Learn To Love Uncertainty

It is often said that markets hate uncertainty and it is true. We do live and trade in uncertain times. But, as traders and investors, we must all learn to love and appreciate uncertainty. With uncertainty, also brings opportunity. Understanding this concept is so very important and learning how to profit from uncertainty consistently is going to make a critical difference between your success and failure.

Traders learn through experience the importance of examining and evaluating the markets through placing percentages on various future market scenarios. For example, at the hedge fund I worked at last week, every morning traders assemble for a 30 minute premarket meeting where everyone at the firm works closely together to outline the various potential scenarios for the market that day and then place specific odds on what they think is most likely to occur and why. One trader every day is in charge of diagramming out the different market scenarios on a whiteboard which resembles a flow chart so that the firm has a structured and easy to follow game plan. That game plan is also copied and stored so that the firm can later review it to learn and prepare in future days. In fact, at the end of every trading day they have another meeting to review the game plan and what went right and wrong and why.

By having the plan in place with various market scenarios outlined and positions to profit from those scenarios, uncertainty is no longer a factor. In fact, traders learn to love uncertainty because uncertain market conditions tend to favor those who are the most prepared to handle anything and everything Mr. Market could throw their way.

When the market does something outside of that original plan (it doesn’t happen as often as you might think), there is always a Plan B, Plan C, and so on with a number of preconfigured trading ideas to profit if the market moved in a specific manner different than the most likely scenario. By having this planned structure in place, everyone can then focus on price action and trading setups as they occur instead of flying by the seat of their pants or, even worse, finding themselves held hostage or paralyzed by the ticker.

I had the distinct privilege of looking through the archive of firm’s game plans for the past year and was amazed by how well the firm positioned itself according to the plan AND more importantly how it handled itself when the market did something unusual. In fact, just reviewing past game plans would be incredibly useful as a teaching mechanism for new traders who have little understanding of how the pros plan their work and work their plan. If you’re like me, you’ll begin to respect the other side of the trade much more than you probably do already.

As you might imagine, the process of formulating a game plan based on setting percentage odds for various scenarios was very interesting and useful for me to watch and participate in. It also stressed how important it is to have a plan, but at the same time be flexible enough to adjust as market conditions change. I usually spend at least an hour of prep time before every trading day, but after last week’s experience I will be doing more prep than before. That’s how important I think this kind of exercise can be!

So, the question becomes, are you adequately prepared every trading day? In working with many traders over the years, most are not as prepared as I saw with my very own eyes last week. In fact, given the firm’s results compared with other traders I know, I have good reason to think that kind of high-level preparation frequently can separate the winners from the losers.

Yes, it is true that we call can get lucky (every trade in theory has a 50% chance of working out, correct?), but over time the market will remove that luck factor and your success will be determined primarily on consistency and how you plan and deal with uncertainty in the markets. If you spend time every morning engaged in developing your own plan, I think you’re bound to see steady and significant improvement. As Sun Tzu once said, “every battle is won before it is ever fought” and that’s true for those who engage in doing battle with the market in such uncertain times.

Managing Risk

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know thousands of market participants. Some are long-term investors others are scalping pennies per trade on thousands of shares while others manage millions of other people’s money. The interesting theme I picked up on with nearly every one of them is that they each experienced panic and uncertainty at certain times in the market. Oftentimes, this panic stems from the inability to make sense of the market, to gain control of market participation. Thoughts such as whether or not too much capital is at work or perhaps not enough or even whether or not to be in the market at all seemed to consume them.

This ambivalence can consume and debilitate even the best market participants. The uncertainty or self-doubt about market participation is common yet finding a solution is not. The greater the level of uncertainty felt the higher the odds are that risk is being misperceived. Here are some questions that I’ve asked to assess whether risk was real or perceived:

  • What are your reactions, both physical and emotional, to a losing trade? A winning trade?
  • Have you rationalized recent losses?
  • Has your out-of-market homework/research fallen behind?
  • Do you monitor your positions by dollars or percentages?
  • Have you ever not taken a trade that made sense simply because you were burned before?
  • Has the number of indicators you use to enter/manage/exit a position increased/decreased lately?
  • Do you know the Beta of your portfolio?
  • What would others say about you when asked about your risk management?

In a sense, managing risk involves managing the emotional side of trading so that the focus can be on the cognitive side of trading. As an example, if I’m concerned with the direction of the market because my traditional analysis methods are giving unclear signals then it probably doesn’t make much sense for me to participate. My biases will impact the data, whether it’s of a technical or fundamental nature, and lead to poor decisions. If I’m unable to clearly define what sectors are leading and which are lagging and, more importantly, why they are moving in the direction they are, then my risk is skewed. It’s times like these that large losses can accrue as objectivity is clouded by subjectivity.

I’ve always used sleep as a gauge to help me know if I’m in-line with real risk. If I’m able to sleep at night and wake up excited to participate in the market then I know that the odds are good I’m managing my risk. If I’m unable to get a good night’s sleep and lay awake wondering about positions I have on the odds are good that my risk management is off. Yea, I’m pretty simple.


In Trading, the STATISTICS show that smarts, experience, etc. are not the differentiating factor.
The BEST (most successful guys I know and work with) have winning %’s of less than 50%.. actually, the average is between 45-55% but the point is, basically, winning percentages don’t matter – so they might as well be a random event.

 So, what does make a difference?  

  • CONVICTION in ideas
  • GETTING BIG IN TRADES you believe in

 These are many of the factors that allow some people to become monster traders over time. It’s not my opinion, just my observations. 

Characteristic of losing trader

Losing traders spend a great deal of time forecasting where the market will be tomorrow. Winning traders spend most of their time thinking about how traders will react to what the market is doing now, and they plan their strategy accordingly.


Success of a trade is much more likely to occur if a trader can predict what type of crowd reaction a particular market event will incur. Being able to respond to irrational buying or selling with a rational and well thought out plan of attack will always increase your probability of success. It can also be concluded that being a successful trader is easier than being a successful analyst since analysts must in effect forecast ultimate outcome and project ultimate profit. If one were to ask a successful trader where he thought a particular market was going to be tomorrow, the most likely response would be a shrug of the shoulders and a simple comment that he would follow the market wherever it wanted to go. By the time we have reached the end of our observations and conclusions, what may have seemed like a rather inane response may be reconsidered as a very prescient view of the market.

Losing traders focus on winning trades and high percentages of winners. Winning traders focus on losing trades, solid returns and good risk to reward ratios.


The observation implies that it is much more important to focus on overall risk versus overall profit, rather than “wins” or “losses”. The successful trader focuses on possible money gained versus possible money lost, and cares little about the mental highs and lows associated with being “right” or “wrong”.

Ten Laws of Technical Trading

1. Map the Trends

Study long-term charts. Begin a chart analysis with monthly and weekly charts spanning several years. A larger scale map of the market provides more visibility and a better long-term perspective on a market. Once the long-term has been established, then consult daily and intra-day charts. A short-term market view alone can often be deceptive. Even if you only trade the very short term, you will do better if you’re trading in the same direction as the intermediate and longer term trends.

2. Spot the Trend and Go With It

Determine the trend and follow it. Market trends come in many sizes – long-term, intermediate-term and short-term. First, determine which one you’re going to trade and use the appropriate chart. Make sure you trade in the direction of that trend. Buy dips if the trend is up. Sell rallies if the trend is down. If you’re trading the intermediate trend, use daily and weekly charts. If you’re day trading, use daily and intra-day charts. But in each case, let the longer range chart determine the trend, and then use the shorter term chart for timing.

3. Find the Low and High of It

Find support and resistance levels. The best place to buy a market is near support levels. That support is usually a previous reaction low. The best place to sell a market is near resistance levels. Resistance is usually a previous peak. After a resistance peak has been broken, it will usually provide support on subsequent pullbacks. In other words, the old “high” becomes the new low. In the same way, when a support level has been broken, it will usually produce selling on subsequent rallies – the old “low” can become the new “high.”

4. Know How Far to Backtrack

Measure percentage retracements. Market corrections up or down usually retrace a significant portion of the previous trend. You can measure the corrections in an existing trend in simple percentages. A fifty percent retracement of a prior trend is most common. A minimum retracement is usually one-third of the prior trend. The maximum retracement is usually two-thirds. Fibonacci retracements of 38% and 62% are also worth watching. During a pullback in an uptrend, therefore, initial buy points are in the 33-38% retracement area.

5. Draw the Line

Draw trend lines. Trend lines are one of the simplest and most effective charting tools. All you need is a straight edge and two points on the chart. Up trend lines are drawn along two successive lows. Down trend lines are drawn along two successive peaks. Prices will often pull back to trend lines before resuming their trend. The breaking of trend lines usually signals a change in trend. A valid trend line should be touched at least three times. The longer a trend line has been in effect, and the more times it has been tested, the more important it becomes. (more…)

Day Trading & Poker

PokerandtradingI learned how to play poker at a very young age.  You don’t just play every hand and stay through every card, because if you do, you will have a much higher probability of losing. You should play the good hands, and drop out of the poor hands, forfeiting the ante. When more of the cards are on the table and you have a very strong hand — in other words, when you feel the percentages are skewed in your favor — you raise and play that hand to the hilt.If you apply the same principles of poker strategy to trading, it increases your odds of winning significantly.
I have always tried to keep the concept of patience in mind by waiting for the right trade, just like you wait for the percentage hand in poker. If a trade doesn’t look right, you get out and take a small loss; it’s precisely equivalent to forfeiting the ante by dropping out of a poor hand in poker. On the other hand, when the percentages seem to be strongly in your favor, you should be aggressive and really try to leverage the trade similar to the way you raise on the good hands in poker.

Trading Quotes

The tape tells the truth, but often there is a lie buried in the human interpretation
Jesse Livermore
 Charts not only tell what was, they tell what is; and a trend from was to is (projected linearly into the will be) contains better percentages than clumsy guessing
R. A. Levy
The biggest risk in trading is missing major opportunities, most of enormous gains on my accounts came from 5% of trades.
Richard Dennis
 Your human nature prepares you to give up your independence under stress. when you put on a trade, you feel the desire to imitate others and overlook objective trading signals. This is why you need to develop and follow trading systems and money management rules. They represent your rational individual decisions, made before you enter a trade and become a crowd member.
A. Elder

Trading Quotes that Will Change Your Trading

“If you lack a solid trading plan and are stressed out when you trade, you’ll naturally tend to cut your profits short and hold on to losers.” – Van K Tharp
“Without a proper mental approach to trading, someone trading a “Holy Grail” system could produce mediocre results or even large losses.” – Van K Tharp
“A peak performance trader is totally committed to being the best and doing whatever it takes to be the best. He feels totally responsible for whatever happens and thus can learn from mistakes. These people typically have a working business plan for trading because they treat trading as a business” – Van K Tharp
“Trade with an edge, manage risk, be consistent, and keep it simple. The basis of all successful trading can be summed up in these four core principles.” – Curtis Faith
“When you really believe that trading is simply a probability game, concepts like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘win’ and ‘lose’ no longer have the same significance. As a result, your expectations will be in harmony with the possibilities.” – Mark Douglas, trader & author
“Wharton taught you that 40 percent of a stock’s price movement was due to the market, 30 percent to the sector, and only 30 percent to the stock itself, which is something that I believe is true. I don’t know if the percentages are exactly correct, but conceptually the idea makes sense.” – Steve Cohen, hedge fund manager


“Traders fail for the same reason that most baby turtles fail to reach maturity: Many are called and few are chosen. Society works by the attraction of the many. As they are culled out, the good ones are left, and the others are released to go try something else until they find their calling. The same is true for other fields of pursuit.” – Ed Seykota


“Charting is a little like surfing. You don’t have to know a lot about the physics of the tides, resonance, and fluid dynamics in order to catch a good wave. You just have to be able to sense when it’s happening and then have the drive to act at the right time.” – Ed Seykota


“Win or lose, everybody gets what they want out of the market. Some people seem to like to lose, so they win by losing money.” – Ed Seykota, trader


“The markets are the same now as they were five or ten years ago because they keep changing-just like they did then.” – Ed Seykota (more…)

Trading Quotes for Traders

The tape tells the truth, but often there is a lie buried in the human interpretation
~~Jesse Livermore~~

 Your human nature prepares you to give up your independence under stress. when you put on a trade, you feel the desire to imitate others and overlook objective trading signals. This is why you need to develop and follow trading systems and money management rules. They represent your rational individual decisions, made before you enter a trade and become a crowd member.
~~A. Elder~~

 Charts not only tell what was, they tell what is; and a trend from was to is (projected linearly into the will be) contains better percentages than clumsy guessing
~~R. A. Levy~~ 

The biggest risk in trading is missing major opportunities, most of enormous gains on my accounts came from 5% of trades.
~~Richard Dennis~~

Take every gain without showing remorse about missed profits, because an eel may escape sooner than you think
~~Joseph de la Vega~~

Losing is part of trading. The best traders don’t get perturbed by losing trades, since over the long run they know they will be successful more often than not. When you are afraid of losing, you end up losing or missing opportunities because you are afraid to trade.
~~Trading to Win, Ari Kiev~~

In trading, the vast market consists of neophytes who are looking for magical answers to make lots of money quickly and with little risk. They want specific ideas. They want to be told exactly what to do. Those looking for such things will not find them. They will not be successful as long as they continue to favor the easy over the
~~Curtis Faith ~~ 

The difficulty in trading lies not in the concepts but in the application.
Curtis M. Faith

Thoughts from Legendary Investors

On Waiting…..

Wait for the fat pitch. – Warren Buffett: comparing investing to a baseball game where you can wait endlessly for the perfect pitch before you swing.

I only go to work on the days that make sense to go to work…And I really do something on that day. But you go to work and you do something every day and you don’t realize when it’s a special day. – George Soros talking to Byron Wien

His first conclusion was that he won when all the factors were in his favor, when he was patient and waited for all the ducks to line up in a row. – from Jesse Livermore, Worlds Greatest Stock Trader

Profits can be made safely only when the opportunity is available and not just because they happen to be desired or needed. …Willingness and ability to hold funds uninvested while awaiting real opportunities is a key to success in the battle for investment survival.- Gerald Loeb

You make money on wall street by being very selective and being patient, waiting for those opportunities that are irresistible, where the percentages are very heavily in your favor.- Seth Glickenhaus

Unless, however, we see a very high probability of at least 10 percent pretax returns (which translate to 6 percent to 7 percent after corporate tax), we will sit on the sidelines. With short-term money returning less than 1 percent after-tax, sitting it out is no fun. But occasionally successful investing requires inactivity.- Warren Buffett

Many equity investors feel compelled to remain 100% invested in equities at all times. Bond investors are often similarly constrained.  We strongly believe that this mentality leads to pursuit of relative rather than absolute investment returns, a direction we certainly want to avoid…A smaller pool of funds seeking to avoid meaningful declines in market value at every point in time and seeking more aggressive return objectives cannot afford to be fully invested in the absence of attractive opportunities. – Seth Klarman

On Mistakes….

…if anything, I make as many mistakes as the next guy. But where I do think that I excel is in recognizing my mistakes, you see. And that is the secret to my success. The key insight that I have reached is recognition of the inherent fallibility of human thought. –George Soros

The only way you get a real education in the market is to invest cash, track your trade, and study your mistakes! – Jesse Livermore

On Psychology… (more…)

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