“There are two hard things in trading — buying higher, and selling lower.”
Currently, I am selling out my position in an illiquid stock. I am patient, but I can tell that my selling is having an impact on the market.
Back when I was a corporate bond manager, I quickly learned that I had to scale in and out of positions. Even for the most commonly traded bonds, the market isn’t that liquid. While not lying to the brokers, learning to disguise your intentions, or at least frame them properly took some effort. One method I commonly used worked like this: “We need some cash. If you have someone wanting to buy $2-5 million, we will offer these at the 10-year Treasury + 150 basis points, $6-10 million T10 + 140 bps, and if they want to buy the whole wad (say 20-30 million), T10 + 125 basis points. Prices would ascend with size in selling. Prices would descend with size in buying, particularly for troubled bonds that we liked.
Usually, the brokers appreciated the supply or demand curves that I gave them. Frequently I ended up selling the “the wad,” which we were usually selling because our credit analyst had a reason.
But life is not always so happy. Sometimes you have an asset that either you or the organization has concluded is a dud. Many people think it is a dud. How do you sell it? Should you sell it?
There are options: you could hold an auction, but I will tell you if you do that, play it straight. Your reputation is worth far more than if the auction succeeds or not. You can set a reservation price but if the auction doesn’t sell, you will lose some face.
Or you can test the market, selling in onesies and twosies ($1-2 million) seeing if there is any demand, and expand from there if you can.
What I tended to do was go to my most trusted broker on a given bond and say, “I don’t have to sell this, but we need cash. Could you sound out those who own the bonds and see what they might like to buy a few million?” If we get an interested party, we can sound them out on buying more a an attractive price.
But life can be worse, imagine trying to sell the bonds of Enron post-default. Yes, I had to do that. And I had to sell them at lower and lower prices. (Kind of like the time I got trapped with a wad of Disney 30-year bonds.)
And there is the opposite. You want to have a position in an attractive company, and you can’t get them at any reasonable price. You could give up. You could “do half.” Or you could chase it and get the full position, only to regret it.
If you invest with an eye toward valuations, this will always be a challenge. All that said, if you focus on quality, these issues probably won’t hurt you as much.
In any case, do what must be done. If something must be bought, buy it as cheaply as possible. If something must be sold, sell it as dearly as you can. Hide your intentions, while offering deals. In doing so, you may very well realize the most value.
Editor’s Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.