There is a Difference Between What People Say and What They Think

For many, there is a difference between how you think you will act in certain conditions and how you actually act when the time comes. The term used to describe this condition is called empathy gap.

There are two basic scenarios in which empathy gap can impact your performance as a trader/investor:

– you don’t cut your losses when they hit your pre-established exit level. This is the single biggest reason, so many people struggle in the capital markets. One solution to the issue is to enter exit orders, immediately after you initiate an opening order (caution: it does not work with illiquid names, where market makers can easily shake you out);
– you don’t take the signals from your watchlist when they are triggered. Some stocks can really move fast after they pass their tipping point. When that happens, many traders feel like a deer in headlights and are not willing to pay the market price. They’ll put a limit order, hoping that the desired stock will come back and their order will be filled. The best stocks don’t come back. Don’t be afraid to pay the market price for proper breakouts.

In today’s information overloaded world, evidence suggests that 95 per cent of our decisions are made without rational thought. So consciously asking people how they will behave unconsciously is at best naïve and, at worst, can be disastrous for a business. (more…)


Learning to accept losses as part of the game and cutting them short is the single most important step towards becoming consistently profitable. It sounds simple, but in reality is extremely difficult for everybody. Why? Because we’ve been taught that giving up is for losers and we should fight till last breath. I certainly agree that you should not give up quickly, but only if you can influence the end result. Let me be clear, the stock doesn’t know that you own it and it doesn’t care that you cannot afford to lose the money. The market will strip your last cloth if you don’t know how to manage risk. You have to understand and accept your power. You cannot move the market. You cannot tell him where to go and how fast. This is why so many people, who are successful as entrepreneurs and engineers, have troubles breaking even in the capital markets. It takes a special kind of person. Someone, who can forget his ego and concentrate on what actually works. Very few people are able to reach that level and to distinguish their trading life from their personal life.

Trading or investing is a skill that can be learned. There are two ways to learn a new skill in general. Through the school of hard knocks and through the mentorship of others that have the gift of teaching. To become a successful trader, you need to somehow implement both approaches. Nothing can replace personal experience. You can hire the best mentors in the world to teach you and purchase the most expensive equipment and trading software, but this is not going to help you to build a new skill. Skill building is subdued to eternal physical laws. There are a hundred billion neurons in your brain. For every skill that you possess (speaking a language or driving a car), there is a certain combination of connections between some of your neurons. To build a new skill, you need to build a new net of connections. This is why every beginning is hard, this is why big changes do not happen overnight. You have to establish new connections, which takes hard work via repetition and visualization. (more…)

ECB Purchases Of Sovereign Bonds Surge Tenfold Compared To Prior Week, Hit €1.4 Billion

After dropping to a modest €134 million last week, ECB purchases of sovereign debt exploded tenfold in the last ended week to €1.384 billion, confirming that the ECB continues to bid up all Portuguese and Irish bonds available for sale, so the market does not crash. As Reuters notes, this is the highest weekly amount purchase since early July. Once again it is up to the European Fed-equivalent to be the buyer of only resort. And Europe’s continued central bank facilitated life support comes on the heels of the latest joke in recession timing: per Dow Jones, the Center for Economic Policy Research Monday said its Euro Area Business Cycle Dating Committee had determined that the currency area’s recession began in January 2008 and ended in April 2009, lasting a total of 15 months and reducing gross domestic product by 5.5%. Some recovery there, when half the PIIGS have no access to capital markets, have their Prime Ministers mocked during conference calls, and are fighting with an exchange rate last seen long before Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland had to be rescued. We wonder what the CEPR’s timing on the end of the European depression will end up being?

BP downgraded to AA from AA+ by Fitch

The first of many to come? The outlook would suggest so, after Fitch cut BP’s credit rating in response to its Deepwater spill dilemmas on Thursday — watch negative.

As Fitch’s release suggests, it’s a further headache for BP:

Fitch Ratings-London-03 June 2010: Fitch Ratings has today downgraded BP plc’s (BP) Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and senior unsecured rating to ‘AA’ from ‘AA+’, respectively, and placed the ratings on Rating Watch Negative (RWN). At the same time, Fitch has affirmed BP’s Short-term IDR at ‘F1+’. The ratings of BP Capital Markets plc’s senior unsecured issues, which are fully and unconditionally guaranteed by BP, have been downgraded to ‘AA’ from ‘AA+’ and placed on RWN. BP Capital Markets is BP’s wholly-owned indirect subsidiary.

The downgrade of BP’s ratings reflects Fitch’s opinion that risks to both BP’s business and financial profile continue to increase following the Deepwater Horizon accident in the US Gulf of Mexico. The company has so far repeatedly failed to stop the resultant oil leak and has instead reverted to containment methods that are yet to be fully implemented and are subject to potential weather related disruption. Fitch notes that the drilling of relief wells also poses risks and additional time may be required for them to be fully effective. An additional factor supporting the downgrade is the 1 June 2010 announcement by US Attorney General, Eric Holder, that both a criminal and civil investigation has opened with respect to the oil spill that could have potential negative implications for BP’s financial profile. (more…)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Futures Traders

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has been on the national best-seller lists for years–first as a hardback and then as a paperback. I wondered how its list might relate to commodity futures trading.

My interpretation of Covey’s agenda is as follows: 1) Take responsibility for yourself and your life, 2) Act in light of your vision of success in life, 3) Act with proper attention to the correct priorities, 4) Act in a way that maximizes benefits for everyone, 5) Try to understand the other person before putting your point of view across, 6) Exploit the potential for cooperation among the people in your life, 7) Pay attention to maintaining and refining your physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions.

While there does not appear to be any direct relationship between my commodity trading list and Covey’s overall life experience list, there are some definite similarities and differences. It is well known that normally successful approaches do not work in trading. Additionally, life in general requires involvement and interrelating with other people, while trading is a more solitary endeavor. Here is my list of successful habits for traders.

ONE. Understand the true realities of the markets. Understand how money is made and what is possible. The markets are what is called chaotic systems. Chaos theory is the mathematics of analyzing such non-linear, dynamic systems. According to Edgar Peters, author of Chaos and Order in The Capital Markets, mathematicians have conclusively shown the to be non-linear, dynamic systems. Among other things chaotic systems can produce results that look random, but are not. A chaotic market is not efficient, and long-term forecasting is impossible. Market price movement is highly random with a trend component. (more…)

Black Swans

Black swan is regarded as a rare, unexpected event that could bring disastrous consequences for those that don’t have a contingency plan. Can you be prepared for something that by definition is unexpected? It depends on how do you look at the world. There is a difference between the impossible and the highly improbable. The latter is possible.  The  black swan is not the same for everyone. What looks like unexpected to one, could be totally predictable for another. For the turkey Thanksgiving day is a black swan, but this is not so for the butcher.

There is a natural tendency for human beings to underestimate the odds of seemingly unlikely events. Few realize that once in a 100 years event is equally likely to happen tomorrow as it is to happen after 95 years. And if there are insufficient data to calculate the probability of a very bad outcome, as is often the case, that doesn’t mean we should assume the probability is zero and look at contingency plans as a waste of time and efforts.

There is an Irish proverb, which I have always thought that relates very well to capital markets – The obvious rarely happens, the unexpected constantly occurs. The “unthinkable”, the “unimaginable” takes place much more often than most people are willing to accept. The stock market crash of 1987 was described at the time as a 27-standard-deviation event. That implies that the odds of such an event not happening were 99.99% with 159 more 9s after it. It was unheard of kind of event, but it happened. Those who weren’t prepared, those who were over-leveraged, didn’t survive.

When it comes to objectively assessing the real risk of any investment, there is one important question to ask: What is the worst thing that could happen and how it may impact your solvency. Human beings are naturally biased and tend to look for information that only confirms an already established thesis. Not much thinking is devoted to figuring out what could go wrong and to preparation of a contingency plan of action. People are often not prepared and when something unpleasantly surprising happens they don’t know how to react. They panick and let their emotions to rule decision making, which invariably leads to losses.

A good way to minimize the impact of emotions is to go long gamma. What are some of the characteristics of getting long premium:

– more precise risk control

When long or short equity, you don’t have full control of your potential losses. Stops are not very helpful when your position gaps against you or during sudden evaporation of liquidity. If you are long gamma, you know the exact amount of the potential maximum loss – the whole premium. Armed with that knowledge, position sizing becomes easy.

– more precise time management

You know exactly how much time you have  in order to be right. If your thesis happens to remain wrong until options expiration, your position is automatically wiped and you start clean all over again. Many investors realize in hindsight that they were right on their analysis, but wrong in their timing as the market was not ready to accept their  thesis. Being long premium takes away the whole aspect of having to worry about precise risk management. It is like paying for someone else to be your risk manager. You have an investment thesis and you want to go long GLD for the next 12 months. Going long gamma is the perfect way to do it. You pay a small amount to see if your thesis is right. Even if the option goes down a lot in the beginning to the point that it is worthless, you will still own it and you never know what might happen. Adverse market moves and emotions won’t shake you out of your position, because you already have a plan for the worst possible outcome – you will lose the paid premium.

– overpaying for premium, but still able to make money

You have to realize that in most of the time you will overpay for options. If you did proper due diligence that should not bother you as the move in the underlying asset will more than compensate the wasting effect of time and volatility. Especially when you move past one month options. There is a tendency to believe that people overpay for options because the research shows that IV is higher than realized volatility. That has to be the case for the seller to be willing to take the risk and to write you an option – he’s got to make some money. The difference is, he’s going to delta hedge and you’re not, so you are going to have to pay a little bit extra so that he gets compensated. You have to realize in advance, that yes you are overpaying. The seller is making his money of the delta hedge, and you are paying him a little bit by paying him more than what realized volatility is, but no one really knows in advance how big the realized volatility and the move of the underlying asset are going to be. Both the seller of the option and the buyer could make money. The profit for the seller comes from extracting the risk premia in the daily volatility and for the buyer it comes from the fact that most underlying assets tend to exhibit trending behavior. (more…)

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