A lesson in Icahn-Netflix trade of when to get out

Carl Icahn, billionaire investor and chairman of Icahn Enterprises Holdings LP
Scott Eelis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Buy low and sell high: It's the oldest and most fundamental investing advice and so difficult it takes someone like Carl Icahn to do it.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the activist investor's masterful handling of his Netflix trade, a 14-month maneuver that saw the share price soar by six times from when Icahn originally declared his nearly 10 percent stake.

Icahn knew not only when to get in but when to get out. He even had to overrule his own son in making the decision to halve his stake in the online video rental company.

(Read more: John Sculley to Apple: Ignore Carl Icahn)

There's a lesson here for investors who have enjoyed riding the wave that has sent the up 22 percent in 2013 and 24 percent over the past 52 weeks, during which at least 18 of the stock market index's component companies have surged more than 100 percent.