Selling into a bear market can make sense if it creates a tax windfall. The U.S. Internal Revenue Code Allows you to use your realized losses (Any declines in value that you lock in by selling your shares) to offset up to $3,000 in ordinary income. *
Let’s say you bought 200 shares of Coca-Cola stock January 2000 for $60 a shares- a total investment of $12,000. By year end 2002, the stock was down to $44 a share, or $8,800 for you lot – a loss of $3,200.
You could have done what most people do either whine about your loss or sweep it under the rug and pretended it never happened. Or you could have taken control. Before 2002 ended, you could have sold all your Coke shares, locking in the $3,200 loss. Then, after waiting 31 days to comply with IRS rules, you would buy 200 shares of Coke all over again. The result you would be able to reduce your taxable income by $3,000 in 2002, and you could use the remaining able $200 loss to offset your income in 2003. An better yet, you would own it for almost one-third less than you paid in the first time.
With Uncle Sam subsidizing your losses, it can make sense to sell and lock in a loss. Uncle Sam wants to make Mr. Market look logical by comparison, who are we to complain?
- Federal tax law is subject to constant change. The example of Coca-Cola stock given here is valid under the provisions of the U.S. tax code as it stood in early 2003.
Author Benjamin Graham – The Intelligent Investor \ The Definitive Book on Value Investing