Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lost and Found, or Does Common Sense Work in Trading?

There are things in trading that run contrary to common sense as we know it. Recent conversation with a trader who asked for advice is a good example of such occurence and illustrates often-made mistake.

First, a joke showing what common sense leads us to do. Fair warning: joke is silly and decisively not funny. A drunk crawls under the street light looking for something on the ground. Asked what he is looking for he says "Lost my watch on that corner". Asked why he is looking here when a watch is dropped 15 yards from the spot, he explains "It's dark over there, little chance to find anything, so I am looking here where there is a street light".

... OK, I warned it was lacking in laughter department. Nonetheless, it indicates that looking for a lost thing in a well-lit spot instead of where the loss has occured is silly. Now, let's get back to our trader and his question.

- I have this pattern of suffering a string losses... it starts usually when I get onto some very volatile stock or a stock making unusually big movement, looking so lucrative because of a great potential. So I jump in, it moves against me, I take quite a loss. Next thing I know, I make trade after trade on this same stock. It's like I got addicted to it and just can't move onto something else. Loss after loss, the day turns into total disaster. Got something to hit me with to cure this disease?

- Got a question for you. Why continue trading that same stock after couple tries proved unsuccessful? Why not leave it be and move to something ou have firmer grip on?

- Well... it makes big movements, I have better chance to get back all those unusually big losses...

- But you don't have reliable read on this particular one. Isn't it more likely that you will suffer more "unusually big losses"?

- Ummmm. I don't know. I just feel it's natural to stay with it until I get my money back. Hasn't happened yet, even once.

That's when I remembered that joke. It's a common sense and natural thing to do in every day's life to look for a lost something at the spot where you lost it. In trading, not so much. Go to well-lit spot and look to get your money back there. Lost money is not tied to a particular spot (stock), it's lost in the market. The market is a big space; go where there is a streetlight that helps you read things well. A stock that you have no read on is to be left alone. You have no personal relationship with it, you don't need to get revenge; it has no idea about you and it's not after you. Free yourself from things that don't work. Focus on what does.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Scan for Your Battles

At the beginnning of March I opined that under certain conditions we were going to see market rally to 13000 DOW and 2000 NQ. Now that those targets and I suggested liquidating long positions, are hit a few e-mails asked whether I see this moment as a short opportunity. My negative response caused feedback along the lines "If no long anymore, then why not short?"

Here is how I approach this. There is no such thing as continuous read on the market or particular stock for me. In other words, I don't have a clear idea what to do all the time. Sometimes there is a recognizable situation, and that's where I take action by initiating a new trade. Sometimes there is nothing recognizable, and I sit on a sideline or liquidate existing position - not because I see the tide turning but simple because I have no read anymore. Thus, the reason for exit can be "I read the move as exhausted" or "I can't read this move anymore". In a former case, yes, I may start hunting for an entry on the opposite side. In a latter case - no, I exit original position but do not look for an opposite direction trade yet.

All above has a broader implication for my trading approach. My process of hunting for a trade is entirely based on an idea of having my favorite setups and waiting until such setup shapes up and triggers an alert for me. I don't watch particular stock and hunt for an entry - rather I wait for whatever matches my entry criteria. View it as casting the net with certain mesh size and reviewing whatever got caught in there. Such net for me is a scanner which I have configured accordingly to my criteria and which scans the market constantly looking for what I asked it to. Covering NYSE, NASDAQ, AMEX, TSX, TSX Venture, OTCBB, Pink Sheets and indices and being easily customizable for any thinkable trading approach, it's all the search tool I need. There are three things though it doesn't have: no dartboard, no tea leaves and no "scan for winning trades only" setting.

Such approach can be construed as one of cases of "let the market come to you". Usually it's applied in a sense of waiting for certain price treshold where you render entry most favorable. This is just another way to apply this idea.