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How to Pick Stocks? A Practical Approach for Investors

How to Pick Stocks? A Practical Approach for Investors
By Arjun Arjun Remesh | Reviewed by Shivam Shivam Gaba | Updated on February 22, 2024

Picking the stocks to invest in is the most basic requirement in investing in the stock market. Picking stocks must be done thoughtfully as they will be part of your portfolio. It is crucial your selections are backed by solid research and reasoning. This guide provides a practical pathway for making well-informed decisions. 

You want to be clear about your strategic goals and tolerance for risk while picking the stocks. You need to have a clear idea about what do you wish to achieve and over what time frame. This will help you to orient your uncompensated exposure in the right direction.

Get your hands on some company reports and sift through their statements. This will give you an idea of strength and prospects. You will also want to look closely at management quality and track record, as this will affect long-term vision, as well as results.

Currents also affect your sailing. Keep an eye on broader economic tides and trends as they tend to influence market winds. Diversify across various industry waters to prevent being waylaid in any single flow. Reassess your bearing on your holdings. Adapt, if circumstances change. Keep a record of how you performed, so you can learn from your sailing. Read on to learn more. 

With diligence and discipline in this practical selection approach, you can confidently embark on your stock voyaging and benefit positively from the returns of choices that prove worthy over the long sail. Steer clear of hasty moves led by emotions alone. Stay anchored in fundamental research and principles.

stock analysis
How to Pick Stocks? A Practical Approach for Investors 4

1. Understand your investment goals

The first step for any investor is identifying specific financial goals they want to achieve through investing. Common investment objectives include saving for retirement, funding a child’s college education, buying a house, or building an emergency fund. The investor must clearly define the goal, including the required amount and the target date. Quantifying goals, as such, helps determine the returns needed to realistically achieve those objectives. For example, an investor may set a target of accumulating Rs 50 lakhs in 15 years to pay for their child’s university costs. Knowing the exact amount and timeline enables the investor to calculate the amount that needs to be set aside on a regular basis and the rate of returns that are required. Defining investment goals is crucial to setting an appropriate asset allocation plan and to monitor progress.

Every investor has an appetite for risk based on personality, investment experience, and life situation. Determining one’s risk tolerance honestly and accurately is critical when deciding optimal asset allocation between different investment classes. Conservative investors who emphasise capital preservation sometimes gravitate toward fixed-income products like bonds. Aggressive investors comfortable with market swings sometimes allocate heavily to equities. Other factors like investment horizon, diversification preferences, knowledge level, and capacity to withstand losses also shape risk tolerance. Ideally, investors should discuss their financial goals and risk comfort with an advisor to get expert guidance on suitable strategies. They also take risk assessment surveys and review past responses to market volatility to gauge their risk orientation. 

2. Conduct fundamental analysis

Fundamental analysis involves assessing a company’s financial health and business prospects in depth to determine its true intrinsic value. Skilled financial analysts study a company’s financial statements, valuation ratios, competitive strengths and management quality to identify promising stocks that provide the greatest returns at the lowest risk. After all, the principles and techniques of accomplished investors such as Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham serve as excellent guides to finding attractive investment opportunities.

The balance sheet gives us a snapshot of the company’s assets, such as cash, accounts receivable, inventory and fixed assets, as well as its liabilities, such as debt, and payables, at a specific point in time. We can use this image to evaluate the company’s financial strength

A crucial element in Warren Buffett’s approach is analysing the company’s economic ‘moat’ – its sustainable competitive edge. Companies with strong brands, proprietary technology, efficient scale, network effects, cost advantages or high switching costs maintain pricing power and consistently earn high returns on capital. Competitive advantage creates resilience against rivals and enables maintaining long-term profitability. Buffett also emphasises management quality. Management’s capital allocation decisions significantly impact returns. 

Benjamin Graham pioneered value investing through principles like margin of safety and Mr. Market. Graham sought to buy stocks trading significantly below their intrinsic value, thereby limiting downside risk. He emphasized the importance of fundamental analysis in determining a stock’s intrinsic value, distinguishing between investing and speculating, and favouring in-depth fundamental analysis over predicting market psychology. Graham introduced the metaphor of Mr. Market’s daily price fluctuations contrasted with the underlying business’s long-term value. He founded modern security analysis by focusing on a company’s financial statements, applying the principles of fundamental analysis, rather than stock price movements.

3. Market timing with technical analysis

Market timing refers to the strategy of switching between asset classes or markets in an attempt to maximize returns and minimize risks based on forecasts or evaluations of the market trends. Technical analysis is used for timing the market. Unlike fundamental analysis, which focuses on a company’s financials and valuation, the technical analysis relies solely on the stock’s historical price and volume data. It is useful for traders looking to capitalise on short-term price swings over periods of days to weeks. 

The foundation of technical analysis is the price chart, which plots a stock’s price movements over time. Key elements in a stock chart that analysts look at to forecast future price direction include the open, high, low and close, volume, trend lines, support and resistance and candlestick charts. Open, high, low, and close, which show the price range each day or time period. The volume traded indicates market participation. Trend lines connecting peaks and troughs that show overall price trends (rising peaks and troughs indicate uptrends while declining peaks and troughs signal downtrends). 

The first step in technical analysis is identifying the overall trend, as prices tend to continue moving in established directions. Analysts look at the sequence of highs and lows to determine if stocks are in an uptrend, defined by rising peaks and troughs or higher highs and higher lows; a downtrend, defined by declining peaks and troughs or lower highs and lower lows; or a trading range, when prices move sideways between support and resistance levels. Determining the trend provides context on trading opportunities – in an uptrend, traders want to buy on pullbacks and dips while in a downtrend, traders look to sell into counter-trend rallies and bounces. 

Technicians use various indicators derived from mathematical calculations on the price and volume data to gauge momentum and overbought or oversold conditions. Popular technical indicators include moving averages that track the average price over a set time period and whose crossovers sometimes signal trend changes; Bollinger Bands, price channels based on moving averages and standard deviation that show relative highs or lows; the relative strength index (RSI) which measures the speed and magnitude of price changes to identify overbought (above 70) or oversold (below 30) levels; and the MACD, or Moving Average 

One of the most successful early practitioners of technical analysis was Jesse Livermore in the early 1900s, who made and lost several fortunes by timing the stock market’s swings. Livermore closely studied price action and volume patterns to determine when major market moves were starting. 

4. Follow global macroeconomic trends

The stock market does not operate in isolation—it is significantly impacted by economic and geopolitical events happening around the world. Understanding macroeconomic trends across major economies and regions provides crucial insights into the factors driving the overall market. Investors who follow global developments closely position themselves to benefit from or protect against coming shifts.

At its core, the stock market is a bet on corporate earnings and economic growth. Global growth is strong means the demand rises across industries, spurring revenues and profits. Investor optimism and stock valuations rise. But profits fall and valuations compress when the economic outlook deteriorates.

No one factor explains market movements and the most influential global dynamics – like economic growth trends, interest rates, commodity prices, currency movements, policy shifts, and geopolitical events – all contribute to the macroeconomic backdrop against which stocks trade. Strong global growth provides a positive tailwind for corporate earnings while decelerating growth weighs on profitability and depresses valuations.

To navigate this complex global environment, investors should closely monitor leading economic indicators, policy announcements and geopolitical developments worldwide. Two frameworks that help analyse macro trends are George Soros’ theory of reflexivity and Ray Dalio’s economic principles.

The theory of reflexivity, developed by George Soros, suggests a feedback loop in which investors’ perceptions influence that which they perceive, much as price movements influence the fundamentals of a game. In the financial markets, investors’ views of fundamentals – that is, the earning power and growth prospects of a firm, industry or even larger economy – are never purely objective, but are a complex relationship involving some combination of implicit and explicit assumptions, past experience, and guesswork.

Even the most iconoclastic investors are not immune to the pressures of the crowd. As prices move away from intrinsic value, an important feedback loop is created. The further prices move, the greater the forecasting mistake since, by definition, the intrinsic value is a static number and prices are continually changing. This forecast error feeds back on itself, creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Many of the greatest bubbles and crashes seem to occur in conjunction with these reflexive dynamics.

Ray Dalio’s economic principles provide a framework for understanding the economy as a dynamic system influenced by interrelated debt, monetary and political cycles. During booms, excessive borrowing eventually creates unsustainable debt levels, prompting deleveraging which weighs on growth. To reflate conditions, policymakers cut rates and expand the money supply, but this easy money causes currency devaluation and rising inflation over time, requiring subsequent tightening which again tests debt tolerance. 

Incorporating reflexivity and cyclicality perspectives allows investors to interpret markets more insightfully. Rather than just reacting to prices, investors should analyse the deeper forces driving trends, compare them to historical precedents to detect reversal signs and assess sustainability using indicators like policy, debt, and growth. Exposures should be diversified across regions to mitigate escalating local risks or overcrowded positioning. 

5. Evaluating Company Management and Governance

The effectiveness of management and the strength of governance practices directly impact a company’s performance, culture, and risk management. Focus on the executive team’s experience, track record, integrity, strategic vision, and ability to execute when analysing management. Examine board composition, independence, diversity, and governance policies. Favour companies with experienced leaders setting a clear strategic direction, overseen by an independent, engaged board with robust governance controls.  

Review the backgrounds and qualifications of top executives, such as the CEO and CFO. You want leaders with industry experience and a proven track record for successful performance, both with the company and at previous employers. Look for very long tenures at the company. If top leadership is all brand new, look more critically to understand if identified concepts are just buzz words, or if there are truly fresh perspectives being brought in. Watch for lines of reporting of key executives, as this often provides valuable insight into dynamics. If you observe tension between certain groups, it is important to know this is often healthy and fuels proper debate as leadership should explore all options.

Evaluate management’s track record of allocating capital through reinvestment and mergers and acquisitions. Examine investment returns on major projects or acquisitions. Assess whether management resists overpaying for acquisitions in favour of reasonable valuations. Capital allocation discipline and generating returns on investments demonstrate sound judgement by management teams. 

Examine management incentives and alignment with shareholders. Salaries, bonuses, stock-based compensation, and option grants that vest over time encourage leaders to focus on long-term growth and returns. However, excessive compensation or misaligned incentives reward the wrong behaviours, like short-term stock pops over sustainable results. 

6. Understanding Market Trends and Economic Indicators

The performance of individual stocks is heavily influenced by broader macroeconomic conditions and market sentiment. By analysing market trends and key economic indicators, investors are able to better determine the impact of the external environment on stock prices and make more informed investment decisions.

Start by analyzing the general stock market trend. Bull markets are associated with rising prices and investor optimism, while bear markets feature declining prices and a general feeling of pessimism. The current direction of the overall market has a tendency to continue, so stocks generally perform better in a bull market where people are generally feeling more optimistic. Look at stock market volatility using the VIX or CBOE Volatility Index. High and rising volatility indicates uncertainty, which increases risk and downside for stocks. Low and stable volatility is associated with bull markets and more stable stock returns. Monitor investor sentiment surveys for excessive optimism or pessimism, which signal market tops or bottoms. Sentiment that is strongly bullish or bearish tends to be a contrarian indicator.

Analyse volume trends, which measure market participation. Rising volume points to enthusiasm and bullishness while falling volume signals disinterest and bearishness. Technical indicators like moving averages and breakouts also assess market momentum and directional bias. Applying technical analysis helps discern market trends and strengths.

Regarding economic indicators, start with GDP growth, which measures economic output. Accelerating GDP growth is bullish for stocks while slowing growth raises risks. However, high GDP growth also spurs inflation fears and higher interest rates, which impact stocks negatively. Monitor employment trends through the unemployment rate and job growth. Falling unemployment and rising hiring boost consumer spending power and stock prices. 

Interest rates significantly impact stock valuations, as higher rates reduce the present value of future corporate cash flows. Track Fed policy through FOMC statements and rate decisions. Low-interest rates boost stock valuations and vice versa. Treasury yields are another rate indicator, with rising yields drawing investors away from dividend paying stocks.

7. Diversification and Building a Balanced Portfolio

Allocating investments across various assets and securities, diversification is a critical strategy for managing portfolio risk and enhancing returns. By diversifying, investors lower their exposure to individual stock risk and reduce their sensitivity to its price volatility. A diversified group of assets has lower risk than just owning one or two securities. A wise portfolio investing approach is to build a well-diversified, balanced portfolio that aligns with your risk tolerance, return objectives and time horizon.

The rationale behind diversification is that asset prices do not move in perfect unison. Securities exhibit varying degrees of correlation; some rise while others fall. By holding assets with low or negative correlation, the movements cancel out, reducing volatility. For example, government bonds often rise when stocks fall, offsetting stock losses. 

Begin constructing your portfolio by allocating across major asset classes like stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, or cash. Holding different asset classes that perform differently over time reduces the impact of declines in any one asset. Determine your optimal asset allocation based on your financial objectives, timeline, and risk tolerance. 

Within stocks, diversify across market sectors to manage correlational and macroeconomic risks. Cyclical sectors like energy, materials and industrials behave differently from stable defensive sectors like healthcare and consumer staples. Avoid concentration by limiting exposure to individual sectors. Diversify across economic sectors, market capitalizations, and geographic regions. Include exposure to international stocks through mutual funds or ETFs. 

Maintain diversification within your bond holdings. Own a mix of short, intermediate and long-term bonds to manage interest rate risk. Diversify between government and corporate bonds. You are able to further diversify with municipal, high-yield, and international bonds. As with stocks, invest in bonds across various sectors, credit qualities, and regions.

Alternative assets like commodities, real estate, venture capital, infrastructure, and currencies enhance portfolio diversification since they exhibit a low correlation to traditional stocks and bonds. 

8. Risk Management and Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Employing effective risk management strategies and avoiding behavioural biases are key to generating consistent returns. Common stock investing is rife with potential pitfalls, such as overtrading, overconfidence, chasing hot stocks and losing discipline, but prudent use of risk limits, diversification, position sizing, contingency planning and maintaining a long-term perspective can mitigate most of those perils. As a professional, level-headed approach to the market begins to emerge, the average individual investor is wising up and putting these pros to shame, so take advantage of their expertise and put those common stock investing odds in your pocket.

Set predetermined risk limits on position sizes and maximum losses. Limit position sizing to the available capital to limit exposure and to the stock’s price volatility to maintain control. Higher-conviction picks have larger positions, while speculative stocks with less underlying liquidity and greater volatility warrant smaller sizes. Adhere to a risk budget of no more than 1-2% of capital for a single stock position and 5-10% for a sector. Use stop losses to limit losing trades, moving them in phases to a lower cost-basis as the stock grows in price and value. Diversify across stocks, sectors and other uncorrelated assets to reduce portfolio volatility and maximum drawdowns. Proper sizing and diversification also prevent the trader from placing too much trust in any single stock or catalyst in a winner-take-all effort at wealth accumulation.

Do not chase hot stocks that have become overextended solely because of recent price spikes. Stocks making new 52-week highs or up over 50% in short periods are often overbought and due for mean reversion. Wait for pullbacks to establish positions rather than chasing momentum at any price. Avoid buying IPO stocks right after launch, allowing for price discovery and lockup expirations first. 

Create contingency plans for adverse scenarios. Stress tests your portfolio using various assumptions on growth rates, multiples, and probabilities. Compute potential portfolio declines from moderate to extreme adverse cases. Then determine portfolio changes required to mitigate risks, improve liquidity, and reduce loss in those scenarios. Imagining worst-case scenarios minimises panic reactions if they actually occur.

9. Monitoring and Reviewing Stock Investments

Continuously monitoring and reviewing your stock investments is crucial to evaluate performance and determine appropriate actions. Periodically review positions to ensure investment theses remain intact, reassess price targets, and decide whether to hold, buy more, or sell. Establish processes for tracking stocks and quantifying changes in fundamentals, technicals, or market conditions that sometimes impact your strategy. Avoid complacency by critically evaluating each holding on an ongoing basis.

Analyse price chart action, trading volume, and technical indicator levels to assess changing momentum, trends, and investor sentiment. Watch for warning signs like breakdowns below key moving averages or support levels, bearish chart patterns, rising volume on down days, or negative indicator divergences. Determine whether technicals remain consistent with a healthy uptrend.

Re-evaluate the valuation thesis – does the stock still appear undervalued based on updated financial projections and market comparisons? Review your discounted cash flow and multiple-based price target models. Recalibrate earnings, cash flow and growth assumptions based on the latest data. Confirm upside remains based on intrinsic value estimates compared to current prices.

Assess whether your original investment thesis, catalysts, or time frame for price appreciation remains likely. Have anticipated catalysts played out yet? Has the timeline for gains materialised more slowly than expected? Update models to factor in competitive, regulatory, economic or industry changes since initiating the position. Revise price targets, catalyst timeframes or the overall narrative as warranted.

Compare against stocks in the same industry and benchmark indices to determine if underperformance warrants action. Consider tax implications and trading costs before selling laggards at a loss. Stocks often underperform indices due to temporary, sentiment-driven factors before fundamentals prevail. Avoid selling high-conviction names too quickly.

Rebalancing and profit-taking help lock in gains and maintain allocations. Trim positions on material price appreciation, but retain partial exposure to maintain upside potential. Redeploy proceeds from sales into new opportunities or existing holdings at better valuations. Measure performance on a risk-adjusted basis net of trading costs.

Why picking the right stock is crucial for an investor?

Selecting the right stocks is critical for investors to consistently generate returns and build wealth over time. Stocks have historically offered the highest growth potential amongst major asset classes. However, realised returns depend greatly on the quality of the stocks selected. Picking winners that outperform enables tremendous portfolio gains. Conversely, choosing poorly performing stocks results in subpar returns and opportunity costs. With thousands of stocks to select from, narrowing down to quality picks is essential.

What are the tools available for picking stocks?

Strike.money is the best tool for technical and fundament analysis to pick stocks in India. Screener.in allows you to filter stocks based on financial parameters and technical indicators. TradingView offers advanced charting features and a huge library of indicators for technical analysis. Trendlyne offers stock recommendations based on artificial intelligence and comprehensive fundamental research. StockEdge helps investors monitor their portfolio and track stocks with personal watchlists and custom screener filters.

Arjun Remesh

Head of Content

Arjun is a seasoned stock market content expert with over 7 years of experience in stock market, technical & fundamental analysis. Since 2020, he has been a key contributor to Strike platform. Arjun is an active stock market investor with his in-depth stock market analysis knowledge. Arjun is also an certified stock market researcher from Indiacharts, mentored by Rohit Srivastava.

Shivam Gaba

Reviewer of Content

Shivam is a stock market content expert with CFTe certification. He is been trading from last 8 years in indian stock market. He has a vast knowledge in technical analysis, financial market education, product management, risk assessment, derivatives trading & market Research. He won Zerodha 60-Day Challenge thrice in a row. He is being mentored by Rohit Srivastava, Indiacharts.

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