Investment Risk #1: Business Risk
Business risk is, perhaps, the most familiar and easily understood. It is the potential for loss of value through competition, mismanagement, and financial insolvency. There are a number of industries that are predisposed to higher levels of business risk (think airlines, railroads, steel, etc).
The biggest defense against business risk is the presence of franchise value. Companies that possess franchise value are able to raise prices to adjust for increased labor, taxes or material costs. The stocks and bonds of commodity-type businesses do not have this luxury and normally decline significantly when the economic environment turns south.
Investment Risk #2: Valuation Risk
Recently, I found a company I absolutely love (said company will remain nameless). The margins are excellent, growth is stellar, there is little or no debt on the balance sheet and the brand is expanding into a number of new markets. However, the business is trading at a price that is so far in excess of it's current and average earnings, I cannot possibly justify purchasing the stock.
Why? I'm not concerned about business risk. Instead, I am concerned about valuation risk. In order to justify the purchase of the stock at this sky-high price, I have to be absolutely certain that the future growth prospects will increase my earnings yield to a more attractive level than all of the other investments at my disposal.
The danger of investing in companies that appear overvalued is that there is normally little room for error. The business may indeed be wonderful, but if it experiences a significant sales decline in one quarter or does not open new locations as rapidly as it originally projected, the stock will decline significantly. This is a throw-back to our basic principle that an investor should never ask "Is company ABC a good investment"; instead, he should ask, "Is company ABC a good investment at this price."
Investment Risk #3: Force of Sale Risk
You've done everything right and found an excellent company that is selling far below what it is really worth, buying a good number of shares. It's January, and you plan on using the stock to pay your April tax bill.
By putting yourself in this position, you have bet on when your stock is going to appreciate. This is a financially fatal mistake. In the stock market, you can be relatively certain of what will happen, but not when. You have turned your basic advantage (the luxury of holding permanently and ignoring market quotations), into a disadvantage.
Consider the following: If you had purchased shares of great companies such as Coca-Cola, Berkshire Hathaway, Gillette and Washington Post at a decent price in 1987 yet had to sell the stock sometime later in the year, you would have been devastated by the crash that occurred in October. Your investment analysis may have been absolutely correct but because you imposed a time limit, you opened yourself up to a tremendous amount of risk.
Being forced to sell your investments is really something known as liquidity risk, which is important enough I wrote a separate article about it to help you understand why it poses such a threat to your net worth.