Catching a Falling Knife: 6 Ways to Trade in a Declining Market

By Chika


Last Updated: March 10, 2023


Sometimes, stocks may be selling so cheap that it's too good to pass up the bargain.

Other times, investors may try to time the market to ride the next upward trend and make profits. Contrarians and value investors try to buck the market trend to make profits. 

However, without a proper analysis, investors who trade using these strategies may catch a falling knife leading to losses. In this article, we look at what the phrase means, what it tells you, and how you can trade in a security that is in decline. 



What is catching a falling knife?

"Catching a falling knife" is an investment term for buying a stock or other financial security that is quickly losing value in order to make a profit by buying low and selling high.

It is a colloquial expression that suggests that trying to catch a falling knife can be risky, because you could lose a lot of money if the knife keeps falling in value. The phrase is often used to warn investors not to try to time the market or take risks when the market is volatile or uncertain. 



How does ‘catching a falling knife’ work in investing?

Imagine you're doing some cooking and the knife slips off the table with the blade facing down.

If you reach out to grab it, you're almost certain to injure yourself. Catching falling knives describes the predicament faced by investors who attempt to time the market by purchasing equities that are declining in value. Stock traders are left staring at losses when stock values continue to decline.



What does a falling knife tell you?

Falling stock prices could indicate trouble for the business, the sector, or the market as a whole.

This may be the result of a number of different things, including:

  • a shift in investor sentiment
  • a change in macroeconomic conditions
  • bad press
  • poor financial results

If a stock's price is plummeting, it may be more dangerous to invest in it than it is to sell it. However, consider that stock values are often unpredictable and that a falling knife can offer chances to investors who are prepared to take on risk.

Before buying a "falling knife," it is important that you conduct due diligence and figure out why the stock's value is dropping.

Think about the risk you are willing to take (not the reward) before making any financial commitment. If you are unsure of whether to go ahead with the investment, you can always seek advice from a financial advisor or conduct more research.



5 Tips to help you avoid catching a falling knife while investing

1. Conduct due diligence.

It is critical to learn as much as possible about the business or security you intend to invest in before making an investment decision.

You can tell a lot about a company's financial standing, including its future performance by studying its:

  • financials
  • management
  • industry trends


2. Have a strategy.

Have a clear plan for investing that fits your goals, willingness to take risks, and time frame.

You should be willing to stick to your strategy regardless of how volatile the market is. Trying to time the market can be risky.


3. Diversify your portfolio.

Diversifying your investments across different assets and markets can reduce the effect of market volatility.

As such, if you are investing in a stock that is on the decline, it is always a good idea to have more stable stocks in your portfolio to hedge against the drawdown effects.


4. Control your emotions.

Fear, greed, and bias can often cloud our sense of judgment when investing.

It's essential to stay calm, objective, and focus on your investment strategy.


5. Set stop-loss orders.

A stop-loss order is an order filed with a broker to sell a stock at a specified price.

Setting a stop-loss order when trading a falling security or market can assist in limiting losses.



6 Ways to invest in a falling market 

Investing or trading in a falling market can be challenging, let alone risky.

Nevertheless, there are some strategies you can use to potentially profit from a declining market.

Here are a few strategies you can consider:


1. Short selling.

Short selling entails selling shares of a stock you do not own in the expectation that the price will fall and you'll be able to purchase them back at a reduced price. This necessitates knowledge and skill in stock analysis and is best left to seasoned investors. 

Since the market is in a downward trend, short-selling is a viable way to invest in a falling market.

For this strategy to be effective, you can use stop orders to limit losses or secure profits when the market reverses. 


2. Dollar-cost averaging.

This is a strategy of investing a fixed dollar amount in a stock on a regular basis, regardless of the share price.

By doing so, you can potentially increase your returns over time while taking advantage of reduced prices.


3. Value investing.

This strategy entails identifying undervalued equities with solid fundamentals and a favorable long-term outlook.

By purchasing securities that are presently undervalued, it is possible to profit from their eventual price appreciation. The danger in this is that you can catch a falling knife.

As such, only invest in stocks that you believe have strong fundamentals after conducting due diligence. 


4. Dividend investing.

This strategy entails investing in dividend-paying securities, which distribute a portion of a company's profits to its shareholders.

Even in a declining market, dividend-paying securities can help provide a consistent income stream. This steady income can offset the effect of losses on your portfolio. You can also profit in the long term if the dividends are compounded over time.


5. Defensive investing.

This strategy involves investing in defensive stocks ie. stocks of companies that provide essential goods and services, such as utilities or healthcare.

These companies are typically resilient to economic cycles. As such, they're less affected by market downturns, making them a safe investment option during a falling market.


6. Stick to your strategy.

Staying on course helps shorten the recovery period.

Seeing the value of your portfolio decline is not a good feeling. It takes a lot of emotional control to not give in to the feeling of fear and stay the course. However, sticking to your initial plan can help speed up the process of recovery rather than exiting and reentering the market. 

Moderating portfolio declines through dollar cost averaging means you have less ground to make up when markets recover. Remember, time in the market is more important than timing the market. 



Avoid catching a falling knife

Rather than attempting to capture a falling knife, it is generally preferable to thoroughly consider your investment strategy and make decisions based on research and analysis.

It is essential to keep in mind that investing always entails some degree of risk, and there is no surefire method to make money.

By using the tips above, you can reduce the likelihood of being cut by a plummeting knife and make more informed decisions when investing in a falling market.



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