Thursday, December 10, 2015

Richard Smitten's Observations on Jesse Livermore

Don't try to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. It can't be done except by liars.
Bernard Baruch

In his book "How to Trade Stocks" Richard Smitten talks about Jesse Livermore the man and his trading techniques (Available from Traders Press). Here are some of his observations about the legend Jesse Livermore.

He quickly learned that it was never what the brokers, or the customers, or the newspapers said — the only thing that was important was what the tape said. The tape had a life of its own, and its was the most important life. Its verdict was final. 

He learned to be interested only in the change in price, not the reason for the change. He had no time to waste trying to rationalize the action of the stock. There could be a million reasons why the price had changed. These reasons would be revealed later, after the fact. 

He knew that unless he actually purchased a stock, he could never know how he would handle himself. When a trader made a bet everything changed, and he knew it. Then and only then did the trader enter the heated jungle of emotions.. .fear and greed. You either control them or they control you. 

He worked alone.. .never telling anyone what he was doing, never taking on a partner. The thrill came from the winning, not the money, though the money was nice. 

He never blamed the market. It was illogical to get angry at an inanimate object, like a gambler getting mad at a deck of cards. There was no arguing with the tape. The tape was always right; it was the players who were wrong. 

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. That led him to his second conclusion, that no one could or should trade the market all the time. There were times when a trader should be out of the market, in cash, waiting. 

To speculate, a trader had to be a player, not a theorist, or an economist, or an analyst. A speculator had to be a player with money down on the table. It was not the coach or the team's owner who won the game, it was the players on the field — just as it was not the generals who won the battle, it was the grunts on the ground. 

You had to lose, because it taught you what not to do... his conclusions were developing from actual trading, from hands-on participation in the market and constant analysis. 

He never used the words bull market or bear market because these terms tended to make too permanent a psychological mind-set. 

Livermore was looking for the difference between stock gambling and stock speculation. Livermore's final conclusion was clear: To anticipate the market is to gamble; to be patient and react only when the market gives the signal is to speculate. 

The first step was to concentrate on the overall market before making a trade. He would follow the line of least resistance— up in a bull market, buy long, down in a bear market, sell short. If the market went sideways, he would wait in cash for a clear direction to be established.... He would not anticipate the market by guessing its direction... .Livermore had come to realize that the big money was in the big swings... .it is the big moves that make the big money. 

Livermore believed that stocks are never too high to begin buying or too low to begin selling short. Livermore believed that there was only one side of the market to avoid. He could be on the bull side or the bear side — it made no difference to Livermore — just as long as he was not on the wrong side. 

From experience, Livermore knew that one of the hardest things to do as a trader was to sell out a position early if he was wrong on the initial purchase and the stock moved against him. 

He did not care why things happened in the market, he cared only what happened every day when the market opened.... He observed that the market always did what it wanted to do, not what it was expected to do. 

Livermore had a steadfast rule that if something serendipitous, an unplanned windfall, should occur, he must capitalize on it and not be greedy — accept his good fortune and close out his position. 

Livermore loved the fact that in trading the market there was no end to the learning process. The game was never over, and he could never know enough to beat the market all the time. The puzzle could never be solved...he never considered himself a market master. He always considered himself a market student who occasionally traded correctly. 

Livermore had long ago realized that the stock market was never obvious. It was designed to fool most of the people most of the time. His rules were based on thinking against the grain: cut your losses quickly; let your profits ride unless there's a good reason to close out the position; the action is with the leading stocks, which change with every new market; new highs are to be bought on breakouts; cheap stocks are often not a bargain, because they have little potential to rise in price. The stock market is a study in cycles. It never goes up forever, nor does it go down forever, but when it changes direction it remains in that new trend until it is stopped. 

He considered it necessary to act like a poker player in his business, to never tip his hand or to react emotionally. Because of this inability and unwillingness to express his emotions, the stress on him was permanent. 

Timing was everything to a speculator. It was never if a stock was going to move; it was when a stock was going to move up or down. 

Livermore always considered time as a real and essential trading element. He often would say it's not the thinking that makes the money — it's the sitting and waiting that makes the money... .This has been incorrectly interpreted by many people to mean that Livermore would buy a stock and then sit and wait for it to move. This is not so. There were many occasions where Livermore sat and waited in cash, holding little or no stock, until the right situation appeared. He was able to sit and wait patiently in cash until the perfect situation presented itself to him. When conditions came together, when as many of the odds as possible were in his favor, then and only then would he strike. 

Livermore let the market tell him what to do, he got his clues and his cues from what the market told him. He did not anticipate, he followed the message he received from the tape. 

It's scary to think how much money Livermore would make if he traded today.. .his ability to read the tape when the tape wasn't even that reliable. He is in our opinion the best ever. Since the market is an extension of human psychology and human emotion and because people don't change, the market doesn't change. The players change; the underlying issues change; trading doesn't change, and that's why over 60 years after he committed suicide, Livermore's words of wisdom are still relevant.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Jesse Livermore Quotes

Don't try to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. It can't be done except by liars.
Bernard Baruch
Just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday I published Jesse Livermore's Money Management Rules Now let's carry that post forward and put together some of his best quotes from which we can all learn:
" is what people actually did in the stock market that counted — not what they said they were going to do." Livermore studied his mistakes objectively.. ."the only way you get a real education in the market is to invest cash, track your trade, and study your mistakes!"

It is emotionally difficult to review your mistakes, since the speculator must wade through his own bad trades and blunders. And these are not simple blunders; these are blunders that cost money. Anyone who has lost money by investing poorly knows how difficult it is to reexamine what occurred. The examination of a losing trade is tortuous but necessary to ensure that it will not happen again. Livermore was brutal in self-analysis. He told his sons his conclusions: "Successful trading is always an emotional battle for the speculator, not an intelligent battle."...  He knew that his biggest enemy was his own emotions. 

"We are the sum total of our experience." When asked what makes a good stock speculator, Livermore replied 
"...It's an aptitude for the game, a stomach for the ride, and the ability to see what is happening without emotion. The ability to make observations that others don't and a good memory... .Only speculate if you can make it a full-time job. don't take tips of any kind, no matter where they come from. don't worry about catching tops or bottoms, that's fools play. Keep the number of stocks you own to a controllable number. It's hard to herd cats, and it's hard to track a lot of securities. Take your losses quickly and don't brood about them. Try to learn from them but mistakes are as inevitable as death. And only make a big move, a real big plunge, when a majority of factors are in your favor....every once in a while you must go to cash, take a break, take a vacation. don't try to play the market all the time. It can't be done, too tough on the emotions."  
"The unsuccessful investor is best friends with hope, and hope skips along life's path hand in hand with greed when it comes to the stock market. Once a stock trade is entered, hope springs to life. It is human nature to be positive, to hope for the best. Hope is an important survival technique. But hope, like its stock market cousins ignorance, greed, and fear, distorts reason. See the stock market only deals in facts, in reality, in reason, and the stock market is never wrong. "
Traders are wrong. Like the spinning of a roulette wheel, the little black ball tells the final outcome, not greed, fear or hope. The result is objective and final, with no appeal. 
"I believe that the public wants to be led, to be instructed, to be told what to do. They want reassurance. They will always move en masse, a mob, a herd, a group, because people want the safety of human company. They are afraid to stand alone because they want to be safely included within the herd, not to be the lone calf standing on the desolate, dangerous, wolf-patrolled prairie of contrary opinion." 
First, do not be invested in the market all the time. There are many times when I have been completely in cash, especially when I was unsure of the direction of the market and waiting for a confirmation of the next move....Second, it is the change in the major trend that hurts most speculators.
"The last gasp of heavy volume provides a great opportunity to sell out any illiquid large holdings. I knew it was foolish to ever catch the tops or the bottoms of the moves. It is always better to sell large holdings into an advancing market when there is plenty of volume. The same is true on the short side; you are best to cover the short position after a steep fast decline."...
the market will often go contrary to what speculators have predicted. At these times, successful speculators must abandon their predictions and follow the action of the market. Prudent speculators never argue with the tape. Markets are never wrong, but opinions often are.
"All through time, people have basically acted the same way in the market as a result of greed, fear, ignorance, and hope. This is why the numerical formations and patterns recur on a constant basis." "Every stock is like a human being: it has a personality, a distinctive personality. Aggressive, reserved, hyper, high-strung, volatile, boring, direct, logical, predictable, unpredictable. I often studied stocks like I would study people; after a while their reactions to certain circumstances become more predictable." 
I believe that having the discipline to follow your rules is essential. Without specific, clear, and tested rules, speculators do not have any real chance of success. Why? 
"Because speculators without a plan are like a general without a strategy, and therefore without an actionable battle plan. Speculators without a single clear plan can only act and react, act and react, to the slings and arrows of stock market misfortune, until they are defeated." 
If you miss sleep at night because of your stock market position, then you have gone too far. If this is the case, then sell your position down to the sleeping level. 
"I believe that anyone who is intelligent, conscientious, and willing to put in the necessary time can be successful on Wall Street. As long as they realize the market is a business like any other business, they have a good chance to prosper." 
Remember, it [the market] is designed to fool most of the people most of the time. 
"...I have always fully understood that I am not the only one who knows that the stock market is the world's biggest gold mine, sitting at the foot of the island of Manhattan. A gold mine that opens its doors every day and invites anyone and everyone in to plum its depths and leave with wheelbarrows full of gold bars, if they can — and I have done it. The gold mine is there all right, and every day somebody plums it's depths, and when the bell rings at the end of the day they have gone from pauper to prince, or gone from prince to supreme potentate, or gone stony broke. And it's always there waiting." 
"I believe that uncontrolled basic emotions are the true and deadly enemy of the speculator; that hope, fear, and greed are always present, sitting on the edge of the psyche, waiting on the sidelines, waiting to jump into the action, plow into the game." 
These words [bullish, bearish] are not in my vocabulary because I believe they can create an emotional mind-set of a specific market direction in a speculator's mind. 
"I never try to predict or anticipate. I only try to react to what the market is telling me by its behavior." 
"I believe there are no good stocks or bad stocks; there are only money making stocks. So there is no good direction to trade, short or long; there is only the money-making way to trade." "Greed, fear, impatience, and hope will all fight for mental dominance over the speculator." 
"My satisfaction always came from beating the market, solving the puzzle. The money was the reward, but it was not the main reason I loved the market. The stock market is the greatest, most complex puzzle ever invented — and it pays the biggest jackpot... .it was never the money that drove me. It was the game, solving the puzzle, beating the market that had confused and confounded the greatest minds in history. For me, that passion, the juice, the exhilaration was in beating the game, a game that was a living dynamic riddle, a conundrum to everyone who speculated on Wall Street." 
Always remember; you can win a horse race, but you can't beat the races. You can win on a stock, but you cannot beat Wall Street all the time. Nobody can.