How to Make Money Short Selling Stocks

Short selling is a strategy used to profit from stocks that are overvalued. As a short seller, you would borrow — remember, borrow, and not buy — the stock of a company that you think is overvalued and will fall in the near future. You then sell the borrowed stock in the market and wait for the price of the stock to fall to a level, which you think is the fair value of the stock. If the price falls to the level you expected, you buy back the stock from the market and return the borrowed shares to the broker. The difference between the selling price and the price at which you buy back the stock is your profit, less the fee charged by your broker to lend you the stock. So, you have profited from a stock without actually owning it.

How Exactly Does Short Selling Work?

As an example, you think that a certain company’s stock, which is currently trading at $20, is overvalued. You expect the price to drop in the next 3 months. The next thing you do is, call your broker and borrow 100 shares of that company and sell it in the market. The proceeds of the sale, $2,000, are credited to your trading account with your broker. Now, you wait for the price to drop to a level where you can make the maximum profit.

For example, the price of the company’s stock falls to $15 after two months. You think that the price will not fall below this level, you buy the stock back, which is also known as covering your position. You pay $1,500 in the market to buy back 100 shares of the company and return it to your broker. There it is! You have made a profit of $500, minus the fee charged by the broker to lend you the stock, without actually owning the stock.

You can borrow the stock for as long as you want, but this is not advisable for two reasons; you will have to pay a higher cost for borrowing, and since you do not own the stock, the broker may ask for it back any time, which will force you to cover your position sooner than you wanted. So, unless you are sure that price will fall to a level where you can profit in a short period, do not go short. Additionally, you are also not entitled to receive any dividend payments made in the period you short the stock, since you are not the owner of the stock.

Short Selling Risks

The major risk you face as a short seller is if the price of the stock does not fall to the level where you can profit from it for a long time, or if the price increases. Take the previous example where you expect the price to drop in 3 months. However, the price level increases to $25 after 3 months. Now, if your broker asks you to return the borrowed stock, you will make a loss of $500.

Remember, the profits from short selling are limited, as the price of a stock cannot fall below zero. However, you can make unlimited losses on your position because there is no limit to which the price of a stock can rise. So, you need to be completely convinced that the stock is overvalued, and that the price will fall within a short period of time.

About the Author

By , on Mar 3, 2010
Stephen P. Klein have made many strides to overcome financial distresses in his life. And taking control of his finances during the recession just made him take on another battle. Besides his job in financial industry, he also enjoys writing on various personal finance topics. You can follow Stephan on Twitter, or follow them at his Economic Crisis Blog.

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Leave Your Comment (6 Comments)

  1. Scott says:

    Short selling may not be a good move for novice traders, however taking advantage of an overvalued stock, researching the probability that a fair value may be in the not so distant future isn’t the worst investment strategy out there. (10 year treasury bonds wtf? Just put it under a mattress why don’t cha.) Regardless, there’s still no reason to discourage novice traders by stating that there are infinite losses when selling short. Of course negligence in any trade scenario will undoubtedly yield losses, but informing traders that profits made from selling borrowed stock rather than owning it, are usually not paid out in dividends for that same reason. Rather than tell you that selling short is an imprisonable offense, or saying that it’s either profit or a black hole of increasing loss, just do the research.

    Plus you can always cover your position before your losses run away from manageable.
    Manageable losses people look it up.

    g’day!

  2. feliz says:

    the most sucessfull i have been so far ( 15 years, ) is selling puts 20% out of the money for 3 to 4 monts. The market isn’t going to do much, so it is a good stradigy without investing.

  3. Zach says:

    Short selling is not a good idea for novices to the stock market. When you invest 1000 dollars into a company, the most you can lose is 1000 dollars, when you short a company for 1000 dollars, your potential losses are infinite.

  4. Ian says:

    Good post. You pointed out the risks as well as the potential, and investors need to make informed choices about using this trading strategy.

  5. Bob says:

    Great post, Stephan, thorough and clear explanation of the process.

    Only caveat I would add is: I work with a lot of newer investors who haven’t yet mastered the basics of going long on equities, but they get impatient, and try to get more “sophisticated,” with techniques like shorting, options, Forex, etc. In every case, those folks have lost their shirts. With just a little more patience, they could have mastered investing basics first, and then had greater success in all these arenas.

  6. Kevin K. says:

    What happens if you borrow the stock, but aren’t sure about what’s going to happen… so you don’t sell it and return it after a few months.

    How much is the borrowing charge? Does it depend on the company or broker?

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