Late-Stage Stocks vs. Early-Stage Stocks: How to Handle Each

Both early-stage stocks and late-stage stocks have a place in your portfolio. But to do that, you have to handle them very differently.


early stage stocks clock

Today’s column is about what to do with late-stage stocks and early-stage stocks. But I’m going to start with a “don’t” for you to keep in mind.

Don’t Buy (or Sell) the News

It concerns the news—specifically, you shouldn’t obsess over it, at least when you’re talking about news that affects the overall market.

This week has been nothing but message board meme stock buyers vs. the old guard hedge funds and fears that we’re in a market bubble.

Next week, maybe it’ll be something else.

When it comes to the market, it’s going to do what it’s going to do—and then the press will assign reasons to explain the move. The media can’t just say, “The market was down 1% today because there were more sellers than buyers,” even though that’s often the case.

More important for investors is that the news tends to describe the past and the current—it has little predictive ability. Unfortunately, though, after a few months of negative headlines, what do most investors focus on? The (bad) news! That causes many to miss out on the eventual turn.

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Long story short, it’s fine to be aware of the news, and feel free to talk about or debate it at the dinner table. But when it comes to the market, it’s not the news that counts, it’s the market’s reaction to the news and its overall tenor.

And, by the way, this goes for all types of news—good economic or earnings news doesn’t automatically mean good things. It’s all about the market’s (or stock’s) reaction to that news.

Late-Stage Stocks vs. Early-Stage Stocks

With that out of the way, I wanted to tackle one of the more popular types of questions I’ve gotten recently. It concerns popular but late-stage stocks—i.e., stocks that have had big runs over many months or years and are relatively obvious to the investing crowd—and what to do with them.

A good example is Align Technology (ALGN), whose Invisalign braces have driven fantastic growth for many years.

Given the stock’s nice consolidation from July through September, the solid upmove in October and the resilience since, there’s still a case to be made for further growth in this late-stage stock. However, it’s good to keep in mind ALGN’s action during the past few years, too.

A look at the five-year chart below shows that ALGN has already enjoyed a huge, prolonged run. By my system, the original breakout occurred in March 2016 when the stock was around 70, so the stock is up eight-fold from that point!

algn late-stage stock price chart

Given the run, it’s fair to say this isn’t an early-stage stock. At the very least, the stock is likely to be subject to more whippy action as traders and weak holders react to every piece of news for the company or the market. And, worst-case scenario, shares could be near the end of their overall move.

If you own late-stage stocks, it’s usually better to handle them with a bit of a tighter leash than something that’s just blasting off for the first time. That might mean buying a smaller position. Or (my preferred way) it could mean taking partial profits on the way up (selling one-third of your shares when the stock is up a decent amount) and simply trailing a stop for the rest.

To be clear, there’s nothing that says ALGN can’t motor higher for another few months—the recent strength and consolidation suggests it could. But it’s good to be cognizant of where the stock is in its overall run.

For ALGN, the odds favor it being in the later innings of its advance, so it’s prudent to take a bit more of a trader-like approach with part of your shares.

What about so-called early-stage situations, where a stock has just taken off?

In those cases, it’s the opposite—you generally want to be a bit more lenient after you enter the position, possibly even taking a slightly smaller position (and using a slightly looser stop) to give the stock every chance to move higher over time. Of course, this assumes the stock has excellent fundamentals and has decisively gotten going on the upside.

Clearly, there’s a chance that ALGN does well for another year and any number of early-stage stocks craps out. But bigger picture, your portfolio will usually do better if you handle early-stage stocks and late-stage stocks a bit differently—a little more rope for early-stage stocks, and less so for late-stage stocks that have already had huge, prolonged advances.

*This post has been updated from a previous version.

Free Now!

Stock investing is not an exact science, and common mistakes can cost you a lot of money. Avoid these pitfalls—revealed in this FREE report, Five Mistakes to Avoid When Stock Investing.

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