Fancy schmanzy or just plain Vanilla?

There’s expenditure and there’s expenditure.

Meaning?

Let’s say you start some work. It can be market-related, for all I care. What do you do first?

Prep.

How do you prep?

Studying up. As long as I can manage.

And then?

Courses, workshops, the deal.

Local?

Naehhh. I try to keep it national though.

International?

Haven’t required it till now for market work.

Ok. What happens next?

I hit the market concerned. Low-key at first. 

Why?

That’s when you make the most mistakes. That’s why. 

I see. Motive?

I want to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.

Rather than from an instructor?

Of course. This is the market, remember. This is about you. Not about the instructor. This is about knowing your own shortcomings related to a particular market, and about adjusting and fine-tuning yourself to the market to trade it optimally. This is about fitting the market concerned in a tailor-made fashion into your own life without disrupting your own life. 

Wow! Well, then, congratulations. You’re a prime candidate for doing it the plain vanilla way. 

Is there any other way to do it?

Oh, there’s the fancy schmanzy one. 

Kindly describe it. 

Well, it mostly entails unnecessary expenditure along with necessary expenditure. There’s more unnecessary expenditure though. 

I see. 

One is normally too lazy to study up. Or, one doesn’t have the get-go in oneself to approach the subject on one’s own. 

Sure, can happen. 

One flips from instructor to instructor in search of the holy grail. Expensive software, international trips, five-star hotels, the whole shebang. In the end one has spent a bomb. To end up trading the instructor’s perspective. Finally realising that the markets are about oneself, and unless one is trading one’s own perspective, one is sure to lose. Or not realising this (!) and continuing to flip instructors and instructions. Finally burning out and giving up on the markets. 

Sad though. All necessary software is available free of cost on the internet. One can do inexpensive internet courses to widen one’s horizon. These can involve one-on-one instruction too. Video-conferencing. File sharing. Threads. Assessments. The works. Live-market training. You name it. All travelling and extra expenses cut out. Few hundred dollars for the whole course. 

I already acknowledged your plain vanilla acumen. I’m just trying to tell you that most others prefer the fancy schmanzy way. 

I prefer to stay in the market and not burn out. I’m in the market to make a steady income. 

Well, that you will, my dear friend. The plain vanilla way doesn’t promise any hype, but it does promise income. 

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Can We Please Get This One Basic Thing Right?

Pop-quiz, people – how many of us know the basic difference between investing and trading?

The logical follow-up question would be – why is it so important that one is aware of this difference?

When you buy into deep value cheaply, you are investing. Your idea is to sell high, after everyone else discovers the value which you saw, and acted upon, before everyone.

When you’re not getting deep value, and you still buy – high – you are trading. Your idea is to sell even higher, to the next idiot standing, and to get out before becoming the last pig holding the red-hot scrip, which would by now have become so hot, that no one else would want to take it off you.

The above two paras need to be understood thoroughly.

Why?

So that you don’t get confused while managing a long-term portfolio. Many of us actually start trading with it. Mistake.

Also, so that you don’t start treating your trades as investments. Even bigger mistake.

You see, investing and trading both involve diametrically opposite strategies. What’s good for the goose is poison for the gander. And vice-versa.

For example, while trading, you do not average down. Period. Averaging down in a trade is like committing hara-kiri. What if the scrip goes down further? How big a notional loss will you sit upon, as a trader? Don’t ignore the mental tension being caused. The thumb rule is, that a scrip can refuse to turn in your direction longer than you can remain solvent, so if you’re leveraged, get the hell out even faster. If you’re not leveraged, still get the hell out and put the money pulled out into a new trade. Have some stamina left for the new trade. Don’t subject yourself to anguish by sitting on a huge notional loss. Just move to the next trade. Something or the other will move in your direction.

On the other hand, a seasoned investor has no problems averaging down. He or she has researched his or her scrip well, is seeing  deep-value as clearly as anything, is acting with long-term conviction, and is following a staggered buying strategy. If on the second, third or fourth buy the stock is available cheaper, the seasoned investor will feel that he or she is getting the stock at an even bigger discount, and will go for it.

Then, you invest with money you don’t need for the next two to three years. If you don’t have funds to spare for so long, you don’t invest …

… but nobody’s going to stop you from trading with funds you don’t need for the next two to three months. Of course you’re trading with a strict stop-loss with a clear-cut numerical value. Furthermore, you’ve also set your bail-out level. If your total loss exceeds a certain percentage, you’re absolutely gonna stop trading for the next two to three months, and are probably gonna get an extra part-time job to earn back the lost funds, so that your financial planning for the coming months doesn’t go awry. Yeah, while trading, you’ve got your worst-case strategies sorted out.

The investor doesn’t look at a stop-loss number. He or she is happy if he or she continues to see deep-value, or even value. When the investor fails to see value, it’s like a bail-out signal, and the investor exits. For example, Mr. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala continues to see growth-based value in Titan Industries at 42 times earnings, and Titan constitutes about 30% of his billion dollar portfolio. On the other hand, Mr. Warren Buffett could well decide to dump Goldman Sachs at 11 – 12 times earnings if he were to consider it over-valued.

Then there’s taxes.

In India, short-term capital gains tax amounts to 15%  of the profits. Losses can be carried forward for eight years, and within that time, they must be written off against profits. As a trader, if you buy stock and then sell it within one year, you must pay short term capital gains tax. Investors have it good here. Long-term capital gains tax is nil (!!). Also, all the dividends you receive are tax-free for you.

Of course we are not going to forget brokerage.

Traders are brokerage-generating dynamos. Investors hardly take a hit here.

What about the paper-work?

An active trader generates lots of paper-work, which means head-aches for the accountant. Of course the accountant must be hired and paid for, and is not going to suffer the headaches for free.

Investing involves much lesser action, and its paper-work can easily be managed on your own, without any head-aches.

Lastly, we come to frame of mind.

Sheer activity knocks the wind out of the average trader. He or she has problems enjoying other portions of life, because stamina is invariably low. Tomorrow is another trading day, and one needs to prepare for it. Mind is full of tension. Sleep is bad. These are some of the pitfalls that the trader has to iron out of his or her life. It is very possible to do so. One can trade and lead a happy family life. This status is not easy to achieve, though, and involves mental training and discipline.

The average investor who is heavily invested can barely sleep too, during a market down-turn. The mind constantly wanders towards the mayhem being inflicted upon the portfolio. An investor needs to learn to buy with margin of safety, which makes sitting possible. An investor needs to learn to sit. The investor should not be more heavily invested than his or her sleep-threshold. The investor’s portfolio should not be on the investor’s mind all day. It is ideal if the investor does not follow the market in real-time. One can be heavily invested and still lead a happy family life, even during a market down-turn, if one has bought with safety and has even saved buying power for such cheaper times. This status is not easy to achieve either. To have cash when cash is king – that’s the name of the game.

I’m not saying that investing is better than trading, or that trading is better than investing.

Discover what’s good for you.

Many do both. I certainly do both.

If you want to do both, make sure you have segregated portfolios.

Your software should be in a position to make you look at only your trading stocks, or only your investing stocks at one time, in one snapshot. You don’t even need separate holding accounts; your desktop software can sort out the segregation for you.

That’s all it takes to do both – proper segregation – on your computer and in your mind.

Finding the “Switch-Off” Button

Gadgets have a switch-off button, right?

Whatever for, have you ever wondered?

Do we have one too?

If we do, is it clearly marked, i.e. is it easy to find?

If we do, and if it isn’t clearly market, where and how can we find it?

Why is it essential to find it?

What if we don’t have a switch-off button?

First, let’s observe the Master. Sherlock Holmes. Master at the art of switching off.

Observe Holmes when the next obvious lead will take a day to obtain. Since the case is going nowhere, Holmes will take the day off. He will play his violin, trip on some coke to study its effects on mind and body (he’s Holmes), go to the art gallery, or what have you. The case at hand has gone into oblivion. Attenuated. What happens when it is time to pursue the case again? Holmes switches on. He is fresh. Alert. The switching-off really helped.

Remember the “attenuate” button on your car’s stereo?

Why do you think it is there?

So you can take that call without getting disturbed by the music. The music is still there, but upon pressing this button, it becomes really soft. So soft, that you don’t get affected by it. You conduct your business on the phone, and then press this button again, and the music comes back on in its full glory.

Same goes for the markets.

Once you are in a trade, market-forces are connected to you.

If you cannot attenuate them during off-market hours, you can ruin your evenings, nights, weekends, health and family life

Big, big price to pay.

Not worth it, so get busy and learn to attenuate the market’s connecting force once you switch your terminal off. Rest assured, it will come blaring back at you when you switch your terminal back on, but that time between terminal off and terminal on is oh so precious. That time belongs to you, and not to Mrs. Market. Don’t allow her that extra privilege. Use that time for things that you wish to do in life. Use it for your family. Mrs. M will be getting your undivided attention during the next market session anyways. Let her be content with that. Keep her in her place.

Just as any gadget needs rest, so do you.

Sometimes, the markets go nowhere, and / or are choppy. It doesn’t pay to trade. Switch off from the markets. Take a holiday. Do something else, till conditions become better for trading.

Yes, we do have a switch-off button. It is not clearly marked. It is located in the mind. One activates it indirectly. By switching on to some other relaxing activity that has the ability to grab the mind’s interest.

Switching off is a skill, and this skill needs to be developed. We don’t necessarily come with it. Most of us need to learn it. Otherwise, we’ll become tired, erratic, irritable etc. etc., scale up to commit big blunders, and then we will eventually burn out. That’s if the Street doesn’t throw us out as paupers before a looming burn-out. Also, our family lives will have gone for a toss. Our children will remember us as dreadful parents. Yes people, we need to find the switch-off button asap, and then we need to learn to activate this button at will. Essential.

And please don’t worry about not having such a button. After all, it was the human being who put such a button into all gadgets. Well, the idea must have come from somewhere. From inside our own mind, perhaps, where our own button exists?

Do You Believe in You(rself) ?

Still not hit the success button?

Suffering from an inferiority complex?

Market got you down?

Is it over for you?

Which brings us to the more important question : Do you believe in YOU?

Wrong English, I know, I know. Sometimes I misuse the language for effect. The effect is more important to me than how silly I look because of bad grammar.

Ok, so you want to succeed, make it big in the markets, blah blah blah.

Who doesn’t?

You obviously can’t last out if you don’t believe in yourself. Markets are draining, and tend to suck the living blood out of one’s body, so one needs to last. Market forces exhaust the system. It’s something about them, something electronic. This something consumes your stamina. So, no two ways, you need to last out. 20, 30, 40 years maybe…

I’m not saying it’s going to take you that long to succeed. For all I know you’re the next Jesse Livermore in a few years. Getting there is one thing, but staying there is another. Consistency. Maintaining success for many years in a row. That’s big. Something like that can be, and probably is, a trader’s lifetime goal.

It all starts with belief.

Baby steps.

First, weave a safety net around you. This involves the creation of a regular source of income to sustain your family’s basic needs. Such income needs to be independent of the market, any market. Your trading is not really begging you to earn your basic income. It can well do without that extra pressure. A comfortable slot for your trading to be in is when it can generate additional and bonus income for you. That’s the sweet-spot, and you want to be in it, with a comfortable safety net around you, free to trade the markets with no extra pressure.

Then, create a reliable system to trade the markets.

This can even take many years. I mean, some of us take seven odd years to recognize their basic risk-profile. Good, at least we are recognizing our risk-profile, because everything else is going to be built up on top of that.

As your system starts to perform, your belief in yourself gets stronger. Good going, stranger, now do humanity a favour and support others who are struggling to find themselves. In any way you can. It’s good Karma, and will help you further on your own path.

Then, you hit it big-time, your system catches some huge market swings, and you are there.

Now, other things start happening. Success brings with it its own entourage.

Remain on the ground, please. That’s how you are going to last out. Keep trading. Hitting the magic spot is not enough, you need to milk it as long as possible. Your new status of “successful” will bring many to your doorstep. The crowd wants to acquire the magic formula from you. People want your time. Deal with it, buddy. In a manner that still keeps you performing in the Zone, trade after trade. Also, in a manner that keeps you from hurting anybody’s feelings. I know, thin line, difficult to do, but you don’t additionally want the remnant emotional baggage of hurting people to affect your trading.

Apart from fame, there are other members in the entourage of success, and I’m just classifying them ad-hoc under the header “extra-curricular activities”. Yup, these will come your way. That’s part of being successful and famous. Well, do what you want, you’re a grown-up, nobody’s going to tell you where to draw the line. All one can say is, that if any extra-curricular baggage starts seeping into your trading, you’re going down Sir. Period.

Oh, where did it all start? Belief, right. Look where it can get you.

So come on, get up from your drawdown. Drawdowns happen. They are part of the learning process. The earlier they happen, the better it is for you. Now, you probably won’t let them happen when the stakes are big. When a future drawdown looms, you are prepared, and nip it in the bud. You don’t let it grow into an ulcer. That’s what your earlier drawdowns have taught you.

So get up and give it another shot.

All it takes is a bit of belief.

Burn-Out Notice

Information overload.

Short circuit in the brain.

Black-out.

You want to move your left hand, but the right one reacts.

Your body needs re-wiring, and rest.

This set of circumstances comes with the territory of trading. Often.

Imagine plugging into the complex matrix of erratic market play. That’s what happens when your trade gets triggered. Your poor nervous-system then deals with a lot of load, which doesn’t recede till well after the trade. Joy at profits, sorrow at losses, life is one big emotional pendulum. And this is just one trade. A sluggish trader might take one trade a week. The over-active one could trade many times in a single day.

What are we dealing with here?

Basically, the writing on the wall is quite clear. If you’re not able to regularly offset the damage to your system due to trading, you’re looking at early burn-out. As in, very early burn-out.

Your method of recuperation needs to bring your system back to its base-line, and then some. Your recuperation savings account needs to be in the black, as much as possible. That’ll ensure longevity in the trading arena.

What happens if you are drained, and the next trading opportunity comes? For me, the answer is crystal clear. Don’t take the trade. Rest. Recuperate. You would have played it wrong anyway. You were drained even before the trade, remember?

Sometimes, periods of recuperation can be long. At these times you need to stop comparing yourselves to other traders who find unlimited energy to keep trading, from God knows where. You are you. They are they. Who gave you the right to compare? Why are you judging others playing to a different plan with different energy and time-set parameters. If you really want to judge, then judge yourself. That’s it.

So, if a prolonged recuperative time-frame announces itself, respect it.

Your system will last longer in the game.

Trading is about sticking to the ground-rules, and then lasting. Your market-edge plays out only over a large number of trades taken over a long time-frame. Over the long run, your market-edge makes you show winning numbers, because the sample-size is big enough, and the time-frame under consideration is sufficient for many big-hitter trades to occur. Your big-hitter trades give a tremendous impetus to your numbers.

Even the best of edges can show a loss over a small sample-size (i.e. number of total trades taken in one’s trading career). It’s statistically very possible to suffer ten losses in a row, for example. You can call a coin-flip wrong ten times in a row. Possible. And that’s a 50:50 shot per flip. Your market-edge gives you a 60:40 shot, or maybe even a 70:30 shot. Still not good enough to not suffer a losing streak.

Winning streaks occur with time, and with supportive sample-sizes. Because of your edge, the winning streaks outnumber the losing streaks.

In the world of trading, if you want to win, you need to last.