Posts tagged ‘Jesse Livermore’

Speculative Animal (Hamster) Spirits on the Rise

Hamster Wheel

“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.

See also: Brain Scans Show Link Between Lust for Sex and Money

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.

March 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

Momentum Investing: Riding the Wave

Riding the Momentum Wave Can Be Dangerous

Riding the Momentum Wave Can Be Dangerous

As famed trader Jesse Livermore (July 26, 1877 — November 28, 1940) stated, Prices are never too high to begin buying or too low to begin selling.”

For the most part, the momentum trading philosophy dovetails with Livermore’s mantra. The basic premise of momentum investing is to simply buy the outperforming stocks and sell (or short) the underperforming stocks. By following this rudimentary formula, investors can generate outsized returns.  AQR Capital Management and Tobias Moskowitz (consultant), professor at Chicago Booth School of Management, ascribe to this belief too. AQR just recently launched the AQR Momentum Funds:

  • AQR Momentum Fund (AMOMX – Domestic Large & Mid Cap)
  • AQR Small Cap Momentum Fund (ASMOX – Domestic Small Cap)
  • AQR International Momentum Fund (AIMOX – International Large & Mid Cap)

Professor Moskowitz Speaks on Bloomberg  (Thought I looked young?!)

As I write in my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32, I’m a big believer that successful investing requires a healthy mixture of both art and science. Too much of either will create negative outcomes. Modern finance teaches us that any profitable strategy will eventually be arbitraged away, such that any one profitable strategy will eventually stop producing profits.

A perfect example of a good strategy, gone bad is Long Term Capital Management. Robert Merton and Myron Scholes were world renowned Nobel Prize winners who single handedly brought the global financial markets to its knees in 1998 when it lost $500 million in one day and required a $3.6 billion bailout from a consortium of banks. Their mathematical models weren’t necessarily implementing momentum strategies, however this case is a good lesson in showing that even when smart people implement strategies that work for long periods of time, various factors can reverse the trend.

I wish AQR good luck with their quantitative momentum funds, but I hope they have a happier ending than Jesse Livermore. After making multiple fortunes and surviving multiple personal bankruptcies, Mr. Livermore committed suicide in 1940. In the mean time, surf’s up and the popularity of quantitative momentum funds remains alive and well.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

August 4, 2009 at 4:00 am 7 comments

Religious Pursuit of Stock Knowledge (Top 5 Books)

Feed Your Brain

Feed Your Brain

In this stress-filled society dominated with endless amounts of information, and where the masses chase instant gratification, it is difficult to find the time, energy, and focus to curl up to a good book. But in life, knowledge acquisition requires more than a quick keyboard dance on, or a fleeting skim of a Wikipedia passage. Mastering a subject requires in-depth, nuanced analysis, and books are ideal vehicles used to achieve this aim.
When it comes to the topic of equity investing, it feels as though there are an infinite number of books scattered on the investment menu. Investing in many ways is like religion – there are so many different styles to choose from, even if many of them strive for the same or similar goals. Therefore, I believe if investors are fine-tuning or shopping for an investment philosophy, it makes sense to explore a cross-section of investment styles/religions.
In my view, successful equity investing integrates a balanced mix of “art” and “science.” Too much emphasis on either aspect can be detrimental to investors’ financial health. Although understanding the science takes time, training and patience, generally a committed student can learn the nuts and bolts of investing by mastering the key financial equations, ratios, and concepts. However, becoming a fluent investment artist requires the adept understanding and prediction of human behavior – no easy task. 
Having logged thousands of hours and decades of years, my blood shot eyes and finance-soaked brain came up with a balanced mix of “art” and “science” in what I call my, “Top 5 Stock Book Starter Kit”:

A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel
A great foundational investment book that tackles the major internal and external factors impacting our complex financial markets.

Beating the Street by Peter Lynch
A “Hall-of-Famer” growth investor, Lynch successfully managed the Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990 and averaged a +29% annual return. This book provides countless pearls of wisdom for both the seasoned pro and the bushy-tailed novice.

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
When Warren Buffet pronounces this, “By far the best book on investing ever written,” people should pay attention. Graham is considered by many to be the father of “value” investing.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre
This book profiles the life and times of early 20th century trader Jesse Livermore, commonly believed to be the greatest trader of all-time. Livermore provides a view into the “fast money” approach that contrasts the traditional “growth” and “value” investment styles.

Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phil Fisher
A Wall Street legend that explains the key factors of superior stock returns.

There you go…upon completion, you will have officially become a stock guru!

May 27, 2009 at 3:34 am Leave a comment

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