Most loyal Fool readers know how we feel about selling. If you've found a great company with top-notch management and a strong competitive advantage, the best time to sell is almost never.
But that doesn't mean we hold on blindly. Things change, even with the greatest of companies. That's why we're constantly evaluating our stocks and watching for the danger signs that can torpedo our portfolios.
Today, I'd like to share three rules for selling, as set forth by Fool co-founder Tom Gardner for his Motley Fool Stock Advisor members.
1. Selfish management
Tom calls this the "worst possible development" for any of his companies. If the executive team starts worrying more about lining its own pockets than about creating value with the business, it's time to let go. For clues, keep an eye on excessive compensation, aggressive accounting, active insider selling, and declining market share. A classic example occurred at Tyco
2. Competitive disadvantages
Competitive advantages lead businesses to high returns on capital and equity, and they include things such as a strong brand. PepsiCo
3. An unstable financial model
Let's look at some positive examples. Think of eBay
What about valuation?
Obviously, a stock carrying a sky-high valuation is a candidate for selling. But this is the toughest call of all. If properly valuing a company were so easy, after all, everyone would be rich ... happily buying low and selling high. Even Tom has been burned in this area, such as when he sold Whole Foods a few years ago in Stock Advisor, only to watch it soar in value afterward.
You can also imagine how often this has happened with Google
But the three sell signs above aren't too hard to spot. Tom and his brother, David, have employed accurate selling and buying guidelines on their way to outstanding performance in Stock Advisor -- 64% total average returns versus 19% for equal amounts invested in the S&P 500. You can get a look at their two new picks, plus all of their past recommendations, free of charge with a 30-day trial. There's no obligation to subscribe.
This article was originally published April 12, 2006. It has been updated.
Rex Moore is brought to you by the letter "R." Of the companies mentioned in this story, he owns shares of Anheuser-Busch and eBay. Whole Foods and eBay are Stock Advisor recommendations. Tyco, 3M, and Anheuser-Busch are Inside Value recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.