Thursday, December 08, 2005

Margin Trading - Short-selling

"Going short" is the opposite of buying long and investors do it when they expect the price of a stock to fall in the short run and profit from this drop. Lets say, you tell your broker you want to short-sell 100 shares of Tata Tea which are currently priced at Rs 40 each. This quarter's results of the company aren't encouraging enough and you are convinced the stock price will take a beating within a few days. The broker looks for someone who has 100 shares of Tata Tea and borrows them on your behalf for a short period and with the guarantee that you will return them in few days. You in turn sell these borrowed shares at Rs 40 each and hence get Rs 4,000. Now, if what you had hoped for does happen, and the price of the stock falls to say, Rs 20 after two days, you will do what is called "cover the short position". That means you buy back the 100 shares by spending Rs 2,000 and your broker in turn returns them to the person borrowed from. So, by short-selling you have earned Rs 2,000 (of course, slightly less after adjusting for the transaction costs and expenses for borrowing the stock). The advantage of selling short is that you get to sell borrowed stocks without putting in your money.

Short selling can be perilous. Suppose if the Tata Tea shares fall but only do so marginally, you might just be able to recover your money. Or if the shares take a much longer time to reach the Rs 20 level than you had hoped for, your interest on the money with which the broker had borrowed those shares will surmount. Additionally, there will be constant pressure from the lender to return the stocks. Worse still if instead of falling the stock price rises, you will immediately enter into a loss.

Both short-selling and buying long require a good reading of the market and correct timing.


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