As an investor, you know very well that your portfolio’s position can drop in market value on any given day of the week without notice. Protecting your portfolio from a drop in market value isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. You can even do this without selling anything or paying taxes. 

Let’s explore some of the possibilities. 

Borrow On Margin

Many investors with large capital gains borrow some of the increase in value of their holdings from their brokerage account. A stock loan is a profit center for brokerage firms, so they will be happy to assist you in setting up a margin account. Many firms can do this entirely online. Most firms will negotiate the interest charged if you’re a reasonably well-heeled client. A great feature of margin borrowing is that you can claim a tax deduction for interest paid on a loan on your securities. You wouldn’t be able to do this if you bought tax-advantaged investments like municipal bonds. Be aware that the deduction amount is capped based on your net taxable investment income for the year. Any remaining interest expenses get carried over to the following year.

These loans usually require a minimum of $2000 in cash or margin-able securities. Depending on who you borrow from, the equity in the margin account is required to be at least 25% of the total value of the securities and can go up to 50%. Be safe and diversify your assets in your account to avoid getting hit with a margin call, which generally happens when the value of the securities falls below the maintenance margin. If you have $10,000 in your margin account and that account requires a 25% maintenance margin, then you’ll need to maintain $2500. The margin maintenance rises proportionally with equity increases, so keep that in mind. 

In any case, borrowing on margin may be more tax-efficient than selling stock and paying long-term capital gains or short-term gains when there is still upside potential in the investment.  

Limit Downside Risks with Collars

Collar options are strategies that can help limit downside risk, but it does, however, have the effect of limiting profits on the upside. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to use this strategy if you’re trying to make huge gains, but rather when the market is bearish, and you want to protect your investments. 

If you have large unrealized gains in security, you may sell an out-of-the-money call option and use the proceeds to purchase a put option to limit the potential loss from a market sell-off. 

For example, if you own 100 shares of a company’s stock at $45 and the price has risen dramatically to $100, and you want to protect those gains, you might buy a put with a strike price much higher than your costs. This is completely discretional but for the sake of an example, let’s say we sell the $110 call option out six months for $5 and buy the $90 put that expires in six months for a cost of $5. The investor has no cash expense other than the commissions on the options. The sale of the call option pays for the purchase of the puts. These prices are quoted in the options market for 100 share lots. You won’t lose or gain anything if you’re within the collar when expiration arrives. 

An added benefit is that collar options hedge against a downturn in the market without triggering a taxable event. As long as you don’t sell your stock to the call or put holder, you won’t have to pay taxes on the profit. You can generally buy or sell the options you sold or bought before expiration if you change your mind or circumstances warrant it.

Hedge Your Bets with Inverse ETFs

Successful investing takes a great deal of timing and understanding of the market conditions. At the same time, it can get tricky to find securities that will yield good returns in a bear market. Investing in an inverse ETF can help hedge your bets against a market downturn since these are specifically designed to profit from broad market indices like the Russell 2000 or the Nasdaq 100.  

You can also find one that focuses more narrowly on a specific sector such as biotech, energy, or financials. For example, if you want to bet against a declining S&P 500, look into ProShares Short S&P 500 (SH) or check out ProShares Short Dow 30 (DOG), which hedges against the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Make sure you have an exit plan, though, because you’re betting against the stock market, which always recovers, so you’ll want to sell the inverse ETF when that happens.  

Invest in Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by cities, states, counties, and other governments to raise money for daily operations and projects like sewer systems, highways, or building schools. When you buy municipal bonds, you’re lending money to the bond issuer in exchange for interest payments, usually on a semi-annual basis, along with the principal amount returned. Investing in municipal bonds is a great way to add some protection to your portfolio when the market drops. It’s possible because they are not correlated to the market.  

One of the critical benefits of municipal bonds is that the interest is generally exempt from federal income tax. In some cases, state and local taxes are exempt, but only if you reside in the state where the bond was issued. If you’re looking to preserve your wealth while enjoying a steady stream of income while enjoying tax benefits, this would be a significant investment.

Diversify With Gold

Gold investors are usually the happiest when the stock market crashes. It’s because there is a negative correlation between the stock market and its value. While the stock market benefits due to economic stability and growth, precious metals like gold benefit from economic crises and financial distress. When trying to preserve your portfolio’s value and hedge against a market value decrease, buying the physical metal and some gold ETFs together would be the best bet. Both have their differences when it comes to the cost of ownership, though, so keep track of the hidden expenses coming from each investment.  

When buying physical gold, expect to pay for costs related to storage, insurance, transaction fees, and mark-ups associated with buying and selling the metal in the bullion market. While it does have the convenience of being traded on the open stock exchange, Gold ETFs come with costs that are not immediately transparent. 

Funds will charge you an expense ratio, a recurring annual fee meant to cover management and operational costs. Additionally, you’ll need to pay for commission on each trade. There are plenty of gold ETFs that have affordable expense ratios, such as I Shares Gold Trust (IAU), Granite Shares Gold Trust (BAR), and SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) for example.  

Wrapping It All Up

The key to protecting your portfolio from a drop in value is to ensure that you have a diversified set of assets that actually work against a bear market or even crashes. Through margin borrowing, it’s possible to take out loans against your equity to purchase more assets while deducting taxes on the interest. Collar options provide a way to protect your investments, especially if you don’t want to trigger taxable events. When you diversify your holdings with inverse ETFs, municipal bonds, and gold investments, you can only enjoy gains during market downturns while not having to sell any shares in your portfolio. Municipal bonds have the added benefit of being exempt from taxes as well.

If you’re pondering this situation, whether to invest all at one, please feel free to reach out to me at Chase Thomas and I’ll be happy to discuss it and possibly show you better strategies to accomplish your goals.