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Regular Portfolio Checkups Can Lead to Healthier Returns

Evan R. Guido, Financial Advisor
Evan R. Guido
Financial Advisor

Quarterly reviews of stock and other investment performance are abundant these days. Business newspapers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal run quarterly rankings of performance. Business Week chips in with a look at the performance of individual stocks. Presumably, investors read these articles and then compare their holdings with the various benchmarks.

There's nothing wrong with this approach to determining how your portfolio stacks up. But, consider a few other suggestions that should be part of any investor's regular portfolio maintenance. Assuming you have a system for tracking your portfolio, start by taking a look at performance for the most recent quarter. How did your stocks stack up compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average or S&P 500? If you are heavily weighted in mid-cap stocks traded on the Nasdaq, you should compare your portfolio's performance to the Nasdaq or Russell 2000 indexes.

Quarterly performance analysis is only one part of an overall assessment. Remember that a stock might languish in a particular quarter after two or three strong quarters in which it far outperformed the averages. Then again, don't get overly excited when one of your holdings turned in a great quarter - you should take a longer look, especially if your goal is to build a long-term investment portfolio for you and your family.

Any good system for portfolio maintenance should include a number of different measures that track different time periods - one quarter, six months, one year, three years, and even five years or more, depending upon your goals. You can and should use all available tools in conducting your portfolio maintenance. Any number of Web sites provide - free of charge - stock charts that enable you to measure the performance of an individual stock with various averages over selected periods of time.

Next come some tougher decisions - when to sell, when to buy and when to hold. Here again, research and analysis is critical before you make any decisions about buying or selling a particular holding.

A good starting point is to see what analysts are saying about a particular stock. Then, take a look at how the company's competitors have performed. If you find a stock's share price has under-performed compared to its competitors, you might be on to something. But you should try to determine why your "target" has performed poorly. Are the reasons correctable? Or, do they reflect longer-term, structural issues that are unlikely to change at any time soon?
If you think the stock has a questionable future, then perhaps the time has come to divest it from your portfolio. If you think the problems are temporary, you will want to wait before you make a final decision.

The key is knowing what you have in your portfolio, how much you paid, how your holdings have performed, and how this performance stacks up against various averages. Your portfolio might be up 10% for the year, which sounds good, until you realize that your holdings as a group have under-performed the Dow or S&P 500.

Regular portfolio checkups, combined with regular maintenance, should enable you to avoid what happens when you don't take care of yourself - radical surgery. Remember, no matter how much anesthesia you get, surgery always hurts.


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