Expect To Be Wrong

The reason I bring this up was to share with you two reactions I got when describing these recent trades and cash holdings. I had two separate conversations in July — one with a well known Trader, the other with a Fund Manager (known in the industry, but not a household name) — about our posture prior to yesterday’s drop.

The two responses were polar opposites, 180 degree apart.

The trader respected the discipline of honoring stop losses. Good traders know that opportunistic speculation is a process. Ignore any one single outcome, focus on the methodology that can consistently avoid catastrophic losses, manage risk, preserve capital. A good process can be replicated, a random spin of the wheel cannot.

The fund manager, who was having a decent year being long high vol names (at least before Wednesday), was having none of it. “Stops are for losers” is a quote I shall long remember (and email him after he blows up). Apparently, real men have the courage of their convictions.

Rather than fight our foibles, people should admit this error stream is real, and repair the errors of our ways as soon as we discover them. I have noticed over the years the difficulty some people have in cutting losses, admitting an error, and moving on. Way back in 2005, I wrote a piece advising investors that they should Expect to Be Wrong (originally published 04/05/05). I noted that “I am rather frequently — and on occasion, quite spectacularly — wrong.” However, if we expect to be wrong, then there will be no ego tied up in admitting the error, honoring the stop loss, and selling out the loser — and preserving the capital.

This is a recipe for investing disaster. We humans make 6 billion errors per day, at the very least. The biggest one is not acknowledging this simple truism.

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