What Does Buying the Dip Mean?

By Rachel Kim · June 13, 2024 · 8 minute read

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What Does Buying the Dip Mean?

A down stock market could create an opportunity for investors to “buy the dip,” which, in simple terms, this strategy involves making an investment when stock prices are lower than they were at a previous time. The price has “dipped,” in other words.

Buying the dip is a way to capitalize on bargain pricing and potentially benefit from price increases down the line. But like any other investing strategy, buying the dip involves some risk — as it’s often a matter of market timing. Knowing when to buy the dip (or when not to) matters for building a solid portfolio while managing risk.

What Does It Mean to Buy the Dip?

As noted, to buy the dip means to invest when the stock market is down, anticipating that values will go back up. A dip occurs when stock prices drop below where they’ve previously been trading, but there’s an indication or expectation that they’ll begin to rise again at some point. This second part is crucial; if there’s no expectation that the stock’s price will bounce back down the line then there’s little incentive to buy in.

💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

Why Do Stock Dips Happen?

Stock market dips can happen for various reasons, including a macroeconomic downturn, unexpected geopolitical events, or general stock market volatility that causes stock prices to tumble temporarily on a broad scale.

For example, in early 2022, the stock market fell from all-time highs due to several developments, like high inflation, tighter monetary policy, and the economic fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Accordingly, the S&P 500 Index fell nearly 20% from early January 2022 through mid-May, 2022, flirting with bear market territory.

Stock pricing dips can also be connected directly to a particular company rather than overall market trends. If a company announces a merger or posts a quarterly earnings report that falls below expectations, those could trigger a short-term drop in its share price.

What’s the Benefit of Buying the Dip?

Many investors buy the dip because it may help increase their returns. But again, it’s not without risks.

Buying the dip is, effectively, a form of buying low and selling high – if, that is, everything shakes out in the investor’s favor. When you buy into a stock below its normal price, there is a potential – but not a guarantee – to reap significant profits by selling it later if prices rebound. It’s really as simple as that.

💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.

Example of Buying the Dip

A hypothetical example of buying the dip could play out like this: Company A releases a quarterly earnings report that does not live up to expectations. As a result, its share price falls 5% on the day that report is released. But some investors have a hunch that Company A’s stock price will increase in the coming days, and buy shares at a reduced price.

Low and behold, share prices do rebound, increasing 10% over the next few days. Investors who bought at the dip sell, and reap a return.

As for a real-world example, the market experienced a larger dip and recovery during the spring of 2020 connected to economic fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The S&P 500 Index declined about 34% in a little over a month, from February 19, 2020, to Mar. 23, 2020. The index then experienced a gradual rise, recouping its losses by August 2020 and increasing 114% through January 2022 from the March 2020 low.

If an investor bought at the lower end of the stock market crash, they would have seen substantial gains in the subsequent rally.

On an individual stock level, and as another hypothetical, say you’ve been tracking a stock that’s been trading at $50 a share. Then the company’s CEO abruptly announces they’re resigning — which sends the stock price tumbling to $30 per share as overall investor confidence wavers. So, you decide to buy 100 shares at the $30 price.

Six months later, a new CEO has been installed who’s managed to slash costs while boosting profits. Now that same stock is trading at $70 per share. Because you bought the dip when prices were low, you now stand to pick up a profit of $40 per share if you sell. The potential to earn big gains is what makes buying the dip a popular investment strategy for some people.

Risks of Buying the Dip

For any investor, it’s important to understand what kind of risk you’re taking when buying the dip. Timing the market is something even the most advanced investors may struggle with — as it’s impossible to perfectly predict which way stocks will move on any given day. Understanding technical indicators and what they can tell you about the market may help, but it isn’t foolproof.

For these reasons, knowing when to buy the dip is an inexact science. If you buy into a stock low and then are able to sell it high later, then your play has paid off. On the other hand, you could lose money if you mistime the dip or you mistake a stock that’s in freefall for one that’s experiencing a dip.

In the former scenario, it’s possible that a stock’s price could drop even further before it starts to rebound. If you buy in before the dip hits bottom, that can shrink the amount of profits you’re able to realize when you sell.

In the latter case, you may think a stock has the potential to recover but be disappointed when it doesn’t. You’ve purchased the stock at a bargain but the profit you’re able to walk away with, if anything, may be much smaller than you anticipated.

How to Manage Risk When Buying the Dip

For investors who are interested in buying the dip, there are a few things to keep in mind that may help with managing risk.

Understand Market Volatility

First, it’s important to understand how market volatility may impact some sectors or industries over others.

For example, take consumer staples versus consumer discretionary. Staples represent the things most people spend money on to maintain a basic standard of living, like food or personal hygiene products. Consumer discretionary refers to the “wants” people spend money on, like furniture or electronics.

In the event of a recession, people spend more on staples than discretionary expenses — so consumer staples stocks tend to fare better. But that may create a buying opportunity for discretionary stocks if they’ve taken a hit. That’s because as a recession begins to give way to a new cycle of economic growth, those stocks may start to pick back up again.

Consider the Reason for the Dip

Next, consider the reasons behind a dip and a company’s fundamentals. If you’ve got your eye on a particular stock and you notice the price is beginning to slide, ask yourself why that may be happening. When it’s specific to the company, rather than something general happening across the market, it’s important to analyze the stock and try to understand the underlying reasons for the dip — as well as how likely the stock’s price is to make a comeback later.

Buy the Dip vs Dollar-Cost Averaging

Buying the dip is more of a hands-on, active trading strategy, since it requires an investor to actively monitor the markets and read stock charts to evaluate when to buy the dip or when to sell. If an investor prefers to take a more passive approach or has a lower tolerance for risk, they might consider dollar-cost averaging instead.

Dollar-cost averaging is generally an investing rule worth keeping in mind. With dollar-cost averaging, an individual continues making new investments on a regular basis, regardless of what’s happening with stock prices. The idea here is that by investing consistently over time, one can generate returns in a way that smooths out the ups and downs of the market.

Example of Dollar-Cost Averaging

For example, you might invest $200 every month into an index mutual fund that tracks the performance of the S&P 500. As time goes by and the S&P experiences good years and bad years, you keep investing that same $200 a month into the fund.

You’ll buy shares during the dips and during the high points as well but you don’t have to actively track what’s happening with stock prices. This may be a preferable strategy if you lean toward a buy and hold investing approach versus active trading or you’re a investing beginner learning the basics.

The Takeaway

Buying the dip refers to purchasing shares at a price that is lower than a previous price, with the anticipation that values will recover and potentially overtake the previous peak. It can help investors increase returns, but as a strategy, has risks.

Knowing when to buy the dip can be tricky – timing the market usually is – but there are times when it may pay off for some. If investors maintain an eye on stock market and economic trends, it may help in determining when to buy the dip and how likely a stock or the market will rebound. However, it’s still important to consider the downside risks of timing the market and buying the dip.

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