Should You Sell These Plunging Stocks Before It's Too Late?

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) got crushed in January, falling more than 5% and setting the stage for what could be the stock market's first down year since 2008. But what's especially disturbing is the fact that three stocks -- Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , and Travelers (NYSE: TRV  ) -- fell more than 10% during the first month of 2014. Should you get out of these stocks to avoid further losses, or is now the buying opportunity that many investors have waited for?

One disturbing thing about the Dow's worst-performing stocks is that they're not concentrated in a particular area of the economy. Chevron's losses have largely come from the challenges that the entire big-oil complex has had in maintaining extremely impressive production growth rates in recent years from the shale oil and gas boom. With energy prices having failed to keep climbing from their fairly lofty levels, Chevron hasn't been able to overcome trends toward falling production in order to maintain overall revenue levels.

On the other hand, many see General Electric's losses as having come not from fundamental problems with its business but rather from disappointed Wall Street analysts. Even though GE has become an industrial innovator with aggressive moves into promising niches like energy infrastructure, investors seem to believe that the stock has come too far in its impressive recovery from the financial crisis five years ago. Similarly, Travelers has had great quarters as a result of having favorable loss experience recently, as a lack of any substantial hurricane activity last year gave investors a respite from losses in past years. Yet investors chose to emphasize headwinds from potentially rising interest rates in the future in pushing the stock down so much.

Value traps?
The other problematic aspect of the Dow stocks that fell the most in January is that at least in two cases, the culprits have some of the lowest earnings multiples in the average. Both Chevron and Travelers trade at around 10 times earnings. That makes them attractive to those who don't want to pay the much higher P/E ratios that most higher-growth stocks in the Dow fetch currently.

Many bull markets reach points at which investors give up on slower-growth companies in favor of the momentum stocks that perform the best in rising markets. That might well be happening here, as investors start to shift their portfolios toward some cyclical stocks that were beaten down throughout 2013.

But the other thing to look at is whether current earnings levels are sustainable. Investors believe that Chevron and Travelers will see their earnings fall this year compared with 2013. If that proves to be the case and the market has a challenging year overall, then it could put even more pressure on these particular stocks.

When markets fall, it's smart to look at the worst performers to see if you can figure out whether problems are isolated to certain types of companies or are more widespread. In this case, the breadth of the downturn points to greater reason for general concern. For investors who hold stocks for years rather than weeks, though, more attractive share prices are an unquestionable positive.

Why you should want stocks to fall
If you want to buy stocks, then you should look forward to more corrections like what we saw in January. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal-finance experts show you why investing is so important and what you need to do to get started. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.


Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 10:25 AM, marke54805 wrote:

    Invest in people, not paper.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 11:35 AM, mngyh wrote:

    Dan,

    I wish you can answer the title question definitively, i.e. buy or sell CVX, GE or TRV now, and why.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 11:38 AM, Lan8851 wrote:

    This article was not worthwhile - surely your followers (of The Fool) deserve better!

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 1:21 PM, PesoBob wrote:

    Agree with you Lan8851.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 1:40 PM, drpearso wrote:

    I agree also with PesoBob & Lan8851. The article doesnt have a conclusion, recommendation, or even a summary. Why write the article? Regards.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 2:21 PM, desertracer1 wrote:

    Did not come close to reading this full article as it seeemed foolish (get it). However always look for the sell job at the end of all of their articles.

    Reading their down articles is just a means to get to their positive information at a fools price.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 2:22 PM, servererror1 wrote:

    What an inflammatory title to this article!

    Corrections to solid companies are buying, NOT selling opportunities.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 3:52 PM, jtminpa wrote:

    I'll play the State lottery and get the same return.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 4:32 PM, kankemike wrote:

    @ jtminpa that is the most ignorant of response I've ever read

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 6:15 PM, notley wrote:

    I respectfully disagree. The conclusion is the stocks will continue to slide, and if you're a trader it's time to bail. If you're an investor, you realize even strong companies' share prices drop during a correction. When the traders panic and sell, be ready to buy.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 9:37 PM, roger142 wrote:

    GE has been a Dow Dog for 10 years, and I still don't believe it is time to buy them. GE is a big well established company, and their 3% dividend is better than buying bonds for 1.5%, and probably as safe.

    If GE were to spin off some divisions, they would be very profitable, but I don't think that's gonna happen.

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