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Should I Sell My Stocks Due to the Coronavirus?

By Daniel B. Kline - Mar 12, 2020 at 2:57PM

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Big market drops are scary, but try to avoid panicking and consider instead your long-term investing strategy.

Don't do it.

That may seem like a pretty simple answer to the headline question, but for the most part, you should not sell your stocks because of the coronavirus. Yes, the market has been a roller coaster of ups and downs over the past three weeks, but long-term investors expect that to happen from time to time.

You may see your 401(k) plan and individual stock investments take a hit, if they haven't already. That does not mean you should sell them right now -- except in this one situation.

A man looks sad sitting under a sign that shows the market being down.

Don't let the stock market depress you. Image source: Getty Images.

What is the exception?

Most companies taking a hit due to the novel coronavirus pandemic will recover. People may, for example, put off buying a new watch, canoe, or pair of sneakers to avoid having to go shop for one, but when conditions return to normal the need for these products and numerous others will still be there.

The only companies you should even consider selling are ones that you believe will be fundamentally damaged by this coronavirus-induced market downturn in a way they may not recover from. If you believe, for example, the public won't trust the cruise lines ever again and that doubt will drive one or more of the companies in that industry out of business, then maybe you should sell that stock.

An offshoot of this stock-holding (or selling) strategy concerns companies that are already somewhat weakened. Maybe you believe that CEO Jill Soltau can turn J.C. Penney around and have taken a small position in the company. The fallout from concerns about the virus may derail that turnaround by causing customers to stay home. That, in turn, might cause J.C. Penney to run out of operating cash before it gets to implement its plan.

Both of those are pretty rare scenarios, though. The public generally does not lose faith in an industry forever due to a short-term problem. Chipotle, for example, saw its results hurt for more than a year after its E. coli contamination issues. The company was punished for longer than it should have been, arguably, but it took the proper steps to win customers back, and they eventually returned.

Ailing companies present a different scenario. You may believe in one or even a few, but these should not be major positions in your portfolio anyway (and if they are, you're gambling, not investing). If you have some limited positions in companies like this, selling or holding shouldn't make a material difference in your portfolio.

Do anything but look at your holdings

It's depressing to see your portfolio drop by 10%, 20%, or who knows what percent. The best way to avoid that is to not check in very often. You should know what you own and hopefully have some cash on hand to buy shares of companies you believe in at a down-market discount.

If you invest for the long-term, then you own companies that you believe in. Those brands may be disrupted by the current crisis, but this too shall pass (eventually).

But the market historically always bounces back. That may take weeks, months, or even years. Eventually, however, this will be a crisis we look back upon and wonder why we worried so much. That sounds absurd at the moment, but that has been the pattern many times over.

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Stocks Mentioned

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Stock Quote
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.
$1,294.11 (1.70%) $21.62
J. C. Penney Company, Inc. Stock Quote
J. C. Penney Company, Inc.

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