16.06.2020 • Trading and Brokerage
Much of what we write about in these articles is about the mindset and behaviour of traders and trading. The reason for this is quite straight forward; it's because it's the decisions that we make and take that will ultimately determine how we perform as traders.
Yes, of course, price changes in the markets will play their part but, in the end, it's our decision whether to get involved or not and that determines how much capital we commit to trade, how long we hold the position for, and what the ultimate outcome of the trade will be.
When we examine the costs of trading, we tend to focus on commissions and spreads and our PnL, but there are other costs, costs that we don't consider when really, we should.
These are the costs of inactivity and indecision, the costs of listening to outside influences more than to your own inner feelings and intuition. They are the costs of missing out, what economists call "opportunity costs".
Self-doubt among traders is not unusual, and in truth, it's better to exercise a degree of caution than to be 100% confident about everything you do. Hubris has been the downfall of many traders, and we certainly advocate being prudent with your risk. That said, It's always worth testing your thinking and assumptions and checking that they are still valid before you trade.
The problem comes when you start to talk yourself out of the trade entirely. After all, trading is a risk and reward business. There can be no profit without the possibility of loss.
A trader's job is to try and ensure that the risk that they take is in proportion to the potential rewards they could make. Not taking that risk could be limiting your potential as a trader which in turn may be limiting your rewards or returns.
Sometimes as a trader or investor, you will enjoy a moment of clarity, a moment of pure thought and insight, in which you can see exactly how a market setup or situation will playout. Moments when you just know you are right
If that moment of clarity coincides with significant moves in the markets, then that can be a very valuable situation indeed. But only if you act on it.
Allow me to tell you a personal story. During the great 2020 downturn in oil (where a Saudi/Russia price war caused prices to go NEGATIVE), I found myself holding oil from $30 a barrel and riding it all the way down watching in sheer horror. I kept buying the dip. How much lower could it go, I thought? I ignored every rule and everything I've written in the past about this. I didn't put a stop loss on. I told myself it was a long-term trade that I would stay in forever. Prices surely couldn't go below $20. That's madness. Then… The unthinkable happened in the futures price – it went negative.
Thankfully, Fusion's price didn't go negative (we use Spot Crude oil) but with spot prices at $15, I was sitting watching Netflix on my couch, and my heart raced as I saw it go down like World War III just started. The news sites told me nothing new had happened (funny how we search for any narrative to make sense of it all). Here it went. $14. $12. $11. Back to $12. Back to $11. $10. $9. Thoughtful me knew these prices were unsustainable. I told myself I would hold until it hit $0 if it had to. My account was down 70%. I'd never suffered such steep losses. I felt sick. I then couldn't sleep. I woke up, and it was still down a lot but had recovered from $7.
Watch out for the narratives.
I started to read more about what others were saying. What the hell was going on? Would this happen again? Yes, there was nowhere to store the oil (so the narrative went) but surely rationality would prevail. Seriously, how could you have negative prices? It was impossible to find anyone bullish in the media or otherwise. People assume if something just happened, it will occur again Goldman came out and said to expect more negative pricing. But I just couldn't believe it was so cheap. I knew it was time to buy more!
But then I didn't buy it. I waited for another opportunity for when I knew "the worst was over" I was so sure things would bounce back, but I didn't have the guts to buy one more time, and the opportunity passed me by forever. I let the external narrative cloud my previous judgement. But I was just so worried I couldn't think properly. Within days, it had doubled back to $15 a barrel. Then it was $20 a week later. At the time of writing it is $40 a barrel. By the time you read this, it might be $60 a barrel. Who knows? All I knew was fear and too much outside influence completely warped my view, and I failed. I just wanted to survive the calamity. While I survived to write you this, I did not do as well as I could have.
People often talk about having the courage of their convictions, but in trading, it's not really about courage, it's about belief, belief in yourself and your ideas and be prepared to back them, rather than talking yourself out of them, or allowing yourself to be talked out of them by others.
For example, nobody was predicting that an 11-year bull market in equities was going to end and end so abruptly in Q1 2020. Or that US unemployment would spiral to +14.7% in a single month.
Do not get me started on the rebound from the lows in March. To be bullish on the markets in April and May of 2020 was to look like you had lost your mind given the narratives surrounding COVID.
So-called "market legends" like Druckenmiller and Buffett told everyone it was not the time to buy. Sadly, so many would have listened.
Let's not forget Yogi Berra's famous saying "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future" which is why it's best to take these so-called forecasts with a grain of salt. The best that any expert can do is to make a prediction or forecast about the future. And the longer the time frame that the forecast is over, or the more unusual the circumstances under which it is made, then the more significant the room for error and the higher the chance that they are simply wrong.
As humans, we are subject to subconscious emotional biases that can cloud our decision making. One such bias is loss aversion.
Loss aversion can hamper a trader in two distinct ways. It's most commonly associated with the practice of running losses, ignoring stops and breaking money management rules when a trader can't or won't accept that they were wrong and refused to close a losing position.
The other way that loss aversion can muddy the waters is in our initial decision making. You see as species we are poor judges of risk and reward; we don't calculate probabilities very well, and the upshot of this is that we do not like uncertainty.
To the extent that when we are faced with situations that have a series of potential outcomes, we tend to favour the outcome with the highest degree of certainty. Even if that outcome is the least beneficial to us financially. Which, of course, is the exact opposite of the risk versus reward culture that we spoke about earlier.
Though we might not like to admit it, our subconscious is often trying to talk us out of taking risks. Outside influences from the media, fear, our aversion to loss and a preference for certainty may often be our worst enemy as traders.
As Howard Marks said, "If you're doing the same thing as everyone else, how do you expect to outperform them"?
There have been several once in a generation trading opportunities over the last six months. I wonder how many of us were bold enough to seize the day and take advantage?