A rapid and sustained sale of a large volume of securities, leading to a decline in its price

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What is a Selloff?

A selloff is the selling of a large volume of securities within a short time, causing a corresponding decline in its price. It occurs when a large number of a company’s shareholders sell due to various factors such as profit warnings, the threat of technological disruption, or fears of increased competition for the company’s main product.


When a selloff occurs, potential buyers delay making a move until the causes of the selloff have receded. Therefore, during a selloff, there tend to be many sellers of a specific stock, and only a handful of buyers are interested in buying the stock, causing a sharp decline in the stock price.

For example, when a company issues a profit warning, shareholders may become worried about the announcement and start selling off the company’s stock to a small number of interested buyers. As a result, the shareholders will continue selling until the market believes the value of the security has readjusted to its fair value or when the selling action is complete.


  • A selloff is a rapid and sustained sale of a large volume of securities, leading to a decline in its price.
  • It may be caused by various factors, such as a report of declining earnings, the threat of new technologies, natural disasters, or an increase in the price of raw materials.
  • Selloffs are generally short-lived and prices will stabilize quickly once the triggering event or news is assimilated into the market.

Understanding Selloffs

A selloff is a common scenario with bonds, stocks, and currencies. When an unexpected event occurs, such as negative news or a market rumor, such events can trigger rapid and sustained selling of the traded security. Selloffs are sometimes referred to as dumping because traders attempt to dispose of their asset holdings as fast as possible without paying regard to the declining prices.

The accelerated selling of assets beyond the daily flow of market prices is generally short-lived, and prices tend to stabilize or reverse quickly when the selling action is completed or when a market rumor is dispelled.

Selloffs follow the principle of demand and supply, where there is an excess supply of shares without an equivalent number of interested buyers. In such a case, the supply for the specific asset exceeds the demand, hence triggering a decline in the price of assets.

How Selloff Works

Selloffs reflect the concept of market psychology and can be used to explain movements in the price of securities. Greed, fear, and excitement are the key factors that explain market participants’ mood at any time during a trade.

For example, if a selloff occurs immediately after a company publishes its earnings report for the year, it means that the investors may have been overly optimistic about its performance when they purchased the stocks. Therefore, if the earnings report shows a decline in financial performance, the investors will lose confidence and dispose of their stocks in a hurry in a bid to get a return on their investment. The immediate impact of the investor’s action is a gradual fall in the market price of the stock.

On the other hand, selloffs can present an opportunity for contrarian investors to boost their asset portfolio. If the investors believe that the selloff was unjustified or an unfair reaction to a market event, they might take advantage and buy the stocks at low prices. Contrarian investors focus on going against the market sentiment, based on the belief that markets are subject to herding behavior, making them over or underpriced.

Although contrarian investing is a risky strategy, it can be rewarding in the long term when the asset price appreciates or when the cause of the selloff is reversed. For example, the bonds of strong companies and municipal governments come with a low risk of default, and if their prices decline during a sell-off, they can quickly rebound when the panic recedes.

What is a Sovereign Selloff?

When it is apparent that the government may not honor its debt obligations, key investors such as individuals, institutional investors, and banks may move out of the government-issued bonds. The government’s ability to honor its debt obligations may occur when its infrastructure spending exceeds the revenues collected in the form of taxes.

During a recession, the situation may worsen the government’s declining financial status, which may trigger the government to devalue its currency or default on its obligations. A currency devaluation makes the government-issued bonds worth less money.

If investors become aware of such plans, they will sell their bond holdings hastily in a bid to recover some of the money invested in the bonds. However, with few buyers willing to take on such high-risk investments, sellers must contend with unfavorable prices.

If the government devalues its currency, it means that the government-issued bonds will decline in value. In the case of default, bondholders will lose part of or the entire investment held in the government bonds.

More Resources

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