Frozen

Frozen? 

It’s ok. 

Breathe. 

You need to acknowledge that you’re frozen. 

Without that, the next step won’t come. 

It’s normal to freeze sometimes. Just acknowledge it. Then learn. 

For example, I acknowledge that I’m currently frozen wrt to the USDINR short trade. Missed entry. Next opportunity to enter never developed for me, and the underlying is currently in free fall. Don’t have the guts to short it at this level. Yeah, I’m frozen all right.

However, the fact that I’m acknowledging it opens up the learning window. 

Why did I miss entry?

I know why I froze. Fear. What I need to understand is why I allowed a situation to develop that would lead to fear. 

Ok. 

Was running super busy. 

Neglected the underlying. 

Kept postponing entry… 

… till free-fall started. 

It’s good to be busy. 

Hmmm, so this can happen again. 

How do I stop this from happening again? 

If I ID a setup, I need to take it. 

No second-guessing. 

What about strategy? 

Meaning, am I going with a short strategy for USDINR? Or am I keeping the window open for a long strategy?

See, that’s it.

Keeping short and long windows open makes me second-guess all the time. 

So can I go in one-direction wrt USDINR all the time? 

What speaks for it? 

Underlying is falling from a height. Good. 

Short only means no second-guessing. You just go short, period. 

Stoploss will save ruin. 

Not nipping profits in the bud will amass fortunes. 

Can the underlying keep falling over the next few years? 

Why not? Modi’s looking set for 2019. 

Hmmm, so a short only strategy has a lot going for itself. 

There’s more. Future month contracts are quoted at a premium. The premium evaporates over the current month. This move is in your favour if you’re short. 

Ok, enough. 

Yeah, there’s enough on the table to warrant a short only strategy for USDINR. 

SEE? 

Learning process. 

Why did it happen?

Because I acknowledged that I had frozen. 

Now, my strategy is more fine-tuned and I’m probably less prone to second-guessing. 

You need to pull off such stuff when you freeze. 

Use the freeze to evolve. 

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Dynamics of a Long-Long System

What if your system doesn’t allow you to second-guess yourself?

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful situation?

And you’d be right there, in the middle of it all.

What would such a system look like?

Right, it would only go one way.

Long-long. “A-la-la-la-la-long”, to quote Inner Circle!

Why aren’t we talking about a short-short system?

Theoretically, we could. Theoretically, everything is possible.

Well, a short-short system would have no limits on your potential loss, if the trade went against you. That’s the fundametal problem I have against a short-short system, without even having gone into the whole leverage discussion.

You could bring the stop argument.

Fine.

Just take a deep breath.

Think clearly.

Take a look at the average price-speeds of both directions, long and short.

The average price-speed in the short direction is far higher. Price-jumps are greater. The probability of your stop getting high-jumped over is much higher in the short direction. Frankly, that doesn’t work for me.

Also, which market allows you to set an overnight stop, barring the international forex market?. None that I know of, at least in India. No stops overnight means potential exposure to a large drawdown upon next market-opening, and here I’d like to be in a long-situation, because loss is capped.

Therefore, when we’re discussing a system that doesn’t allow us to second-guess ourselves, I will only discuss a long-long system.

What does long-long mean?

Yeah, we’re talking about a system, where you’re looking for long trades all the time. You don’t look for trades to go short in-between. There’s no shorting in the equation whatsoever. The moment you start thinking about shorting, you start second-guessing your long-approach.

What does that mean for someone applying such a system?

It means that the whole world might be crumbling apart, and one is still looking for long-trades. Yes, one could take some hits here. One just needs to make sure, that one’s consecutive drawdown doesn’t exceed a bearable level. Also, as losses might pile up, one position-sizes one’s way through. The concept ot position-sizing has been pioneered and elucidated by Dr. Van K. Tharp @ www.iitm.com.

It also means that when your underlyings start to run, you’ll be piling up winning trade upon winning trade.

The thing is, nobody knows when what is going to run. If you’ve taken all second-guessing out of your equation, you’re aligning yourself with the correct direction once things start to run. Going the other way now would mean further losses.

Then, it further means that if you lock in a big winner in a running market, your paper profits can now be used to harness even greater profits in the same trade. Such big winners provide a big boost to your trading corpus, and, in my opinion, are the difference between winning and losing in the markets. One needs to keep oneself aligned correctly when such opportunities come along. A long-long system will keep you aligned, no matter what.

You could argue about dry spells.

In any dry spell, or when markets are tanking, there are still underlyings that are going up. You just have to identify them. Today, such identification is not difficult at all.

For such identification, you need market software, a data feed, and an algorithm which defines what you are looking for. Your software then scans the entire breadth of the market you’re in to try and find what you’re looking for, and opens corresponding charts for you for underlyings that are still going up, or where there is buying interest, buying pressure, unusual increment in volume or what have you.

Don’t let the word algorithm scare you. You don’t have to learn a new programming language to put an algorithm together. Common-sense is enough. You know what you’re looking for. Let’s say what you’re looking for involves volume and price. You look inside your market software. Then you couple two algorithms together into a new algorithm which defines what you are looking for. You see, a typical market software like Metastock already uses algorithms for volume moving average, price etc., and these are visible to you. Just copy-paste and make a new algorithm that suits your purpose.

Lastly for today, decouple yourself from the market during trading hours, except when you’re feeding in the trade. Analyze your current trades when the market is closed. Intuitively, you will probably feel that your decisions during off-market hours will be better than when you’re coupled to a live market. Find out for yourself. More on this some other day.

Where to, Mr. Nath?

Last month, I scrapped my market-play system.

Happens.

Systems are made to be scrapped later.

One can always come up with a new system.

I love working on a new system.

It’s challenging.

What I want to talk to you about is why I scrapped my last system.

I found four accounting frauds, as I did my market research, all online.

You see, my last system worked well with honest accounting.

It had no answer to accounting frauds.

Also, I got disillusioned.

Are we a nation of frauds?

How does one deal with a nation of frauds?

More importantly, how does one play such a nation?

Does one invest in it? Or, does one sheer trade it?

Questions, questions and more questions. These encircle my mind as I work to put my new system together.

I am in no hurry to come up with an answer. A country like India deserves a befitting answer, and that it will get, even if the sky comes down on me while I put my system together.

Slowly, I started to think. How many systems had I scrapped before?

Hmmm, four or five, give or take one or two.

I have an uncompromising market rule of going fully liquid when I scrap a system.

Full liquidity is a tension-tree state. It allows one to think freely and in an unbiased manner. Being invested during volatility impedes one’s ability to think clearly and put a new system together.

Ok, so what answer would my new system have towards fraud?

All along, it was very clear to me that future market activity would be in India itself. Where else does one get such volatility? I am learning to embrace volatility. It is the trader’s best friend.

Right, so, what’s the answer to fraud?

Trading oriented market play – good. Not much investing, really. First thoughts that come to mind.

Buying above supports. Selling below resistances. Only buying above highs in rare cases, and trailing such buys with strict stops. Similarly , only selling below lows in even rarer cases, and again, trailing such sells with strict stops.

Trading light at all times.

Fully deploying the bulk of one’s corpus into secure market avenues like bonds and arbitrage. You see, bonds in India are not toxic. Well, not yet, and with hawks like the RBI and SEBI watching over us, it might take a while before they turn toxic. If and when they do start turning toxic, we’ll be getting out of them, there’s no doubt about that. Till they’re clean, we want their excellent returns, especially as interest rates head downwards. In India, one can get out of bond mutual funds within 24 hrs, with a penalty of a maximum of 1 % of the amount invested. Bearable. The top bond funds have yielded about 13 – 15% over the last 12 months. So, that 1% penalty is fully digestible, believe me.

With the bulk of one’s returns coming from secure avenues, small amounts can be traded. Trade entries are to be made when the odds are really in one’s favour. When risk is high, entry is to be refrained from. A pure and simple answer to fraud? Yes!

You see, after a certain drop, the price has discounted all fraud and then some. That’s one’s entry price for the long side. On the short side, after a phenomenal rise, there comes a price which no amount of goodness in a company can justify and then some. That’s the price we short the company at.

Of course it’s all easier said than done, but at least one thing’s sorted. My outlook has changed. Earlier, I used to fearlessly buy above highs and short below lows. I am going to be more cautious about that now. With fraud in the equation, I want the odds in my favour at all times.

These are the thoughts going on in my mind just now. Talking about them helps them get organized.

You don’t have to listen to my stuff.

I’m quite happy talking to the wall.

Once these words leave me, there’s more space in my system – a kind of a vacuum.

A vacuum attracts flow from elsewhere.

What kind of a flow will my vacuum attract?

Answers will flow in from the ether.

Answers to my burning questions.

A Chronology of Exuberance

The biggest learning that the marketplace imparts is about human emotions.

Yeah, Mrs. Market brings you face to face with fear, greed, exuberance, courage, strength, arrogance … you name it.

You can actually see an emotion developing, real-time.

Today, I’d like to talk about the chronology of exuberance.

In the marketplace, I’ve come face to face with exuberance, and I’ve seen it developing from scratch.

When markets go up, eventually, fear turns into exuberance, which, in turn, drives the markets even higher.

What is the root of this emotion?

The ball game of exuberance starts to roll when analysts come out with a straight face and recommend stocks where the valuations have already crossed conservative long-term entry levels. As far as the analysts are concerned, they are just doing their job. They are paid to recommend stocks, round the year. When overall valuations are high, they still have to churn out stock recommendations. Thus, analysts start recommending stocks that are over-valued.

Now comes the warp.

At some stage, the non-discerning public starts to treat these recommendations as unfailing cash-generating  opportunities. Greed makes the public forget about safety. People want a piece of the pie. With such thoughts, the public jumps into the market, driving it higher.

For a while, things go good. People make money. Anil, who hadn’t even heard of stocks before, is suddenly raking in a quick 50Gs on a stock recommendation made by his tobacco-seller. Veena raked in a cool 1L by buying the hottest stock being discussed in her kitty party. Things are rolling. Nothing can go wrong, just yet.

Thousands of Anils and Veenas make another 5 to 6 rocking buys and sells each. With every subsequent buy, their capacity increases more and more. Finally, they make a big and exuberant leap of faith.

There is almost always a catalyst in the markets at such a time, when thousands make a big and exuberant leap of faith into the markets, like a really hot IPO or something (remember the Reliance Power IPO?).

Yeah, people go in big. The general consensus at such a time is that equity is an evergreen cash-cow. A long bull run can do this to one’s thinking. One’s thinking can become warped, and one ceases to see one’s limits. One starts to feel that the party will always go on.

Now comes the balloon-deflating pin-prick in the form of some bad news. It can be a scandal, or a series of bad results, or some political swing, or what have you. A deflating market can collapse very fast, so fast, that 99%+ players don’t have time to react. These players then rely on (hopeful) exuberance, which reassures them that nothing can go wrong, and that things will soon be back to normal, and that their earnings spree has just taken a breather. Everything deserves a breather, they argue, and stay invested, instead of cutting their currently small losses, which are soon going to become big losses, very, very big losses.

The markets don’t come back, for a long, long time.

Slowly, exuberance starts dying, and is replaced by fear.

Fear is at its height at the bottom of the markets, where maximum number of participants cash out, taking very large hits.

Exuberance is now officially dead, for a very long time, till, one day, there’s a brand new set of market participants who’ve never seen the whole cycle before, supported by existing participants who’ve not learnt their lessons from a past market-cycle. With this calibre of participation, markets become ripe for the re-entry of exuberance.

Wiser participants, however, are alert, and are able to recognize old wine packaged in a new bottle. They start reacting as per their designated strategies for exactly this kind of scenario. The best strategy is to trade the markets up, as far as they go. Then, you can always trade them down. Who’s stopping you? Shorting them without any signals of weakness is wrong, though. Just an opinion; you decide what’s wrong or right for you. The thing with exuberance is, that it can exercise itself for a while, a very long while – longer than you can stay solvent, if you have decided to short the markets in a big way without seeing signs of weakness.

At market peaks, i.e at over-exuberant levels, long-term portfolios can be reviewed, and junk can be discarded. What is junk? That, which at prevailing market price is totally, totally overvalued – that is junk.

Formulate your own strategy to deal with exuberance.

First learn to recognize it.

Then learn to deal with it.

For success as a trader, and also as an investor, you will not be able to circumvent dealing with exuberance.

Best of luck!

And How Are You This 20k?

20k’s knocking on our sensory index.

How are you feeling, this 20k?

I remember my trading screen, the first time 20k came. Lots of blue till it came, and when it came, the screen just turned into a sea of red.

Sell orders hit their auto-triggers, as if it were raining sell orders along with cats and dogs.

What is it about round numbers?

Why do they engulf us in their roundness?

I don’t think I am making a mistake in stating that the first person to recognize the significance of round numbers in the game was Jesse Livermore, the legendary trader. Jesse developed a round number strategy that he pulled off repeatedly, with enormous success. It is because of Jesse Livermore that a trader takes round numbers … seriously.

So, what is it about the roundness of 20k?

Plain and simple. The 0s engulf the 2. You don’t see the 2 anymore, and the 0s scare you. Or, they might excite you. Round numbers make the human being emotional.

Big question for me, to understand my own mindset – how am I reacting to 20k?

I would like to share my reaction with you, because it could help you understand your own reaction.

Also, writing about it makes me understand my own reaction better. Thoughts get assimilated.

Yeah, it’s not all social service here, there’s some selfish element involved too.

Besides, I have a bit of a guilty conscience about the amount of research the internet allows me to do, free of cost. I mean, I can get into the skin of any listed company with a few button-clicks. All this writing – is a give-back. You’ll get your calling soon enough. Nature will tell you where you need to give back. When that happens, don’t hold back – give freely. It’s a million dollar feeling!

Back to the topic.

I’ve seen 20k twice before, I think, perhaps thrice. Oh right, between late September and December ’10, it came, was broken, then it came back, to be again broken on the downside, all within a few months.

The aftermath of the first time I saw it (in November ’07) hammered me, though, and taught me my biggest market lessons. I’m glad all this happened in my early market years, because one doesn’t normally recover from huge hammerings at an advanced stage in one’s market career.

The second / third time I saw 20k, I was profiting from it to a small extent. A vague kind of strategy was developing in my mind, and I was trying all kinds of new trading ideas so as to formulate a general strategy for big round numbers.

This morning, I saw 20k for the fourth time, for a few minutes.

By now, I was on auto-pilot.

A human being will have emotions. A successful market player will know how to deal with these emotions.

I bifurcated my emotions into two streams.

One was the fear stream.

The other was the exuberance stream.

The former helped me decide my future investment strategy.

The latter helped me decide my future trading strategy.

In my opinion, a good investment strategy in times of market exuberance would be to not look for fresh investments anymore. This morning, I decided to stop looking for fresh investments, till further notice.

Sometimes, when you’re not looking for an investment, you might still chance upon a company that sparks your investment interest.

If that happened, I would still scrutinize such a company very, very thoroughly, before going ahead. After all, these were times of exuberance.

Yeah, fresh investments would be on the backburner till margins of safety were restored.

Now let’s speak about the exuberance stream.

Market looked ripe for trading. Fresh market activity would take the shape of trading.

Trading is far more active an activity, when compared to investing. We’ve spoken a lot about the difference between trading and investing, in previous posts. Investors enter the market when stocks are undervalued, because the general market is unable to see their intrinsic value. Traders take centre-stage when stocks are overvalued, because the general market is repeatedly attributing more and more value to stocks, much more than should be there. Traders ride the market up, and then short it to ride it down.

Yeah, till further notice, I would be spending my energies trading. After a while, I would re-evaluate market conditions.

That’s what I thought to myself this morning.

Can We Please Get This One Basic Thing Right? (Part II)

Now that we’ve laid the foundation, we need to build on it.

The most important aspect of investing is the entry. For a trader, entry is the least important aspect of the trade.

An investor enters after a thorough study. That’s the one and only time the investor is calling the shots regarding the investment. The right entry point needs to be waited for. After entry, the investor is no longer in control. Therefore, the entry must be right, if the investor is required to sit for long. If the entry is not right, then one will not be able to sit quietly, and will jump up and down, to eventually exit at a huge loss.

The trader can even take potshots at the morning newspaper, and enter the scrip hit by a dart at current market price (cmp). There’s a 50:50 chance of the scrip going up or down. If, after entry, the trade is managed properly, the trader will make money in the long run. A loss will need to be nipped in the bud. A profit will be allowed to grow into a larger profit. Once the target is met, the trader will not just exit slam-bam-boom, but will keep raising the stop as the scrip soars higher, and will eventually want the market to throw him or her out of the trade. If the scrip is sizzling, and closes above the stop, the trader will be happy that the market has allowed him or her to remain in the trade, because chances are very high that the scrip will open up with a gap the next morning. Then the trader will take the median of the gap for example as a stop, and will continue to raise this stop, should the scrip go even higher. Eventually, the correcting scrip will throw the trader out of the trade. One or two big winning trades like this one will give the trader a fat cushion for future trades. Now, the trader will position-size. He or she will again take his or her dart, and will select the next scrip. The amount traded will be more, because the trader is winning, and because the pre-decided stop percentage level now amounts to a larger sum. The trader’s position will be sized as per his or her trading networth. So, you see here how unimportant entry is for trading, when one compares it to trade management and exit.

For the investor, there’s no investment management in the interim period between entry and exit, unless the investor goes for a staggered entry or exit. That again falls under entry and exit, so let’s not speak about interim investment management at all. If anything, the investor needs to manage him or herself. The market is not to be followed real-time. One’s investment-threshold should be low enough so as to not have the portfolio on one’s mind all day. You got the gist. Also, exit happens when no value is seen. The investor just loses interest. He or she just tells his or her broker to sell the ABC or XYZ stake entirely. Frankly, that’s not right. Proper exits are what the trader does, and the investor can learn a trick or two here. Then, again, the investor would be following the market real-time in the process, and will get into the trader’s mind-set, and that would be dangerous for the rest of the portfolio. On second thoughts, it’s ok for the true investor to just go in for an ad-hoc exit.

You see, the investor likes it straight-forward. A scrip will be bought, and then sold for a profit, years later. That’s how a typical investment should unfold.

The trader, on the other hand, likes to think in a warped manner. He or she has no problems selling first and buying later. It’s called shorting followed by short-covering. The market can be shorted with specific instruments, like futures, or options. In seasoned markets, one can even borrow common stock and short it, while one pays interest on the borrowed stock to the person it was borrowed from. Yeah, many traders like to go in for all these weird-seeming permutations and combinations in their market-play.

A person who trades and invests runs the danger of confusing one for the other and ruining both. We’ve spoken about how proper segregation avoids confusion. Another piece of advice is to specialize in one and do the other for kicks. Specializing in both will require a good amount of mind-control, and one will be running a higher risk of ruining both games. At the same time, doing both will give you a good taste of both fields, so that you don’t keep yearning for that activity which you aren’t doing.

You see, sometimes the trader has it good, and sometimes, the investor is king.

When there’s a bull-run, the fully invested investor is the envy of all traders. Mr. Trader Golightly has gone light all his life, and now that the market has shot up, he is crying because he’s hardly got anything in the market, and is scared to enter at such high levels.

During a bear-market, Mr. Investor Heavypants wishes he were Mr.Trader Golightly. Heavy’s large and heavy portfolio has been bludgeoned, whereas Lightly’s money-market fund is burgeoning from his winnings through shorting the market. Lightly doesn’t hold a single stock, parties every night, and sleeps till late. Upon waking up, he shorts a 100 lots of the sensory index, and covers in the early evening to rake in a solid profit.

When Mrs. Market goes nowhere in the middle, Lightly gets stopped out again and again, and loses small amounts on many trades. He’s frustrated, and wishes he were Mr. Heavypants, who entered much lower, when margin of safety was there, and whose winning positions allow him to stay invested without him having to bother about his portfolio.

Such are the two worlds of trading and investing, and I wish for you that you understand what you are doing.

When you trade, you TRADE. The rules of trading need to apply to your actions.

When you invest, you INVEST. The rules of investing need to apply to your actions.

Intermingling and confusion will burn you.

Either burn and learn, or read this post and the last one.

Choice is yours.

Cheers.  🙂

Coin-Flipping in the Marketplace

Are you good at darts?

Actually, I’m not.

I’ve even removed all darts from our home. Hazard. Children might hurt themselves. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m paranoid. Tell me something new.

Well, just in case you fancy playing darts, here’s a market exercise for your consideration.

Take a newspaper section, and pin it on the wall.

I know, I know, you’d love to take pot shots at your favourite corrupt politician’s picture. Please feel free to do so, let out all your venom. When you’re done, we can resume with the market exercise.

Now substitute whatever picture you’re shooting darts at with the equity portion of your newspaper’s market segment.

Take a dart. Shoot.

You hit some stock or the other. Let’s say you hit XLME Systems.

Now take a coin. Flip it.

Go long XLME Systems if you flip heads. Short it if you flip tails.

You have a 50:50 chance of choosing the correct trade direction here.

This is still a winning system, if you manage your trades with common-sense.

Cut your losers short, quite short, yeah, nip them in the bud. Let your winners ride for as long as you’re comfortable.

These two sentences will turn your little darts cum coin exercise into a winning market system.

Try out a 100 such trades, coupled with proper, common-sensical trade management. You’ll see that you are in the money.

Now, whoever turns towards me and starts to talk about trading systems, well, that person needs to be very crystal clear about one thing.

He or she needn’t bother discussing any trading system with worse results than the above-described trading system.

I mean, come on, people, here’s nature, already presenting something to us which doesn’t require any formal education, just an average ability to aim, fire, flip, trade, and manage with common-sense. This small and natural system is enough to keep us in the money.

So, if we want to spend any time discussing trading systems with an edge, we need to be sure that these systems are functioning at beyond 50:50. At par or below is a waste of time.

Good trading systems with a market-edge function at 60:40.

In the Zone, you maneuver your evolving edge to function at 70:30 and beyond.

Frankly, you don’t need more. You don’t need to function at 80:20 or 90:10. Life at 70:30 is good enough to yield you a fortune.

Getting to 70:30 is not as difficult as it sounds. First, get to a 60:40 trading system. Out of every 100 trades, get the trade direction of 60 right. Comes, takes a bit, but comes eventually.

Now you’ve got your good trading system with a decent edge, it’s working at 60:40, what next? How do you extract that extra edge.

Well, tweak. Adapt. Fine-tune. Till your edge becomes that something extra.

Still want more?

If yes, the game becomes a story about you. How disciplined are you? Are you with the markets regularly, as a matter of routine? Are you with the flow? Can you sense the next move? Are you slipping into the Zone? Can you stay in the Zone for long periods? Once you slip out, can you get back into the Zone soon?

The answers to these questions lead you to 70:30 and beyond.