use technical analysis alongside the fundamentals, as well as having a rule that I never take a stop of >10% which sometimes gets breached, but not often. And I use other indicators to decide how much I am in the market and how much in cash. Survived 07-09 very well, and sleep better. After several decades of investing,if there is a holy grail, it has to be about managing risk well. thanks for the site, and the analysis, and the thought provoking articles

| Link | Share
Randval 17th Jun '16 17 of 34

Hello Ed,
"We should ‘run winners and cut losers’ which everyone knows but almost everyone disobeys. What most investors do is hold onto their losers and sell their winners due to a cruel twist of evolutionary fate that has made our brains poorly wired for investing."

There is a natural mechanism in the British tax system that encourages paying attention to this maxim.
It's called Capital Gains Tax.
Suppose you want to run a balanced portfolio, outside an ISA or other tax shelter. At the end of the year you sell your losers, add in the CGT allowance to arrive at a total sum. Then cash in some part of the winners in the portfolio to set against the total sum of losers plus CGT allowance.
You thus end up, at the beginning of the next tax year, with all winners and no losers.
The objective is to always use your CGT allowance.
After the exercise you have some new money to invest and balance the portfolio,or hold in cash over the summer months.
Of course you have to a few good winners to get the process started but after a while it becomes a virtuous circle.
I use this system myself and the percentage gains, in my portfolio outside of my ISA investments, far exceed the gains inside my ISAs.

| Link | Share
herbie47 17th Jun '16 18 of 34

Actually running winners is harder than it sounds, what if the share falls 10%, do you sell, what about 15% or 20%? Its happened to me, I had a winner up over 80% in a year, Ab Dynamics (LON:ABDP) went up to 350p then it started to fall, so i sold out when it fell 10%, 315p, it then fell to 280p now down 20%. Director bought 3,400 shares no big deal. But then slowly went up, then quickly up to 502p, before falling back to 400p in the last week. So how do you judge when to sell winners?

10% stops I found I was getting stopped out all the time. 20% I found thats where many bottomed out and then bounced back. Stops don't work if there is bad news when market is closed, the market makers have already marked the price down before the market opens as I found out on some such as Lakehouse (LON:LAKE) and Sepura (LON:SEPU). Others such as Entu (UK) (LON:ENTU), Dialight (LON:DIA) and Solid State (LON:SOLI) I got out before the big fall.

| Link | Share | 1 reply
shipoffrogs 18th Jun '16 19 of 34

I think it's almost impossible to run winners with stop losses in place. I think stop losses are a trader's tool but not for investors.
I suspect too that AB Dynamics will play out as a good long term investment.

| Link | Share | 1 reply
gus 1065 18th Jun '16 20 of 34

Hi Ed.

Good article - thank you for that.

On the subject of using stop losses, my "monkey brain" has evolved a slightly different approach, in that I tend to use different types of stocks to achieve different things. In this respect, I am a bit of a "farmer" with occasional "hunter tendencies". In simple terms, I categorise my shares into three types: staple crops; new varieties and free range.

The staple crops are core holdings in larger cap, high dividend payers such as British American Tobacco (LON:BATS) . I buy these and reinvest the dividends via scrip issues and basically forget about them. I occasionally take a harvest of a small part of the holding if I need the cash but ignore market falls on the basis that over time this simply makes the purchases through future dividends cheaper.

The new varieties are typically found in the mid cap/smaller cap sector or by using new investment metrics such as following a Naps type approach. These tend to require a closer scrutiny and I am more rigorous in applying a 20% stop loss system. Over time I tend to plant more of the successful NVs and cut out the losers.

The free range tend to be found among small caps or AIM and are often sourced by following up on certain share blogs (e.g. Paul's SCVR) or delving into some of the Guru screens for ideas and then following up with my own research. These tend, initially at least, to be "punts" with small amounts of capital that I am prepared to accept much greater volatility with. I generally don't apply stop losses here, other than accepting that the ante stake might be completely lost (I don't use leverage). Some will be multi baggers and some will run down to nothing. Depending on my market view from time to time, I will try and take out my initial investment capital from the multi baggers and then have a "cost less" free run from any further upside.

Over time certain stocks migrate between the classes and there are numerous hybrids which might fall between two stools e.g. NVs vs. Free Range and get treated accordingly. Likewise, my view might change on the role that I expect any given share to play in the overall portfolio.


| Link | Share
muckshifter 18th Jun '16 21 of 34

Thanks for the reply Ed. Along, I'm sure, with plenty of others here, I have several "turkey droppings" that have hardly been worth selling over the years - your turkey story is an excellent analogy for the process of neglect that leaves us with a couple of shares hardly worth selling and with minimal hope of recovery.

PS. Aminex anybody?

| Link | Share
Randval 18th Jun '16 22 of 34

Hello Muckshifter,

First of all thank you for some profitable insights you have given me over the years.

Domino Printing Sciences was taken over in tax year 2015/2016 this T/O generated profits outside my ISAs The profits were liable for CGT..
Fairly soon afterwards I sold Aminex at a small loss, Stanley Gibbons at a much larger loss and Indigo Vision at a loss.All to set against my potential CGT liability.
Since then AEX has fallen by 10% approx
SGI by more than 90%
IND by more than 40%
In addition I limited my liability for CGT..

Of course I was lucky that things worked out well, but I believe this is an illustration of an effect that I never seen commented on before. The effect acts to counter our perverse tendency to run losers and sell winners.


| Link | Share | 2 replies
herbie47 18th Jun '16 23 of 34

In reply to shipoffrogs, post #19

You may be right and yes I'm looking to buy back in to Ab Dynamics (LON:ABDP). My stop loss was not an auto one. If I had a larger holding I would not have sold all, really I should have larger holdings on my winners, haha. Its difficult to judge smaller companies, look at Fevertree Drinks (LON:FEVR) and Trakm8 Holdings (LON:TRAK). Some investors set targets and then sell but I feel they lose out on the big winners that 10 bag and more.

| Link | Share
herbie47 18th Jun '16 24 of 34

In reply to Randval, post #22

I agree capital gains tax is a real pain but now with the change in dividend tax things are more complex, I will have to sell some to avoid tax then capital gains comes into play, thanks George, real pain and no gain for the tax man. Now I'm looking to transfer some of the high dividend ones in my ISA but there is only £15,000 available this year.

| Link | Share
PhilH 18th Jun '16 25 of 34

In reply to herbie47, post #18


Actually running winners is harder than it sounds, what if the share falls 10%, do you sell, what about 15% or 20%?

You might want to consider using Ichimoku Charts as these will help you to visualise:

  1. the overall trend (or no trend)
  2. key support and resistance points

The 'clouds' in Ichimoku charts represent key areas of consolidation. The thicker the cloud the harder it is for the current price action to penetrate the cloud. Often the price action rebounds of the top or the bottom of the cloud providing support.

If I'm happy with the quality of a share I tend to sell when the price breaks below the cloud either in a strong way or if it stays below the cloud for a few days.

If I'm less happy with the quality of a share, e.g. the quality rank has deteriorated but I'm still riding price momentum I will shift my notional stop loss to a tighter support position. For example where the fast and slow moving averages cross (Kijun Sen and Tenkan Sen). 

With respect to Ab Dynamics (LON:ABDP) if you load the chart you can see ...

  • The rightmost cloud is Red instantly telling us that this stock is in a Bearish state.
  • The price has just dropped below the cloud, another bearish indicator. Will it hang on and recover like it did back it February?

If I was happy with the quality of this company I'd be watching it closely over the next few days. If it broke lower I'd sell.

You could have also used the moving average cross (Tenkan Sen/Kijjun Sen Cross) in early June to exit quite close to recent highs. Those moving averages haven't crossed since early March but in some stocks this doesn't allow a stock to breathe as it pauses for a rest after strong gains.

Another option to exit is price crossing the slow moving average (Kijun Sen Cross) but again this can generate a lot of signals and doesn't allow a selection to breathe.

I just find using Ichimoku charts helps me to somewhat more objective.

Not sure if that helps

Professional Services: Sunflower Counselling
| Link | Share | 1 reply
herbie47 18th Jun '16 26 of 34

In reply to PhilH, post #25

Thanks Phil, I did have a look at those charts when you mentioned them last year but I did not really understand them but seems to have worked with Ab Dynamics (LON:ABDP). I looked at Trakm8 Holdings (LON:TRAK) and they seem to be bear all the time even though the share price is going up and down between 200p and 280p. Its something I will try and study more then, not sure if they will work next week which is an unusual event for the UK markets.

| Link | Share | 1 reply
PhilH 18th Jun '16 27 of 34

In reply to herbie47, post #26

The Ichimoku charts give 5 signals. When a stock is strongly trending upwards then they will all align Bullish and when the stock is strongly trending downwards they will all align Bearishly.

So for Trakm8 Holdings (LON:TRAK) there would have been strong Bullish alignment from August last year to mid Jan 2016. Then one by one the signals would have started to turn bearish, first price crosses slow moving average, then slow and fast moving averages cross, then price cuts through the cloud, then cloud turns bearish and finally the lagging price line cuts below the historical price. Hey presto the stock is fully bearish. That occurred in early February (bearing in mind that the clouds are projected forward 28 days. You'll see that the tip of the cloud on the right hand extends beyond the current price)

Then Trakm8 Holdings (LON:TRAK) entered a period of consolidation signified by horizontal clouds changing from bullish to bearish and back again.

That's why I'm always looking for a stock breaking out. I don't want to buy into consolidating stocks I want them on the move. I also want all five signals indicating Bull run.

The only time I ignore the charts is when there is a market wide event occurring such as Brexit.

I could talk more about the fact that 4 of the signals generated have strength indicators, as in Weak, Neutral and Strong. It you're interested there is more detail on the site which explains a little about them.

Professional Services: Sunflower Counselling
| Link | Share | 1 reply
JollyBiologist 18th Jun '16 28 of 34

In reply to PhilH, post #27

Hi Phil,
These are absolutely fascinating! I've just run my entire portfolio through the checker and all but 2 came up bearish! Lots of Brexit in that, I guess, but still slightly disconcerting. But great to have a useful tool for future share assessment. Thank you!

| Link | Share | 2 replies
herbie47 18th Jun '16 29 of 34

In reply to JollyBiologist, post #28

Yes just doing that I have a few more Boohoo.Com (LON:BOO), Bovis Homes (LON:BVS), Burford Capital (LON:BUR), Debenhams (LON:DEB) and Ted Baker (LON:TED) so far. Some is clearly Brexit.

| Link | Share
PhilH 18th Jun '16 30 of 34

In reply to JollyBiologist, post #28

Hi Paul,

As I said I tend be less strict in my selling when there a market wide sell off. I let the dust settle for a few weeks then sell any that haven't recovered.

But you need to find a system that works for you.

Best of luck

Professional Services: Sunflower Counselling
| Link | Share | 1 reply
PhilH 18th Jun '16 31 of 34

Actually at one stage I had a strategy where I scanned the market looking for stocks exhibiting 5 bullish indicators. I'd then run them through Stockopedia filters.

I quickly learnt that it's much quicker to do it the other way around.

Professional Services: Sunflower Counselling
| Link | Share
JollyBiologist 18th Jun '16 32 of 34

In reply to PhilH, post #30

Hi Phil,

Oh my system works. But any system can be improved! I like having as many reference points as possible. And as I say, I really like this one.

And yes, waiting for the Brexit dust to settle (vehemently hoping it's Bremain)


| Link | Share
muckshifter 18th Jun '16 33 of 34

In reply to Randval, post #22

Thanks for the kind words Randval.
Interesting alternative sell trigger you illustrate, but over quite a few years using the annual allowance I ended up with almost all my, & my wife's, shares in ISAs. This had its pluses and minuses, one being that you didn't have to work carefully to annual capital gains free limits (often swapping or gifting shares between us), and also until recently you couldn't include AIM shares - not sure whether that's a plus or a minus.

So deciding not to use stops was in my case a bad move!


| Link | Share
mgallear 20th Jun '16 34 of 34

Prepare yourself for some extreme hypocrisy – after some bitter experience as a novice investor I think stop losses are a very good idea. The separate stockopedia article and comments on them is very good.

However, there are problems with using a stop loss with an event like Brexit. What if there is a no vote and the stock market believed we would stay in, it could badly gap/crash down on day. All your stops would be hit. Then buys would come in from people who were after cheap shares, the market could then dead cat bounce after your sells. Later in the day reason could prevail and market could make up most of its losses very rapidly. There are lots of possibilities and a stop loss would only be of any use if the permanent trend/fortune of the share/company was changed by this event.

Everybody knew it was coming so the thing to do was to take action long before June. Other such events are in October when the US markets decide what they think of the US and global economy. They can go start an upward trend but they can also crash. To confuse things there is also the general election in the US. The good thing is the market will have discounted what it thinks will mostly likely happen by the time of these events.

Have some cash ready to take advantage of any opportunities or to protect yourself.

On stop losses - remember that if a share has an extreme spread such as 5% and you set the stop loss to trigger from your buy price by 10% it will trigger when it is just 5% down.

If there is a tax advantage in selling a badly performing share then do so.

The trend is your friend – check what direction the share is going stop losses can protect you when the trend is down and you thought it was up.

Difficult to do but if the loss is triggered keep checking the share just in case that turn in the trend finally occurs.

The book by Stan Weinstein called Secrets for Profiting in Bull and Bear markets helped me as somebody who was taught Economic theory to get my head around basic technical analysis and the use of Moving Averages.

Acting more like a trader than an institutional investor is the way I am trying to go at the moment to improve my performance. Maybe, Stockopedia could employ a new service and have one of those ladies dressed in leather and a whip come around and smack my bottom and tell me to follow the trend and sell my losing shares. Then again I can’t afford it and if I could then I would not need the service! Reading Trading books and watching Trading DVDs and other such weirdness - might do the trick but then it is probably only slightly cheaper.

Yes, I wrote this rather selfishly to tell myself what to do and is not general advice for anybody else.

| Link | Share

What's your view on this article? Log In to Comment Now

You can track all @StockoChat comments via Twitter

About Edward Croft

Edward Croft

CEO at Stockopedia where I weave code, prose and investing strategies to help investors beat the stock markets. I've a background in the City and asset management but now am more interested in building great stock selection tools for the use of investors online.   Traditionally investors online have had very poor access to the best statistics, analytics and strategies for the stock market and our aim is to set that straight.  High Quality fundamental information has been prohibitively expensive in the past and often annoyingly dull. People these days don't just want to know the PE Ratio and look at a balance sheet. They expect a layer of interpretation over data, signal from noise and the ability to know at a glance whether a stock is worth investigating or not. All this is possible using great design and the insights gleaned from quantitative research.  Stockopedia is where we try to make it happen ! more »


Stock Picking Tutorial Centre

Related Content

Let’s get you setup so you get the most out of our service
Done, Let's add some stocks
Brilliant - You've created a folio! Now let's add some stocks to it.

  • Apple (AAPL)

  • Shell (RDSA)

  • Twitter (TWTR)

  • Volkswagon AG (VOK)

  • McDonalds (MCD)

  • Vodafone (VOD)

  • Barratt Homes (BDEV)

  • Microsoft (MSFT)

  • Tesco (TSCO)
Save and show me my analysis