The question at once asks itself: “How may the top of the market be discerned, and the dangers of the eleventh hour be avoided?” The answer is more or less complex.
It is, of course, necessary above all things to revert to the estimated and fixed value of the stocks traded in and to find out how much above this normal point the securities are selling. This done, common sense, plus prudence, and minus piggishness, may determine the question and dictate the time for liquidation. This action, however, once decided upon must be adhered to with great rigidity, for thousands of traders who thus take time by the forelock have been dissatisfied afterwards by seeing a still greater advance in which they had no interests, and through greed and impatience have re-entered the lists at a most inopportune time.
The trader who realizes his profits, and sees a further advance following his own withdrawal from the market, may console himself with the fact that he has made and secured a profit; that trying to guess the exact extreme of a cycle is hazardous, and that the advance which followed his withdrawal is unsound, being founded on speculation rather than valuation.
But this is a digression from the technical phase of the matter. So far as it is possible to judge the culmination of the speculative campaign by extraneous appearances, it may be said that a long period of backing and filling, a swinging back and forth of prices at the approximate high level marks the beginning of the end.
The definition of the “top” of the market is that point at which the great traders have almost in unison decided to unload, and per contra, the public has reached its highest level of enthusiasm. At the beginning of this period the insiders possess and enormous aggregate of stocks which must be sold in such a manner as not to break the market. This operation will take weeks, or even months to accomplish, as any precipitate selling would be disastrous. The wise element, therefore, sells all the market will absorb without any severe decline, and ceases selling, or even takes the buying side at the first sign of any “softness.” In short, they do all they can to maintain a good feeling and high prices, at the same time parting with the securities as rapidly as possible.
This statement may convey the impression that the shrewd speculators act in unison. This is true, but not necessarily in the sense that there is any preconceived arrangement between them. The unison or more or less unconscious, and is founded on the fact that there are only two sides to the market, the right and the wrong side, and that those of the speculative world who have sufficient wisdom and experience to know what is right are working to the same end, while all the inexperienced or unthinking horde are working on theories diametrically opposed to reason or even probability.