Posts tagged ‘day trading’
“Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it.” -Warren Buffett
We’ve had some choppy markets and that’s fine by me. Great investors love uncertainty because volatility equates to opportunity. Selling or shorting into volatile euphoria and buying into panic is a time-tested, wealth creating strategy. On the other hand, when everything is consistently moving in one direction, either upwards or downwards, investing can be an easy and straight forward momentum game. Buy something and watch it go up…short something and watch it go down.
In tough, choppy, trendless markets, identifying trends by active traders becomes more challenging. During tricky markets like we’re in now is when the wheat gets separated from the chaff. Day traders and speculators act on a zig one day and are forced to zag the next. Because of the volatile, whippy market dynamics, this type of active trading by individuals rapidly destroys portfolios, not only because of the transaction costs and taxes, but also due to impact costs and spread losses (i.e., bid-ask).
Often, the greater losses come from the behavioral aspects of active trading. Performance chasing and/or the pursuit of overzealous loss mitigation frequently are driven by the destructively entrenched emotions of fear and greed. In the past, I can’t tell you how many times I have rushed into a highflying stock, only to see it pull back down -15-20%, in short order. On the flip side, how often have stocks bounced significantly, after I’ve made a panicked sale? Too many, unfortunately. Most investors don’t take to heart the fact that whenever you initiate a trade, you need to be right twice to optimize your profits. In other words, the security you initially sell needs to go lower (i.e., you should have kept the original investment), AND the security you subsequently buy needs to go higher (i.e., you shouldn’t have purchased the new investment in the first place).
Even in the cases in which the balance of the buy/sale trades becomes a wash, the trading costs and taxes will eat the active trader alive. Unfortunately, the other outcome of losing on both sides of the trade (the purchase goes lower and sale goes higher) is all too common. For example, the purchase you falls by -3%, and the investment you sold climbs +10%. Doing nothing would have been the best outcome!
All this investment tail-chasing inevitably results in a lot of portfolio bloodletting. There is plenty of academic research that shows practically all day traders lose money. Terrance Odean from Cal-Berkeley used 14 years of day trader data to conclude that more than 98% of day traders lose money. Even for those traders able to make a profit in the short run, usually the success doesn’t last very long:
- 40% of day traders quit within a month
- 87% of traders quit within 3 years
- 93% of traders quit within 5 years
Other sources besides Odean show the percentage of day trading losers as greater than 95%, and if you don’t trust the academic data, then simply ask your accountant what percentage of his/her active trading clients make a profit, after considering all taxes and trading costs.
While I may not necessarily fully rejoice in the pain and carnage of day traders, I am always thankful for these choppy markets. Without volatility, anybody can make money in upward trending markets (e.g., day traders did better in the mo-mo 1990s), but in those markets long-term opportunities become sparse. Without the transitory headlines of tightening Federal Reserve policy, negative interest rates, a strong dollar, and political dysfunction, I would not have a professional investing job. And for that blessing, I want to sincerely say, “Thank you volatility.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
By several measures, this economic recovery has been the slowest, most-challenging expansion since World War II. Offsetting the painfully slow recovery has been a massive bull market in stocks, now hovering near all-time record highs, after about tripling in value since early 2009. Unfortunately, many investors have missed the boat (see Markets Soar – Investors Snore and Gallup Survey) with stock ownership near a 15-year low.
But it’s not too late for the “sideliners” to get in…is it? (see Get out of Stocks!*). Milfred and Buford are asking themselves that same question (see Investor Wake-Up Call). Milfred and Buford are like many other individuals searching for the American Dream and are looking for ways to pad their retirement nest egg. The seasoned couple has been around the block a few times and are somewhat familiar with one get-rich-quick strategy…day trading stocks. Thankfully, they learned that day trading stocks didn’t work out too well once the technology boom music ended in the late 1990s. Here’s what the SEC has to say about day trading on their government site:
Be prepared to suffer severe financial losses. Day traders typically suffer severe financial losses in their first months of trading, and many never graduate to profit-making status. Given these outcomes, it’s clear: day traders should only risk money they can afford to lose. They should never use money they will need for daily living expenses, retirement, take out a second mortgage, or use their student loan money for day trading.
Milfred & Buford Day Trade House
Milfred: “Now, Buford, I know we lost of our IRA retirement money day trading tech stocks, but if technical analysis works and all the financial news shows and talking babies on TV say it will make us a lot of cabbage, maybe we should try day trading our house?”
Buford: “Now I know why I married you 60 years ago – it’s that brilliant mind of yours that complements that sexy figure!”
Veteran readers of Investing Caffeine know I’ve been a skeptic of technical analysis (see Technical Analysis: Astrology or Lob Wedge), but a successful investor has to be open to new ideas, correct? So, if technical analysis works for stocks, then why not for houses? The recovery in housing prices hasn’t been nearly as robust as we’ve seen in stocks, so perhaps there’s more upside in housing. If I can get free stock charting technicals from my brokerage firm or online, there’s no reason I couldn’t access free charting technicals from Zillow (or Trulia) to make my fortunes. Case in point, I think I see a double-bottom and reverse head-and-shoulders pattern on the home price chart of Kim Kardashian’s house:
Of course, day trading isn’t solely dependent on random chart part patterns. Pundits, bloggers, and brokerage firms would also have you believe instant profits are attainable by trading based on the flow of news headlines. This is how Milfred and Buford would make their millions:
Milfred: “Snookums, it’s time for you to pack up all our stuff.”
Buford: “Huh? What are you talking about honey buns?”
Milfred: “Didn’t you see?! The University of Michigan consumer confidence index fell to a level of 81.3 vs. Wall street estimates of 83.0, bringing this measure to a new 4-month low.”
Buford: “I can’t believe I missed that. Nice catch ‘hun’. I’ll start packing, but where will we stay after we sell the house?”
Milfred: “We can hang out at the Motel 6, but it shouldn’t be long. I’m expecting the Philly Fed Manufacturing index to come in above 23 and I also expect a cease fire in Ukraine and Gaza. We can buy a new house then.”
I obviously frame this example very tongue-in-cheek, but buying and selling a house based on squiggly lines and ever-changing news headlines is as ridiculous as it sounds for trading stocks. The basis for any asset purchase or sale should be primarily based on the cash flow dynamics (e.g., rent, dividends, interest, etc., if there are any) of the asset, coupled with the appreciation/depreciation expectations based on a rigorous long-term analysis.
When Day Trading Works
Obviously there are some differences between real estate and stocks (see Stocks & Real Estate), including the practical utility of real estate and other subjective factors (i.e., proximity to family, schools, restaurants, beach, crime rates, etc.). Real estate is also a relatively illiquid and expensive asset to buy or sell compared to stocks. – However, that dynamic is rapidly changing. Like we witness in stocks, technology and the internet is making real estate cheaper and easier to match buyers and sellers.
Does day trading a stock ever work? Sure, even after excluding the factor of luck, having a fundamental information advantage can lead to immediate profits, but one must be careful how they capture the information. Raj Rajaratnam used this strategy but suffered the consequences of his insider trading conviction. Furthermore, the information advantage game can be expensive, as proven by Steven Cohen’s agreement to pay $1.2 billion to settle criminal charges. While I remain a day trading and technical analysis skeptic, I have noted a few instances when I use it.
Whatever your views are on the topics of day trading and technical analysis, do Milfred and Buford a favor by leading by example…invest for the long-term.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Z, TRLA, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
– Vince Lombardi
And one thing is for sure…day traders have a habit of losing. Like a hamster on a spinning wheel, day traders use a lot of energy in creating loads of activity, but end up getting nowhere in the process. This subject is important because the animal (hamster) spirits are on the rise as evidenced by the 22% and 17% increase in average client trades per day reported last month by TD Ameritrade (TD) and Charles Schwab (SCHW), respectively.
The statistics speak for themselves, and the numbers are not pretty. An often cited study by Terrence Odeon (U.C. Berkely) and Brad Barber (U.C. Davis) showed that 80% of active traders lose money. The duo came to this conclusion over six years of research by studying 66,465 accounts. More importantly, they “found that if you were to look at the past performance of these traders, only 1 percent of them could be called predictably profitable.” Uggh!
How can this horrendous performance be? Especially when we are continually bombarded with the endless commercials of talking babies and perpetual software bells & whistles that shamelessly promote and pledge a simple path to prosperity. The answer to why active trading fails for the overwhelming masses is the following:
- Taxes/Capital Gains
- Transactions costs/commissions
- Research costs/software
- Lack of institutional advantages (speed, beneficial rates, I.T./automation, execution, etc.)
- Impact costs (buying handicaps returns by pushing purchase prices higher, and selling handicaps returns by pushing sale prices lower)
- Absence from participation in long-term upward drift in equity prices
After considering the horrible odds stacked against the active trader, the atrocious results are not surprising.
The Blemished Investing Brain
So far, we’ve discussed the mechanics behind the money-losing results of active trading, but the underlying reasons can be further explained by the three-pound, 100,000,000,000 amalgamation of cells located between our ears. Evolution has formed our brains to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and trading stocks can create a rush like no other activity. Similar to the orgasmic emotions triggered by making a quick buck at the blackjack table in Las Vegas or scratching off a winning number on a lottery ticket, buying and selling stocks creates comparable effects.
Through the use of high-powered, multi-million imaging technology (i.e., functional-MRI), Brian Knutson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Stanford University discovered that active trading for money impacts the brain in a similar fashion as do sex and drugs. The data is pretty compelling because you can see the pleasure center images of the brain light up dynamically in real time.
To put the results of his human trading experiments in context, Knutson noted:
“We very quickly found out that nothing had an effect on people like money — not naked bodies, not corpses. It got people riled up. Like food provides motivation for dogs, money provides it for people.”
Brokerage firms and casinos have figured out the greed-seeking weakness in human brains and exploited this vulnerability to the maximum. By rigging the system in their favor, mega-billion dollar financial institutions and gaming empires continue to sprawl around the globe.
The emotional high experienced by day traders is one explanation for the excessive trading, but there is another contributing factor. The inherent human cognitive bias that behavioral finance academics call overconfidence (or illusory superiority) helps fuel the destructive behavior. Surveys that ask people if they are above-average drivers highlight the overconfidence phenomenon by showing the mathematical impossibility of having 93% of a population as above-average drivers. Similarly, a study of Stanford MBA students showed 87% of the respondents rating their academic performance above median.
Even, arguably the greatest trader of all-time, Jesse Livermore realized the negative impacts of emotions and active trading when he said, “It was never my thinking that made big money for me. It always was my sitting.” As I’ve written in the past, active trading is hazardous to your long-term wealth. Rather than succumbing to the endless pitfalls of day trading and getting nowhere like a hamster on a spinning wheel, it’s better to use a long-term, objective and unemotional investing process to achieve investment success.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in TD, SCHW, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
It’s a sad day indeed in our history when the architect of the Twinkies masterpiece cream-filled sponge cakes (Hostess Brands) has been forced to close operations and begin bankruptcy liquidation proceedings. Food snobs may question the nutritional value of the artery-clogging delights, but there is no mistaking the instant pleasure provided to millions of stomachs over the 80+ years of the Twinkies dynasty. Most consumers understand that a healthy version of an organic Twinkie will not be found on the shelves of a local Whole Foods Market (WFM) store anytime soon. The reason people choose to consume these 150-calorie packages of baker bliss is due to the short-term ingestion joy, not the vitamin content (see Nutritional Facts below). Most people agree the sugar high gained from devouring half a box of Twinkies outweighs the long-term nourishing benefits reaped by eating a steamed serving of alfalfa sprouts.
Much like dieting, investing involves the trade-offs between short-term impulses and long-term choices. Unfortunately, the majority of investors choose to react to and consume short-term news stories, very much like the impulse Twinkie gorging, rather than objectively deciphering durable trends that can lead to outsized gains. Day trading and speculating on the headline du jour are often more exciting than investing, but these emotional decisions usually end up being costlier to investors over the long-run. Politically, we face the same challenges as Washington weighs the simple, short-term decisions of kicking the fiscal debt and deficits down the road, versus facing the more demanding, long-term path of dealing with these challenges.
With controversial subjects like the fiscal cliff, entitlement reform, taxation, defense spending, and gay marriage blasting over our airwaves and blanketing newspapers, no wonder individuals are defaulting to reactionary moves. As you can see from the chart below, the desire for a knee jerk investment response has only increased over the last 70 years. The average holding period for equity mutual funds has gone from about 5 years (20% turnover) in the mid 1960s to significantly less than 1 year (> 100% turnover) in the recent decade. Advancements in technology have lowered the damaging costs of transacting, but the increased frequency, coupled with other costs (impact, spread, emotional, etc.), have been shown to be detrimental over time, according to John Bogle at the Vanguard Group.
During volatile periods, like this post-election period, it is always helpful to turn to the advice of sage investors, who have successfully managed through all types of unpredictable periods. Rather than listening to the talking heads on TV and radio, or reading the headline of the day, investors would be better served by following the advice of great long-term investors like these:
“In the short run the market is a voting machine. In the long run it’s a weighing machine.” -Benjamin Graham (Famed value investor)
“Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” -Jack Gray (Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo)
“The stock market serves as a relocation center at which money is moved from the active to the patient.” – Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway)
“It was never my thinking that made big money for me. It always was my sitting.” – Jesse Livermore (Famed trader)
“The farther you can lengthen your time horizon in the investment process, the better off you will be.”- David Nelson (Legg Mason)
“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.” T. Rowe Price (Famed Growth Investor)
“Time arbitrage just means exploiting the fact that most investors…tend to have very short-term time horizons.” -Bill Miller (Famed value investor)
“Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.” -Don Hays (Hays Advisory – Investor/Strategist)
A legendary growth investor who had a major impact on how I shaped my investment philosophy is Peter Lynch. Mr. Lynch averaged a +29% return per year from 1977-1990. If you would have invested $10,000 in his Magellan fund on the first day he took the helm, you would have earned $280,000 by the day he retired 13 years later. Here’s what he has to say on the topic of long-term investing:
“Your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”
“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
“My best stocks performed in the 3rd year, 4th year, 5th year, not in the 3rd week or 4th week.”
“The key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.”
“Worrying about the stock market 14 minutes per year is 12 minutes too many.”
It is important to remember that we have been through wars, assassinations, banking crises, currency crises, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease, swine flu, recessions, and more. Through it all, our country and financial markets most have managed to survive in decent shape. Hostess and its iconic Twinkies brand may be gone for now, but removing these indulgent impulse items from your diet may be as beneficial as eliminating detrimental short-term investing urges.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in WFM, BRKA/B, LM, TROW or any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.