What Is a Bag Holder in Investing?

Bag Holder Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Definition
A bag holder is an investor who has held a position in a security as its value has declined.
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A bag holder is an investor who has held a position in a security as its value has declined. Bag holders may hold the stock with the hopes that its price will eventually bounce back, or they are simply unwilling to sell for a loss.

While the concept of “bag holding” isn’t exactly new, the term has been frequently used by today’s retail investors. Let’s learn more about what exactly bag holding is and how to avoid becoming one. 

Definition and Example of a Bag Holder

A bag holder in investing is someone who holds a stock as its value declines. The term originates from the concept of being “left holding the bag,” meaning left responsible for something because others have abandoned responsibility.

Note

Bag holder is a term often used in modern investing conversation, especially as it relates to online discussions of retail investing. An investor who buys a trending or well-performing stock and then fails to sell before the price falls could be said to be a bag holder.

For an example of a bag holder, you can look to any company that once seemed like a good investment but has since plummeted in value. Take Sears, for example. It was once a popular department store, with stock that was trading above $125 for the first half of 2007.

Fast-forward to 2022, and Sears’s outlook is much bleeker. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2018, and while it didn’t go out of business, its stock has not recovered. Its stock opened at just $0.02 on the first trading day of 2022.

It’s clear that Sears’s stock price lost substantial value, and anyone still holding the stock today after buying it near its peak could be considered a bag holder.

How Does Bag Holding Work?

Bag holding occurs when an investor holds a stock as it declines in value and incurs losses rather than selling it off.

Note

Suppose that you bought 100 shares of stock in a company priced at $50 per share with the plan to hold your shares for many years. Say the value of the company’s shares then declined steadily for 10 years. If the stock does, in fact, become worthless, you would become a bag holder.

Suppose the stock has reached $10 per share, which is just 20% of the stock price when you bought it. If you sold the stock for a considerable loss, say at $10 per share or just 20% of the stock price, or if the stock’s price rebounded, you would not be considered a bag holder. 

The prospect of becoming a bag holder may be more likely for a value investor, meaning someone who seeks out stocks they believe are underpriced. Value investors buy companies that may not be performing well in the market, but that they believe will rebound in value. And while this type of investing can often pay off, that’s not always the case. Instead, it may simply be the case that your projections were wrong, and the stock price slowly falls.

Bag Holding vs. Volatility

It’s important to make the distinction between bag holding and simply experiencing everyday stock market volatility. When someone is a bag holder, they’ve held a stock far longer than they probably should have, and it’s drastically declined in value in that time. 

Note

Bag holding is more common with value investors than with growth investors. Value investors buy companies they believe are underperforming and then hold them for the long-term under the expectation they’ll bounce back.

Not everyone who sees their stock holdings lose value would be considered a bag holder. Consider someone who bought Tesla stock in November when the price reached its peak of $1,229.91. Just over a month later, the stock price fell to $899.94, meaning it lost more than a quarter of its value.

And while Tesla investors did see their shares decline in value, this was more an example of the type of volatility that’s completely normal in the stock market, not bag holding. After all, by early 2022, Tesla’s stock rebounded to trade at more than $1,000 per share once again.

What It Means for Individual Investors

One of the risks of investing in the stock market is the risk that a company’s shares will decline in value, or even become worthless. No one can truly predict the future and say with certainty which companies will succeed and which will fail.

Note

One way to avoid becoming a bag holder is to check in on your investments regularly and have a strategy for when to sell. If you’ve held a stock for a long period and its price has only gone down, it might be time to consider whether you should sell.

Perhaps one reason why investors end up “holding the bag” is that one piece of common investment advice is to buy low and sell high. However, that advice refers more to day-to-day stock market volatility than it does to failing companies. After all, selling at a loss is better than holding a stock until it becomes worthless.

Key Takeaways

  • A bag holder is an investor who holds a stock as it declines in value or becomes worthless.
  • The term bag holder has become popular jargon with retail investors.
  • Bag holding is different from holding a stock through normal day-to-day stock market volatility.
  • Investors can avoid becoming bag holders by checking in on their portfolios and investigating stocks that have declined over time without recovering.
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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cambridge English Dictionary. “Be Left Holding the Bag.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022. 

  2. Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies. “Chapter 3: Recognizing the Risks of Cryptocurrency.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022. 

  3. Yahoo Finance. “Sears Holdings Corporation (SHLDQ) Stock Historical Prices & Data.” Chart. Accessed Feb. 11, 2022.

  4. Nasdaq. “Sears Holdings Corp (SHLDQ) Historical Data.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022. 

  5. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Sears Holdings Corp 2020 Current Report 8-K.” Accessed Feb. 11. 2022. 

  6. Fidelity. “Growth Versus Value Investing.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022. 

  7. Nasdaq. “How Not to Be a Bag Holder.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022. 

  8. Yahoo Finance. “TSLA Interactive Stock Chart.” Accessed Feb. 11, 2022.

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