Warren Buffett has said his favorite holding period to own a stock is forever, but often that gets misinterpreted as Buffett never sells. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is true that Buffett’s massive positions in Coca Cola and American Express have been held for decades, he has sold numerous positions over the years, including his holdings in Phillips 66 and IBM, for example, and most recently he sold the large positions he built up in airline stocks, including American, Delta, United and Southwest, after COVID-19 impacted their prospects.
All things being equal, Buffett notes “It’s not their inclination to sell,” however, he sells stocks all the time.
What makes Buffett sell a stock rather than hold it forever?
One factor is whether the company has had a negative change in its competitive advantage.
“We probably had one view of the long-term competitive advantage of the company at the time we bought it, and we may have modified that,” Buffett explained at the 2002 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.
He went on to add: “That may mean that we were wrong when we made the decision originally. It may mean that we’re wrong now, and their strengths are every bit as what they were before. But, for one reason or another, we think that the strengths may have been eroded to some degree. A classic case on that would be the newspaper industry, generally, for example. I mean, in 1970, Charlie and I were looking at the newspaper business. We felt it was impregnable a franchise as could be found.”
If the stock you are holding has strong revenues, is cranking out dividends, and has a bright future, there is no need to set an arbitrary selling price. As Buffett once said, “The real thing to do with a great business is just hang on for dear life.”
However, if the company’s prospects are deteriorating, there is no need to hold it forever.
Buffett’s full explanation on when he sells a stock
© 2020 David Mazor
Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.