To Buy or To Short-Sell?

May 23, 2023 By Triston Martin

Short selling is a riskier investment than buying. With short sells, the maximum gain is zero (because the stock price can only go down), but the maximum loss is infinite (since the stock price can only go up). Short selling and the usage of put options are inherently negative methods to bet on a decrease in the underlying security or index. These methods can also protect a portfolio or an individual stock from losses. These two strategies have some similarities, but there are also important distinctions that investors should be aware of.

What Is Short Selling?

Short selling aims to make a profit by buying back sold securities at a lower price than they were originally sold for. To rephrase, the goal of a short sale is to generate income from the stock's decrease in price rather than its rise.

The selling-short strategy is based on the old investment adage "buy low, sell high." But the "sell" transaction comes first in short selling, opening a short position where the "buy" transaction closes out. In a normal stock trade, the "buy" transaction comes first, opening a position where the "sell" transaction closes out.

How To Short A Stock

The first step is to open a margin account. When you trade on margin, you borrow stock from your brokerage and pay interest on the amount you borrow. Margin account approval policies at different brokerages are highly variable.

To initiate a short trade, the Federal Reserve requires you to have cash or stock equity in your margin account equivalent to at least half the value of the short position. When this occurs, a short-sell order can be submitted at the brokerage. It is important to remember that you will not get your hands on the short-sale money right now.

To maintain a short position on the exchange's platform, the investor must have a minimum of 25% of their equity in the account as collateral for the margin loan. However, in other brokerages, a higher minimum may be required due to the illiquidity of certain stocks or the entire value of the investor's interests.

For as little as an hour or as long as a few weeks, one might "short" or hold on to the borrowed shares. It is important to remember that as long as you hold on to the loaned shares, you will need to keep up with the margin requirements and make interest payments.

Covering a short position means buying back the same number of shares borrowed at a lower price and delivering them to the brokerage. Remember that interest, commission, and fees must be calculated into your final profit target.

Key Ideas

Contrasting "long" trading is "short" trading. It is very similar to regular stock trading, with the main distinction being how you expect the stock price to go.

When you buy long, you are betting that the stock price will go up and, as a result, you will make a profit. You can profit from a dip in the stock price by selling short if you think its value will fall.

Unlike long deals, short trades require paying your broker interest on borrowed shares. You will accrue extra interest on the loaned shares or the short sale for as long as you keep them.

When you repay your broker, you must include the principal loan amount and a little interest charge. Short trades generate the same profit or loss as long trading should help dispel doubts. The selling price must be more than the purchase price to obtain a positive net result from a deal.

Dangers OF Short Selling

The greatest threat associated with short selling is the possibility of incurring infinite losses.

Traditional stock purchases have a fixed downside of the sum paid for the shares but an infinite upside. In contrast, while shorting a stock, your losses are theoretically unlimited because the stock price can rise infinitely, while your gains are capped at the whole value of the shorted shares if the stock price falls to $0.

If this occurs, the short seller may receive a "margin call," requiring them to either increase the amount of collateral in their account or complete their position by repurchasing the stock.

Shorting stocks and making money consistently is challenging for many investors due to the market's long-term upward bias. It is riskier than a buy-and-hold approach, especially if you need to know what you are doing.


Leverage is the first tangible benefit. With margin trading, you can sell short while just putting up a fraction of the total value of the stock you are trading, allowing you to maximize your profit potential while minimizing your risk.

You can make money from both an increase and a reduction in stock price when you incorporate short-selling into your trading methods.

A diversified investment portfolio might benefit from short sales to hedge against potential losses. Hedging your long positions with short ones is possible.

Related Articles