Investment Psychology Explained - US Stocks …. How to Be Objective 3. Independent Thinking 4. Pride Goes Before a Loss 5. Patience Is a Profitable Virtuc 6. Staying the Course PART - [PDF Document] (2024)


Classic Strategies toBeat the Markets

Martin J. Pring

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.New York • Chichester • Brisbane • Toronto • Singapore



PART I KNOWING YOURSELF1. There Is No Holy Grau2. How to Be Objective3. Independent Thinking4. Pride Goes Before a Loss5. Patience Is a Profitable Virtuc6. Staying the Course

PART II THE WALL STREET HERD7. A New Look at Contrary Opinion8. When to Go Contrary9. How to Profit from Newsbreaks

10. Dealing with Brokers and MoneyManagers the Smart Way





11. What Makes a Great Trader or Investor? 18312. Nineteen Trading Rules for Greater Profits 20513. Making a Plan and Sticking to It 22414. Classic Trading Rules 244




x"or most of us, the task of beat-ing the market is not difficult, it is the job of beating ourselvesthat proves to be overwhelming. In this sense, "beating our-selves" means mastering our emotions and attempting to thinkindependently, as well as not being swayed by those around us.Decisions based on our natural instincts invariably turn out tobe the wrong course of action. All of us are comfortable buyingstocks when prices are high and rising and selling when they aredeclining, but we need to develop an attitude that encourages usto do the opposite.

Success based on an emotional response to market condi-tions is the result of chance, and chance does not help us attainconsistent results. Objectivity is not easy to achieve because allhumans are subject to the vagaries of fear, greed, pride of opin-ion, and all the other excitable states that prevent rational judg-ment. We can read books on various approaches to the marketuntil our eyes are red and we can attend seminars given by ex-perts, gurus, or anyone else who might promise us instant grati-fication, but all the market knowledge in the world will beuseless without the ability to put this knowledge into action bymastering our emotions. We spend too much time trying to beatthe market and too little time trying to overcome our frailties.

One reason you're reading this book is that you recognizethis imbalance, but even a complete mastery of the material inthese pages will not guarantee success. For that, you will need ex-perience in the marketplace, especially the experience of losing.




The principal difference between considering an Investmentor trading approach and actually entering the market is the com-mitment of money. When that occurs, objectivity falls by thewayside, emotion takes over, and losses mount. Adversity is to bewelcomed because it teaches us much more than success. Theworld's best traders and Investors know that to be successfulthey must also be humble. Markets have their own ways of seek-ing out human weaknesses. Such crises typically occur just at thecrucial moment when we are unprepared, and they eventuallycause us financial and emotional pain. If you are not prepared toadmit mistakes and take remedial action quickly, you will cer-tainly compound your losses. The process does not end evenwhen you feel you have learned to be objective, patient, humble,and disciplined, for you can still fall into the trap of compla-cency. It is therefore vitally important to review both your pro-gress and your mistakes on a continuous basis because no twomarket situations are ever the same.

Some of the brightest minds in the country are devoted tomaking profits in the markets, yet many newcomers to the finan-cial scene naively believe that with minimal knowledge and ex-perience, they too can make a quick killing. Markets are azero-sum game: For every item bought, one is sold. If newcomersäs a group expect to profit, it follows that they must battle suc-cessfully against these same people with decades of experience.We would not expect to be appointed äs a university professorafter one year of undergraduate work, to be a star football playerstraight out of high school, or to run a major Corporation after sixmonths of employment. Therefore, is it reasonable to expect suc-cess in the investment game without thorough study and train-ing? The reason many of us are unrealistic is that we have beenbrainwashed into thinking that trading and investing are easyand do not require much thought or attention. We hear throughthe media that others have made quick and easy gains and con-clude incorrectly that we can participate with little preparationand forethought. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many legendary investment role models have likened trad-ing and investing in the markets to other forms of business


endeavor. As such, it should be treated äs an enterprise that isslowly and steadily built up through hard work and carefulplanning and not äs a rapid road to easy riches.

People make investment decisions involving thousands ofdollars on a whim or on a simple comment from a friend, associ-ate, or broker. Yet, when choosing an item for the house, wherefar less money is at stake, the same people may reach a decisiononly after great deliberation and consideration. This fact, äsmuch äs any, suggests that market prices are determined more byemotion than reasoned judgment. You can help an emotionallydisturbed person only if you yourself are relatively stable, anddealing with an emotionally driven market is no different. If youreact to news in the same way äs everyone eise, you are doomedto fall into the same traps, but if you can rise above the crowd,suppressing your own emotional instincts by following a care-fully laid out investment plan, you are much more likely to suc-ceed. In that respect, this book can point you in the rightdirection. Your own performance, however, will depend on thedegree of commitment you bring to applying the principles youfind here.

At this point, clarif ication of some important matters seemsappropriate. Throughout the book, I have referred to traders andInvestors with the male pronoun. This is not in any way intendedto disparage the valuable and expanding contribution of womento the investment community but merely to avoid "he or she"constructions and other clumsy references.

In the following chapters, the terms "market" or "markets"refer to any market in which the price is determined by freelymotivated buyers and sellers. Most of the time, my commentsrefer to individual Stocks and the stock market itself. However,the principles apply equally, regardless of whether the product orspecific market is bonds, commodities, or Stocks.

All markets essentially reflect the attitude and expectationsof market participants in response to the emerging financial andeconomic environment. People tend to be universally greedywhen they think the price will rise, whether they are buyinggold, cotton, deutsche marks, Stocks, or bonds. Conversely, their

we also know that this is far easier said than done. We will ex-amine why this is so, and we will learn when contrary opinioncan be profitable and how to recognize when to "go contrary."

Part III examines the attributes of successful traders and in-vestors, the super money-makers—what sets them apart from therest of us and what rules they follow. This Part also incorporatesmany of the points made earlier to help you set up a plan andfollow it successfully. To solidify and emphasize the key rulesand principles followed by leading speculators and traders in thepast hundred years or so, I have compiled those guidelines fol-lowed by eminent individuals. While each set of rules is unique,you will see that a common thread r uns through all of them.This theme may be summarized äs follows: Adopt a methodol-ogy, master your emotions, think independently, establish andfollow a plan, and continually review your progress.

This recurring pattern did not occur by chance but emergedbecause these individuals discovered that it works. I hope that itcan work for you äs well. All that is needed is your commitmentto carry it out.



Nothing is more frequently overlooked thanthe obvious.

—Thomas Temple Hoyne

JLOU probably bought this bookhoping that it would provide some easy answers in your quest toget rieh quickly in the financial markets. If you did, you will bedisappointed. There is no such Holy Grail. On the other hand,this book can certainly point you in the right direction if you arewilling to recognize that hard work, common sense, patience,and discipline are valuable attributes to take with you on theroad to smart investing.

There is no Holy Grail principally because market prices aredetermined by the attitude of investors and speculators to thechanging economic and financial background. These attitudestend to be consistent but occasionally are irrational, thereby de-fying even the most logical of analyses from time to time.Garfield Drew, the noted market commentator and technician,wrote in the 1940s, "Stocks do not seil for what they are worthbut for what people think they are worth." How eise can we ex-plain that any market, stock, commodity, or currency can fluctu-ate a great deal in terms of its underlying value from one day to


the next? Market prices are essentially a reflection of the hopes,fears, and expectations of the various participants. History teilsus that human nature is more or less constant, but it also teils usthat each Situation is unique.

Let us assume, for example, that three people own 100% of aparticular security we will call ABC Company. Shareholder A isinvesting for the long term and is not influenced by day-to-daynews. Shareholder B has bought the stock because he thinks theCompany's prospects are quite promising over the next sixmonths. Shareholder C has purchased the stock because it is tem-porarily depressed due to some bad news. Shareholder C plans tohold it for only a couple of weeks at most. He is a trader and canchange his mind at a moment's notice.

A given news event such äs the resignation of the Company'sPresident or a better-than-ariticipated profit report will affecteach shareholder in a different way. Shareholder A is unlikely tobe influenced by either good or bad news, because he is takingthe long view. Shareholder B could go either way, but shareholderC is almost bound to react, since he has a very short-term timehorizon.

From this example, we can see that while their needs are dif-ferent, each player is likely to act in a fairly predictable way.Moreover, because the makeup of the company's holdings willchange over time, perhaps the short-term trader will seil to an-other person with a long-term outlook. Conversely, the long-termshareholder may decide to take a bigger stake in the Company,since he can buy at depressed prices. Although human nature isreasonably constant, its effect on the market price will fluctuatebecause people of different personality types will own differentproportions of the Company at various times. Even though thePersonalities of the players may remain about the same, the exter-nal pressures they undergo will almost certainly vary. Thus, thelong-term investor may be forced to seil part of his position be-cause of an unforeseen financial problem. The news event istherefore of sufficient importance to tip his decision-making pro-cess at the margin. Since the actual makeup of the market changesover time, it follows that the psychological responses to any given

set of events also will be diverse. Because of this, it is very diffi-cult to see how anyone could create a System or develop a philoso-phy or approach that would call every market turning point in aperfect manner. This is not to say that you can't develop an ap-proach that consistently delivers more profits than losses. Itmeans merely that there is no perfect System or Holy Grail. Weshall learn that forecasting market trends is an art and not a sci-ence. As such, it cannot be reduced to a convenient formula.

Having the perfect indicator would be one thing, butputting it into practice would be another. Even if you are able to"beat the market" the greater battle of "beating yourself," that is,mastering your emotions, still lies ahead. Every great market op-erator, whether a trader or an investor, knows that the analyticalaspect of playing the market represents only a small segmentcompared with its psychological aspect. In this respect, history'sgreat traders or investors—to one degree or another—have fol-lowed various rules. However, these successful individuals wouldbe the first to admit that they have no convenient magic formulato pass on äs a testament to their triumphs.

The false "Holy Grail" concept appears in many forms; wewill consider two: the expert and the fail-safe System, or perfectindicator.

The Myth of the Expert

All of us gain some degree of comfort from knowing that we aregetting expert advice whenever we undertake a new task. This isbecause we feel somewhat insecure and need the reassurancesthat an expert—with his undoubted talents and years of experi-ence—can provide. However, it is not generally recognized thatexperts, despite their training and knowledge, can be äs wrongäs the rest of us.

It is always necessary to analyze the motives of experts.Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, having returnedfrom Hitler's Germany with a piece of paper promising "peace inour time," no doubt believed wholeheartedly the truth of his


grand Statement. The fact was, he was an expert, and he got itwrong. President John Kennedy also had his problems with ex-perts. "How could I have been so far off base? All my life I'veknown better than to depend on the experts/' he said shortlyafter the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Classic errors abound in military, philosophical, and scien-tific areas. In the investment field, the record is perhaps evenmore dismal. One of the differences that sets aside market fore-casters from other experts is that market prices are a totally ac-curate and impartial umpire. If you, äs a financial expert, saythat the Dow-Jones average will reach 3,500 by the end of themonth and it goes to 2,500, there can be little argument that youwere wrong. In other fields, there is always the possibility ofhedging your bets or making a prognostication that can't bequestioned until new evidence comes along. Those experts whofor centuries argued that the world was flat had a heyday untilColumbus came along. It didn't matter to the earlier sages; theirreputations remained intact until well after their deaths. How-ever, conventional thinkers after 1493 did have a problem whenfaced with impeachable proof.

Experts in financial markets do not enjoy the luxury ofsuch a long delay. Let's take a look at a few forecasts. Just beforethe 1929 stock market crash, Yale economist Irving Fischer, theleading proponent of the quantity theory of money, said, "Stocksare now at what looks like a permanently high plateau." Wecould argue that he was an economist and was therefore com-menting on events outside his chosen field of expertise. In theprevious year, however, he also reportedly said, "Mr. Hooverknows äs few men do the terrible evils of Inflation and deflation,and the need of avoiding both if business and agriculture are tobe stabilized." Up to the end of 1929, both were avoided, yet themarket still crashed.

When we turn to stock market experts, there is even less tocheer about. Jesse Livermore was an extremely successful stockoperator. In late 1929, he said, "To my mind this Situationshould go no further," meaning, of course, that the market hadhit bottom. Inaccurate calls were not limited to traders. U.S.

There Is No Holy Grau

industrialist John D. Rockefeiler put his money where his mouthwas: "In the past week (mid-October 1929) my son and I havebeen purchasing sound common Stocks/' Other famous industri-alists of the day agreed with him. One month later, in November1929, Henry Ford is quoted äs saying, "Things are better todaythan they were yesterday."

Roger Babson, one of the most successful money managersof the time, had in 1929 correctly called for a 60 to 80 point dipin the Dow. Yet, even he failed to anticipate how serious theSituation would become by 1930, for he opined early in thatyear, "I certainly am optimistic regarding this fall. . . . Theremay soon be a stampede of Orders and congestion of freight incertain lines and sections." Unfortunately, the Depressionlasted for several more years. Perhaps the most astonishingquote comes from Reed Smoot, the chairman of the Senate Fi-nance Committee. Commenting on the Smoot-Hawley TariffAct, generally believed to be one of the principal catalysts of theGreat Depression, he said, "One of the most powerful influ-ences working toward business recovery is the tariff act whichCongress passed in 1930." Figure 1-1 depicts market action be-tween 1929 and 1932, thereby putting these experts' opinionsinto perspective.

The testimony of these so-called experts shows that some ofthe greatest and most successful industrialists and stock opera-tors are by no means immune from making erroneous state-ments and unprofitable decisions. Common sense would havetold most people that the stock market was due for some majorcorrective action in 1929. It was overvalued by historical bench-marks, speculation was rampant, and the nation's debt structurewas top-heavy by any Standard. The problem was that most peo-ple were unable to relate emotionally to this stark reality. Whenstock prices are rising rapidly and everyone is making money, itis easy to be lulled into a sense of false security by such"expert" testimony.

Of course, some individual commentators, analysts, andmoney managers are correct most of the time. We could, for in-stance, put Livermore and Babson into such a class. However, if


Figure 1-1 U.S. Stock Market 1927-1932. Source: Pring Market Review.

you find yourself blindly following the views of a particular indi-vidual äs a proxy for the Holy Grail, you will inevitably findyourself in trouble—probably at the most inconvenient moment.

An alternative to using a single guide is to follow a numberof different experts simultaneously. This solution is even worsebecause experts äs a group are almost always wrong. Figure 1-2compares Standard and Poor's (S&P) Composite Index with thepercentage of those writers of market letters who are bullish.The data were collected by Investors Intelligence* and have beenadjusted to iron out week-to-week fluctuations. (A more up-to-date version appears in Chapter 8.) Even a cursory glance at thechart demonstrates quite clearly that most advisors are bullish atmajor market peaks and bearish at troughs. If this exercise wereconducted for other investments such äs bonds, currencies, orcommodities, the results would be similar. At f irst glance, it may

rl,~re Is No Holy Grail

Figure 1-2 S&P Composite versus Advisory Service Sentiment 1974-1984. Source: Pring Market Review.

appear that you could use these data from a contrary point ofview, buying when the experts are bearish and selling when theyare bullish. Unfortunately, even this approach fails to deliver theHoly Grail, because the data do not always reach an extreme atall market turning points. At a major peak in 1980, for example,the Index couldn't even rally above 60%. In late 1981, on the otherhand, the Index did reach an extreme, but this was well beforethe final low in prices in the summer of 1982. While the Advi-sory Sentiment Indicator does forecast some major peaks andtroughs, it is by no means perfect and certainly lacks the consis-tency needed to qualify äs the Holy Grail.

The Myth of the Perfect Indicator

It is almost impossible to flip through the financial pages of anymagazine or newspaper without coming across an advertisem*nt


romising instant wealth. This publicity typically features a com-uterized System or an Investment advisor hotline that Claims toave achieved spectacular results over the past few months orven years. Normally, such Services specialize in the futures orptions markets because these highly leveraged areas are in alore obvious position to offer instant financial gratification. Theuge leverage available to traders in the futures markets signifi-antly reduces the time horizons available to customers. Conse-uently, the number of transactions, (i.e., revenue for the brokers)> that much greater.

As a rule of thumb, the more money the advertisem*nt»romises, the more you should question its veracity. History teilsis that it is not possible to accumulate a significant amount ofnoney in a brief time unless you are extremely lucky. Moreover,f you are fortunate enough to fall into a Situation where the mar-;ets act in perfect harmony with the System or approach that youlave adopted, you are likely to attribute your success to hiddenalents just discovered. Instead of walking away from the table,rou will continue to be lulled back into the market, not realizinghe true reason for your good fortune. You will inevitably fritteriway your winnings trying to regain those lost profits.

Consider the advertisem*nt's promises from another angle,f the System is so profitable, why are its proponents going to the:rouble of taking you on äs a client and servicing your needs?jurely, it would be less bothersome to execute a few Orders eachiay than to go to the trouble, expense, and risk of advertising:he service. The answer is either that the System doesn't work or,Tiore likely, that it has been tested only for a specific period inthe most recent past. You, äs a prospective user, should focus onthe likelihood of the method's operating profitably in the futureand not on some hypothetical profits of recent history.

Most Systems base their Claims of success on back-testeddata in which buy-and-sell Signals are generated by specificprice actions, for example, when the price moves above or belowa specific moving average. It seems natural to assume thatpast successes can forecast future profits, but the results ofback-tested data are not äs trustworthy äs they appear. First,

Is No Holy Grail

the conditions in which the data are tested are not the same äs areal market Situation. For example, the System may call for thesale of two contracts of December gold because the price closedbelow $400. On the surface, this may seem reasonable, but in re-ality it may not have been possible to execute the order at thatprice. Quite often, discouraging news will break overnight caus-ing the market to open much lower the next day. Consequently,the sale would have been executed well below the previous $400close. Even during the course of the day, unexpected news cancause markets to fluctuate abnormally. Under such conditions,Systems tested statistically under one-day price movements willnot ref lect a reasonable order execution. An example of this Situ-ation arises when market participants are waiting for the Com-merce Department to release a specific economic indicator.Occasionally when the announcement falls wide of expectations,a market will react almost instantly, often rising or falling 1% or2%. The time frame is so short that it is physically impossible formany transactions to take place. As a result, the System does nottruly indicate a realistic order execution.

Another example is the violent reaction of the market tosome unexpected news. On the evening of January 15, 1990(Eastern Standard Time), U.S. and allied troops began the inva-sion of Kuwait. The next day the market, äs measured by theDow-Jones average, rose well over 75 points at the start of trad-ing. In effect, there was no opportunity to get in (or out if youwere short) anywhere near to the previous night's close. This isan exceptional example, but it is remarkable how many"exceptions" occur äs soon äs you try to adapt one of thesemethods to the actual marketplace.

Another flaw with these Systems is that data are usuallyback tested for a specific time, and special rules are introducedso that the method fits the data retroactively solely to demon-strate huge paper profits. If you invent enough rules, it is rela-tively easy to show that a System has worked in the past.However, if rules are developed purely to justify profits in thesespecific periods, the chances are that these same rules will im-pede future success.


To ensure that a System is likely to work in the future, whent counts, the rules should be simple and kept to a minimum, andhe testing period should cover many markets over many years."he problem with most of these advertised ventures is that they;ive you the results of only the most successful markets. If yousk the advocates of these schemes to report their findings forther time periods or other markets, you will be greeted withlank stares.

A final drawback of Systems is that they usually fail whenalled out into the real world. The reason? Market conditionshange. Figure 1-3 shows a System based on a simple moving av-rage crossover. This method works well when the market showsclear-cut trend of the kind seen between January and March

991. However, the same System could hand you your head on alatter when price action is more volatile, äs it was between mid-larch and May 1991.

gure 1-3 S&P versus a Twenty-Five-Day Moving Average. Source:•ing Market Review.

Is No Holy Grau

Changes in the character of a market are not just limited tochanges in trend volatility. Any method that uses the past toforecast the future assumes that past behavior will repeat.

Systems constructed from assumptions concerning basic eco-nomic fundamentals are also subject to failure. For example, ithas been established that, in almost all cases, stock prices sooneror later rally in the face of falling interest rates and begin to fallsometime after rates have begun to rise. The lags fall into a fairlypredictable ränge most of the time but on occasion can be undulylong. These exceptions can result in missed opportunities or dev-astating losses. This problem occurred at the beginning of theDepression. Interest rates peaked in the fall of 1929, yet the stockmarket declined by about 75% over the next three years. In thisinstance, the knowledge that rates lead equity prices could haveled to devastating losses. Timing is everything. In a similar vein,short-term interest rates bottomed out in December 1976 at 4.74%and almost quadrupled to a cyclical peak of 16.5% in March 1980.Yet stock prices in the same period äs measured by the S&PComposite were unchanged.

While the inverse relationship of interest rates to equityprices works well äs an indicator of market direction most of thetime, these examples show that it is far from perfect and cer-tainly no Holy Grail. The reason for this is that once a certainindicator or investment approach works for a while, word of itsmoney-making capabilities spreads like wildfire. Then, when ev-eryone is aware of its potential, it becomes factored into the priceand the relationship breaks down.

This concept works just äs well in reverse, where fear ratherthan greed is the motivator. People, it seems, tend to repeat pastmistakes but not those of the most recent past. Once-bitten-twice-shy applies äs much to trading and investing äs to anyother form of human activity. In the 1973-1974 bear market, forexample, equity investors were clobbered principally due to ris-ing interest rates. In virtually every business cycle throughouthistory, investors have waited to seil Stocks after interest ratesstarted to rise. In the cycle that followed the 1973-1974 marketdebacle, however, investors sold Stocks in anticipation of rising


In his book Money and Investment Profits, Hamilton Bolton,the founder of the Bank Credit Analyst, a monthly newsletter,commented, "It is perhaps ironic that to be of value an indicatormust be far from ideal, subject to considerable controversy, andsubject also to considerable vagaries in timing. The perfect indi-cator would be useless; the imperfect one may be of investmentvalue" (p. 201). Until his untimely death in the late 1960s, heprobably worked on more indicators in his investment careerthan any other person. Thus, a creative genius such as Bolton,who was a master at developing indicators and at forecastingmarkets, came to the conclusion that imperfection was an achiev-able and profitable goal, whereas perfection was an impossibleobjective and would be unprofitable anyway.

Many traders and investors spend their entire investmentlives looking for the Holy Grail without realizing it. For example,a person may first get involved in the market through an appeal-ing advertisem*nt that promises investment success based on aparticular approach or a wonderful track record. After a while,reality sets in and the investor sees that the approach has little orno merit. It is then discarded, and a new one is adopted. Thisprocess can continue ad infinitum.

This book, for example, may have been purchased as part ofa search for the Holy Grail of investment. What often happens isthat people become so engrossed in their search for quick profitsthat they rarely stand back and review their situation from awider perspective. If they did, they would understand that thesevarious approaches and systems in effect represent small psycho-logical circles.

Each circle begins with the adoption of the new approach,indicator, expert, or system. Enthusiasm and confidence probablyresult in some initial profits as the user conveniently overlooksmany of the new game's drawbacks. Gradually, losses begin tomount. This crumbling state of affairs eventually leads to dejec-tion and the final jettisoning of the system, accompanied by firmresolutions "never to enter the market again." The passage oftime is a great healer, and sooner or later another cycle in the

for the Holv Grail gets underway.

There Is No Holy Grail

After a while, the thoughtful person will question this self-perpetuating cycle. One major plus is that the chastened investorhas gained some experience along with the realization that in-vesting and trading represent more an art than a precise science.Once market participants understand that the Holy Grail doesnot exist, they will have learned a valuable lesson. To paraphraseBolton, the goal of imperfection in the investment world is likelyto lead to greater profits than the pursuit of perfection.

2How to Be Objective

There are no certainties in this investmentworld, and where there are no certainties, youshould begin by understanding yourself.

—James L. Fraser

.s soon as money is committedto a financial asset, so too is emotion. Any biases that werepresent before the money was placed on the table are greatly in-creased once the investment has actually been made. If nonewere present before, they certainly will appear now. Howeverhard we may try, certain prejudices are bound to creep in. A suc-cessful investor realizes this and knows that he must try to main-tain psychological balance through self-control.

Even if perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal, we muststill take steps to increase our impartiality as much as possible.Both internal and external forces can upset mental balance. By"internal," I am referring to the psychological makeup of an indi-vidual. Obtaining objectivity then becomes a matter of assessingmental vulnerabilities and determining how best to overcomethem; this process is the subject of Chapter 2. External forces,which emanate from elements such as colleagues, the media, andevents going on around us, will be covered in Chapter 3.

How to Be Objective

An investor or trader faces a constant bombardment ofemotional stimuli. News, gossip, and sharp changes in pricescan set the nerves quivering like the filament in an incandescentlamp unless properly controlled. These outside influences causethe emotions to shift between the two extremes of fear andgreed. Once you lose your mental balance, even for an instant,your will and reasoning will be swept away, and you will findyourself acting as the vast majority of market participants act—on impulse.

To counteract this tendency, you must be as objective as pos-sible. Remember: Prices in financial markets are determined bythe attitude of investors to the emerging economic and financialenvironment rather than by the environment itself. This meansthat price fluctuations will be determined by the hopes, fears,and expectations of the crowd as they attempt to downplay futureevents and their biases toward them. Your job is to try as much aspossible to ignore those around you and form an independentopinion while making a genuine attempt to overcome your ownprejudices.

The markets themselves are driven by crowd emotions.Nothing you can do will change that; it is a fact that you have toaccept. Despite this, becoming a successful investor demands thatyou overcome your mental deficiencies and rise above the crowd.As a natural result, you will find yourself outside the consensus.

Beliefs, Not Prejudices

The character and psychological makeup of each individual isunique. This means that some of us come to the marketplacewith more biases than others. In this respect, it is important tonote that many of our prejudices are shaped and influenced byour experiences. Someone who has suffered a great deal fromfinancial insecurity through bankruptcy or a recent job loss, forexample, is much less likely to take risks when investing. Agiven piece of bad news will send this person scurrying to his


broker to sell. On the other hand, another investor may havehad the opposite, pleasant experience of receiving a raise or anunexpected inheritance. Such an individual would come to themarketplace with a completely different outlook and would bemuch more likely to weather any storms. By the same token,this more fortunate person would be more likely to approachthe markets with an overconfident swagger. Since such anattitude results in muddled thinking and careless decision mak-ing, this individual also would come to the marketplace with adisadvantage.

So we see that neither person is objective, because his ac-tions are based on his experiences rather than on his beliefs. Inthe preceding example, both investors acted on impulse, not logi-cal thought. The confident investor made the right decision, buthe was lucky. If the price had dropped, the fearful investor wouldhave come out in a relatively better position than his self-assuredcounterpart. Thus, for any of us, achieving objectivity involvesdifferent challenges based on our own characteristics—whetherthey be bullish, bearish, daring, or cautious—and shaped by ourunique experiences.

This discussion will set out the major pitfalls that preventus from reaching objectivity and establish some broad principlesfor avoiding these hazards. You are the only person who can ap-praise your experiences and the type of biases that you maybring to the marketplace. Only you can measure the nature anddegree of your own preconceived ideas. Once you have assessedthem, you will be in a far stronger position to take the appropri-ate action to offset them.

A doctor examines a patient for symptoms and prescribesthe appropriate remedy. Treating a bad case of the "subjectives"is no different. Pain is the symptom of a headache; a string oflosses is the symptom of poor investment and trading decisions.The treatment is to reexamine the events and decisions that ledup to those losses using some of the concepts discussed in thischapter, and then to follow up by using the remedies suggestedlater in this book.

How to Be Objective

$ Mastering Fear and Greed

Figure 2-1 shows that the target of objectivity or mental balancelies approximately in the middle between the two destructivemental forces of fear and greed. Fear is a complex emotion takingmany forms such as worry, fright, alarm, and panic. When fear isgiven free rein, it typically combines with other negative emo-tions such as hatred, hostility, anger, and revenge, thereby attain-ing even greater destructive power.

Aspects of Fear

In the final analysis, fear among investors shows itself in twoforms: fear of losing and fear of missing out. In his book How IHelped More Than 10,000 Investors to Profit in Stocks, George Schae-fer, the great Dow theorist, describes several aspects of fear andthe varying effects they have on the psyche of investors:

A Threat to National Security Triggers Fear. Any threat of war, de-clared or rumored, dampens stock prices. The outbreak of war is


Figure 2-1 Fear-Greed Balance. Source: Pring Market Review.


usually treated as an excuse for a rally, hence the expression:"Buy on the sound of cannon, sell on the sound of trumpets."This maxim is derived from the fact that the outbreak of war canusually be anticipated. Consequently, the possibility is quicklydiscounted by the stock market, and, therefore, the market, witha sigh of relief, begins to rally when hostilities begin. As it be-comes more and more obvious that victory is assured, the eventis factored into the price structure and is fully discounted by thetime victory is finally achieved. "The sound of trumpets" be-comes, therefore, a signal to sell. Only if the war goes badly areprices pushed lower as more fear grips investors.

All People Fear Losing Money. This form of fear affects rich andpoor alike. The more you have the more you can lose, and there-fore the greater the potential for fear in any given individual.

Worrisome News Stimulates Fear. Any news that threatens oureconomic well-being will bring on fear. The more serious the sit-uation, the more pronounced is the potential for a selling panic.

A Fearful Mass Psychology Is Contagious. Fear breeds more fear.The more people around us who are selling in response to badnews, the more believable the story becomes, and the more realis-tic the situation appears. As a result, it becomes very difficult todistance ourselves from the beliefs and fears of the crowd, so wealso are motivated to sell. By contrast, if the same breaking newsstory received less prominence, we would not be drawn into thismass psychological trap and would be less likely to make thewrong decision.

Fear of a Never-Ending Bear Market Is a Persistent Myth. Once asizable downtrend has gotten underway, the dread that it willnever end becomes deeply entrenched in the minds of investors.Almost all equity bull markets are preceded by declining interestrates and an easy-money policy that sow the seeds for the nextrecovery. This trend would be obvious to any rational person

How to Be Objective

who is able to think independently. However, the sight of sharplydeclining prices in the face of such an improving background re-inforces the fear that "this time it will be different" and that thedecline will never end.

Individuals Retain All Their Past Fears. Once you have had a badexperience in the market, you will always fear a similar recur-rence, whether consciously or subconsciously, or both. If youhave made an investment that resulted in devastating losses, youwill be much more nervous the next time you venture into themarket. As a result, your judgment will be adversely affected byeven the slightest, often imagined, hint of trouble. That intima-tion will encourage you to sell so that you can avoid the psycho-logical pain of losing yet again.

This phenomenon also affects the investment community asa whole. Prior to 1929, the collective psyche lived in dread of an-other "Black Friday." In 1869, a group of speculators tried to cor-ner the gold market. When the gold price plummeted, they wereforced to liquidate. This resulted in margin calls, the effect ofwhich also spilled over into the stock market causing a terriblecrash. Even though few of today's investors experienced the"Black Thursday" crash of 1929, this event still casts a shadowover the minds of most investors. As a consequence, even the merehint of such a recurrence is enough to send investors scurrying.

The Fear of Losing Out. This was not one of Schaefer's classifica-tions of fear, but it is a very powerful one, nonetheless. This phe-nomenon often occurs after a sharp price rise. Portfolio managersare often measured on a relative basis either against the marketit*elf or against a universe of their peers. If they are underin-vested as a sharp rally begins, the perception of missing out on aprice move and of subsequent underperformance is so great thatthe fear of missing the boat forces them to get in.

This form of fear can also affect individuals. Often, an in-vestor will judge, quite correctly, that a major bull market in aspecific financial asset is about to get underway. Then when the


big move develops, he does not participate for some reason. Itmight be because he was waiting for lower prices, or more likelybecause he had already got in but had then been psyched out dueto some unexpected bad news. Regardless of the reason, such"sold out bulls" suddenly feel left out and feel compelled to getback into the market. Ironically, this usually occurs somewhereclose to the top. Consequently, the strong belief in the bull mar-ket case coupled with the contagion of seeing prices explode re-sults in the feeling of being left out.

I have found personally that this fear of missing the boat isfrequently coupled with anger, which may be triggered by a mi-nor mishap that compounds my frustration. These mistakes typi-cally take the form of an unfortunate execution, a bad fill, a lostorder, and so on. Inevitably, I have found this burst of emotion tobe associated with a major, often dramatic turning point in themarket. This experience tells me two things. First, I have obvi-ously lost my sense of objectivity as the need to participate at allcosts overrides every other emotion. My decision is thereforelikely to be wrong. Second, the very nature of the situation—alengthy period of rising prices culminating in total frustration—symbolizes an overextended market. It is reasonable to expect thatothers are also affected by the same sense of frustration, whichimplies that all the buying potential has already been realized.

When you find yourself in this kind of situation it is almostalways wise to stand aside. A client once said to me, "There isalways another train." By this, he meant that even if you do missthe current opportunity, however wonderful it may appear, pa-tience and discipline will always reward you with another. If youever find yourself in this predicament, overcome the fear of miss-ing out and look for the next "train."

Fear, in effect, causes us to act in a vacuum. It is such anoverpowering emotion that we forget about the alternatives, tem-porarily losing the perception that we do have other choices.

Fear of losing can also take other forms. For instance, occa-sionally we play mental games by refusing to acknowledge the

How to Be Objective

existence of ominous developments. This could take the form ofconcentrating on the good news, because we want the market torally, and downplaying the bad news, although the latter may bemore significant. Needless to say, this kind of denial can lead tosome devastating losses.

Alternately, an investor may get into the market in the beliefthat prices are headed significantly higher, say by 30%, over thecourse of the next year. After a couple of weeks, the stock mayhave already advanced 15%. It then undergoes a minor correctionthat has absolutely no relevance so far as the long-term potentialis concerned. Nevertheless, the investor's fear of losing comes tothe surface as he mentally relives experiences of previous set-backs. The reasoning may be, "Why don't I get out now? Theshort-term correction that is likely to take place may well pushthe price below my entry point and I will be forced to take an-other loss. Far better if I liquidate and get back in when it goeslower." He has diverted his focus from what the market can givehim to what it can take away. Getting out would be quite in orderif his assessment of conditions had changed, but if the appraisalis based purely on a change in perceptions unaccompanied by analteration in the external environment, liquidation would notmake sense. One way of solving this dilemma would be to takeprofits on part of the position. This would relieve some of thepressure but would also leave him free to participate in the nextstage of the rally.

A more permanent and viable solution is first to recognize .that you have a problem in this area. Next, establish a plan thatsets realistic goals ahead of time and also permits the taking ofpartial profits under certain predetermined conditions. This ap-proach would stand a far greater chance of being successful thanknee-jerk trading or investment decisions caused by characterweakness. If this type of planning went into every trading or in-vestment decision it would eventually become a habit. The fear oflosing would then be replaced by a far more healthy fear of notfollowing the plan.



Greed is at the other extreme of our emotional makeup. It resultsfrom the combination of overconfidence and a desire to achieveprofitable results in the shortest amount of time. In this age ofleveraged markets, be they futures or options, the temptation togo for the quick home run is very strong. The problem is that thisquick-grab approach is bound to lead to greater stress and sub-jectivity.

Let's consider the case of a trader, Rex, who decides thatgold is in the early stages of a dynamic rally. He concludes fromhis fundamental and technical research that the bull market ismore or less the proverbial "sure thing." There are a number ofways in which to participate. One would be to invest in the metalor in gold shares by paying for either in full. An alternative andfar more tempting possibility would be to take a significant por-tion of available capital and speculate in the futures or optionsmarkets. In this way, his capital will be highly leveraged, and ifhe is right, the gains will be many times those of a simple cashinvestment.

Options are instruments that allow you to purchase a finan-cial asset or futures contract at a given price for a specific periodof time. Their primary advantage is that you cannot lose morethan 100% of your money and yet you gain from the tremendousleverage that options offer. The disadvantage is that if the pricedoes not rally by the time the option expires you stand to loseeverything. With options it is possible to be dead right on themarket and yet lose everything because the price did not meetyour objective by the time the option expired.

The other leveraged alternative—the purchase of futures—does not suffer from this drawback because the contract can al-ways be "rolled over," or refinanced, when it expires. The prob-lem with futures is that markets rarely move in a straight line.Let's say that Rex has a capital investment of $25,000, and ex-pects the price of gold to advance by $150. Margins vary withvolatility in the market, but let's suppose that the current margin

How to Be Objective

or deposit requirement is $2,000 per contract. This means thatRex could buy twelve contracts. Every $1 movement in the goldprice changes the value of each contract by $100, so a dollarmovement for an account holding 12 contracts would be $1,200. Ifthe price moves up by $150, his account will profit to the tune of$180,000. If he deducts $10,000 for commissions and carryingcharges, that's still a very healthy profit on a $24,000 investment.

The problem is that leverage can work both ways. Let's say,for example, that the price of gold does eventually go up by $150,but it goes down $15 first. This means that Rex's account initiallyloses $18,000. You might think that the $7,000 balance would besufficient to enable him to ride out the storm. However, his bro-ker will be quite concerned at this point and will issue a margincall. Either he must come up with the $17,000 or he will be forcedto liquidate the position. Here is an example where the analysisis absolutely correct but the extreme leveraging of the position,that is, the greed factor, results in disaster. How much more sen-sible it would have been just to purchase two contracts, ride outthe storm, and take profits when the price rallied to $150.

Another way in which people succumb to the greed factor isthrough pyramiding. Let's say Rex takes our advice and buys 2gold contracts. He sees the price rise by $25 and has a comfort-able feeling when he looks at his account to see that it has nowincreased from $25,000 to $30,000. Rex is quite happy because themarket is telling him that his assessment of the conditions is ab-solutely right. "What's wrong with adding a couple of con-tracts?" he asks himself. After all, his account has grown by$5,000 and the addition of 2 more contracts will only increase hismargin requirement by $4,000, so his excess equity over marginwill still be $1,000 more than when he started. He then suffers a$10 setback in the price, which pushes his total equity positionback to $26,000. This troubles him a little, but soon the pricetakes off again, and it's not long before the price has advancedanother $15 above where he bought his second tranche. His eq-uity now stands at $36,000, and his confidence is higher thanever. Having fought one battle successfully and seen his view


once again confirmed by the market, he calculates that if he buysanother 5 contracts and the market fulfills the last $110 of poten-tial, he will end up with his current $37,000 plus another$110,0000. At this point, his original investment has alreadygrown by about 50%, a very good rate of return. Unfortunately,Rex has become the victim of his own success and finds thetemptation of the extra $110,000 to be irresistible, so he plungesin with the 5 contracts.

Then the price rallies another $10, but instead of buyingmore, he decides to stay with his position. The next thing heknows the price suffers a setback to the place where he added the5 contracts. The mood of most market participants is quite upbeatat this time and many are accounting for the decline as "healthy"profit-taking. Having resisted the opportunity to add at higherprices, Rex is quite proud of himself and looks on the setback as agood place to augment to his position "on weakness," so he buys3 more contracts for a total of 12. Remember his equity is still ata healthy $37,000. What often happens at this stage is that theprice fluctuates within a narrow trading range. After all, it hasrallied by $45 without much of a correction. The price erodes afurther $5 in a quiet fashion and then experiences a sharp $17selloff. This means that it has retraced about 50% of the advancesince Rex entered the market. Rex still has a profit in his originalpurchase, but the problem is that he pyramided his position athigher prices and is now under water. The price has dropped by$22, which means the equity in his account has fallen from$37,000 to $10,600 (i.e., twelve contracts X $2,200).

Rex now has three choices: Meet the inevitable margin callby injecting more money in the account, liquidate the position, orsell enough contracts to meet the margin call. All three alterna-tives are unpleasant but would have been unnecessary if he hadstuck to his original plan. If he had, his equity would currentlybe at $29,400, and he would be $4,400 to the good.

As we know, his original prediction was correct, and theprice eventually did reach his price objective. If he had decidedat that point to consolidate his position and hold, he would stillhave come out with a profit. However, he didn't realize his strong

How to Be Objective

position at that point. All he could see is that his account hadfallen from a very healthy $37,000 to a very worrying $10,600—aloss of over 50%. The temptation for most people in this type ofsituation is to run for cover, as fear quickly overtakes greed asthe motivating force. Moreover, when prices decline, there is usu-ally a rationale trotted out by experts and the media. This justifi-cation may or may not hold water, but it is amazing how itscredibility appears to move proportionately with the amount theaccount has been margined.

The odds are therefore very high that our friend Rex willdecide to liquidate his entire position. A devastating loss of thisnature is a very worrying experience, but most traders will tellyou that once the position has been liquidated, most people feel asense of relief that the ordeal is over. The last thing Rex wants todo at this point is speculate in the futures markets. However, it isonly a matter of time before his psychological wounds heal andhe ventures back into the market. Like most people, he will vowthat he has learned from his mistake, but it is not until thoseprices go up and his equity grows that he will find out whetheror not he has really learned his lesson.

This example shows that success, if not properly controlled,can sow the seeds of failure. Anyone who has encountered a longstring of profitable trades or investments without any meaning-ful setbacks is bound to experience a feeling of well-being and asense of invincibility. This in turn results in more risk takingand careless decision making. Markets are constantly probing forthe vulnerabilities and weaknesses that we all possess, so thisreckless activity presents a golden opportunity for them to sowthe seeds of destruction. In this respect, remember that no one,however talented, can succeed always. Every trader and investorgoes through a cycle that alternates between success and failure.Successful traders and investors are fully aware of their feelingsof invincibility and often make a deliberate effort to stay out of themarket after they have experienced a profitable campaign. This"vacation" enables them to recharge their emotional batteriesand subsequently return to the market in a much more objectivestate of mind.


Investors who have had a run of success, whether from short-term trading or long-term investment, have a tendency to relaxand lower their guard, because they have not recently been testedby the market. When profits have been earned with very little ef-fort, they are not appreciated as much as when you have to sweatout painful corrections and similar market contortions. Part ofthis phenomenon arises because a successful campaign reinforcesour convictions that we are on the right path. Consequently, weare less likely to question our investment or trading position evenwhen new evidence to the contrary comes to the fore. We need torecognize that confidence moves proportionately with prices.

As our confidence improves, we should take countermea-sures to keep our feet on the ground so that we maintain oursense of equilibrium. At the beginning of an investment cam-paign, this is not as much a requirement as it is as the campaignprogresses, because fear and caution help rein in our tendency tomake rash decisions. As prices move in our favor, the solid anchorof caution gradually disappears. This means that sharp marketmovements that go against our position hit us by surprise. It ismuch better to be continually running scared and looking overour shoulder for developments that are likely to reverse the pre-vailing trend. Such unexpected shocks will be far less frequentbecause we will have learned to anticipate them. When events canbe anticipated, it is much easier to put them in perspective. Oth-erwise, their true significance may be exaggerated. The idea is totry to maintain a sense of mental balance so that these psycholog-ical disruptions can be more easily deflected when they occur.

Think of how a practitioner of karate maintains the poisethat enables him to deflect physical blows. The same should betrue for the investor or trader. Try to maintain your mental bal-ance by taking steps to be as objective as possible. Succumbing tothe emotional extremes of fear and greed will make you far morevulnerable to unexpected outside forces. Unless you can assesstheir true importance and then take the appropriate action by us-ing your head, you are more likely to respond emotionally tosuch stimuli, just like everyone else.

How to Be Objective

Many other emotions lie between the destructive polar ex-tremes of fear and greed. These traps, which also have the poten-tial to divert us from maintaining an objective stance, are dis-cussed in the following sections.

> Overtrading, or "Marketitis"

Many traders feel they need to play the market all the time. Rea-sons vary. Some crave the excitement. Others see it as a crutch toprop up their hopes. If you are out of the market, you cannotlook forward to its providing financial gain. When everythingelse in your life results in disappointment, the trade or invest-ment serves as something on which you can pin your hopes. Insuch situations, the trader or investor is using the market to com-pensate for his frustrations. For others, the motivation of con-stantly being in the market is nothing less than pure greed. In allthese cases, the motivations are flawed so it is not surprising thatthe results are also.

H. J. Wolf, in his 1926 book Studies in Stock Speculation, callsthis phenomenon "marketitis." He likens it to the same kind ofimpulse that makes a man board a train before he knows inwhich direction it is headed. The disease leads the trader to be-lieve that he is using his judgment when in fact he is only guess-ing, and it makes him think he is speculating when he is in factgambling. Wolfe viewed this subject to be of such importancethat he made it the "burden" of his ninth cardinal principle oftrading, "Avoid Uncertainty." (See Chapter 14.)

He is telling us that everyone should stay out of the marketwhen conditions are so uncertain that it is impossible to judge itsfuture course with accuracy. This conclusion makes a lot of sensewhen we consider that one of the requirements of obtaining men-tal balance and staying objective is to have confidence in our posi-tion. If we make a decision on which we are not totally convinced,we will easily be knocked off course by the slightest piece of badnews or an unexpected price setback.


Another consequence of overtrading is loss of perspective.Bull markets carry most stocks up just as a rising tide lifts allboats. In a bear market, most stocks fall most of the time. Thismeans that the purchase of a perfectly good stock is likely togo against you when the primary or main trend is down. If youare constantly in the market, your time horizon will be muchshorter, so much so that you will unlikely recognize the direc-tion of the prevailing primary trend. Only after a string of pain-ful losses will you come to the conclusion that the tide hasturned.

When business conditions deteriorate, manufacturers cutback on production because there is less chance of making a sale.Traders and investors should regard their market operations in asimilar businesslike approach by curtailing activity when themarket environment is not conducive to making profits.

> The Curse of the Quote Machine, or "Tickeritis"

A constant resort to price quotations clouds judgment. Uncon-trolled tape watching or quote gathering is a sure way of losingperspective. Just after I began trading futures in 1980,1 remem-ber renting a very expensive quote machine that also plottedreal-time charts. At the beginning of the trading day, the screenwas blank. As the day wore on, it gradually filled up as each tickor trade was plotted on the screen. This seemed to be a goodidea at the time, because my approach to speculation had a tech-nical, or chart-watching, bent. What better way to trade than tohave the most up-to-date information.

Unfortunately, the task of actually following these chartsand trading from them was emotionally draining. At the end ofthe day, it seemed as though I had endured several completebull and bear cycles. As a result, my perspective changed from along-term to an extremely short-term outlook. To make mattersworse, the market had usually moved a great deal by the timemy orders reached the floor of the exchange. Consequently, theexecutions were not what I had expected.

How to Be Objective

This point is not meant to reflect badly on the brokers con-cerned but merely to indicate that the time lags involved in suchtransactions were not conducive to trading successfully on such ashort-term horizon. I am not suggesting that one should nevertrade on an intraday basis. Very few people, however, have theaptitude and quick access to the floor of the exchange to makesuch an approach profitable. You really need to be a professional,devoting a full-time effort into such a project to have even a smallchance of success.

In 1926, Henry Howard Harper wrote an excellent bookcalled The Psychology of Speculation. He describes this constantneed to watch the market as "tickeritis." A sufferer of tickeritis,he reasoned, "is no more capable of reasonable and self-composedaction than one who is in the delirium of typhoid fever." He justi-fied this comment by explaining that the volatile action of priceson a ticker tape produces a sort of mental intoxication that"foreshortens the vision by involuntary submissiveness to mo-mentary influences." Just as an object seems distorted whenlooked at too closely through the camera's lens, so does close,constant study of the ticker tape or quote machine distort yourview of market conditions and values.

If you are in the quiet of your own home, it is possible toconduct a careful and reasoned analysis of what investment ortrading decisions you would make the next day or next weekbased on certain predetermined triggering points. In the quicklyshifting sands of rumor, manipulation, and unexpected news,however, it becomes very easy to lose your reasoning powers. Oc-casionally, you will find yourself subject to the hysteria of thecrowd, frequently doing the exact opposite of what you may havebeen planned in the quiet solitude of the living room last night.This does not mean that everyone who turns off the TV or quotemachine will be successful, merely that such a person will havegreater perspective and a more open mind than one who submitsto the lure of ticker or quote.

Some traders and investors have an ability to sense impor-tant reversals in price trends based on their experience, observa-tion, and interpretation of price quotes or ticker action. In this

case, they are using the price action solely as a basis for makingdecisions. But this ability takes a great deal of expertise. Success-ful practitioners of this method live and breathe markets and areextremely self-controlled. The main difference between these in-dividuals and the vast majority of us is that they become buyersafter prices have reacted adversely to bad news and sellers whenprices respond upward to good news. They do not react to newsin a knee-jerk fashion but use their experience to move in theopposite direction of the crowd.

$Hope, the Most Subtle of Mind Traps

After prices have experienced a significant advance and then un-dergo a selling frenzy, the activity often leaves the unwary in-vestor with a substantial loss. It is natural to hope that priceswill return to their former levels, thereby presenting him withthe opportunity to "get out." This redeeming concept of hope isone of the greatest obstacles to clear thinking and maintenanceof objectivity.

Hope often becomes the primary influence in determining afuture investment stance. Unfortunately, it can only warp or ob-scure sound judgment and will undoubtedly contribute to greaterlosses. In a sense, the victim of hope is mentally trying to makethe market do something that he desires rather than make an ob-jective projection based on a solid appraisal of conditions.

Hope is defined as the "expectation of something desired."Sound investment and trading approaches are based, not on de-sire, but on a rational assessment of how future conditions willaffect prices. Whenever your position is under water, youshould step back and ask yourself whether the reason for theoriginal purchase is still valid or not. Ask these questions: If allmy money were in cash right now, would this investment ortrade still make sense? Are the original reasons for makingthe purchase still valid? If the answers are positive, then staywith the position; if not, then the only justification is one based

How to Be Objective

Whenever you can identify hope as the primary justification forholding a position, close it out immediately. This action will achievetwo things. First, it will protect you from a potentially seriousloss. If your exposure is being rationalized on hope alone, youwill be ignorant of any lurking dangers and will be that muchmore vulnerable to further price declines. Second, it is vital foryou to regain some objectivity and free yourself from as manybiases as possible. This can be achieved only by selling your po-sition and making an attempt at a balanced assessment of yoursituation.

^ Sentimentality

Everyone involved in markets sooner or later discovers an areafor which they have a special liking. It may be a specific com-modity, stock, or industry group. It could be the company youwork for or an old inherited stock that has consistently grownand grown. So-called "gold bugs" feel that way about the price ofgold, for example. There is certainly nothing wrong in developinga philosophy or expertise that empathizes with a particular assetclass or individual entity provided you hold it for sound reasons.On the other hand, if you become married to a particular stock,for example, never questioning its justification in your portfolio,you are really holding it for sentimental and not rational reasons.

Companies go through life cycles and cannot be expected togrow at a consistently high rate forever. Figure 2-2 shows the lifecycle of a typical company. First comes the dynamic stage of in-novation. This is followed by consolidation and maturity. Finally,as new innovations and techniques come to the fore, the processof decay begins. This final stage usually occurs long after theoriginal founders have left the scene. The current managementessentially is resting on the reputation of a company that wasbuilt up by the nucleus of the original farsighted managers. Un-motivated by the same ideals and goals of its founders, the firmhas become fat and lazy. At the same time, new dynamic compe-tition has appeared on the scene, and the business environment


mind. The greatest danger occurs when we become quite dog-matic about our interpretation of where things are headed. Theresult is that we are more likely to blot out of our minds anyevidence that might conflict with these preconceived notions. Itis only after the market has moved against our position and isdealing out some financial pain that we begin to question ouroriginal belief. Consequently, anyone who holds a strong inflex-ible view is coming to the market with a tremendous bias that isinconsistent with the desired state of objectivity.

There is an old saying that the market abhors uncertainty.This adage makes sense, because the market is—as you nowknow—effectively the sum total of the attitudes, hopes, and fearsof each participant. As individuals, we do not like uncertainty.The need to have a firm opinion of where prices are headed istherefore a mental trick that many of us use to eliminate thisuncertainty. Removing this bias is difficult, because we are allinfluenced by events and news going on around us.

Let's take an example of an economy coming out of a reces-sion. The news is usually quite bad as .unemployment, which is alagging indicator of economic health, gets prominent play in themedia. However, leading indicators of the economy such as moneysupply and the stock market do not have the same human interestaspects as mass layoffs and similar stories. You don't sell a lot ofnewspapers or increase your TV ratings if you tell people that over-time hours, which are a reliable leading indicator of the labor mar-ket, are rebounding sharply. As a result, we experience a continualbombardment of bad news at the very moment that the economy isemerging from hard times. This media hype is bound to have adetrimental effect on our judgment, causing us to come up withunrealistically pessimistic scenarios. We find ourselves decidingthat stocks will decline, and we execute our investment plansaccordingly. When the market rallies, it catches us completely bysurprise. We deny the reality, since it does not fit in with our pre-conceived notions of the direction that it "should" be taking.

One way of overcoming such biases is to study previousperiods when the economy was emerging from recession and try

How to Be Objective

to identify economic indicators that might have signaled such adevelopment ahead of time (i.e., leading indicators). This exerciseneed not be that complicated. Some signs to look for would be asix-month or longer decline in interest rates, including a couple ofcuts in the discount rate by the Federal Reserve, a four- to six-month pickup in housing starts, and an improvement in the aver-age amount of overtime worked.

This exercise can provide a foundation for a sound view ofthe economy's future course. If we rely on a consensus of a num-ber of indicators such as the preceding ones, we will be alerted toany important change that may take place in the direction of theeconomy.

Economic indicators move in trends lasting a year or more.If you base a long-term scenario on one month's data, the chancesare that it will give you a misleading portrait of the economy,especially as this interpretation is most likely to be similar tothat held by other market participants and the media. In effect, itwill be highly believable to the unwary.

An investment approach based on solid indicators that re-acts in a cautious manner to highly publicized monthly readingsof the market beats one that is based on a knee-jerk reaction toeconomic stories that the media have hyped or exaggerated waybeyond the bounds of reality. Careful study of the economic indi-cators just cited and others that have a good forecasting trackrecord help to establish a set of objective criteria that make it lesslikely an investor would try to make the market dance to his orher tune.

I have presented but one instance of a simple framework thatcould serve as such an unbiased foundation. Any proven invest-ment philosophy or carefully designed system would serve thesame function. For example, stock pickers may base their invest-ment decisions on a specific set of fundamental criteria that overa long period of time have proved to be profitable. Others mightuse a technical system based on price action. The essential factoris that all these approaches give the practitioner an objective ba-sis for making investments or trading decisions.


SummaryA good starting point for self-examination is to review yourown investment or trading record over the past few years. Evenif you have made a profit, careful examination may reveal thatthe record owes a considerable debt to one particular investmentwhose success was due as much to chance as to any other posi-tive factor.

Even successful investing, then, leaves room for improve-ment, and this can be achieved by anyone with determination.The improvement will not come overnight because it involves achange in habits, and this can occur only with constant repeti-tion and reinforcement over a long period. Our habits are deeplyingrained emotional patterns that were established fairly earlyin our lives. Psychologists tell us that they are unlikely tochange unless we make repeated and concentrated efforts tochange them.

All our emotions lie ready to give or receive impulses basedon external criteria. The direction of these impulses, or the man-ner in which we react to a given stimulus, is determined by ourprevious experiences and biases. The very fact that you are read-ing this book indicates that you have the desire to improve yourthinking.

A man must think for himself; must follow hisown convictions. Self-trust is the foundationof successful effort,

—Dickson G. Watts

L n the previous chapter, I estab-lished that one of the most important requirements for successfulinvesting is the ability to achieve total objectivity. This is far eas-ier said than done because however hard we try to achieve men-tal balance, biases from our experiences or outside influences arebound to color our judgment. Despite the difficulty, however, wemust try to increase our impartiality as much as possible.

Forces both internal and external can upset our mental equi-librium. To attain objectivity, we must assess the internal forces—our psychological vulnerabilities—and determine how best toovercome them. This process was covered in Chapter 2. Externalforces emanate from colleagues, the media, and events going onaround us. These factors will be discussed in this chapter.

For the most part, exogenous factors have an unhealthy ef-fect on our emotions, distracting us from clear and independentthinking. As such, they represent a major obstacle to achievingour investment goals. It is difficult for people operating in a


highly technological society to insulate themselves from all thesedestructive tendencies. The obvious solution would be to move toan isolated part of the world, turn off all communications, andnever read a newspaper. In this way, we would never have ourviews distorted by events and outside opinions. Such a solutionis, of course, totally impractical. Moreover, as we shall learnlater, these negative outside influences in the form of group-think or crowd behavior can actually be used in a positive way.Media hype, broker talk, tips, and idle gossip can themselves be-come invaluable analytical tools for making wise investment de-cisions when used as a basis for contrary investment thinking.

Once we accept that random opinion creates a certain levelof mental "noise," then achieving the goal of maximum objectiv-ity requires us consciously to filter out as many of these un-healthy influences as possible. Jesse Livermore, acknowledged bymany as one of history's greatest speculators, tried to insulatehimself from external influences that might affect his ability tomake money in the markets. In his book Jesse Livermore's Methodsof Trading Stocks, author Richard D. Wyckoff describes the stepstaken by Livermore to avoid such influences.

For a long while he did not enjoy the advantages of silence andseclusion but many years since, he has made a practice of tradingfrom his own private offices where he is not disturbed by thedemoralizing hubbub of a customer's room. The morning journeyfrom his town house . . . is made by automobile; he does not usethe railroad trains or subways. Many wealthy and prominent fi-nanciers do so, but they have no special reason for avoiding contactwith other people, [author's italics] Livermore has; he knows that ifhe mixes during the trip to his offices, the subject is bound toturn to the stock market, and he will be obliged to listen to a lotof tips and gossip which interfere with the formation of his own judg-ment, [author's italics] Playing a lone hand, he does his ownthinking and does not wish to have his mental processes inter-fered with morning, noon or night, (p. 12)

Wyckoff later describes Livermore's office setup. Essentially,it was very simple, consisting of a stock tape and quotations ofsome leading stocks and commodities. (This indicates that the

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interconnections among the various markets being popularizedtoday were already known and practiced more than half a cen-tury ago.)

Jesse Livermore spent his day closely watching the tape andseeing how the ticker responded to news stories. His interest inmonitoring the news flashes was based not on emotion (i.e., buy-ing on good news and selling on bad), but on careful reflection ofhow those news stories affected the market or a particular stock.Livermore was a great believer in the theory that the real news isnot in the headlines but behind them. He believed that the only wayto succeed in the market was through careful studying and un-derstanding the economic conditions that underlay the financialand fundamental situation of specific companies. Livermore hada particular affinity for studying and interpreting the action onthe tape. Other successful people have taken different ap-proaches. In this respect, each of us must search out investmentphilosophies and decide which one suits us best. Some maychoose value investing; others might specialize in growth stocks,asset allocation, or the execution of some simple but effectivetechnical system. As long as it works reasonably well, the natureof the approach is unimportant. What is essential, though, is anability to execute a chosen technique in a way that does not be-come sidetracked by unhealthy outside influences.

Although he was not an extremist, Livermore did believethat a sound body helps to create a sound mind. This idea ofclearheadedness growing out of good physical condition is re-flected in the fact that he was almost always on his feet andstanding erect during the trading day. This posture, he asserted,enabled him to breathe properly and ensured unimpeded circu-lation. Wyckoff also tells us that another Wall Street legend.James R. Keene practiced a similar standing routine.

This brief look at Livermore's operations shows us that hewas prepared to make important changes in his habits andlifestyle to accommodate his ambitions. He understood early onthat it was important to learn as much as he could about the sub-ject of investing. Livermore also knew that market prices are verymuch influenced by psychological factors, and so he undertook


the formal study of psychology as well. When Wyckoff askedhim to identify the two most important attributes of a successfulinvestor, Livermore said patience and knowledge. He insistedthat to do well, a market operator must in some way isolate him-self to control the debilitating psychological effects of outside in-fluences because they can easily divert the unwary fromexecuting an otherwise perfectly conceived plan of action.

Having established the importance of maintaining an objec-tive stance, we can now turn our attention to some of the morecommon ways in which our judgment may be distorted. At thesame time, we can consider some techniques to help us overcomethese seductive influences. The influences that we will examinefall under these headings: The Price-News Drug Effect; Gossip,Opinion Experts, and Gurus; and what I shall call "The GreenerPastures Effect."

The Price-News Drug Effect

Years ago, the only way investors and traders could obtain con-tinuous, up-to-the minute price quotes was to visit a broker'sboardroom. These rooms featured a ticker tape set aside for thefirm's customers. The boardrooms enabled them to obtain up-to-date information on the performance of their favorite stocks. Thiswas not, of course, an exercise in philanthropy by the sponsoringbroker, because the firm knew quite well that exposure to tapeaction would stimulate trades, thereby lining the firm's pocketswith commissions.

Today, the situation is far different, since traders and in-vestors have access to a tremendous selection of inexpensive on-line data, stock-quotation news, and charting services. It is nowpossible to get instant access to every trade and emerging newsevent in the comfort of your own home or office. Financial newschannels featuring every conceivable analyst with his or her"expert" opinion on the latest developments also are available.The value of such instant and hardly thoughtful analysis is ques-tionable. Moreover, the prognosticators typically appear free of

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charge, so they are motivated invariably by self-promotion andego enhancement.

In essence, any investor or trader now has extremely easyaccess to prices, news, and analyses that tend to stimulate emo-tions and override the intellect. Last night, for example, youmight have done some pretty thorough research on the bondmarket and concluded that interest rates were about to declineand bond prices would rally over the next few months. Thismorning you call your broker and purchase some bonds. Eventhough you have bought them for their long-term potential, youare so excited about their prospects that you can't avoid thetemptation to check in with your broker, a financial channel, oran on-line quote service to see how they are doing. As it turnsout, they are rallying. This makes you feel good, so later on inthe day you check in again. This process has stimulated youremotions to the extent that you are already "booking" the paperprofits on the way home from the office and wondering aboutbuying some more tomorrow. The following morning you can'twait for the market to open because you are really anxious tobuy more bonds.

Even though the extra purchase goes against your gameplan, you feel that this rally is "for real." You just have to get somemore. As it turns out, other people have the same idea. Bondprices open higher. This just serves to increase your confidence,for you think, "I'm on the right track." During the day, pricescontinue to rally. You are fully informed of this because the fre-quency of calls to your broker has now increased substantially.Even though bond prices actually close lower on the day, you re-gard this to be of little significance, because your confidencelevel is very high.

Let's analyze what happened. You have made a perfectlygood investment based on sound judgment. However, frequentcalls to your broker have heightened your emotional involve-ment. As a result, you have purchased far more bonds than youintended to originally and have greatly shortened your timehorizon. Remember that the bonds were initially bought with aholding period of 3 to 4 months in mind. Now you are watching


and being influenced by every twist and turn in the price, and soyou find it difficult to see the forest for the trees,

It's not all that surprising then that you decide to sell thebonds when your broker calls the next day with the news thatthe securities have sold off sharply and are now at a value belowthe price you paid for them. From the point of view of your orig-inal analysis, the reason for the decline is immaterial. You haveliquidated your long-term position because you have lost yoursense of perspective and ability to think independently.

This is just one example of what can happen in an actualtrading situation. Usually this process will be much more subtleand will play itself out over a much longer period. In effect, thedesire for news and price quotes becomes a kind of drug onwhich your emotional psyche needs to feed. As with all drugs, ittakes ever greater amounts to maintain the same level of "high."In this case, the dose takes the form of more and more calls toyour friendly broker, more often than not resulting in the pyra-miding of positions to a very unhealthy level. All addictions areunpleasant to kick, and this type of predicament is no different.In this case, the withdrawal symptoms typically assume theform of devastating losses, as the market slowly but surely as-saults every badly conceived position that you have taken.

The obvious way to overcome this problem is to take a leaffrom Livermore's book and try to stop such frequent contacts. Iam not suggesting that you should never look at price quotes orread the news, because everyone needs to do that from time totime. However, if you keep these contacts to a minimum, yourinvestment results are bound to improve.

One way of lowering exposure to unwanted clutter is to de-liberately structure your decision-making process so that pur-chase and sell decisions are made only when the markets areclosed. A particularly busy person may decide to do this overthe weekend when there is more likely to be adequate time forcontemplation and reflection. You should also do your researchwhen the markets are inactive. In this way, news events willhave a less impulsive influence on your decisions. If you are an

trader, it makes sense to use technical analysis to make

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trading decisions. Leave orders ahead of time with your brokerbased on the probable action of certain stocks. Your decisionsabout when to enter and exit the market will then be based oncold, predetermined criteria and not on hot impulses and youwill get in and out because of predetermined jnarket action noton an impulse.

^ Gossip, Opinion Experts, and Gurus

Virtually every book on market psychology warns us against pay-ing undue attention to gossip and rumors. In the old days, thisused to take the form of one-on-one contact between brokers andclients, for example. Today, gossip takes other forms. Newspaperand TV reporting may be viewed as a form of institutionalizedgossip. A recent variation of this phenomenon is the growingpopularity of gurus, who, in many instances are a human substi-tute for the financial Holy Grail. Let us look at each of these inturn, starting with the general gossip and rumor mill.

Broker, There's a Loss in My Account

The information lifeline of the vast majority of investors is theirbroker. In most instances, however, people are far better offthinking for themselves than taking the advice of a broker. Thereare exceptions, of course, and most brokers when asked willcount themselves in this category. Never forget, though, that al-most all brokers obtain their income from commissions, whichnaturally sets up a conflict of interest. Experience tells us thatthe most successful investors are those who hang in for the longterm, rarely selling their holdings. This policy contrasts with theobjective of the broker and his management. Their idea of successis to maximize commissions.

In reality, a good and successful broker, who looks after hiscustomers' long-term financial well-being, will find that the com-missions take care of themselves through referrals from happy


customers, growing accounts, and so forth. The unsuccessful bro-ker will be the one who churns the account through constantswitching of positions. His clients will invariably lose money, andhe will lose their accounts. He will gain over the short run butlose over the long one.

Even if you are lucky enough to run into one of the selectfew brokers with a mature attitude, there is still no substitute forthinking through each situation for yourself. If you are unable toset realistic profit objectives and decide ahead of time the kindsof conditions or events that will justify the liquidation of a posi-tion, you will certainly be more susceptible to news stories orother digressions that even the most enlightened broker will putin your way.

Do not be fooled by luxury sedans and smart clothes, theyreflect merchandising ability, not market acumen and success.Brokers also deal in fashion when recommending financial as-sets. Most sell the merchandise that is sent out from the headoffice. This could take the form of research on a stock, a "hot"new issue or a "can't-lose" tax shelter. Some brokers will selltheir clients anything that has a large commission attached to it.This is hardly different from a car salesperson who receives anextra commission for selling a particularly slow-selling but heav-ily stocked car. Brokers in large offices often get carried away byparticularly aggressive colleagues. In such a competitive environ-ment, it is easy for your broker to recommend individual issueswithout a careful examination of its underlying value andprospects. The attitude is: "After all, if Charlie is selling it to hisclients, then it must be all right."

Never forget that it is your money and that you are the boss.Consequently, you must do the thinking and are the only one whoshould make the decisions. Use the broker as a source of informa-tion to help you to arrive at more enlightened conclusions thanyou could have arrived at on your own. Use the tremendous re-search resources to which most brokers have access. After all,your commission dollars are indirectly paying for this informa-tion. You might as well take advantage of it.

Differentiate Between Facts and Opinions

When considering a particular piece of news or the news back-ground, it is important to differentiate between facts and opin-ion. In almost all instances, it is the news and the stories behindthe news that merit further study. Opinions do not. Moreover,general news rather than stock market news is usually morehelpful in formulating a view on the future direction of prices.This is because the freshest market news, unless it is unexpected,has already been factored into the price structure. On the otherhand, the general news reflects underlying economic and finan-cial trends that unfold slowly. They are also more difficult to de-tect and are therefore not generally discounted by the market.

Beware of Experts!

When it comes to opinions, we must remember that the expertsare no more immune from personal biases than we are. In almostall instances, they consciously or unconsciously color what theysay or write. In Speculation, Its Sound Principles, author ThomasHoyne warns us that we should never "accept as authoritative anyexplanation of any person for a past action of the market." Hoynejustifies this on the ground that we should think these things outfor ourselves. This practice, he claims, gives us the best prepara-tion for deciding what may happen in the future. We always feelmore comfortable if we can come up with a rational justificationfor a specific price fluctuation. Just think how an "expert" feelswhen someone calls up from The Wa// Street Journal to ask why themarket fell today. The expert must either come up with a plausi-ble explanation, or risk looking uninformed by replying, "I don'tknow." The same is true of your broker or anyone in the positionof being paid to "know." In essence, long-term swings in the fi-nancial markets can be rationalized by the changing perceptionsof investors toward basic changes in economic and financialconditions. Unfortunately, that sort of explanation does not sell


papers or maintain viewers, so the media are forced to resort tothe more rational price movement justification approach.

The problem of literal interpretation of news reporting ismade even worse because financial reporters typically contactseveral analysts to get their views on the day's market action.From these reports, there emerges a sort of consensus fromwhich the journalist can create a headline. A typical article ap-peared on September 25, 1990. The headline read "Bond Yieldsh*t March 1989 Levels." Anyone picking up the paper and read-ing the article would come away with the distinct impression thatyields were headed much higher and prices much lower becauseof soaring oil prices, and so on. However, several days later, onthe 28th of September, the same market advanced and the head-line read "Treasury Bond Prices Jump After Nervous InvestorsBail Out of Major Banking, Financial Issues." Anyone making adecision to sell based on the article would have been wrong, be-cause the price then went back up again. (See Figure 3-1, pointsA and B.)

Figure 3-1 Government Bond Futures November 1990. Source: PringMarket Review.

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This is a typical example of market-related news as it is pre-sented in the financial press. I do not mean to criticize the WallStreet Journal specifically for it is arguably the world's premierfinancial newspaper. The journalists who write such articles arenot paid to forecast but to report the news. That, of course, in-cludes street gossip. I am merely stressing that you should nottake these articles literally and use them as a basis for makinginvestment decisions because the price movement has normallytaken place by the time they are published. Think of it this way:There is no story until the price moves, but the price movementit*elf creates the need for a story because it has to be rational-ized. When you think about it, newspaper reporting of this na-ture is really a sophisticated and widely disseminated form ofgossip featuring off-the-cuff opinions and rumors. A principaldifference between media-promulgated and regular gossip isthat the former carries the aura of authority and is thereforemore believable.

Don't Take Action Based on Tips or Rumors

One of the investor's most useful pieces of information is the cer-tain knowledge that market prices are determined by the mentalattitude of market participants to emerging underlying businessconditions. In his excellent book Psychology of the Stock MarketG. C. Selden devoted a whole chapter to the concept of "they.""They" are familiar to anyone who has talked to brokers or otherpeople who earn their living from the financial markets. Typicalcomments are "They are going to take the stock up this week," or"They have sold off the bonds." It is clearly not possible to iden-tify who "they" are because "they" effectively means all othermarket participants.

Most investors at one time or another have bought stocksor other financial assets on the basis of tips provided by brokersor other "informed" sources. The opportunity to purchasesomething based on "exclusive" information is always very ap-pealing. Unfortunately, such transactions almost invariably end


in disaster, although that is obviously never the expectation atthe outset. For good reason, hot tips are rarely profitable. If youare the recipient of one, you buy the stock based on the assump-tion that this is a closely guarded secret. In most instances, how-ever, you can be fairly certain that quite a few other people knowabout the impending development so it has probably been dis-counted already. Another reason may be that the informationcontained in the tip is erroneous. Finally, the information may bequite legitimate but not as significant as you might think. Forexample, you may learn that Company A has just developed anew device for making widgets. On the surface, this may soundlike a breakthrough, in reality, however, the market may know ofother companies in a similar stage of widget development mak-ing your tip somewhat less than exciting.

Another form of tip is the broker-sponsored advertisem*ntfor a company that, it is claimed, has a bright future. The copymay be very convincing, but you should consider that the brokertypically has a vested interest in seeing the security rise in price.Perhaps the brokerage firm is making a market in the shares, inwhich case it will be carrying an inventory of the stock. If theprice falls, the firm loses money, but if it rises, the inventory canbe sold at a healthy profit.

Sometimes such advertisem*nts take the form of promotinga particular asset category or specific commodity, such as gold orsilver. In this instance, the broker gains from commissions gen-erated through any resulting transactions. This type of advertis-ing appears all the time, and it is not particularly helpful from ananalytical point of view. However, it can be extremely instructivewhen the same item is advertised by several sources at the sametime. Usually, the advertisem*nt will make the basic argumentclaiming that there is a threat to the potential supply of the com-modity and thus there is good reason to expect demand to in-crease. Precious metals are often advertised in this way. Thepoint here is that if everyone is advertising the "story" on silverthen the reason for buying it is well known. An old adage onWall Street says, "A bull market argument that is known is un-derstood." In other words, if all market participants are aware of

the potentially good news, it has already been factored into theprice. After all, if you know that the price will be influenced bysome positive factors down the road, doesn't it make sense tobuy before the news becomes reality? If you sit back and wait,someone else will learn the story and surely get there before you.

These advertised stories are usually believable because theytypically occur over a background of rapidly rising prices. Thiseuphoric market condition is, of course, a result of the rapid dis-semination of the bullish news. Be wary of any broker advertise-ments that promote a specific market or financial asset, especiallyif the advertisem*nt is sympathetic to the prevailing trend whichhas been underway for some time and is appearing from a num-ber of different sources.

Having said all that, there are some examples of broker ad-vertisem*nts for issues that have ultimately proved to be prof-itable. For example, a Merrill-Lynch campaign promoted bondsin the dark days of 1981 (see Figure 3-2). The advice was a few

Figure 3-2 U.S. Treasury Long-Term Government Bond Prices 1981.Source: Pring Market Review,


weeks premature, but anyone purchasing bonds would have donevery well over the next few years. The same effect occurred fol-lowing a similar campaign by Shearson in early 1982. This wasalso premature since prices did not reach their lows until thesummer (Figure 3-3). Even so, the long-term investor would haveprofited handsomely since the U.S. equity market was just aboutto begin one of the largest bull runs in history.

The concepts behind these campaigns and the one describedearlier for the silver market are quite different. The first one isconcerned with quick profits and catches the excitement of themoment. On the other hand, the bullish Merrill-Lynch and Shear-son advertisem*nts emerged when prices were falling and wentagainst the prevailing trend. They reflect two bullish characteris-tics. First, it is a response by the marketing people who are tryingdesperately hard to generate more commissions, which have de-clined as a result of the bear market. Second, values have slippedto bargain basem*nt levels, an important story that the research

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departments want to broadcast. The research people are preparedto put their necks on the line because they believe strongly thatthe market in question is forming a major bottom. By definition,such a campaign must take place after a long price decline whenthe environment is one of doom and gloom. Disappointing andfrustrating whipsaw rallies will have interrupted the bear-marketperiod so that the last thing most investors want to do is buy theparticular asset in question. Such advertisem*nts therefore repre-sent a good sign that the market is bottoming even though thetiming might be out by a few months.

The Cult of the Guru*

A guru is a market prognosticator who has earned his fame bycalling every important turn in a specific market. The reputationof a guru builds up after a number of years of market calls thatthe investment community perceives to be correct. Sometimesthe track record is not all that is claimed; it is the perception ofseeming invincibility that is important. During this period, theguru is building a base of followers who are anxious to spreadthe word. People love to relate tales of market success; setbacks,however, they keep to themselves. At some point, the reputationof the market expert really takes off, and he becomes famousthroughout the financial community. This often occurs as a di-rect result of some article or unusual publicity of a timely marketcall. From this point on, all eyes are on the guru as market par-ticipants and the media wait for his every word. Even rumors ofa change of opinion that are later denied can influence prices.The media always need to justify price movements with a logicalreason so the guru presents them with a perfect rationale. Themutual respect of the guru and the media initially proceeds to aperfect honeymoon. For his part, the guru is hungry for publicityto promote his following and to perpetuate the myth. By the

•A number of these ideas are adapted from "The Life Cycle of Gurus" by AlexanderElder (Futures and Options World, Sept. 1990).


same token, the media are constantly searching for a story or anew angle to sell more copies or improve the Nielsen ratings.What better vehicle than a stock market guru who can tie in thehuman angle with the price-movement rationalization?

The fallacy of the whole guru concept is that it is not possiblefor one person to consistently call every important twist and turnin the market. Gurus are human like the rest of us. Their market-calling ability moves in cycles, just like the achievements of ath-letes. For a while they are very hot, but later their ability to callmarkets becomes questionable. Typically, when a person gradu-ates to guru status, he has already experienced a long period ofsuccess. Consequently, the "spotlight" period is normally quitebrief as the inevitable period of disastrous forecasting begins.

Another factor, overconfidence, is also at work. This iscaused by a combination of "brilliant" market calls and thewidespread publicity and adulation that the guru has received.The two feed on each other and give him a false sense of invinci-bility. Joe Granville, the stock market guru of the late 1970s, re-portedly said, "I will never make another mistake again." Ofcourse he did, and some of his mistakes were monumental. Un-fortunately, gurus, however talented, become accustomed totheir own success and get carried away by the adulation. Themarriage between guru and follower then turns into a bitter re-lationship. The follower does not question the "guru's prognosti-cations, and the guru—believing himself to be infallible—iscareless and arrogant. The follower loses money solely becausehe fails to think for himself, and the guru in his turn suffers adecline in reputation. Reputation is important in the financialcommunity. It takes many years to build up, but it can be lost inthe time it takes to make just one market call. Moreover, a suffi-cient number of insecure people in the investment business re-gard the rise of the guru with incredulity and jealousy. Thesepeople, who may well have been proved wrong by the guru inthe recent past, now seize the moment to pounce, going for thejugular at the first hint of blood.

The media helped to build the guru's reputation duringhis climb to fame, but the symbiotic relationship can be equally

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destructive during his fall from grace. That an "infallible" guruis making mistakes is a newsworthy story in its own right.

Some gurus reach the public's attention through a series oflucky calls and a transitory knack for self-promotion. Such per-sonalities rarely have the analytical staying power to remain suc-cessful and soon fade into oblivion. On the other hand, the trueguru is usually quite talented. He often develops a new theory,indicator, or philosophical approach that he improves over anumber of years. Occasionally, he grabs onto the theories or ap-proaches of analysts who have long ago passed from the scene,taking them to a new level of refinement. The method graduallycatches on with a small band of followers and word spreads. Theemerging philosophy and its success have an intoxicating effecton the followers, especially as the theory grows bit by bit in pop-ularity, adding even greater prestige to the whole approach.

Unfortunately, the markets are continually changing. Whatis popular in one cycle rarely works in the next. The legendarytechnician Edson Gould is a classic example. He had been in theanalyst business for several decades, reaching the zenith of hispopularity in the 1973-1974 bear market. The world at large firstbegan to here about him through a famous interview in Barren's.I remember reading how he called the famous "last 100 points"as the Dow rallied from the low 900s to a new peak, at the time,of just over 1,000. Gould's predictions then called for equities toenter a devastating bear market that did in fact materialize.Gould's most famous indicator was the so-called three-step-and-stumble rule. He argued that once the Federal Reserve raised thediscount rate for the third time it was time to begin worryingabout a new bear market. He also used some other indicatorssuch as the Sentimeter, which basically measured the cost of onedollar's worth of dividends on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.By his reckoning when the Sentimeter rallied to the 30 level—meaning investors were willing to pay $30 for $1 worth of divi-dends—the market was overvalued. This also was bearish for themarket in 1973. Based on these and other analytical tools, Gouldcorrectly predicted a low in the Dow of about 500. Bear markets,he argued, often cut prices in half. His original projection called


for an August 1974 bottom, but the actual bottom in October wasstill pretty close to his projection.

There is no question that a substantial amount of Gould'sforecasting power derived from his many decades of study andpractice. But there was also a significant element of chance. Some-times prices are cut in half, sometimes in quarters, and sometimesin thirds. In this example, Gould clearly got lucky. Unfortunately,Gould faded from the scene almost as fast as he arrived. Histhree-step-and-stumble rule failed to work on such a timely basisas in the past. The market actually peaked in 1976 as partici-pants, remembering that rising rates had killed the market in the1973-1974 period, discounted the next rise before it really got un-derway. As a result, Gould's three-step-and-stumble missed thetop and only came into force in the early part of the 1978-1980advance. By this time, Gould was well into retirement age andnever recovered his former glory.

Joe Granville was a market guru of undoubted ability whocombined his "revolutionary" theory of on balance volume witha tremendous talent for self-promotion. "Volume is the steamthat makes the choo go" is how he described his approach. It isnormal for volume to "go with the trend" (i.e., when prices arerallying, volume should be expanding and vice versa). The ob-ject of the on-balance volume indicator is to identify the subtlechanges in the relationship that develops just before a marketturning point.

During the mid-to-late 1970s the market followed Gran-ville's script to a T. He toured the world and drew attention tohimself and his methods. Playing the piano and singing and ap-pearing on stage in a coffin were some of the many stunts that hepulled. In early 1981, he turned bearish and the market declined40 points in one day. This was a huge drop when it is consideredthat the Dow was trading at less than 1000 at the time. Then, inSeptember 1981 at around the historical high in U.S. interestrates, his grip on the market began to falter. He was abroad atthe time and had projected a major decline in the stock market.On September 26, 1981, interest rates peaked and stocks rallied.Although the market eventually went a little lower, September

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1981 represented the bottom for many stocks. In the early 1980s,Granville was totally discredited because he remained bearish inthe face of one of the biggest bull markets in history. Later on inthe decade, he was able to regain some of his credibility, but henever again rose to the level of recognition that he had achievedat the turn of the decade.

Both Granville and Gould were good analysts, but in the caseof Granville, his ego undoubtedly got in his way. There is cer-tainly an advantage in following a guru's advice in the earlystages; but as his reputation develops, there is less and less chancethat the advice will be profitable. The public will always have acertain fascination with the guru cult, but the lesson of history isthat the guru is unlikely to make you rich unless you are cleverenough to make opposite market decisions at the time when hispersonal grip on things is peaking.

^ The Greener Pastures Effect

One of the psychological snares that entrap all of us from time totime is the false assumption that we are missing the boat becauseour investments are consistently underperforming. At the end ofevery quarter Barron's, Money, and other financial magazines andnewspapers report the performance of the top mutual funds. Nat-urally, they place great emphasis on the top performers. Statisticsshow that very few individuals have the good fortune to have in-vested their money in these funds, yet this publicity often leadsus to believe that our investments are performing poorly. Beforewe make any ill-considered changes, we should remember thatsuch funds are rarely, if ever, consistently at the top of the league.Often the funds on the list have achieved their position purely be-cause their investment philosophy is in vogue or because theyrepresent a particular market sector such as biotechnology or goldshares. These funds do not normally remain on the best perform-ers list for more than one or two quarters, because their style orthe sector they reflect can only outperform the market for a lim-ited period. They naturally get the attention of the media because


success makes news. After all, does the public really want to readabout the fund managers half way down the list?

If you get this "left-out" feeling, it is best to avoid the temp-tation of asking yourself, "Why didn't I invest in those funds?" Ifyou do this when the funds are in the top-five performance list forthe past quarter, the chances are good that they will underper-form during the next quarter. This is not as true of funds thatreach the top of the list based on five years of performance, be-cause a long-term track record holds a greater likelihood that abil-ity and not luck played the larger role in a good record of return.

Even so, it is worth your while to examine the reasons forgood performance over a long period just to make sure that theresults were not unduly inflated by one very strong period. An-other point worth checking is the size of the fund. It is much eas-ier to obtain high returns with a small asset base of $10 millionto $50 million than with one of $500 million to $1 billion.

Part of the reason for this "greener pastures" attitude is thatthe financial community has recently become much more com-petitive with greater emphasis placed on performance. Rapidelectronic communications have resulted in a corresponding tele-scoping of the time horizon for most investors. It is now mucheasier to dump a load of statistics into the computer and analyzethe results in a flash. It is hardly surprising then that investorsdo not have the patience to stick with a nonperforming positionwhen they can see all the fast-moving merchandise around*cktail party chatter always revolves around the winners;losses and disappointments are forgotten.

Is it little wonder therefore that many investors develop acomplex that they are missing out on the action? However, does itmake more sense to invest in a stock or a fund because it repre-sents sound value and has good prospects or just because it hasalready moved substantially in price? A far better strategy is tolook at the poorest performing funds and industry groups, recog-nizing that the worst is probably factored into their prices. Thenask this question: What might go right for me in these areas thatothers have not yet seen?

—— 4 ——Pride Goes

Before a Loss

Pride of opinion has been responsible for thedownfall of more men on Watt Street than anyother factor.

—Charles Dow

icre are no statistics to backup this claim by Charles Dow, who was the founder of The WallStreet Journal. Anyone who has studied traders and investors inaction, however, will know that this statement has substantialmerit. It is surprising, therefore, that when I started to do someresearch on this aspect of market psychology, I could not find onereference to the subject in the index of any of the 30 or so booksthat I examined.

Basically, pride of opinion means stubbornness and the in-ability to admit a mistake. In most of life's ventures, this attitudecan temporarily obstruct relationships and the achievement ofspecific goals. In the investment world, such dogmatism is arecipe for disaster.

After a long winning streak, almost every investor andtrader falls into the trap of thinking that he is infallible. Unfortu-nately, the market has a way of exposing this weakness, and quiteoften a long run of success is wiped out in a fraction of the time


that it took to accumulate the profit. Overconfidence and enthu-siasm breed carelessness leading to poor market judgment andan inappropriate amount of leverage, since it is a human ten-dency to take on more risk after a run of success.

Pride of opinion also can create problems when markets arefalling, because dogmatic investors will often insist on maintain-ing their positions, even though the preponderance of the evi-dence shows that facts have changed. This haughtiness alsocontributes to the desire to break even.

In Chapter 3, we discussed the importance of maintainingan objective outlook. A person's ability to modify an opinion ifthe background factors or conditions altered was cited as a keydeterminant in whether he could be successful or unsuccessful inthe marketplace. Anyone who holds on to strong views in totalcontradiction to what is actually going on around him will cer-tainly run into trouble.

Market Operations as a Business Endeavor

Every person engaged in market activity possesses a differentpsychological makeup, so pride of opinion as a potential weak-ness will appear in different forms and in differing degrees. Mostpeople hold the view that it is relatively easy to make moneywhen they initially get involved with markets. In the Introductionto this book, I emphasized that no reasonable person would ex-pect to do well in any business or endeavor without first under-going a substantial amount of training or gaining many years ofexperience. The same is true of the markets. Trading and invest-ing in the marketplace should be viewed as any other business.

We do not view this field as another business endeavor fortwo principal reasons. First, the cost and effort required to begina trading or investing program are relatively low. We need only alittle capital and a phone to call a broker or mutual fund com-pany. After answering a few questions and filling out a question-naire, we are ready to begin.

'ride Goes Before a Loss

That ease of entry is not the case in any other form of busi-ness activity. Usually, if we are applying for a job, we have todemonstrate that we have the requisite experience or qualifica-tions. Starting a new business is also an involved process. Thereare government regulations to follow, credit checks to make,leases for equipment and office space to sign, employees to hire,and customers to attract. By comparison, entry into a financialmarket is a stroll in the park.

The second reason people think that playing the markets iseasy is that on face value it does look uncomplicated. All we haveto do is buy low and sell high. The media also give widespreadattention to the best performing managers and assets, rarely fo-cusing on the losers. This leaves the neophyte with the distinctfeeling that trading and investing represent mostly reward andvery little risk.

The notion that investing and trading are easy is inconsis-tent with reality. Successful practice of these arts requires agreat deal of humility. Is it surprising that 90% of traders whoopen futures accounts are wiped out in the first year? If the av-erage person knew ahead of time that the odds were very muchagainst him, would he open up an account in the first place? Ifhe were aware of this fact, surely he would conclude that a cer-tain amount of study, reflection, and change in mental attitudewere required to overcome these overwhelming odds.

Some of the sharpest minds in the world have spent hugeamounts of time and money in an effort to beat the markets. Ineffect, these bright, experienced, and well-financed professionalsare trying to take money away from you. Is it little wonder thenthat most individuals lose money when they first begin to trade?This fact in itself indicates that trading and investing are farmore complicated than first appears to be the case. Is it reallylikely that someone with a lot of enthusiasm but little experiencewill be successful against such formidable opponents?

Not every market beginner is dogmatic, of course; nor is thisrigidity the sole reason for the neophyte's lack of success. Withyour initial plunge into the stock market, however, you should be


aware that pride of opinion is the first weakness that the marketmost likely will exploit. Consequently, it is the first one you mustprotect yourself against.

You may feel that pride of opinion is a fault that you do notpossess.^If that be the case, ask yourself whether you could havetrimmed or even avoided that last losing trade had your attitudebeen less co*cksure. The markets do not give something for noth-ing. As R. W. Schabacker wrote in Stock Market Profits, "They of-fer their chief rewards, both financial and psychic, to those whoapproach it with humility, with a desire for knowledge and withthe will to work and study." The following example shows howpride of opinion can be an important obstacle to a successfultrading or investment program.

^ Dogmatism in Action

Some years ago a friend of mine was approached by a successfulself-made businessman. This person—we'll call him Jack—hadtaken some large speculative positions in the commodities mar-kets and was losing money at the time. He had known my friend,Bill, for several years and believed that he had a good feel for themarket. Bill did not have a lot of experience in trading but hadstudied the markets for several years.

Jack proposed that they set up a joint account to be run andoperated solely by Bill and financed primarily by Jack. Jack alsomade it quite clear to Bill that he wanted to maintain close con-tact so that he could stay in tune with Bill's assessment of themarkets. This was not for philosophical or educational reasonsbut because Jack also wanted this information to help him tradehis personal account, which was still underwater. Bill was happyto agree to this arrangement because it gave him the opportunityto put his ideas into practice using Jack's capital to help himbuild some wealth.

The arrangement got off to an excellent start, and the jointaccount made some substantial profits. Bill told me later that thiswas partly due to his own management of the account but that he

ijrtde (joes tiejore a Loss

probably owed more to the element of chance and the support andinsight he was getting from Jack. They talked quite frequently,and over the short period in which they had been operating. Billbegan to appreciate the astute thinking that had made Jack a suc-cessful businessman. Jack was also content because his personalaccount had also turned the corner and was now showing somesubstantial profits.

After a couple more months, they both saw even greatergains. They were both taking great risks, but fortunately marketconditions were extremely favorable. Commodity prices werebooming, the partners were bullish, and nothing seemed tostand in the way of higher prices and the ensuing profits. Natu-rally, both individuals were elated with their success since themarkets were confirming beyond a doubt their view of the world.At its peak, the joint account increased by a factor of about 30 inthe space of just under five months.

Bill tells me that, in retrospect, both he and Jack had beenincredibly lucky to have begun their venture at a time when themarkets were in an almost parabolic rise. Looking back on thewhole venture, he also confesses that a substantial part of theirsuccess could be attributed to the fact that they took some un-necessarily large risks. Since their triumphs resulted far morefrom the element of chance than a disciplined psychological ap-proach, it was not surprising that problems eventually occurred.

In the first place, they had both become overconfident, be-lieving at the time that playing the markets was easy. In the part-ners' minds, all you had to do was take a "correct" line on themarket's long-term trend, then go out and take chances. If themarket turned against your position, you could ride it out, be-cause the setback was only temporary and the market would even-tually turn back in your favor.

They had already proved the validity of this course be-cause when the Federal Reserve Board raised the discount rateearly in their joint venture, their equity had declined substan-tially and then risen to a new high. Bill also had taken comfortin knowing from experience that traders who were undercapi-talized were the ones who normally ran into trouble. If you


took smaller positions and were well capitalized/ you could rideout these countercyclical reactions. At the time, that's exactlywhat they did. As time elapsed, however, their opinion thatcommodity prices were headed significantly higher was rein-forced by the markets' action and their own self-deception.

Bill still believed in the principle of small well-capitalizedpositions, but in practice he was not implementing such a policy.As so often happens in such cases, he decided to change tactics"temporarily" and take on some larger positions using the con-siderable equity that had built up in the account for margin de-posit on which to leverage the account more heavily. In his mind,he had "resolved" to return to a more conservative approach,but right now he reasoned that this was the proverbial once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on which he should capitalize fully. Thus,not only was their success based on a false premise but also theireuphoria caused them to toss out the rule book.

All trends come to an end, and this one was no exception.Because both Bill and Jack were so overconfident, they had be-come careless and lazy in their analysis. They had failed to lookout for signs of a top. Interest rates, for one, were rising sharply.Margin requirements also were being raised for a substantialnumber of commodities on a regular basis because the authori-ties knew that a speculative bubble was in the making. Setbacksthat would have sent both of them scurrying at the beginning ofthe venture now hardly fazed them. They had become used todealing with big numbers and were immunized from the consid-erable volatility that had developed. They could "afford" to losehuge sums of money because they represented profits. Eventu-ally, the surefire trend would bail them out, and they could sellduring the next and final leg up.

That leg never came, and for the first time since the venturebegan, things started to go very badly. From our perspective, itwould have been wise for them to have banked their profits andcome back to the markets at a later time, but in their overconfi-dent state they did not see the disaster awaiting them.

Even so, Bill began to show concern when they had lost aboutone third of their paper profits. Consequently, he suggested to

'ride Goes Before a Loss

Jack that they begin to bail out. Jack had always given Bill com-plete control over their joint account but had constantly made dis-paraging remarks about how "they" (i.e., other, smarter investors)always drove the market down before it took off to wean out theweaker sisters. This scenario had certainly seemed to be the caseon the way up, and it had largely been Jack's correctly proven cyn-icism that had convinced Bill to maintain positions he would oth-erwise have mistakenly jettisoned.

It was therefore with some degree of apprehension that Billapproached Jack with the liquidation suggestion. You have to re-member, though, that Bill was not a wealthy person; he had asmall amount of equity in his mortgaged house. But this equitynow represented only about 5% of his total net worth. The bal-ance of his wealth rested in the joint account. On the other hand,the bulk of Jack's net worth was still in his other business ven-tures, even though his stake in the joint venture and his personalcommodity account represented a considerable sum. As a result,Bill now began to consider the implications of what might hap-pen if things went wrong. If you're going to panic, panic early, hereasoned.

When Bill first had approached Jack about liquidating theaccount, Jack had agreed although Bill felt that his partner wasn'ttotally convinced. Events soon proved the wisdom of abandoningship, however, because the markets continued their downwardcourse. Bill recounts how one morning the two of them were upat 4 A.M. on a conference call to their London broker unloadingtheir aluminum, copper, and gold positions. By the time Bill ar-rived at his office about four hours later the bottom had fallenout of the market as everyone else had the same idea and thespeculative bubble had burst. By the time, the whole episodeended the joint account had declined 65% from its peak level. Butthis figure was still up considerably from the original invest-ment. Bill had made many mistakes, but luck and a good dose offear had enabled him to survive to invest another day.

Jack had not been so lucky. His own account was now inworse shape than when they first met. If Jack was trading offthe joint account and had basically hired Bill to piggyback on


their joint experience, how could this be so? The answer: prideof opinion.

Jack's experience is a graphic example of why so many tal-ented and successful self-made businessmen have problems whenthey become involved in the markets. First, they would neverdream of entering a new business without first gaining some ex-perience or hiring some expert in the field. To some extent Jackdid this by setting up the joint account, but by not following Billcompletely, Jack, in his own account, was in effect saying to him-self that he knew better than his partner. A little pride of opinioncrept into his thinking.

Second, Jack had a tremendous knack for anticipating whena market was going to take off, and this astute thinking had un-doubtedly been a major reason for the success of the joint ac-count. On the other hand, Jack also had a stubborn streak. Thischaracter trait had been of great help in his other business ven-tures because, in buying and selling companies, it enabled him tonegotiate a far better deal. He could easily walk away from a dealuntil the other party agreed to come to terms. In the market-place, this trait worked to his disadvantage because it meant thathe held on stubbornly to several positions long after the joint ac-count was liquidated. Jack was very good at getting into a situa-tion but totally lacked the flexibility to get out of it when thenumbers went against him. Pride of opinion was the principalreason his personal account ended up with a loss and the jointaccount with a profit.

Jack and Bill eventually went their own ways. Jack gave upspeculation, concentrated on his other business interests, andachieved even higher levels of success. Bill continued to managemoney but never again repeated the kind of risk taking that hehad undergone with Jack.

This true story demonstrates that it is not easy to transferthe skills and abilities that have been learned during a lifetime ofbusiness activity to the field of investing without modification.Jack's uncanny knack for searching out good business dealshelped him to sense when a market was going to take off, but the

stubborn streak that had been so helpful in getting a good

Pr Goes Before a Loss

deal tripped him up when prices were falling. He was able toassess when a person might cave in and meet his price, but thepsychology of the market is quite different. Markets are not inter-ested in making deals. They are totally independent of the needsor desires of one individual. Consequently, when that person per-mits the stubborn part of his character to take over, the marketsees an opening and pounces on the unsuspecting investor to de-liver a financially debilitating blow.

Jack's attitude also demonstrates that someone coming tothe market after a long and successful business career is initiallyat a greater disadvantage than someone like Bill, who had experi-enced few successes in his relatively short career. This is becausesomeone who has been successful will generally be a lot moreconfident. Confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm are good quali-ties for investors and traders to possess but only if they are ac-companied by an equal dose of flexibility and thoughtfulness.Given time, if the businessperson can learn from his errors in themarketplace, the chances are that the talents that enabled him tosucceed in the business arena will also serve him well in themarkets.

The principal lesson to learn is that good traders or in-vestors are always running scared. By this, I mean that they arealways looking over their shoulder to see what new developmentmight be affecting the markets. This does not mean that they areconstantly being whipped in and out of the market, nor does itmean that they must take a pessimistic view. What it does meanis that they have learned that the moment they relax and feel thatthey have got everything figured out they know very well that anew factor will come along to threaten their position. Their ap-proach is not the hold-on-at-any-cost attitude engendered bypride of opinion. It is one of complete openness. The rationale isas follows, "Right now I think the market is going up, but if con-ditions unexpectedly change and I am lucky enough to spot it, Iwill change my view and liquidate."

Notice the contrasts between Jack's and Bill's attitudes.Jack's successful career had not conditioned him to runscared. He was in the business of buying failing enterprises


and turning them around. Even if the economy deteriorated ina manner contrary to his beliefs, the cheap prices at which hewas able to acquire the businesses combined with the produc-tivity gains achieved through his management expertise morethan offset a general reversal in business conditions. Dogma-tism and pride of opinion therefore represented a small part ofthe equation.

^ Ways of Fighting Pride of OpinionPride of opinion implies a dogmatic outlook. The result is a fail-ure to take corrective action when you perceive that original con-ditions have changed. The first step in countering this obstacle isto recognize that you actually have a problem. You should reviewunprofitable transactions and analyze the thinking that got youto that point. That you are willing to undergo this procedure isin itself a step forward. It not only implies that you recognizethat you are capable of making mistakes but it also demonstratesthat you wish to correct the causes.

The next step is to set up some safeguards to minimize thechances of falling into the same trap again. When you set up atrade or investment, don't ask yourself how much money youexpect to make. Presumably, you believe the reward outweighsthe risk, otherwise you wouldn't enter the market at all. In-stead, ask yourself. What is the worst that is likely to happenunder normal conditions? In other words, consider the risk be-fore the potential reward. This process achieves two objectives.First, it sets out the risk-reward relationship. Second, it helpsput you in the state of mind that recognizes ahead of time thatyou can make mistakes.

Assuming that you still go ahead, next determine what con-ditions are likely to cause you to exit the position. This step willdepend on your own philosophical approach to the markets. Ifyour sympathy lies in the technical area, it will involve establish-ing a support level, the violation of which would trigger a sale. On

Pride Goes Before a Loss

the other hand, an investor who concentrates more on fundamen-tals may regard a reversal in the prevailing trend of interest as histrigger point. The device and methodology are unimportant aslong as the practitioner has confidence in the chosen vehicle andthe approach has been historically accurate. If the practitionerdoes not have confidence in his investment or trading philosophyand is just paying lip service to it, the chances are good that hewill take no action when the condition is triggered. As a result,the whole exercise will turn out to be a waste of time. The finalrequirement is a commitment to follow through once a preestab-lished condition has been satisfied.

We have already seen that lucky investors and traders oftendevelop a sense of overconfidence after a successful trading cam-paign so that clear signs of a pending market top are arrogantlyignored. This is pride of opinion in a more subtle form. We needto remember that it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever con-sistently turn in super performances year after year. The fasterthe gains, the more likely they have resulted from the element ofchance. A safeguard to prevent that kind of arrogance is to decideahead of time that once a certain percentage gain has beenachieved, some positions should be liquidated and the proceedstaken out of the account and placed in a money market fund orother relatively safe vehicle. This is a typical technique employedby commodity money-management firms. They know full wellthat when their portfolio managers make huge gains they becomecareless and arrogant, and so the management of these firms re-moves the money from the account as a kind of institutionalizeddefense mechanism. Some firms require their managers to stoptrading altogether once a certain amount of gain has beenachieved. The manager is then given a "holiday" and asked tocome back after several weeks to begin trading again. Because hehas to begin all over again psychologically, he thus becomes muchmore careful.

These same firms have rules that also force managers toclose the account down temporarily once they lose a certainamount of money. This also has a purpose because it gives their


traders time to ponder their mistakes. Often a written report isrequired in which the money manager on the losing account re-views his poor performance and tries to identify where he wentwrong. After a cooling-off period in which the manager is able torecharge his batteries and find his mental equilibrium, he is al-lowed to return and continue trading his firm's money. These aresound money-management practices. There is no reason individ-ual investors and traders themselves should not follow them.

—— 5 ——Patience Is a

Profitable Virtue

ost investors and almost alltraders and speculators enter the markets believing that theycan accumulate profits very quickly. This expectation is fosteredby prominent stories in the media featuring successful moneymanagers and mutual funds or highlighting the riches awaitingus if we had only invested in a particular asset. Instant globalcommunication and the rapid dissemination of news create thefeeling that unless we act instantly we risk missing out on a ma-jor price move.

These attitudes mean that careful consideration and plan-ning are shoved aside and replaced by impatience and impul-siveness. These temptations inevitably lead to situations wheremarket participants attempt to run before they can walk. Undersuch circ*mstances, decisions are made in a manner that is theexact opposite of what was originally intended.

It is probably true that in no other business venture are themajority of participants so impatient for results as in the financialmarkets. Thoughts of individuals who struck it rich very quicklybecome the guiding force of many would-be investors who thinkthat it will be quite simple for them to repeat the process. ThomasGibson, who wrote The Facts about Speculation in 1923, had alreadyconsidered this aspect of investing when he said, "The element oftime can no more be eliminated from successful speculation thanfrom any other business."


A major mistake made by most investors and traders is totry to call every market turn. This tactic has very little chanceof success. Not only is there a tendency to lose perspective/ butmost of us operate in cycles, alternating between winning andlosing streaks. In attempting to call every trend reversal, we in-variably lose our objectivity and lose touch with the markets. Itthen becomes only a matter of time before we are pushed offbalance psychologically. Trying to call every market turn alsoincreases the temptation to act on impulse rather than fact.Decisions that are made infrequently are much more likely tobe more thoughtful and reflective. Deliberation gives us a fargreater chance of being successful than trying to call everytwist and turn in the market.

Always remember: Even if a current opportunity is missed,there always will be another. The best investment decisions aremade when the odds are in your favor. You increase those oddswhen you assess investment possibilities with a cold, indifferenteye and avoid the day-to-day clutter of the marketplace.

^ Staking Out Your ClaimThe daily financial press and electronic media brim with spe-cialists who are willing to offer an opinion at any time on any ofthe markets or stocks that they cover. Sally from Financial Dailycalls up Harry, a commodities analyst, and asks for his opinionon cocoa, for example. Harry may have no firm opinion one wayor the other on the cocoa market, but he volunteers his view any-way purely because he will obtain some profitable exposure inthe paper for both him and his firm. Since he has no strong factsto justify his opinion, the chances are good that his forecast willbe inaccurate. Still, it will be held up as authoritative "expertopinion."

He would have served himself and everyone else much bet-ter had he politely declined the interview, adding that he wouldcall Sally the next time he saw something of importance de-veloping. Under these ground rules, Harry would choose the

Pat**nce Is a Profitable Virtue

appropriate time to put forward an informed opinion ratherthan an off-the-cuff one. This is how guerrilla warfare is suc-cessfully carried out. Guerrillas by definition are always out-numbered by the army they are fighting, so they have to eventhe odds by getting the enemy to come to them. They are theones who chose the time and the place for battle. If they decidedto fight every time they came into contact with the enemy, theywould run the risk of an open battle where the army wouldhave an overwhelming advantage.

The same principle applies to people who comment on mar-ket activity or who are actively involved as traders or investors.Guerrillas have patience, and so should market participants. Thedegree of patience involved will depend on the time horizon overwhich the investment or trade is being made. For a futures trader,patience may demand a wait of one or two weeks; for the one-daytrader, it could mean four or five hours, and for a long-term, con-servative investor, the time horizon could extend beyond a year.The amount of time is immaterial. The guiding principle is thatyou should have the patience to wait until all your ducks are in arow. It is difficult making money in the markets at the best oftimes so make sure that you—not the markets—decide when thetime has come for trading or investing.

Long-term investors who base their investment decisions onfundamental analyses need to wait for the market to become un-dervalued. One useful valuation measure is the dividend yieldon the Standard & Poor Composite Index. In this respect, Figure5-1 shows that a dividend yield of 6% or greater has tradition-ally been a good low-risk entry point. For individuals sympa-thetic to the technical approach, a reading in the 12-month rate ofchange indicator below -25% would represent a similar bench-mark. These entry points are shown in Figure 5-2.

Neither of these indicators is infallible and that is why boththe technically and value-oriented individuals in this examplemust also consider the position of several other indicators in theirdecision-making process. The approach or time frame makes nodifference. The important thing is to make sure that you have thepatience to wait for a low-risk entry point for your specific system


r"r"i"TiirrTT'' i'" i •" i • • • i • • • i i P i i - . . . .66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92

Figure 5-1 S&P Composite versus Its Dividend Yield 1966-1992.Source: Pring Market Review.

and time horizon. There is nothing in the rule book that says youhave to invest. Your impulses may encourage you to get in. Disre-gard them. Let your head make the decisions.

The first principle in applying patience, then, is having thepatience not to get in too soon. When you are in a position toconclude that most of the indicators or conditions that are associ-ated with a major bottom are in place, this will give you a farhigher degree of confidence to stay with the trade or investmentwhen things get rough.

When I talk about a bottom, the term "major" in this contextrefers to a significant point in your own personal time frame.Thus, if you are a conservative, long-term investor, a major bot-tom in bonds or stocks may occur only every other year as theappropriate juncture in the four-year business cycle is reached.On the other hand, a major bottom for a short-term futures^riHor mnv nrmpar once a month.

i. .tence Is a Profitable Virtue

66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92

Figure 5-2 S&P Composite and a Twelve-Month Rate of Change.Source: Pring Market Review.

Why Playing the Markets IsDifferent from Other Businesses

A portfolio or trading account at a broker should be run just asany other business. Operating principles should be established,goals should be set, plans should be followed, and the risks andrewards from potential transactions ascertained. We have alreadydiscussed that the perceived cost of entry into the investmentbusiness is far lower than any other business and that this encour-ages the inexperienced to try their hand. People who would nevertake a plunge in a business in the "real" economy are often will-ing to commit a large proportion of their net worth to the mar-kets. This is due not only to the ease of entry and the view thatplaying the markets is relatively simple but also to the fact thatmarkets are very liquid,


Let's compare the ease of buying and selling a stock or bondwith that of buying and selling any other business. For example,you might purchase a small retail store and then find that run-ning the business is not as easy as you had thought. Perhaps thehours are inconvenient, personnel problems are more difficultthan you had originally estimated, and the tangle of governmentregulations becomes a burden. For whatever reason, getting outis not as easy as getting in. Retail stores are not that liquid, andno buyers are waiting with cash in hand. If there are, you maynot like the bid and decide to wait for another one. You willprobably have to pay a substantial commission to a business bro~ker, normally 10% of the price. All these considerations add upto the fact that most businesses take time and money to liquidate.

On the other hand, in a financial market there is always abid-and-ask, meaning that our asset can be readily priced. Thisliquidity is a powerful reason investing in the market is far moreattractive than investing in any other business.

Unfortunately, this readily available pricing mechanism alsohas its downside. Every time you look at price quotes in the pa-per or call your broker, you know exactly how much your invest-ment is worth. You can watch it when the price goes up, whichwill make you happy; and you can follow it when it goes down,which will depress you. This constant access to the pricing mech-anism draws you into the market emotionally. Since it is veryeasy and relatively inexpensive to liquidate the position whenyour "business" temporarily hits the skids, the temptation is todo just that. So you sell. The odds are strong that you are re-sponding emotionally to the fluctuation in the price rather thanthe change in the underlying market conditions.

On the other hand, consider the example of a person whobuys a manufacturing business for which there is no easily avail-able pricing mechanism. Initially, he may find that things gowell. The cost-cutting measures that he takes immediately in-crease his cash flow. He uses the savings as capital to invest inmore plant capacity and equipment to spur future growth. Afterawhile, though, he runs into problems; sales slow down and theeconomy looks weak. Our entrepreneur may decide to sell his

Pail ? Is a Profitable Virtue

business, but he is less likely to do so because he cannot find asuitable buyer. Eventually, he no longer experiences the urge tosell and hangs on until retirement several years later. When hefinally liquidates the business after 15 years, he finds that it hasappreciated in value to a considerable extent and he now has awonderful nest egg. In this example, the business owner concen-trated on running his business. He was not constantly looking tosee how much it was worth each day for the principal reason thathe couldn't. The nature of his business was such that it forcedhim to be patient. He could, of course, have sold it any time dur-ing those 15 years, but the costs and difficulties involved in sell-ing were strong enough to keep him from taking that step.

Investing in the stock market, on the other hand, is muchdifferent. There, the constant price fluctuations, the market's ad-dictive response to news, and its emphasis on short-term perfor-mance drag us in by our emotions, causing us to make hasty andill-considered decisions. The liquidity and pricing mechanismthat make it easy to enter the financial markets have their down-side: They literally try our patience. We have a tendency to thinkthat to be successful we need to have constant access to pricesand other information. As we have seen in previous chapters, toomuch access actually works against our best interests.

^ Patient Investing UsuallyMeans Profitable Investing

In an article in the Burlington, Vermont, free Press of March 5,1991, Eric Hanson of Fraser Publishing quotes a study done byJack Vander Vliet of Dean Witter, the brokerage house. Thestudy assumed that a person put $2,000 into the stock market ineach of the preceding 21 years, right at the market's yearly high.Each contribution was left to grow and was never sold. Eventhough each purchase was made at the worst possible time,the fictitious portfolio nevertheless appreciated at a compoundaverage rate of 11.6%. The seed capital of $42,000 would havegrown to $180,000. This strategy would have worked principally


because the market advanced significantly during this 21-yearperiod, according to the study. Even so, it is important to recog-nize that this time frame also embraced the devastating 1973-1974 bear market as well as the 1987 crash. Anyone buying bondsbetween 1960 and 1980 using the same methodology would nothave fared so well, because bond prices were in a secular, or very

long-term, decline.The argument is not that you should blindly buy, hold for thelong-term, and expect to prosper, because this just isn't the case.No, the real point of the example is that if you enter an investmentwith an optimistic and soundly reasoned view, the chances arethat it will be profitable. If you respond to every news item andprice setback you may or may not make money, but you will al-most certainly fail to realize the profit potential of your idea. It isimportant to sit patiently with the investment — provided the un-derlying conditions have not changed — because then your odds ofsuccess will be that much greater.

To quote from Mr. Hanson's article, "The point is long-termplanning. It's far more important to decide how much risk youwant to take, how much money you are comfortable investingand how those assets should be divided among stocks, bonds,real estate, etc. than it is to worry about what is going to scarethe market tomorrow," In other words if you do your homeworkproperly, just relax and let the markets do the rest.

1 can cite some personal experiences to back this up. In theearly 1980s, I perceived, correctly as it turned out, that interestrates had reached a historical peak and that over the course ofthe next 10 years or so bond prices would rally. I also knew fromstudying markets that this huge rally was unlikely to be astraight-line affair but would be interrupted by some fairly im-portant countersecular price moves lasting a year or more. Inter-est rates on government bonds were in the 11%-14% range at thetime. Having done my homework, the next step was to purchasesome bonds, which I did for both a personal account and a corpo-rate pension fund that I was managing. Since the pension funddid not need the interest, was not subject to capital gains, and

nrofit objective, I purchased some zero coupon

„ _ ience Is a Profitable Virtue

bonds. Regular government bonds were purchased for the per-sonal account Things began very well for both investments asinterest rates did, in fact, decline.

After awhile, I began to study the economy and the technicalposition of the bond market a little closer and did not like what Isaw based on a one-year outlook. This encouraged me to liquidatethe bonds in the personal account. You can see that I had alreadybroken one of the rules of investing, because I had originally esti-mated that some major corrections could be expected along theway. And, as it so often turns out, my short-sighted trading deci-sion was wrong. Liquidation took place in the very early part ofJanuary 1986 at around a price of 87. By March, the market hadreached 105. In the space of three months the bond gained asmuch as it had in the previous 16 months. You can imagine theexasperation and frustration I felt as a result of this foolish mis-take. The psychology of the situation was that I was expectingyields to fall even further in this "once-in-a-lifetime" bond bullmarket. In 1984, I was very happy that I had indeed "locked in"historically high double-digit yields, even though the first part ofthe decline from 15% to 11.5% had been missed. But now I wasactually out of a market that seemed destined to rally forever.

Frustration at this point drove me into the Australian bondmarket, where it was still possible to earn 13% on government-backed paper. Again my homework was quite accurate and overthe next few years both the bonds and the currency rallied. Itwould have turned out to be an extremely profitable investment// / had the patience to stay with it. But, of course, I did not. Withina few weeks, both the bond price and the Australian dollar beganto dip. I had also bought a substantial position and was not psy-chologically prepared for the twofold risk that was being under-taken. These were market and currency related. Australian bondprices declined and so did the Australian dollar—I lost heart andsold. During the ensuing five years I made various forays backinto the U.S. bond market based on my expectation for the secu-lar or very long-term trend. While each of these expeditions wasprofitable, none came anywhere near realizing the potential ofthe overall price move.


The lesson in patience comes from a comparison of my per-formance in the personal account as opposed to the pension ac-count. You will remember that in 1984 the pension accountpurchased zero coupon bonds with the identical long-term objec-tive as the personal one. The difference was that when I came toliquidate the pension account I found that the spread betweenthe bid and ask price was considerable, because the bonds wereilliquid. This meant that if I was going to repurchase the bonds ata later date and was wrong, the cost of doing so would have beenprohibitive. Consequently, it was the expense of getting in andout that forced me to have the patience to stick with the position.If I had lost total faith in the secular interest rate decline thesisthat would have been another matter, for then it would have paidto have liquidated regardless of the cost. But my fears were al-ways of a short-term nature, and I could always justify gettingout of a position in the personal account because of the ease andlow cost of getting back in. What I did not realize was that thedesire to reenter the market would fade rapidly once the pricehad moved above my point of liquidation.

I had read about the danger of losing your position in themiddle of a trend in Edward LeFevre's Reminiscences of a StockOperator, but it wasn't until 1 had gone through the process myselfthat the lesson began to sink in. The word "began" has been em-phasized because it takes a long time for a learning experience tobecome a habit.

——6——Staying the Course

L/ne of the most difficult aspectsof investing and trading is staying with your original investmentphilosophy. Quite often, you will find yourself reentering themarket after a string of losses with the thought, "This time I willstick to my plan. I will not get sidetracked." It really doesn't mat-ter whether you are a trader or an investor; you face the sameproblem. Only the time horizons or events may differ.

It sounds like a relatively simple proposition to make an in-vestment or trading decision based on a particular approach andthen to stick to that plan come what may. In practice, though, it isdifficult. Many people, developments, and psychological hurdlesare ready to trip us up at the very first opportunity. We beginwith the very best of intentions; yet so often we find ourselveschanging our plans in midcourse and losing out on what couldhave been a very profitable investment or trade.

While it is important to stay the course, it is also necessaryto remain flexible enough to change direction if the need arises.This advice may sound contradictory. In fact, it makes eminentsense, but only if your shift in tactics or strategy is based onchanges in the underlying economic conditions. Most of us facequite a different problem. We set off with a plan and, afterawhile, get diverted by an unexpected news event, a comment byour broker, or a news story. We either totally forget or choose toignore that nothing has basically changed. In fact, there hasbeen a change. It is internal, however, and has taken place in ourminds. It is not an external event that will affect the outlook


for our investment. Something has happened to affect our per-ception of what is taking place rather than what is actually takingplace. Let's examine a couple of examples. The first one involvesan investment; the second, a trading approach.

» Sticking with the Plan

InvestmentsThe business cycle lasts approximately four years from troughto trough. Equity prices are essentially determined by the atti-tude of investors to the outlook for corporate profits. Profits re-volve around the business cycle, so bull markets for equitiesshould last about half the length of the business cycle, a periodof about two years. In fact, market history shows that cycles lasta little longer, since it normally takes a longer time to buildthan to tear down. Price trends in financial markets are rarelystraight-line affairs. They usually take the form of rallies inter-rupted by a retracing movement as shown in Figure 6-1. Theoverall trend is up but these corrections, known in the trade assecondary reactions, are usually of sufficient magnitude andsuitably deceptive appearance to cause even the most stalwartbull to question the validity of the primary uptrend and viceversa in a bear market.

Secondary reactions typically retrace one third to twothirds of the previous rally and can last anywhere from sixweeks to six months. Nothing is more likely to shake anyone outof an investment or trade than a market going against his posi-tion. The successful people are those who are able to ride out thestorm psychologically because they refuse to abandon the un-derlying philosophy that originally led them to the market. Thetype of approach is not important, provided that it has a proven

track record.Let's suppose that you are lucky enough to recognize thestart of a new bull market at a relatively early stage and that you

laying the Course

Figure 6-1 Secondary Corrections within a Primary Trend. Source:Pring, Martin J. (1991). Technical Analysis Explained. New York: McGraw-Hill. Used with permission.

are employing a very simple but tested investment plan. This ap-proach recognizes that changes in financial conditions and Fed-eral Reserve policy strongly influence equity prices. The methodstates that if the Fed lowers the discount rate following a seriesof hikes, equities are likely to experience a bull market.

Conversely, trouble is signaled after three successive hikesin the rate. The market, of course, is affected by many factorsother than financial ones, but Table 6-1 shows that between 1956and 1991 this simple approach worked reasonably well. Therewere periods such as 1958 when the third hike gave a prematureM-'ll signal and 1981 when the signal came early, but by and largethis approach has proved to be a profitable method for long-terminvesting,

The rationale for its success is that easier money and lowerinterest rates sooner or later help stimulate the economy. Thus,txpanding business means higher profits; greater profits implyhigher dividends, which in turn mean higher stock prices. Aftera point, rising interest rates kill the economy. This in turn resultsin a bear market in equities.


Looking objectively at the table, it is difficult to see whysomeone who had adopted this approach would not or could notfail to follow it in view of its long history of profitability. Thefact is that most people would not. A quick recount of the eventsand market action following one of the signals can help explainthis apparent irrationality that lurks inside the psyche of mostinvestors.

One of the best bull markets of all time occurred in theIOQD,. i 0fP ^~l\l.r. ,, j^nV at whpn thp discount rate signal for this

Staying the Course

bull market was triggered and then at what followed. The ratewas raised quite rapidly between the middle of 1980 and the be-ginning of 1981 and then was lowered in December 1981. Thiswas the signal to enter the stock market. Figure 6-2 shows thatthe market rallied for a while and then sold off to a new bearmarket low. Almost immediately, the investment was under wa-ter. It also looked as if short-term interest rates had begun a newcyclical rise, because they rebounded from their December 1981lows in January and early February. However, the discount ratedid not change, so following the rule would have meant stayingwith the position.

During the next few months, there were plenty of reasons tobail out of stocks. In May 1982, for example, the market sold offsubstantially due to fears of some major bankruptcies. More badnews occurred in July 1982, as the headlines began to focus on


6-2 S&P Composite versus the Discount Rate 1980-1986.Pring Market Review.


the debts of Mexico and other Third World countries. Most in-vestors at the time feared an economic collapse triggered by animpending crisis due to over indebtedness.

It would certainly not be unreasonable for any investor tolook at his losing position at this stage and, taking a cue from allthe pessimistic news, liquidate his position. He could rationalizethis hasty action by concluding that the discount rate approachwas normally a good one but would not work this time "becauseconditions had changed." What we see here, though, is an in-vestor letting events, rather than a thoughtfully considered in-vestment philosophy, dictate his investment decision.

The investor entered the market on the basis that the Fedwas easing the discount rate and that sooner or later thiswould favorably affect the economy and the stock market. Inthat respect, nothing had really changed. If anything, mone-tary conditions actually improved, because the discount ratewas lowered again in July 1982. This indicated that the authori-ties in the Federal Reserve System were well aware of theweakening economy and the probable impending crisis. To theinvestor, it appeared as if the financial picture was deteriorating. Thenews was bad, and stocks were much lower than when he hadentered the market. If the position had been liquidated in Juneor July 1982, it is unlikely that an investor in such a state ofmind would have been able to get back into the market becauseof the speed of the subsequent advance. A great profit opportu-nity would have been lost. On the other hand, anyone who hadfaithfully followed the discount rate rule would not have hadto worry about missing out because he would already havebeen positioned.

What often seems to happen is that people enter a marketwith the very best of intentions of following a system. They haveproved to their own satisfaction that the approach has stood thetest of time, and they begin the campaign with a great deal ofenthusiasm. Unfortunately, they conveniently remember only theperiods of good performance when they should be asking them-selves how much they stand to lose if this current signal turns

eoual the worst one since the 1920s.

Staying the Course

Failure to prepare for the worst raises expectations andleads to unnecessary frustration. When some bad news pushesprices lower, it is a natural instinct to head for the exits at pre-cisely the wrong time. This is why it is so very important to stickto the rules for the approach that has been originally chosen. If itis a proven one, the chances are that the negative consequences ofsuch a decision will be more than eclipsed by the benefits ofstaying the course.

We return to our example in the spring of 1984. At this time,the market was substantially higher than it was in 1982, butshort-term interest rates had begun to rise. Dire predictionsabout the economy were being made at the time. In April 1984,the discount rate was actually raised from 8.5% to 9% after al-most a year of rising short-term interest rates. It would have beenquite easy to conclude that a second or even third discount ratehike was around the corner. The sensible thing appeared to be toliquidate stocks before the third hike. After all it was becomingfairly obvious that equities were in a bear market. Such anticipa-tory action would have been counterproductive because the mar-ket took off once again in the late summer. As it turned out,there were no more increases in the discount rate; indeed, severalcuts took place before the rate was raised again.

By the summer of 1987, the discount rate had been raisedtwice, and the next major test occurred in October 1987 (Fig-ure 6-3). This was the month of the stock crash in which pricesdeclined by 25% in a matter of a few days. It would take tremen-dous will power for anyone to maintain an equity position aftersuch devastation and in an environment of considerable uncer-tainty. The news background was extremely bearish, but interest-ingly the crash never spread from Wall Street to Main Streetbecause the economy continued to expand. More to the point, thethird discount rate hike did not come, and therefore the methodcalled for a fully invested position. Ironically, the crash effectivelyextended the recovery as well as the bull market in equities,because the authorities lowered interest rates a little to maintainconfidence. The third hike did not come until February 1989 whenthe Standard & Poor Composite Index stood at 290-300, slightly


Figure 6-3 S&P Composite versus the Discount Rate 1984-1990.Source: Pring Market Review.

above its 1987 peak. Staying the course over the 1981-1989 periodwould have enabled an investor to ride the advance in the S&PComposite from 123 to 290.

Clearly, this approach to investing is not a perfect one. Inthe example shown, the method did not get the investor in at thebottom of the market and out at the top. But, as we discovered inChapter 1, there is no such Holy Grail promising quick riches.The discount rate indicator system is one of many approaches toinvesting that over time keep you in the game for the big "up"movements, yet help you to avoid the worst aspects of a pro-longed bear market. The chosen methodology could be some-thing quite different. As long as it has a proven long-term trackrecord and the practitioner feels comfortable with the approach,your chosen methodology will provide an invaluable form ofdiscipline—provided, of course, that you follow the rules fairlyrieorouslv.

Staying the Course

An investment method's principal function, therefore, is tokeep its adherent from becoming prey for the many traps anddelusions that hinder sound decision making. Our exampleshowed that the investor could have almost tripled his money us-ing the discount rate indicator, but he would also have neededtremendous patience and discipline. If he had kept his eye on theball, it would have worked very well, but just one incorrect moveat the wrong time would have caused him to miss out on somespectacular opportunities.


The same principles apply to short-term traders in the futuresmarkets. In this case the leverage is much greater and time hori-zons substantially shorter. With $1,500, it is possible for example,to "control" $35,000 worth of gold or $100,000 worth of bonds,and so forth. If the price of these contracts rises, correctly posi-tioned traders can make a killing. Unfortunately, leverage worksboth ways so if the bet is placed in the wrong direction, in theabsence of sound money management, it is just as easy for theequity in the account to be wiped out. For this reason, traders inthe futures markets cannot afford to let the market go too faragainst their position.

Again, let's consider a mechanical indicator that might beemployed in the bond market. Let's say that as a trader you arenot interested in making a killing or getting in at the bottom andout at the top. You would be quite happy if you could adopt somekind of approach that can give you a satisfactory profit. One pos-sibility might involve a simple 25-day moving-average crossover.The moving-average crossover works this way: You calculate a 25-day moving average of bond futures, buying when the pricecrosses above the average and selling when it moves below it. Thisapproach does not consistently return profits. We are using it asa vehicle to explain a point, not as a recommended system. For thepurposes of the example, it is assumed that this crossover methodhas been successfully back tested with historical data.


Figure 6-4 shows that a "buy" signal was generated inApril of 1991 at Point A. Our hypothetical trader would have en-tered the market with great hopes for a profitable trade, but hewould have soon been disappointed because it quickly turnedinto a loss. Undaunted, he reentered the market once again, onlyto be rebuffed by a further loss, Point B. It is only natural that henow begins to doubt the system. Even though he knows that ithas turned in an overall profitable performance during the pre-vious three years, and he recognizes that there have been someunprofitable periods, doubts still creep in. Nevertheless, he de-cides to enter the market once again when the next buy signal isgenerated, Point C. For a few days, his expectations rise as themarket moves in the right direction. Then, some unexpectedlybad news occurs, pushing the price down once again and furthercompounding his losses. Now he is totally dejected, his system

Figure 6-4 Treasury Bond Futures (3-Month Perpetual Contract) ver-sus a Twenty-Five Day Moving Average 1990-1991. Source: Prwg MarketReview.

Maying the Course

no longer seems to operate, and the news background is so terri-ble that he cannot face the prospect of getting back in when thenext buy signal comes along, Point D. Figure 6-4 shows that thisis precisely when he should have reentered the market, becausethe price subsequently experiences a very worthwhile rally. It isa fact of investment life that some of the best price moves areoften preceded by a period of confusing price action in whichmarkets fluctuate within a frustratingly narrow band. The fail-ure of the moving-average crossover system to operate profitablyis a symptom of this characteristic.

Our trader made two mistakes. First, he allowed the newsbackground to influence his trading decision. Second, he failedto give the system enough time to work. In effect, he took his eyeoff the ball at the wrong time, a mistake that left him with anunprofitable performance.

Anyone who has traded in the markets will recognize thisfailure to stay the course as a fairly common form of weaknessthat periodically attacks all traders. How many times have weseen investment books or software programs that promise theirreaders and users instant gratification? It is doubtful that anypurchasers of such merchandise ever profit to the extent of theirexpectations. To start, most such schemes or systems do not de-liver what they promise, but those that do are rarely practiced inthe recommended way. Hopeful investors and traders may startoff with the best intentions but will rarely stick with their plans.They see the evidence that the system works, but they do nothave the patience and discipline to follow the rules.

This phenomenon is not limited to the financial markets.Many health-conscious people, for example, purchase expensiveexercise equipment with the objective of getting fit or losingweight. After an initial bout of enthusiasm, however, they lose in-terest, relegating the equipment to the basem*nt, garage, or attic.It's one thing to know what to do, but it is quite another thing toput our knowledge into action.

In Figure 6-1 we saw that it is normal for a bull market to beinterrupted by countercyclical movements known as secondary


reactions. This idea of a primary uptrend consisting ofa series of rising peaks and troughs also indicates that even if apurchase is made at the top of a rally, such mistakes areonly temporary, because the rising trend will eventually bailus out. This leads us to another aspect of "keeping your eye on

the ball."Most of the time it is not possible to have a firm opinion

about the direction of the main trend, but when you do, it isusually very unwise to position yourself against it. Let's takea look at a system that I first introduced in Technical AnalysisExplained. It involves a very simple idea of buying and sellingthe pound sterling based on a mechanical technique. The rulesare described in Table 6-2. The arrows in Figure 6-5 representthe buy and sell signals between 1974 and 1976. This systemhas been tested back to the early 1970s and would have beenvery profitable. I calculated that by 1980 anyone who had fol-lowed it religiously using a margin of 10% and reinvesting theprofits would have turned an initial $10,000 investment intomore than $1,000,000. Since then, the system has done even

better.The principle point I am trying to make is that a close ex-

amination of the performance shows that the profits have come

Table 6-2 Rules for Buying and Selling the PoundSterling

Rule 1Go long when the pound is above its 10-week movingaverage and 13-week rate of change is above 0 and6-week rate of change is above 0.

Rule 2Go short when all conditions in Rule 1 are reversed,i.e., price below 10-week moving average and both

Staying the Course

almost entirely from buy signals that have occurred in the di-rection of the main trend. In Figure 6-6 the top series is theequity line. It shows how an initial $1,000 investment wouldhave fared by following the system on a nonleveraged basis be-tween 1980 and 1992. Some counter-cyclical signals are flaggedby the arrows. Note that these reflect the largest losing trades.

This principle of trading in the direction of the underlyingtrend applies to any intermediate trading system and to mostshort-term ones as well. Obviously, it is not always possible tohave a firm opinion as to the direction of the main trend. Whenyou do, however, it is clearly of paramount importance to tradein its direction, however tempting it may be to do otherwise.


Figure 6-5 Mechanical Trading System for the Pound 1974-1976.Source: Pring, Martin J. (1991). Technical Analysis Explained. New York:McGraw-Hill.


Figure 6-6 Pound Trading System. Source: Pring Market Review. Thischart has been plotted from the Metastock Professional charting pack-age. The system testing abilities are covered in the "System Testing"segment of the Exploring Metastock Professional U video by the author(International Institute for Economic Research, P.O. Box 329, Washing-ton Depot, CT 06794, reproduced with permission.)

^ Keep Your Eye on the Ball, but Remain Flexible

The idea of staying on a predetermined and well-tested course issensible, but it is also important to keep an open mind becauseunderlying financial conditions can and do change. This advicemay sound somewhat contradictory, enabling us even to do someMonday morning quarterback ing as conditions suit. But that isnot really the case.

Most of the time, anticipations of business-cycle conditionspropel the financial markets. The economy is not responsive likea car or a speedboat. It's more like an oil tanker; it takes timeto change direction. Consequently, any indicators that you are

Staying the Course

monitoring also will have the tendency to move slowly and delib-erately. Some are bound to fail from time to time and that is whyno investment decision should be based on one indicator alonebut on a consensus.

Occasionally, though, institutional changes will affect thereliability of a specific indicator. Under such circ*mstances, itmakes sense to disregard the indicator's signals, since they areunlikely to be as reliable as they were in the past. A classic exam-ple of this occurred in the 1980s when stock-index futures andother derivative products were introduced. These products re-sulted in some brand new trading and arbitrage activities, themost notable of which was program trading. Not surprisingly, thisnew activity distorted some of the indicators that market techni-cians had been using with great success since the 1930s. The mostnotable casualty was the short-interest ratio. (The ratio of theshort interest to average daily trading volume for the month.)

Similar institutional distortions occurred in the 1970s wheninflation was rampant. Reported earnings, for example, failed totake into account inflationary conditions. Profits were thusgreatly exaggerated when large but unsustainable inventory gainsunduly overstated the true earnings picture. Investors basing anapproach on price-earnings ratios without regard for this impor-tant change could easily have run into trouble. They may have hadtheir eye on the ball when selecting a stock in the sense that theselection criteria remained the same. Environmental changes,however, may have greatly distorted the quality of the stock'searnings.

Another example of an institutional change occurred withthe growing popularity of money-market funds in the 1970s andearly 1980s. Originally these deposits were not included in themoney supply numbers. As the amount of cash squirreled awayin these funds increased, the money supply numbers becamemore and more distorted. Eventually, money market funds wereincorporated into some measures of money supply. However,anyone who continued blindly to use changes in the moneysupply as a basis for making investment decisions prior to thesedefinitional changes could have been badly misinformed.


These are all examples of the importance not only of follow-ing your chosen investment approach but also of periodically re-viewing it in case any significant and fundamental economicchanges may have taken place.

This Time It's Different

One of the worst traps to snare any investor is departing from atested methodology or philosophical approach and then ratio-nalizing the decision by saying, "This time it's different." Alltoo often, some rationalization for even higher prices will seizethe imagination of the crowd after a market has reached andoften exceeded its normal technical or fundamental bench-marks. Such arguments are usually compelling, because theyappear when optimism is rampant and everyone expects pricesto move higher. The arguments are typically based on hoperather than on the facts, which are conveniently overlooked.The "new era" thinking is therefore welcomed with open arms,and little thought is given to the underlying investing concept,or the fact that betting on a "first-time" event usually has disas-trous consequences.

A classic example occurred in the 1920s when many in-vestors believed that stock prices had reached a new plateau be-cause the outlook for business continued to be very positive. Fewindividuals concerned themselves with the fact that stock valua-tions were excessive and margin debt extremely high. Mergermania and similar phantom concepts captured the imagination ofthe public who were prepared to take their eyes off the ball byaccepting the delusory concept of a "new era."

In the early 1970s, money managers fell in love with the"Nifty Fifty." These were companies whose consistent growthrates and sound financial standing made them so-called one-decision stocks. Examples included Avon, Xerox, and Polaroid.During this mania, the price-earnings ratios of these stockswere bid up to extremely unrealistic levels, but no matter howexpensive they became, prices continued to advance. Their valu-

Staying the Course

ation was not only excessive in historical terms but in relationto the rest of the market as well. Not surprisingly, they sufferedconsiderable damage in the 1973-1974 bear market, and mosttook a decade before they returned to their former highs.

In situations similar in nature to those of the 1920s and the1970s, the warning signs come early—usually too early—becausea lot of investors will correctly recognize the sign of an impend-ing top and get out. The problem is that prices continue to ad-vance making it appear that they will never come down. Thesesame investors then return to the market at precisely the wrongtime, forgetting all the principles that had encouraged them toget out earlier. In effect, they have chosen to take their eyes offthe ball and then must deal with the consequences of their ac-tions. In both examples, the underlying rationale for higher stockprices was false, since prices were way beyond normal bench-marks of valuation.

^ Random Economic Numbers Play Havoc withYour Financial Health

One sure way to get into trouble is to make investment decisionsbased on single economic numbers with no regard for the under-lying trend. So often these days, we see markets that have ralliedor reacted in anticipation of good or bad economic news. Whenthe number is released and the reported data counter expecta-tions, the market reacts almost instantly as it unwinds the specu-lative positions previously set up. Such wild action is catnip tomedia that thrive on volatility and excitement, but not for the in-vestor or trader caught up in this process. The investor who isable to keep his eye on the ball and maintain perspective shouldactually be in a position to capitalize on such discrepancies.

^ Summary

It is easy to become sidestepped by events and news stories go-ing on around us. Unexpected price fluctuations stimulate our


emotions and are another source of distraction. In such situa-tions, we must make sure that we are not incorrectly drawn intobelieving that the main trend has reversed. A warm day in Janu-ary does not mean that spring has arrived, neither does an iso-lated piece of good news denote that a bear market is over. Wehave to learn to step back and sort out the woods from the trees.

If we are following a particular approach or methodology,whether it be a trading system or a longer term fundamental phi-losophy, it is also important to stick with it. Otherwise we loseour basis for making sound decisions.

Part II


——— 7———A New Look at

Contrary Opinion

The law of an organized, or psychological,crowd is mental unity. The individuals com-posing the crowd lose their conscious person-ality under the influence of emotion and areready to act as one, directed by the low, crowdintelligence.

—Thomas Templeton Hoyne

I he Theory of Contrary Opin-ion was first promulgated by Humphrey Neill, who combined hisown experience and observations on the stock market with thoseof Charles Mackay, Gustav Le Bon, and Gabriel Tarde. Today it ispopularly accepted that since the "crowd" is wrong at major mar-ket turning points, everyone wants to be a contrarian. In theworld of investing, to be caught with the crowd in this day andage is the equivalent of admitting a terrible sin.

As so often happens when a concept or a theory is popular-ized, however, the basic idea becomes distorted. Those marketparticipants who have not had the benefit of reading Neill andother writers on the subject do not realize that they may be onshaky ground. Neill pointed out that the crowd (i.e., the majority


of investors or traders) is actually correct most of the time; it is atturning points that they get things wrong.

This last distinction is the essence of Neill's theory. Once anopinion is formed, it is imitated by the majority. This process canextend to such a degree that eventually virtually everyone agreesto its validity. As Neill put it, "When everyone thinks alike, ev-eryone is likely to be wrong." He writes, "When masses of peo-ple succumb to an idea, they often run off at a tangent because oftheir emotions. When people stop to think (italics added) thingsthrough, they are very similar in their decisions" (Neill, 1980).

I have emphasized the word "think" because the practice ofcontrary opinion is an art and not a science. To be a true contrar-ian involves study, creativity, wide experience, and, above all, pa-tience; no two market situations are ever alike. We know thathistory repeats, but never in exactly the same way. Hence youcannot mechanistically conclude, "I am bearish because everyoneelse is bullish."

Knowing when to go contrary is of primary importance.Many of us believe that the particular methodology that we areusing in the market ought consistently to work for us. Unfortu-nately, as we discovered earlier, there is no perfect approach toinvesting, because the formation of a correct contrary opinioncan be a difficult and at times elusive task. Even if we are able tocorrectly assess where the crowd stands, this knowledge canstill result in frustration, because the crowd frequently moves toan extreme well ahead of an important market turning point.Many clever stock market operators correctly knew that the situ-ation was getting out of control in 1928; they had concluded thatstocks were overvalued and discounting the hereafter. Theywere right, but their timing was early. Unfortunately, many in-vestors got sucked in just before the final, fateful top. Economictrends are often very slow in reversing and manias take pricesnot just past reasonable valuations but to ridiculous and irra-tional ones as well.

In a timely bearish article in published in Barren's in Septem-ber 1987, John Schultz wrote, "The guiding light of investment

' '' : - . : i , , ,,;„,„.—^o rnnvPTltional, Of

A l\ .J Look at Contrary Opinion

received, wisdom—is always wrong. Rather, it's that majorityopinion tends to solidify into a dogma while its basic premisesbegin to lose their original validity and so become progressivelymore mispriced in the marketplace."

These trends occur because investors tend to move incrowds that by nature are driven by herd instincts and the desirefor instant wealth. If left to their own devices, individuals iso-lated from the crowds would act in a far more rational way. Forexample, if you saw a house that sold one year ago for $50,000now priced at $100,000, you would judge it to be expensive. But ifyou knew that an identical one down the road just fetched$120,000, the price of $100,000 would seem cheap. This feelingwould be especially true if you were bombarded by both friendsand stockbrokers telling you of the killing they have made in realestate, along with the rosy forecasts from the media and real es-tate agents. Even though you might know intuitively that houseprices can't continue to double forever, you would become caughtup in the excitement of the moment.

Under those circ*mstances, it is difficult for an individualto think independently from such an established line of reason-ing. As Neill put it, the art of Contrary Opinion "consists intraining your mind to ruminate in directions opposite to thegeneral public opinions and to weigh your conclusions in thelight of current manifestations of human behavior." A good con-trarian should not "go opposite" for its own sake, but shouldlearn to think in reverse. By taking the reverse side, you willcome out with reasons why the crowd may be wrong. If the ratio*nale holds water, the chances are that going contrary will work.

Why is the crowd usually wrong? The answer is that whenvirtually everyone has taken the position the market is headedin a certain direction, there is no one left to push the trend anyfurther. The next step is that a countertrend initiates a newtrend in the opposite direction. This idea applies not only tomarkets, but to political, social, religious, and military trendsas well.

Let's take an example of an economy that has been in reces-sion for a long period. At such times the media typically tell of


layoffs, weak car sales, bankruptcies, and other signs of hardtimes. The economic forecasts are almost unanimously and uni-versally grim, and it seems as if all events are working in a self-perpetuating, downward spiral. This is the classic environmentin which the majority are extremely despondent. The feelinggrows that the economy will never turn up again or, at best, therecovery will be extremely weak.

And the contrarian? He would look up, not down. The con-trarian would ask, "What could go right? What normally hap-pens in desperate economic times?" The answer is that oncepeople realize that hard times are coming, they take steps to pro-tect themselves from disaster; hence, they cut inventories, lay offworkers, pay off debts, and take other steps to economize. It isthese very actions that contribute to the weak economic climate.But once these measures are taken, those businesses and individ-uals who made them are then in a position to experience tremen-dous profitability when the economy reaches a balance betweendemand and supply and starts to improve. As Neill puts it, "Inhistoric financial eras, it has been significant how, when condi-tions were slumping that, under the pall of discouragement, eco-nomics were righting themselves underneath to the ensuingrevival and recovery."

The same problem occurs in the equity, or any other mar-ket. No investors want to hold stocks if they think that prices arein for a prolonged decline. Naturally, they sell. When everyonewho wants to sell has done so, there is only one direction inwhich prices can go, and that's up. The reason for this is thatchanges in equity prices are caused by the attitude of marketparticipants to the emerging fundamentals. The reversal inprices is always based on the realization by more and more peo-ple that the underlying assumptions of a weakening economyare false. Going into the bear market, many investors vow to buystocks when interest rates begin to fall since this is a knownprecursor of an improving economy and stock market. By thetime interest rates have peaked, equity prices have declined. Somuch of the economic news is so bad that the same investorseither forget—or become carried away by the fear and panic

(. Jew Look at Contrary Opinion

enveloping them—to even think of buying stocks. The Theory ofContrary Opinion thus requires us to go against our natural in-stincts—a difficult task indeed.

I have only touched on a few of the elements of ContraryOpinion and will pursue the subject in greater detail later. First,however, I would like to consider two examples of manic crowdbehavior to illustrate the fickleness and gullibility of crowd in-stincts in a more graphic way.

The Florida Land Boom

The Florida land boom began in the early 1920s when Americahad started to enjoy a long period of prosperity. For many years,it was the custom of wealthy Northeasterners to visit such glam-orous Florida sun resorts as Miami and Palm Beach in winter.Prior to World War I, they had been joined by well-to-do mid-western farmers and northern manufacturers. In the early 1920s,this flow of visitors grew to include just about everyone.

Initially, Florida was considered a paradise. The way of lifewas very relaxed and visitors could soak up the sun all day whiletheir neighbors at home were laboring in the harsh conditions ofa northern winter. Land prices in Florida were substantially be-low the national average so it was an easy decision for many peo-ple to buy some parcels, either to settle permanently or to use asa potential second home. Naturally, as demand increased, landprices rose.

The boom started on a sound basis as prices still repre-sented good value compared with other regions, and there wasplenty of undeveloped land that could be added later to the realestate stock. Between 1923 and 1926, Florida's population grew to1,290,350, an increase of 25%. Real estate prices grew even faster.Gradually, word spread and land prices began to escalate. In Psy-chology and the Stock Market, David Dreman cites the example of alot in Miami Beach purchased for $800 that was resold severalyears later (in 1924) for $150,000. Another lot located near Miamiwas purchased for $25 in 1896 and sold in 1925 for $125,000.


As is normal in such situations, stories spread of instantwealth and rapid capital gains. After all, the economic outlook forthe country as a whole was favorable and land prices were low.Developers rushed into a 100-mile strip stretching from PalmBeach to Coral Gables. Projects sprang up overnight as swampswere drained and new roads were constructed.

A major selling factor was the limited amount of Americanland lying in the subtropical belt. This scarcity added to theland's perceived value and carried a tremendous emotional ap-peal that would eventually push prices to undreamt-of levels.Scarcity is a key ingredient in giving a mania both credibilityand the capability to grab the imagination.

A sure sign of a mature land boom is an unrealistic numberof real estate agents. In 1925, Miami provided employment for25,000 brokers and more than 2,000 offices. Since the entire Mi-ami population was estimated to be 75,000, this meant that therewas one broker for every three residents. The broker-resident ra-tio was one of signs that prices could not continue climbingforever. Others included overburdened rail, shipping, and utilityfacilities. By 1926, the boom went bust and prices began their de-cline. Yet, the frenzy continued.

Dreman also reports that one man quadrupled his money ona beachfront lot within a week. This type of speculation in realestate is typical of a topping-out process when people often buyproperties with no intention of developing, building, or living inthem. Properties could be purchased with a down payment aslow as 10%. Binders, a form of buyer's option, were issued thatenabled the purchaser to sell the property immediately. Thistype of speculative activity could not continue forever. In thesesituations, prices eventually rise so high that more land than canreasonably be absorbed is forced on the market. A similar phe-nomenon occurred at the end of the Bunker-Hunt silver boom in1980. When the price of silver reached $30 or so, individualsflooded the market with their silverware to have it melted down.The price had lost touch with reality.

However, it is extremely difficult for anyone bound up insuch frenzied activity to think objectively, especially when some

A **w Look at Contrary Opinion

of the most respected financial minds in the country also fail torecognize the impending danger. Roger Babson, a leading moneymanager and commentator, declared the land boom to be sound.Successful speculators such as Jesse Livermore, who should haveknown better, also went along with the crowd. J. C. Penney andWilliam Jennings Bryan were also willing participants. Withprices rising and endorsem*nts from respected "experts," it islittle wonder that virtually everyone wanted a piece of the ac-tion. Few people at the time questioned that these so-called realestate experts had gained their reputations in fields other thanreal estate.

As prices rose, so did confidence. The effect of this rise inthe confidence level typically showed up in the way in whichloans were granted. Early on, bankers tend to be quite cautious,but as prices increase they become so confident that they approveloans less on the ability of the borrower to repay them than ontheir underlying equity. Of course, the procedure should workthe other way because the higher prices go, the greater the likeli-hood that the borrower will default. Bankers also become carriedaway by the sheer pressure of competition. If they are unwillingto offer the money, a competitor almost certainly will. Bankers,being human, cannot help being affected by the frenzy going onaround them, so they grant more and more "risk-free" loans astheir outlet for participating in the boom. This psychology is notlimited to the real estate area. We have seen it in the early 1980sin loans granted to what economists call less developed countriesand in investments in the leveraged buyout (LBO) craze of thelate 1980s.

Manias such as the Florida land boom are eventuallybrought to a close as rising prices bring out more and more mar-ginal supply. Sooner or later, some of the more heavily leveragedplayers begin to come unstuck, thereby putting even greater sup-ply on the market. We have to remember that people have pre-pared themselves only for prices to move in one direction. Whenthey start to drop, what looked to the bankers like a comfortable10% margin of safety evaporates overnight, as prices move belowthe value of outstanding mortgages. During the boom, everyone


is aware of all the bullish arguments, because they have beenwidely advertised. This means that once the tide turns, literallyno new buyers are available.

One of the characteristics of manias, especially in their finaldays, is that they are usually riddled with fraud. In the Floridacase, this took the form of false advertisem*nts and other sharppractices. The uncovering of such dishonesty adds fuel to thedownward spiral in prices. At the culmination of the new-issuesboom in the late 1960s, this took the form of Ponzi schemes asso-ciated with the IOS mutual fund company. The late 1980s LBOmania was associated with unscrupulous insider trading activityand so forth. As the bubble is blown up, there is less and lessmargin for error. In the case of Florida, the property market wash*t with two hurricanes late in the decade.

We will draw on some more lessons and characteristics ofmanias later, but first we will examine another instance of crowdpsychology gone mad.

$ The South Sea BubbleOne of the requirements of any financial mania is a revolutionaryidea or concept that offers the possibilities of untold growth andquick and easy gains. We have already seen this in the exampleof the Florida land boom where the idea of a limited amount ofAmerican property in a subtropical region captured virtually ev-eryone's imagination. A similar fantasy swept Britain in the earlypart of the eighteenth century.

At that time, it was commonly believed that one of thegrowth areas was trade with the South America and the SouthPacific. In 1711, the South Sea Company was formed. In its char-ter, the company was granted exclusive rights to English tradewith the Spanish colonies of South America and the SouthPacific. Purchasers of the stock not only participated in a marketwith prospects of unlimited growth but also received a monopolyon that market. It is little wonder that the company's promoters

A new Lock at Contrary Opinion

In return for these trading rights, the South Sea Companyhad undertaken to pay part of the English national debt. In ef-fect, it was buying the rights to trade. In reality, the actual rightswere not as attractive as the directors made out. Spain did con-trol a vast and wealthy territory, but the nation allowed almostno trade with foreigners. As it turned out, the company was al-lowed only to trade in slaves and to send just one ship per year.Even then, the profits were to be shared with Spain.

This policy impeded the company's activities, so in 1719 itagain approached the English government and offered to pay offmore debt as compensation for more trading rights. Holders ofgovernment debt were then offered stock in the South Sea Com-pany. The government was happy because the debt was beingpaid off, and the debt holders were content because the price ofthe South Sea stock continued to appreciate.

Having twice successfully tried this creative financingmethod, the directors were then tempted to promote an ex-change of the remainder of the national debt for more companystock. For this operation to become successful, it was necessaryto push the price of the stock to higher and higher levels. Sincethe growth in profits was limited, the only way this could beachieved would be through the introduction of new concessions.The rumor mill now began to flood with stories such as Spain'swillingness to give the company some major bases in Peru. Im-ages of gold and silver flowing from South America into the com-pany's coffers began to take hold of the imagination.

By September 1720, the issue price had reached £1,000, aneightfold increase in six months. Sharply rising prices alwayscatch the attention of the financial community, but this wassomething different. Talk of the South Sea boom was on every-one's lips. The mania developed to such an extreme that it be-came unfashionable not to own shares. There was, therefore, astrong social, as well as financial, pressure to go along with thescheme. In the Florida land boom, anyone who stepped backfrom the crowd and viewed the situation objectively could seefrom such a simple statistic as the broker-resident ratio that thesituation had reached an unreal stapp. Thp samp rnnM W> c-"'H ^(


the South Sea Bubble. At the height of the mania, the value of thecompany's stock was the equivalent of five times the availablecash not just in England but in the whole of Europe. It is obviouswith the objectivity of hindsight that this was an unrealistic sit-uation. However, it is difficult for investors caught up in such aflood of emotion to become detached because they are continu-ally being proved wrong by higher and higher prices.

Responsible people who correctly identify such bubbles areoften taken seriously at first but are later ridiculed as priceswork their frenzied way to their peak. Commentators such as LeBon and Neill have noted that there is a relationship of sortsbetween the degree to which a mania can develop and the abil-ity of people to back up their beliefs in that mania with facts.For example, if I look out of my window and see a green lawn, itwill be difficult for anyone to persuade me that it is a swimmingpool. I know from experience what a lawn looks like, and it isnothing like a swimming pool. On the other hand, if the factsare debatable, such as the future growth of the South Sea Com-pany, it is possible that I could be persuaded to make an invest-ment. My broker, for instance, could point to some newarguments of which I was previously unaware. If I can see thatthe company has had a good record and that the price has con-sistently advanced, I may become more interested. When I hearthat prominent investors are also on board and that everyonearound me is positive, the idea becomes very difficult to resist.When the question becomes not whether the price will go up butwhen and by how much, it is time for some reflection and objec-tive thinking.

As 1720 progressed, belief in a bright future began to grow,so it was only natural for others to issue new stock in the hopethat investors would bite. Greed, it seems, has no bounds be-cause fast and easy gains become addictive. Flotations began forall kinds of projects, and companies were organized for such en-deavors as draining Irish bogs, importing jackasses from Spain,and trading in human hair. It didn't much matter what the com-pany was going to do. There was a surplus of funds and few

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

places to put them, so a public that had already seen shares inthe South Sea Company skyrocket was anxious not to miss outon the next investment boom. Once again, we see the law of sup-ply and demand coming into play, rising prices in the South SeaCompany raised the prices of equities in general. Other compa-nies were then in a good position to bring their stock to market.These new issues quickly sopped up the surplus funds just asdid the marginal land in Florida and the silverware in 1980. Thecraze seemed to reach its height when a London printer decidedto float an issue offering investors the opportunity to participatein "an undertaking of great advantage." Even though no one ac-tually knew what it was, he raised £2,000 in six hours, a hugesum in those days. He then left for Europe and was never heardof again.

This increase in fraud is typical of the later stages of a fi-nancial mania as an ever-gullible public becomes an easier andeasier mark. The fraud was not just confined to small operatorsbut by now had extended to the directors of the South Sea Com-pany itself. They had bribed many public figures to get the con-cessions they needed but were now irritated by the way thesenew companies were absorbing money that would otherwisehave gone to supporting the price of South Sea Company stock.In taking steps to expose some of the frauds being committed bythe smaller "bubbles," the directors raised some questions in theminds of their own shareholders as to whether the South SeaCompany was just a giant version of the newcomers.

Within a month, the mood had quickly reversed as peoplefinally began to question the willingness of Spain to grant con-cessions. Positive rumors were replaced by negative ones, and theprice of the stock began a precipitous slide. By the end of Sep-tember it had reached £129/share. Thousands of investors wereruined, and a government investigation found that there hadbeen widespread fraud. Many banks had loaned money on thebasis of collateral provided by South Sea stock. When the stocktumbled there was no collateral, and so many banks failed. Eventhe Bank of England itself narrowly escaped financial ruin.


^ Ingredients for a Mania

These are two examples of financial manias. There are manyothers such as the famous Dutch tulip mania in the seventeenthcentury, John Law's Mississippi scheme and the bull market inthe 1920s. No two instances are identical, but they all sharesome common characteristics. We do need to stress that eventhough these experiences all represent extremes, they are never-theless indicative of day-to-day market psychology. The princi-pal difference between a mania and a more common emotionalfluctuation is that the mania lasts much longer and goes to a fargreater extreme.

The elements that make up a mania can be summarized asfollows under two headings—"The Bubble Inflates" and "TheBubble Bursts."

The Bubble Inflates

1. A believable concept offers a revolutionary and unlimitedpath to growth and riches.

2. A surplus of funds exists alongside a shortage of opportu-nities. This channels the attention of a sufficient number of peo-ple with money to trigger the immediate and attention-gettingrise in price. These are the germs that spread the contagion.

3. The idea cannot be irrefutably disproved by the facts butis sufficiently complex that it is necessary for the average personto ask the opinions of others to justify its validity.

4. Once the mania gets underway, the idea has sufficientpower and compelling belief to spread from a minority to themajority as the crowd seeks to imitate its leaders.

5. The price fluctuates from traditional levels of overvalua-tion to entirely new ground.

6. The new price levels are sanctioned by individuals con-sidered by society to be leaders or experts, thereby giving thebubble an official imprimatur.

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

7. There is a fear of missing out. The flagship or centerpieceof the bubble is copied or cloned as new schemes and projectsattempt to ride on the coattails of the original. They are readilyembraced, especially by those who have not yet participated.

8. Lending practices by banks and other financial institu-tions deteriorate as loans are made indiscriminately. Collateral isvalued at inflated and unsustainably high values. A vulnerabledebt pyramid is a necessary catalyst for the bust when it eventu-ally begins.

9. A cult figure emerges, symbolic of the bubble. In the Mis-sissippi scheme, it was John Law himself; in the 1920s, famousstock operators such as Jesse Livermore. In the late 1960s, BernieCornfield symbolized the so-called mutual fund "gunslingers,"and more recently Michael Milken represented the late-1980sLBO craze.

10. The bubble lasts longer than the expectations of virtu-ally everyone. Commentators who warned of trouble in 1928were initially taken seriously but were way too early and werediscredited in the early part of 1929.

11. An atmosphere of fast, easy gains almost invariably re-sults in shady business practices and fraud being practiced by theperpetrators of the original scheme, for example, the insiderscandals associated with the 1980s LBO mania. We have alreadyseen that fraud played some part in the South Sea Bubble and theFlorida land boom. The Mississippi scheme was also based onsimilar practices.

12. At the height of the bubble, the possibility exists thateven the most objective person can come up with a simple buteyecatching statistic proving that the madness is unsustainable.The broker-resident ratio in Florida in the 1920s and the value ofSouth Sea Stock relative to Europe's total available cash are twoexamples. In our own time, we note that Jn the late 1980s, thevalue of the land encompassing the Emperor's Palace in Tokyowas equivalent to the total value of all New York. Just before theJapanese stock market peak in 1990, price-earnings ratios


put ourselves in a stronger position to combat them. Thismeans, for example, that we need to be skeptical of the head-lines and must try to identify the reasoning behind them. Obvi-ously some common sense is in order. For example, if we readthe headline "Plane Crash Kills Five Executives; Stock PricePlummets," the chances are good that the crash has beencaused by some mechanical or human failure that has nothingto do with the operations of the company. On the other hand,"Chairman Fires CEO; Stock Price Plummets" may indeed re-quire a closer examination. The market has taken the firing asan indication of civil war within the company and so the stockhas declined. On the other hand, perhaps the chairman is send-ing a signal to the world that a constructive shakeup is under-way from which the company will eventually benefit. Thelesson is that we should not take a negative stance just becausethe news seems bearish and prices decline. Perhaps such a viewwould be justified, but we should at least take a look at the op-posing case before taking action.

Of course, it is very difficult to take an opposite view fromthose around us because evidence of the new contrary trend hasnot yet emerged, either in the form of a change in the pricetrend or in the facts themselves. In the case of the CEO firing, itmay take months before the results of the shakeup and the ra-tionale behind it begin to emerge. It is good to remember thatthe crowd will already have sold the stock in anticipation of theworst, so the selling will be over long before the turnaround isapparent. The market, like a good contrarian, anticipates whatwill happen.

It is very difficult for most of us to anticipate a future eventby taking action right now, even when the event is more or lesscertain to take place. For example, we all know that the grasswill begin to grow again in the summer, but how many of ustake the time and effort to buy a new lawn mower when there isa sale on mowers in January? A few farsighted souls take ad-vantage of this type of deal but the vast majority of us wait un-til the last moment, even though we know that logically weshould buy ahead of time at the more advantageous price. It

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

does not require a great leap of imagination to see how difficultit is to buy into a stock when there is absolutely no certainty ofthe expected outcome.

Further compounding our reluctance to act is the attitude ofthose around us. By definition they will almost always disagreewith our contrary opinion, sometimes violently. Occasionally thevehemence of the response is itself a sign that you might be on tosomething. I remember writing a bullish bond article for Barren'sin 1985. The following week a reader felt so strongly about thearticle that he wrote a poem denouncing it. In the late 1980s, BobPrechter, the well-known market letter writer wrote a bearish ar-ticle on the gold price for the same publication. He suffered agreater tirade. Both articles turned out to be accurate. I can alsopoint to articles with incorrect predictions where there was noresponse or outburst whatsoever.

One other difficulty in taking a contrary stance is that it of-ten takes a long time before your view is vindicated. It is onlynatural for this to underpin your faith, because you begin to fearthat these contrary views have no basis. Starting off on the pathof contrary thinking is quite difficult, because man is a habitualanimal. William James in an essay entitled "Habit" noted "theuniversally admitted fact that any sequence of mental actionwhich has frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so thatwe find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel and dowhat we have been accustomed to think, feel or do under like cir-c*mstances, with out any consciously formed purpose, or antici-pation of results." As Neill pointed out, "Habits push our mindsinto ruts—and it takes a considerable amount of force and time toget out of the ruts." Consequently, if we wish to think differentlyfrom the crowd, we need to develop a mechanism to stop us fromslipping back into bad habits.

Neill cites some additional reasons for our failures to antic-ipate. First, individual opinions are of little value since they areso frequently incorrect. Second, human character weaknessessuch as fear, greed, pride of opinion, and the like prevent theaverage person from maintaining an objective stance. He opinedthat "subjective reasoning leads to opinionated conclusions."


Third, if we stand stubbornly by our own opinion, we are likelyto defend it regardless of its merit. Many of us are unwilling toadmit a mistake.

Neill concluded that if individual opinions are so suscepti-ble to flaws, one should "go opposite" to the crowd, which is sooften wrong. This is not as easy as it sounds because you cannotgo opposite if you haven't successfully dealt with your own bi-ases. For example, if you hold the view that gold prices are in abull market, it will do you little good to hunt around for bearisharticles and then declare yours to be a contrary view. In thiscase, you would have made the facts fit your own opinion insteadof forming your opinion from the facts.

By the same token, it does little good to say, "I'm bearish be-cause everyone else is bullish." This may be correct but we have toremember that the crowd is right during the trend and is onlywrong at both ends, that is, when it really counts. We still needto justify our bearish view based on a logical and well-reasonedargument.

In 1946, the Securities and Exchange Commission examinedthe mailings of 166 brokers and investment advisors during theweek of August 26-September 3. Of that number 4.1% were bear-ish. An investor could certainly have used this survey as a basisfor believing that the crowd was positioned in a bullish direction.This belief also could be backed up by facts: The Federal ReserveBoard had already indicated it was tightening monetary policyby raising the discount rate, equities were selling at an expensiveprice/earnings multiple, and some speculation had begun to ap-pear. The market declined by 26 points, the next week, and thebear market was underway.

It is not so much that nearly 96% of the brokers and advisorswere bullish but more that their opinions were either influencedby or reflected the opinion of the vast majority of market partici-pants. Thus virtually everyone who had contemplated buyinghad already done so. Once the smoke had cleared, people beganto anticipate a tighter Federal Reserve rate; they could now "see"that stocks were overvalued, and the market began to decline. In

A dew Look at Contrary Opinion

effect, the argument on which the bullish case rested could nolonger hold water.

^ Requirements for Contrary Thinking

Consider the Alternatives

It has been said that if you can't think through a subject, you arethrough thinking. The contrary approach requires a person tolook and weigh up the alternatives instead of taking someoneelse's word for it. One method is to take the prominently heldconsensus, whether it be financial, economic, political, social, orphilosophical, and ask what may happen to change that outlook.Don't stop at the first alternative but try to think of as manyplausible alternative scenarios as possible. Going through this ex-ercise will help you recognize which one is more likely to cometo pass, when some vital clues that are invisible to the unthink-ing majority start to materialize.

One problem that we all face is that we were conditioned atan early age to believe everything we read in our schoolbooks andhear from our teachers. As Neill put it, "We bred the habit of un-thinking acquiescence rather than exercising such intelligence aswe might have." Very few of us take the trouble of looking at bothaspects of an argument. We either derive our opinions second-hand from what we hear or read or conveniently take the side thatis consistent with our personal philosophical or political beliefs.

Don't Extrapolate the Future from the Present

Part of the process of anticipating the market's twists and turnsinvolves assessing when the prevailing price trend is about toreverse. Most of us gain greater confidence as prices move upnot only because our accounts show more paper profits helpingus to feel more at ease with our financial position but also


because rising prices are an apparent vindication of our judg-ment. Since the markets discount the good news on the way up,the longer a bull trend continues, the more positive the newsbackground is likely to be. This makes it difficult to anticipate aturn since we all have a tendency to extrapolate from presentconditions. Many market analysts get locked into models orother analytical frameworks based on previous experience andhave a similar problem.

In the late 1980s, the economy experienced a long recoverythat was well above its normal two- to three-year span. This ledmany economists to conclude that the business cycle had beenrepealed. The argument rested on the so-called rolling economyin which alternating regional declines would result in a self-correcting economy. Under such an environment, the overallgrowth rate for the economy would simply slow and not actu-ally contract. A similar theory based on global economies alsopronounced the international business cycle to be dead. A longrecession did emerge in the middle of 1990 and 1991. In retro-spect, this whole exercise had represented one of projectingwhat was the prevailing trend of economic recovery well intothe future.

You will be amazed if you read past periodicals and news-papers how often the prevailing conditions produced the opin-ions of the day. The press rarely makes any effort to report thingsthat would cause a change in the future. One exception occursafter an unexpectedly sharp price reversal has taken place. Me-dia spokespersons, who are always looking for an excuse to jus-tify price changes, will then say, for example, "Bond prices fellsharply yesterday because speculators were worried about theresurgence of inflation." In this example, the analysis of the fu-ture is based on a knee-jerk reaction to a price change ratherthan a reasoned analysis of why inflation might be a problem inthe future.

We are, to a large degree, unconsciously influenced bywhat is taking place at the moment. If prices are rising, thebullish arguments and commentators are plastered all over thefinancial pages. Conversely, it is the bears who are quoted as

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

prices plummet. It therefore becomes the job of the contrariannot to confuse cause and effect.

Remember That Events, Not People, Control the Future

In this era of public relations and "spin doctors" when people inauthority are able to manipulate the news with timed announce-ments, photo opportunities, and leaks, there is a natural ten-dency to believe that personalities are in control of events. Inmost cases, though, it is the events that drive the leaders. Exter-nal circ*mstances control the attitude of individuals and crowds,so it is important for contrarians to analyze events just as muchas viewpoints, personalities, and sentiment.

In his famous treatise on crowds, Le Bon wrote, "A greatnumber of historical events are often miscomprehended . . .because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which inreality has very little influence on their genesis." We constantlylook to the government as a source of problem solving but usu-ally find it wanting. If logic played any part in governmental de-cision making, the Vietnam War would not have escalated to theextent that it did, nor would the Soviet invasion of Afghanistanhave taken place. Often those in power find that they have to re-act to events. It is how they cope with those events that separatesthe great from the rest of us. Sound reasoning rarely plays a partin social trends, otherwise we would have solved such problemsas racial prejudice and nationalism long ago. These dilemmas areessentially the result of emotions and attitudes rather than logic.Is it little wonder that many devastating wars have arisen fromreligious conflicts based on beliefs rather than knowledge?

Brooks Adams, in The Law of Civilization and Decay (1897),also encapsulated this feeling in his preface: "Another convictionforced on my mind, by the examination of long periods of his-tory, was the exceedingly small part played by conscious thoughtin molding the fate of men. At the moment of action the humanbeing almost invariably obeys an instinct, like an animal; only af-ter action has ceased does he reflect."


Humphrey Neill summed up the role of events in The Rutni-nator. "Events control actions and attitudes of individuals andcrowds. Contrarians therefore look for the contrary guidance inthe events as well as in the analysis of viewpoints, sentiment andactivities of those concerned."

People Like to Conform

One reason that people grouped together act as crowds is thatthey love to conform. In a way, this is a form of imitation. In the1950s, virtually every male wore short hair; long hair was consid-ered to be antisocial. In the 1960s, many influential rock groupsmade long hair fashionable so that many who had worn their hairshort in the 1950s now found themselves imitating and conform-ing by growing it long. The same sort of thing happens at com-mittee meetings. Most people feel much safer going along withthe majority so as not to rock the boat, or, in the case of corpo-rate meetings, jeopardize their careers.

In the financial markets, we look for opinions from promi-nent analysts and other experts. We forget that they are as fal-lible as the next person. We often overlook that such people oftenhave a personal motive for holding their views. An example ofthis would be the portfolio manager or strategist who is alreadyinvested in the stocks that he is recommending.

Where Do Opinions Come from?

Themes in the market and other general opinions find theirorigins in sudden events, a sharp move in price either up ordown, or from ideas radiating slowly from a small group of opin-ion makers. This latter phenomenon is somewhat akin to throw-ing a stone in a still pond and watching the ripples spread into awidening circle. The contrarian should take advantage of thisripple of knowledge by skimming through a number of financial

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

periodicals for an opinion that is likely to catch the imaginationof the public when it spreads further.

A good source of such concentrated uniformity of opinioncomes from forums or conferences. I remember attending an in-ternational conference of market technicians in October 1990.Equity markets around the world had fallen sharply that Sep-tember due to the Persian Gulf crisis. Many attendees had eitherlost their jobs or feared a potential loss, and sentiment wasamong the most negative and one sided that I have ever experi-enced at a conference of this nature. It was difficult to buck theprevailing opinion, but as it turned out, that was the correctthing to do. The U.S. stock market, for example, was in the finalthroes of a primary bear trend and therefore presented an out-standing buying opportunity. One of the principal reasons forthe negativism was the fear that oil prices would rise and thatthis would in turn result in an inflationary increase in interestrates. What happened was that interest rates fell because of weakeconomic conditions, the Fed eased in a series of cuts in the dis-count rate, and the stock market took off.

In the world of fashion, different styles grow and wane inpopularity, and the world of buying and selling stocks is no dif-ferent. Various industries become popular with investors and justas quickly lose their luster. In the late 1970s, food and tobaccostocks offered tremendous value and for the most part had veryconsistent growth records. Even so, they were considered to bedull and unexciting because they went nowhere. By the begin-ning of the 1990s, these same stocks had become "musts" in anyinstitutional portfolio. Technology stocks were the darlings in1983, but that was to be their peak in popularity for many yearsto come. It is the job of the contrarian to find the positive aspectsof these groups when they are out of favor, and vice versa.

I distinctly remember reading an article on oil stocks inthe financial press at the close of 1980. At the time, oil had ev-erything going for it such as shortages and an increase in worlddemand. You name it and it was fully documented in the arti-cle. It was very difficult not to believe that oil stocks were headed

much higher. As it turned out, that happened to be the peak inoil stocks for many years. It was necessary to look for the con-trary arguments because the bullish ones had already been fac-tored into the price. If an argument appears in the popularpress, you can be sure that everyone who wants to buy is al-ready on board. And that, if you will, is the time to look at theother side of the argument.

History Repeats, but Contrarians Must Be Careful

The study of previous market experiences indicates that historydoes indeed repeat but rarely does it repeat itself exactly. If wetake this truism too literally, we can find ourselves in trouble,because the aspect of repeating past mistakes has to be carefullythought through by comparing the facts in the two situations.For example, people rarely repeat the same mistake on consecu-tive occasions because they can remember back to their last un-fortunate market experience. So they vow never to make thesame mistake again. In Chapter 6, we cited several examples ofthis phenomenon.

If the Theory of Contrary Opinion Becomes Too Popular,Will It Fail to Work?

Contrary opinion in a mechanistic sense has already becomepopular, but forming a contrary opinion is an art not a science soit does not readily lend itself to a mechanistic or simplistic ap-proach. It is one thing to point to a news story and take the oppo-site point of view or to take the position that "everyone is bearishso I am bullish." It is quite another to see that majority opinionhas solidified into a dogma for which there is no longer a basis infact. The true theory of contrary opinion is unlikely to becomewidely practiced because it involves creative thinking, and mostpeople when given the choice, prefer to follow and imitate ratherthan reflect.

A New Look at Contrary Opinion

The majority will always find it easier to follow views thatappear in the papers or on the television than to think througha number of alternative scenarios for themselves. To giveHumphrey Neill the last word, "The Theory of Contrary Opin-ion will never become so popular that it destroys its own useful-ness. Anything that you have to work hard at and to think hardabout, to make it workable, is never going to become commonpractice."

— 8——When to Go


Jit is one thing to understandthat going contrary can be profitable. It is quite another to knowwhen to do it. In this chapter, you will find a few guideposts topoint you in the right direction. These guideposts are not foundeasily; there is no fail-safe way to establish the exact momentwhen the crowd will be proved wrong. Market prices are deter-mined by the evolving attitudes of individuals who may be eithertemporarily in or out of the market. The hopes, fears, and expec-tations of these people, and their attitudes toward those expecta-tions are all factored into the price. Trends in psychologicalattitudes have a tendency to feed on themselves. In many in-stances, it is possible to point to a market trend that has reachedwhat we might call a normal extreme. The widely held view ap-pears to be well-established, and the market seems to have fullydiscounted this point of view; yet for some seemingly irrationalreason, the movement in crowd psychology continues beyondnormal bounds. More and more participants are drawn in, andthis conventional view becomes increasingly solidified.

Fortunately, these extreme situations, in which normal levelsof valuation and rationality are thrown to the wind, do not occurvery often. The bull market of the 1920s in the United States, andthe Japanese equity boom of the 1980s are two such market crazesthat readily come to mind. Another example would be the spec-tacular run-up in precious metal prices that culminated in the1980 blowoff. In each of these examples, rational expectations

V\inen to Go contrary

were abandoned early on, and the markets took on a life of theirown before the inevitable crash. These situations demonstrate oneof the key problems facing the contrarian—calling a market turntoo early—in these examples, far too early.

In a way, forming a well-considered contrary opinion is sim-ilar to establishing an informal measure of market risk. When allparticipants agree on a specific outlook, it means that they are allpositioned to take advantage of it. In the case of a negative out-come, they will already have sought protection either through adirect sale, by hedging their investments, or a combination of thetwo. In such instances, the odds are good that the prevailingtrend will head in the opposite direction, because there are fewerpeople to sustain it. In those situations where the trend contin-ues on its course, participants begin to feed on new and freshlydeveloped arguments that help to sustain their belief in the con-sensus. In extreme cases, these newfound arguments combinewith the allure of rapidly moving prices to entice more playersonto the field.

When I was a broker in Canada back in the early 1970s, forexample, no one was particularly interested in gold, which wasselling for about $100 at the time. Few people understood its rolein the monetary system; most were interested in stocks or bonds.By the end of 1979, attitudes had changed. Participation in thegold market had greatly expanded from the usual speculators inthe futures markets. Swiss banks had heavily involved theirclients, and the public was now queuing up in the banks to pur-chase the yellow metal. Opinion on gold as an inflationary hedgehad not only solidified but had attracted and seduced a naivepublic into the market as well.

When the question changes from "whether" the price willrise or fall to "when and by how much," thoughtful peopleshould consider closing out their positions. In the preceding ex-ample, that point would probably have been reached when goldwas selling in the $300-$400 range. That, of course, would havebeen far too early, because the price eventually touched $850.However, the contrarian recognizes that it is far better to be earlyand right than late and wrong. Therefore, the major drawback of


the contrary approach is that you often find yourself prema-turely liquidating a position.

This problem is less critical at market bottoms where valuesare sound and prices reverse quickly. When a bearish opinion so-lidifies, people tend to throw stocks and other investments awayat virtually any price. Moreover, sharp price setbacks tend to beself-feeding for a while, since lower prices force those with lever-aged positions to liquidate. Fear is a stronger motivator thangreed, so the "early" contrarian does not usually have long towait before prices return to their break-even point. In such situa-tions, he will have the confidence to hold on, since the purchaseswill undoubtedly be made at an unsustainably low level of valua-tion. This valuation could take the form of an unusually highdividend yield for stocks, a very high interest rate for bonds, or,in the instance of a commodity, a price that is well below theprevailing level of production costs.

Knowing when to "go contrary" then, is a difficult and elu-sive task. For this reason, it is best to integrate the contrary ap-proach with other methodologies of market analysis. The degreeto which a consensus becomes solidified is in a sense a measureof market risk, and what is risky can become more so before theprevailing trend has run its course. Combining the contrary ap-proach with other approaches such as historically accepted mea-sures of valuation can therefore represent a useful confirmation.For example, if stocks are yielding less than 3%, interest rateshave begun to rise, and the view on the street is that stocks havenowhere else to go but up, there is an excellent chance that amajor peak in equities is close at hand. When valuations arehigh, this is another way of saying that the consensus hasreached an extreme.

^ Determining Whether the Consensus Is at aShort- or a Long-Term Turning Point

One task that the contrarian must accomplish is to decide whetherconsensus is of short- or long-term significance. For example,

When to Go Contrary

a recently released government report on the employment picturemay indicate that the economy is stronger than most people ex-pected. As a result, bond prices, which do not respond well to fa-vorable economic news, start to sell off sharply. At this point,speculators in the bond market begin to get very discouraged. Notonly are prices declining, but a rumor of a pickup in the inflationnumbers has now begun making the rounds. The bond market de-clines even more. The consensus among traders has, in the spaceof a few days or a week, moved strongly to the bearish side. Thechances are, though, that this is only a short-term top.

We do not know the details of the general economic picturefrom this example, but major peaks in bond prices require a lotmore evidence that the economy is turning than one economic re-port and the rumor of a second. Such turning points are usuallyassociated with a general belief that the economy will not recoverfor some time. Typically a turn has been previously but pre-maturely anticipated by the majority. When there is no follow-through to these initial signs, people lose heart. This "give-up"phase is often the contrarian's best tip that a recovery is, in fact,on the way.

In any market situation, there are always the structural op-timists, or bulls, and the structural pessimists, or bears. Theseare the people who have a permanent bias in one direction oranother. As the recession progresses, the structural bulls noticethat the leading indicators have begun to turn up and take heartfrom this. When the numbers do improve and then temporarilyreverse, this solidifies the opinion of the bears, but more impor-tantly it also convinces a significant number of the structuralbulls as well. The significance of this "give-up" stage is that itbroadens the number of people holding the consensus to thepoint that expectations of a weak economy and higher bondprices become a forgone conclusion. The question is no longer"whether" but "when and by how much?"

The consensus that forms at a short-term market turningpoint appears to expect that "the correction will continue." Thereseems to be an underlying feeling that prices will eventuallymove higher, but conventional wisdom insists, "Don't buy yet.


Prices will become more attractive in the next few weeks." In-variably they do not, and the next leg of the bull market gets un-derway to the great surprise of the majority of investors. In theseinstances, be on the lookout for headlines in the financial presspredicting a correction. When this becomes a fairly widespreadexpectation, you can be sure that a major rally is not far off.

The consensus around major tops and bottoms is a muchmore contagious affair. Instead of headlines and articles expectto see cover stories in major magazines and features on theevening news. In the case of bearish trends, confirmation is oftenseen in the indignant reactions of politicians. They usually actright at the end of the trend. Do you remember President GeraldFord's WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons that appeared right atthe peak of the 1971-1974 jump in the rate of consumer price in-flation? Talk of a new era or justifications that "it's different thistime and valuations are not important because . . ." abound. Weshall examine some of these concepts later, but in essence theyall represent signs of major turning points in the markets. Evenso, some of them may appear well before the actual price peak,others will coincide with the peak, and some may actually lag alittle. Regardless of the actual timing, such signs represent awarning that the true contrarian ignores at his peril.

I have addressed the subject of when to go contrary in some-what general terms. We now turn to some more specific, practicalmethods of assessing when a consensus view has moved too far inone direction. As described in Chapter 7, the major problem arisesbecause it is not possible to set hard and fast rules: Forming a con-trary opinion is an art and not a science. No two instances are thesame in a character sense and no manias or crowd movementsend at the same place. Figure 8-1 represents a typical oscillatorused in technical analysis. It moves from one extreme to another.A glance at the chart tells us that when the oscillator reaches theoverbought and oversold dashed lines, the probabilities favor thatthe prevailing trend of prices is coming to an end. However, thereare some instances when it continues much further, such as theoverbought reading in early 1990. Trying to judge when a con-sensus has moved too far is a very similar matter. What could

Figure 8-1 The Deutsche Mark and 13-Week Rate of Change as anExample of a Typical Oscillator. Source: Pring Market Review.

normally be interpreted as an extreme in crowd psychology canoften move to an even greater extreme before the tide eventuallyturns. With this important caveat in mind, we can now proceed.

^ Headlines, Cover Stories, and the Media

The role of the media is to report news and opinion, not to makepredictions and forecasts. If the media perform their task well,then they should be reflecting the opinions and views of theirreaders, or constituents. The more widespread and intense theviews and opinions, the more prominently they should be fea-tured. We would surely expect to see stories about the stockmarket featured in the financial press such as The Wall Street Jour-nal. This in itself tells us little. On the other hand, when a fea-ture article on the equity market appears in general-circulationpublications such as Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News and World Re-port, we should take note because the story has begun to circulate

well beyond the usual financial circles. It reflects that the generalpublic may be about to imitate the "experts." The interestingthing about such stories is that they invariably occur after a sub-stantial price movement has taken place. The article may explainwhy prices have risen so much and in a roundabout way will re-flect the conventional wisdom, thereby giving the general publicsome powerful reasons they too should buy. To the contrarian,the appearance of such stories is not a signal to buy; rather, it isa sign that is time to think about selling.

When market stories reach the front pages of general pur-pose newspapers or the covers of magazines, the implications arefar greater than if the stories appear in the financial press. Sev-eral years ago, I did some research to try to come up with a con-trarian media index. The idea was that if a specific story ortheme appeared in the popular media a sufficient number oftimes, then it was likely that the market was about to reverse.Unfortunately, I was unable to correlate such stories with rever-sals in the markets: Sometimes my index worked very well. Onother occasions, there was a huge lag between the cover storiesand the market reversal, and sometimes there was no reversal atall. This underscores the point that the formulation of a true andaccurate contrary opinion is very much an art form that can onlybe achieved with much experience and a great deal of creativethinking.

Paul Macrae Montgomery is a stock market analyst based inNewport News, Virginia, who specializes in what we might call"cover-story analysis." In the June 3,1991 issue of Barren's, Mont-gomery claimed that there is a significant correlation betweenTime cover stories and major reversals in the stock market. Hisresearch, which begins with magazine issues from 1923, indi-cates that when a bullish cover is featured, the market usuallyrallies at an annual rate of about 17% for a month or two andthen reverses. Note that the annualized gain of 17% for twomonths translates into an actual gain of about 3%. According toMontgomery, then, the appearance of the story breaks prettyclose to the final peak. On the other hand, bearish covers are fol-lowed by annualized declines of 30% for a month or so (i.e., about


double the rate of market rises that follow bullish stories). Theinteresting point is that over a one-year period the market movesan average 80% in the opposite direction to the theme of thecover story.

Needless to say, these examples occur at major market turn-ing points. By the very nature of the situation, it would be unre-alistic to expect a widely published story to signal a short-termturning point. To make the cover of a major magazine, the articlehas to represent news to which more or less everyone can relate.A major stock market selloff or a huge bull market clearly fitsthe bill. Other examples cited by Montgomery are the famous"Crash" cover story in November 1987 and a feature article onthe "Match King," Ivar Krueger, the day before the 1929 marketcrash. Krueger was featured because he had just lent $75 millionto France to help stabilize the currency, and $125 million to Ger-many to support his match manufacturing monopoly. This highrolling activity is typical of a long-term peak in speculative activ-ity. Just after the Time cover story appeared, the price of Kreuger& Troll's stock plummeted from $35 to $5 within 24 months.

Cover stories sometimes focus on interest rates. In March1982, for example, an article entitled "Interest Rate Anguish" fea-tured Paul Volcker, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.Treasury Bills were yielding 12.5%, but a year later they hadfallen to 8.5%.

I have also found the track record of Business Week magazineto be an equally accurate indicator of major market changes. Per-haps the most famous such piece was one entitled the "Death ofEquities" in 1977 when the Dow was selling at less than a thou-sand. Montgomery cites a 1984 cover story warning of disaster inthe government bond market (i.e., implying that investors shouldavoid government bonds). It was, but for those who did not buy,because yields fell from 14% to less than 7.5% within two years.In this instance, the bond market reversed its downward pathwithin a few days of the story's publication, but trend reversals inother instances usually take much more time. If the story seemsto fit the overall market environment, you should begin nibblingaway at your holdings or liquidating, depending on the signal.



When emotions reach an extreme, we should expect to seean extreme movement in prices in the opposite direction to theprevailing trend. In the 1984 Business Week article just discussed,the report in some places turned into a forecast by saying,"Investors can do little but brace for further depression of theprices of their bonds. . . ." In this instance, the writer was so ut-terly convinced that prices would decline that he felt it necessaryto overstep his function as a reporter and make a prediction.This is most unusual and provided strong anecdotal evidencethat emotions had run too far.

In more recent times, the November 1990 cover of this samemagazine was right on a contrarian target when it published"The Future of Wall Street" following a sharp market retreat.The article was not only instructive in the sense that it featureda Wall Street story during a bear market. That was bullish in it-self. What was of equal significance for stock pickers was thatthe article was pointing out why brokerage stocks, the principalbeneficiary of a bull market, would be under pressure. Duringthe next bull market, brokerage stocks obliged by putting in oneof the best performances of any industry group.

Cover stories that do not appear to have any direct bearingon the markets or the economy can also help in discerning themarket's mood. Features about the United States or its embodi-ment—the President—can often reveal how we think aboutourselves. For example, Americans reached an emotional high forseveral months during and after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympicgames, a mood certainly reflected in the news coverage. InFebruary 1985, the dollar ended a super bull market and began aterrible decline within a matter of months.

Covers featuring upbeat and confident presidents also re-flect a similar mood in the country. In this vein, George Bushwas featured on the cover of Time during the summer of 1989.The article lauded him for being smarter and less ideologicalthan Ronald Reagan. The market responded with a sharp selloff.In January 1991, a cover story depicted President Bush as "two-faced," "wavering," and "confused." This also reflected the mood

vvnen in uo

of the country, and that uncertainty also pervaded the stock mar-ket. This sentiment had already been discounted by the stockmarket, which then proceeded to experience a very powerfulrally. In effect, if the nation, either directly or indirectly throughits elected officials, is reflected in a cover story as ebullient andconfident, expect the market to decline. On the other hand, if thestory reflects a lack of national confidence and will to tackle itsseemingly insoluble problems, expect a rally.

I should add that you should not rely on all cover storieswith such precision. Time's famous "Birth of the Bull" cover inthe fall of 1982 was not followed by a general market collapse butby a long-term bull market. This emphasizes that one should notgo contrary just for the sake of going contrary. It is mandatory toexamine the facts and come up with some reasonable alternativescenarios. In the case of the "Birth of the Bull," the economic andvaluation conditions were totally inconsistent with a major mar-ket top. The dividend yield on the S&P Composite Index at 5.1%,for example, was closer to the historical level of undervaluationthan overvaluation. Moreover, interest rates had just begun toplunge and the economic news was very poor—all signs of a ma-jor market bottom. The only aspect that did not fit was the "Birthof the Bull" cover. In this case it was being featured because of atremendous rally on Wall Street accompanied by record volume,not because the consensus had moved to the superbullish camp.

Even when conditions appear to be in tune with a coverstory, a rally is not necessarily guaranteed. In the summer of1991, Fortune featured the CEO of IBM on its cover. This seemedto confirm the general opinion that the company had been goingthrough a difficult period from which it might not emergequickly. The price of Big Blue's stock had sunk from $140 toabout $100 at the time of the article. With a yield of close to 5%,the market had already gone a long way toward factoring in allthe bad news. As this chapter is being written a year later, IBM isno higher in price. This is not to say that IBM's stock will notrise but more to underscore that cover stories cannot normallybe relied on as exact timing devices. They require patience. The

contrarian value investor can afford the time and in this case isbeing rewarded with a dividend yield that is almost twice asmuch as the market itself.

We also need to be careful in our cover story analysis whenthere is very little general news. Somebody has to appear on thecover of Fortune, so if there is very little competition for the frontpage, a market or economically related story may well creep inby default. The impact is likely to be far less significant undersuch circ*mstances.

Thin-Reed IndicatorsCover stories are a high-profile tool put at the disposal of contrar-ians, but some less obvious ones, in their own way, can be equallyas valuable.

A classic example was featured in the November 1990 edi-tion of Investment Vision (now Worth Magazine). The article waswritten by Contrarius, a pseudonym for Leo Dwarsky, formerlyportfolio manager of the Fidelity contra-fund. He made the pointthat stock groups move in and out of fashion just like styles ofclothing. The article featured Campbell Soup, whose stock hadquadrupled between 1958 and 1962 reaching a price/earningsmultiple of 30 at its peak. In the ensuing 19 years, earnings grewconsistently. There was only one down year. This certainly justi-fied its rating as a growth stock even though the momentum ofthe earnings growth had begun to slow. Surprisingly, by 1981 thestock was selling for about 40% less than it did in 1962. Investorshad lost complete interest in the stock.

Dwarsky then tells us of a "thin-reed" indicator that pro-vided a vital clue that the consensus, had solidified in the bearishcamp. He received a report on Campbell Soup that read as fol-lows: "Campbell Soup—Deleted from Coverage. InvestmentOpinion: In preparation for an expanded coverage of the con-sumer area, we are deleting Campbell from our coverage."

That was it. A perfectly good national company that had con-sistently improved its earnings over the period of several decades


was suddenly being deleted from coverage. It indicated that thestock was out of favor with the institutional community. The realkicker was that the consumer area itself was being expanded andyet a key consumer stock, Campbell, was being dropped. Re-search houses thrive on commissions and if there were no com-missions to be gleaned from Campbell, better not to cover it.Needless to say, the stock appreciated by 900% in the next 9 years.

Another form of thin-reed indicator occurs when you read astory in a general-purpose magazine that is highly technical orspecialized in nature. For example, a story on stock index futuresor options would not be out of place in a financial publicationsuch as The Wall Street Journal. They appear there all the time.However, it would be somewhat out of the ordinary to see such afeature in a general-purpose publication such as Newsweek orTime. Such an item generally indicates that an investment ideathat is normally confined to a select number of speculators andprofessionals now has a more widespread acceptance. For "wide-spread," the contrarian should read "potential reversal."

Another specialist concept that could fall into this categorymight be a cross-currency trade. Usually the dollar is tradedagainst the German deutschemark. Consequently, a story featur-ing the benefits of trading the mark against the yen or the Cana-dian dollar against the pound would represent a strong thin-reedindicator that the prevailing market trend was about to reverse.

The so-called Ted Spread is another favorite. This transac-tion involves the simultaneous buying of Treasury Bill futuresand selling of Eurodollars. The idea is that, if some financialcrisis is brewing, investors will rush to embrace the quality ofTreasury securities to avoid Eurodollars, which are an invest-ment of poorer quality. If speculators are able to get in on thistrend early enough, they can expect to make some reasonableprofits. This is the kind of stuff that is featured quite often infinancial publications but only makes its way to general pur-pose magazines and newspapers when there is a story attachedto it. That inevitably means close to a major turning point. Thereversal of such trends in the relative performance of TreasuryBills to Eurodollars obviously has a lot of relevance to the small



number of individuals playing the spread but it can also havewider implications for interest rates, the stock market, and theeconomy. Presumably, if the major players are concerned thatsomething like the Ted Spread is widening, the appearance ofthe story means that confidence is at a trough and so too shouldbe the stock market.

Other thin-reed indicators may include a story on a rela-tively obscure market such as lumber or sugar. There is a naturalconsumer interest if the prices of these commodities have risen.The chances are that they will have reached the peak by the timethe popular press has got around to extrapolating recent trends. Iremember in the early 1980s seeing a story on the price of sugarbeing featured on the CBS Evening News. This occurred after ahuge run up in the price had taken place. The story "broke" al-most to the day of a major peak. It is doubtful whether sugar hasbeen featured on the program since.

Not all such indicators are as timely and useful. In 1990, forexample, a gold fund was liquidated because of a general lack ofinterest in the precious metal. Also several major brokeragehouses in New York and London deleted their gold coverage in amanner similar to the Campbell Soup example cited earlier. Thegold price did rise for a few weeks after these developments, butnot nearly to the extent that might have been expected. By thesame token, the price did not go down either, choosing to lan-guish in the $345 to $370 area for the next year or so. In thissense, the thin reed along with the cover story on IBM men-tioned earlier told us that these markets were sold out and werea low-risk play. They did not, as they usually do, signal that amajor rally was underway.

Best-Selling Books

When trying to form a contrary opinion, it is very important toattempt to gauge the mood of the general public. The media canprovide us with some useful clues but some of the best signals ofall come from the best-seller list.

When to Go Contrary

Perhaps the first indicator in this direction occurred in the1920s at the height of the bull market when Common Stocks asLong-Term Investments, by Edgar Lawrence Smith, saw widespreadapproval. The thesis of the book was that over the long haul stockshad outperformed bonds and that is where investors should puttheir money. His argument has been proved to be correct sincethat time because stocks have continued to outperform bondssince 1929. The problem was that the book's popularity indicatedthat the general public obviously understood the bullish argu-ment for equities. In the next decade, bonds handsomely outper-formed stocks.

Best-seller signals of this nature do not come around veryoften, largely because market trends do not move to a manic ex-treme that frequently. Adam Smith's Money Game was a classic inthat respect, reaching the best-seller list at the time of the specu-lative stock market bubble in 1868. William Donahue's book onmoney market funds in the early 1980s hit the best-seller listright at the period of the postwar peak in interest rates. It repre-sents a classic indicator of a fairly technical book that would notnormally be expected to sell more than a few thousand copies.Yet it reached the best-seller list and in doing so indicated thatthe public was probably reaching a peak in its desire for moneymarket funds. I do not mean to cast any aspersions on the bookbut merely draw your attention to its unusual and unexpectedsuccess.

Another book that caught the attention of the public wasRavi Batra's forecast of a major depression right at the time of the1987 crash. As it turned out, the market, far from declining, man-aged to rally over the next few years, doubling in price from itscrash lows.

Sentiment Indicators

A final avenue that we need to cover in our quest for a moretimely basis on which to form a contrary opinion is dataobtained from polling various professionals about their views.



Figure 8-2 S&P Composite versus Advisory Sentiment 1984-1991(10-Week Moving Average of Bulls Divided by Bulls + Bears). Source:Pring Market Review.

Investor's Intelligence,* founded by the late Abe Cohen, pioneeredthe approach of gauging how many of the numerous newslettershe read were bullish or bearish on the market. These data havebeen available on a continuous basis since the early 1960s. Theresults for more recent years have been plotted in Figure 8-2 andcompared with the market's performance. The concept is quitesimple. When the majority of market letter writers are bullish, itrepresents a danger signal so it is time to think about selling, andvice versa. The chart shows that this is easier said than done, be-cause there are many periods such as mid-1985 and mid-1986when people were bullish and yet the market did not decline, andthose such as early 1990 when most investors were bearish yetthe market did not rally. The indicator, then, is far from perfect.Sometimes it is right on the mark and sometimes very early. It

'Investor's Intelligence, Chartcraft, Inc., New Rochelle, NY 10801.

therefore makes more sense to use it as a complement to othermeasures of market sentiment and contrary opinion.

Figure 8-3 shows another sentiment indicator. Publishedby Market Vane, this is a four-week moving average of the per-centage of bond traders who are market bulls. The publisheddata are expressed on a percentage basis. I have subtracted 50from the total so the resulting series moves from positive tonegative territory. The opinions expressed in this survey are ofa far shorter time horizon than the Investor Intelligence data andtherefore are significantly more volatile. They match the swingsin bond prices quite well, but it is difficult to obtain a precisetiming device from this activity. In short, such data need to becombined with other indicators and approaches if a meaningfuluse is to be made of it.


Figure 8-3 Lehman Bond Index and Bullish Bond Consensus 1985-1992. Chart Source: Pring Market Review. Source for Bullish Consensus:Market Vane's poll of futures-trading advisors, Haddaday Publications,Pasadena, CA 91101.


< Sentiment at the End of Recessions

I mentioned in an earlier chapter that it pays to be skepticalwhen reading comments volunteered by "experts" because suchprognostications can often be misleading. In the January 1992edition of the Bank Credit Analyst,* the editors researched severalpublications to find out what was being said at the end of the1969-1970, 1973-1974, and 1981-1982 recessions.


The jobs picture continues to deteriorate—almost every majorindustry cut back on its work force in October. . . . The Octo-ber numbers are worse than they look. Business Week, November14, 1970Business statistics of current activity look sour—so do thosewhich point to prospective activity. Orders for durable goodsare dismal. . . . There are few (businesspeople) who expect aneconomic turnaround before the end of 1971. Business Week,November 28, 1970The (staff) projections still suggested that the average rate ofgrowth in real GNP over the three quarters ending in mid-1971would be relatively low. Minutes of the December 15, 1970, meetingof the Federal Open Market CommitteeMr. Paul McCracken (head of the Council of Economic Advisers)is telling everyone—including the President—that the job of re-stimulating the economy next year will be more difficult thanmost people had thought. . . . (There is) strength in housingconstruction and in spending by state and local governments, butsluggishness elsewhere. The Economist, December 19, 1970

The editor noted, "The recession trough was recorded inNovember 1970. Real GNP rose by 9'/2% between the fourthquarters of 1970 and 1971."

•Bank Credit Analyst. January, 1992.

When to Go Contrary


The decline in industrial production is particularly worrying be-cause it is still on an accelerating trend, and it can no longer bepinned on any single industrial sector. . . . Low interest rateshave done nothing for the money supply which has dipped mar-ginally in the past two months. The economy, frighteningly, seemsto be going its own way, shrugging off the help being doled out toit by the Administration. The Economist, February 22, 1975

Whenever the upturn in the American economy comes it willnot, according to even the most optimistic predictions, be beforesummer. That means at least four more months of dire economicstatistics telling much the same story of deepening recession asthe latest February figures. . . . While the Federal reserve isproudly trumpeting its apparent victory over inflation, its worryis how to pump enough money back into the economy. If the pri-vate sector is not going to take the lead, then the governmentmust. Congress itself is playing with increasingly generous sumsto inject into the economy. The Economist, March 15, 1975

The information reviewed at this meeting suggested that real out-put of goods and services was continuing to fall sharply in thefirst quarter of 1975. . . . Staff projections, like those of a monthearlier, suggested that real economic activity would recede fur-ther in the second quarter. . . . Minutes of the March 18, 1975,meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee

A sharp contraction in employment in February indicates thatthe production decline and inventory readjustment is proceedingrapidly; there is scant evidence of an impending improvement inbusiness. . . . There is little question that the labor market is de-teriorating. . . . Moreover, the contraction in jobs is widespread,suggesting that further declines lie ahead. Business Week, March24, 1975

It is yet far from clear when the recession will bottom out andhow far down the low point will be. Business Week, April 7, 1975

The editor's note read, "The recession reached a bottom inMarch 1975. Real GNP rose by 13Vz% between the first quartersof 1975 and 1976."



The Fed's view is that without some stimulus, economic activitywill not pick up in the near future. The 1% rise in retail sales inSeptember was mostly clearance sales of cut-price cars. Consumerconfidence is low and spending is slack. The Economist, October 16,1982The battered economy isn't picking up yet. There are still veryfew signs that business activity is improving. On balance, in fact,it looks as if the decline in manufacturing is still not over. Busi-ness Week, November 8, 1982The staff projections . . . suggested that real GNP would growmoderately during 1983, but that any recovery in the months justahead was likely to be quite limited. . . . Many members contin-ued to stress that there were substantial risks of a shortfall fromthe projection. Considerable emphasis was given to the wide-spread signs of weakness in economic activity and to the contin-uing absence of evidence that an economic recovery might beunder way. Minutes of the November 16, 1982, meeting of the FederalOpen Market Committee.The data have been suggesting it for weeks. There is as yet nogeneral recovery in business. To confirm it, the fourth quarterstarted off on the downside. Business Week, November 29, 1982Across the nation, the bottom is dropping out of the budgets ofstate and local governments. . . . The result is likely to be newrounds of spending cuts, layoffs and tax increases despite effortsto adjust to rising unemployment and falling federal aid duringthe past two years. Business Week, November 29, 1982

The editor noted, "The recession reached a bottom inNovember 1982. Real GNP rose by 10'/2% between the fourthquarters of 1982 and 1983. State and local finances improved dra-matically in 1983.

The average person taking these comments at face valuewould be badly misled. On the other hand, the contrarian, tak-ing a more skeptical line, would see them as an establishedviewpoint deserving of consideration from the opposite per-spective. The quotations are self-explanatory and stand on their

When to Go Contrary

68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92Figure 8-4 Economic Forecasts versus the Commerce Department'sCoincident Indicators and the Stock Market. Source: Pring MarketReview.

own. Figure 8-4 shows when the comments were made andwhat happened to the economy and stock market afterward.

^ Summary

Forming a contrary viewpoint for exact timing purposes is a diffi-cult task. In this respect, we need to combine a study of the mediaand the attitudes of friends and associates together with indica-tors such as valuation that give a good historical perspective ofwhen an extreme has been reached. When all the pieces are moreor less consistent and it is possible to come up with some alterna-tive and credible scenarios, the chances are that the market orstock in question is about to reverse its prevailing trend.

9How to Profit

from Newsbreaks

X" rom time to time, you mayhave heard or read a news account of a market development alongthese lines: "Despite a jump in the discount rate, stocks ralliedsharply on Wall Street," or, "IBM announced today that earningswere up 10%, but IBM shares declined by $1.50. Analysts were ata loss to account for this reaction." These reports are typical ofthe way any market might react to news. This type of seeminglyirrational price action is certainly not the sort of thing that a log-ical person would expect to happen, though. If the news is good,presumably the stock should go up, and if it's bad, certainly thenit should go down.

These seemingly inexplicable reactions occur because themarket, or, we should say, market participants, are always look-ing ahead and anticipating all facets of the news and the eventsbehind the headlines. Consequently, when the IBM earningswere announced, the figure was something that most observershad expected, and so they had already bought the stock. Some,who were not aware of the "good news," decided to purchase onthe announcement. Others, however, had been waiting for thatexact moment to unload the stock and used the IBM earningsreport as an excuse to sell.

Occasionally, these types of announcements will generategreater buying strength, in which case the stock may close thetrading day up in value, but probably well down from the high

to Jivin

achieved just after the announcement. No matter. Most peopleexpected the news and had decided to use the event to unloadstock on those individuals or institutions who were unexpect-edly impressed with the earnings report. Why? Perhaps thesesame investors believed that this represented a peak in earningsfor a while. The announcement was therefore a God-givenchance to sell into strength at a very favorable price. In any event,from the point of view of the market observer, the key is that thenews was good and therefore the stock ought to have risen invalue. That it didn't was a sign of weakness. After all, if the priceis unable to rally on good news what would induce it to go up?This is a very difficult concept for most people to grasp, eventhose with many years of experience in the markets. If the newsis good at the time, it always seems foolish to sell, but in retro-spect that is usually the smart thing to do.

On the day of the August 1991 coup against President Gor-bachev in the former Soviet Union, the gold price ran up $4 to $6during the morning but closed the day in New York only 50 centshigher than its value at the start of the day. This was two daysbefore the coup collapsed, so there was still plenty to worryabout. Few observers would have guessed at the time that therevolt would soon be over. The gold price, which was moderatelyoversold at the time, ought to have had a field day since it almostalways responds positively to disquieting world events.

In the inflationary 1970s, such news could have been ex-pected to result in a $20 to $30 increase. As that first day of thecoup came to an end, there was a great deal of uncertainty andthe price barely budged. The event was totally unexpected bythe market, so it could not be argued that the coup had beenfactored into the price. No, there was clearly something bearishin the supply-demand relationship. Buyers were not being en-ticed back into the market by this "bullish" news for the metal,but sellers were there ready to offer all the gold that anyonewanted. The failure of the price to rally on the news was a bear-ish sign. Later that week the coup failed, and the price contin-ued on its way down. Figure 9-1 shows that it did not declinethat much and eventually returned to the precoup levels, but

Headline: 'Gold FuturesPrices Jump as 7 NationsAgree to Provide FinancialAssistance to Soviet Union" •

Figure 9-1 The Gold Price 1991. Source: Pring Market Review.

from a short-term point of view, selling on "good" news was thecorrect thing to do.

> News Known Is News Discounted

All financial markets look ahead in an attempt to anticipate fu-ture events. This practice is called "discounting." At first, thisprocess involves a few far sighted individuals who have a goodsense of the chronological sequence of events that usually tran-spires in a typical market cycle. Such individuals also have experi-ence in gauging how the perceptions of other market participantsmight change as events unfold. As time passes, the probable out-come becomes more widely expected and therefore discounted bymore and more people. Finally, the event takes place or is an-nounced, and participants start to anticipate the next one. This isa simplification of what actually takes place, since prices aredetermined by the interaction of a number of different events,

economic trends, and psychological background factors. If it werepossible to isolate the discounting mechanism to one or twoevents, forecasting any market would be a relatively simple matterbecause everyone would play the same game, meaning that thediscounting process would be instantaneous.

Academicians have long claimed that financial markets areefficient. The efficient-market theory states that a specific marketor security digests all the information likely to affect it, so thatthis knowledge is immediately and efficiently factored into thecurrent price. Proponents of the theory claim that it is not possi-ble to make money in the markets by anticipating events becausethey are in effect already accounted for in the prices. The mar-kets, they conclude, are therefore a "random walk."

I cannot disagree with the hypothesis that markets are tosome extent efficient. Anyone who believes that the earnings ofhis favorite stock are going to plunge would be illogical if he didnot sell at least part of his position and buy it back later at a morefavorable price. There are two flaws in the efficient-market hy-pothesis. First the same information is not given to everyone atthe same time. News takes time before it can be widely dissemi-nated. Second, not everyone will interpret the information thesame way when it is received. Remember, for example, how mostpeople take the news at face value, while the contrarian will lookbehind the headlines to see whether there are any reasonable, al-ternative scenarios to those being followed by the crowd.

Let's take the example of XYZ stock. For the past six months,XYZ has been trading in the $10 to $12 range. One particularlybright analyst discovers that the company will soon be in a posi-tion to cut costs dramatically because of a new product that it isabout to introduce to the market. As a result, he starts to recom-mend the stock to a few of his select clients. This incrementaldemand is enough to push its price above that $10 to $12 tradingrange. Other analysts gradually pick up the scent, and the priceadvances a little further. Then the company announces some un-expectedly bad earnings, and the price slides. Miraculously, thedecline is very brief, and the price again resumes its advance.This occurs because the knowledgeable people who are aware of


the forthcoming development see the decline as an unexpectedopportunity to pick up some stock at what they consider to bebargain prices. One of the key points to grasp here is that a mar-ket or a stock that can quickly absorb bad news is usually in astrong technical position. Such action in effect represents a verypositive sign.

Later, more investors begin to hear about the company asretail brokers spread the news to their customers. During thiswhole period, the price continues to advance. Consequently, bythe time the company is ready to make the announcement, al-most everyone is expecting it, so the news comes as no surprise.When the product introduction finally appears in the newspa-pers, the event is common knowledge. Only newspaper readerswho have not previously been privy to the information are likelyto be buyers. After that point, there is no one left who is likely tomake a purchase based on the news.

You can see that it is not the announcement of the newsevent that causes the price to rise, but the expectation of theannouncement. Money was not made on the day of the an-nouncement. It was made days or weeks or months before, de-pending on where you stood in the information line. You cannow appreciate that a lot of those people who bought in antici-pation of the news are now tempted to take profits. If they wantto do this in sufficient numbers, the price will decline. In thisinstance, the selloff triggered by a bullish announcement is asign of technical weakness.

The other principal reason the efficient-market theory isflawed is that prices are determined by the attitude of market par-ticipants to expected future events. We have noted how manypeople react to news in a knee-jerk fashion and how others takethe time to reflect. In the example of the CEO firing cited inChapter 7, we found that there was a silver lining behind a newsevent that on the surface seemed quite bearish. Other examplesabound.

The fact is that investors in the stock market tend to bevery fashion conscious. They were prepared to bid up the pricesof technology companies between 1982 and 1983, but a change

to Profit from Newsbreaks

of attitude meant that high-tech stocks were out of favor for theremainder of that decade. Food stocks saw consistent growthrates in the 1970s, yet they did not find favor with investors un-til the next decade. The only explanation for most of these ap-parent inconsistencies is investor attitudes, not efficient-markettheory.

Sometimes the market's response to news is delayed. In Oc-tober 1973, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC) announced an embargo on oil exports to the UnitedStates because of America's support for Israel in the Arab-Israeliwar. Logically, the market should have declined immediately, butit actually took several days between the announcement of theembargo and the start of the dramatic stock selloff that followed.The facts were known, yet people did not begin to react immedi-ately. Eventually attitudes changed, and prices sank. Another ex-ample occurred in December 1991 when the Fed lowered thediscount rate by a huge and unexpected 1%. The market immedi-ately responded with a small rally that day but the explosion inprices did not occur until later. On the other hand, the market'sresponse to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was more orless instantaneous.

The efficient-market theory makes no allowances for theseidiosyncrasies of human nature. There is no question that mar-kets have a tendency to be efficient, but the examples cited hereindicate that efficiency alone cannot account for all the causesbehind price movements. Markets are usually efficient in thesense that it is very difficult to prosper from specific announce-ments that have a reasonable chance of being foreseen. A sub-stantial amount of research has been done on this subject. Onestudy at the University of Notre Dame by Dean Frank, FrankRielly, and Eugene Drzyminski indicated that stock pricesrapidly factored in new information on world events. The speedat which this happens keeps investors from raking in above-average returns based on such information. Other studies havealso concluded that attempting to capitalize on public an-nouncements, earnings reports, and the like have little chanceof beating the market.


The problem with any of these research efforts is how toquantify the importance of a news item. It may be a bullish butmore or less insignificant item and thereby have little or no effecton the price. On the other hand, much of the news may alreadyhave been leaked. Quite often, companies will "prepare" analystsfor a forthcoming development of which they were previouslyunaware.

In this respect, Dr. Patrick Gaughan, at Fairleigh DickinsonUniversity, showed that the closing value of stocks was not relatedto news published on a specific day in The Wall Street Journal. In-stead, using multivariate analysis, he was able to show that pricesone or two days prior to the publication of the news were statisti-cally related. Drawing on these data, he concluded, "It is not thatnews in daily financial publications does not have an impact onsecurity prices. News is most important to these markets. How-ever, the markets often have access to more timely sources of newsthan the printed word." In this short-term study Dr. Gaughantherefore proved the point that markets usually factor in thelikely effect of a news announcement before it happens.

^ How Can We Profit from Analyzing theMarket's Response to the News?We have already learned that it is very difficult to profit from anews announcement because in most instances such informa-tion will almost invariably be factored into the price. Of course,some news events, such as natural disasters, assassinations, andother random occurrences cannot be foreseen and therefore arenot discounted. Even in these instances, the market's responsecan be very instructive. Good news that fails to induce a rallyshould be interpreted as a bearish sign. On the other hand,bearish news that does not result in a decline or causes a de-cline that is a short-lived one with a quick recovery is a sign ofstrength. After President Elsenhower's heart attack in the early1950s, the market sold off but rallied quickly. Anyone who hadbought at "pre-announcement" prices after the President's

. low to Profit from Neivsbreaks

heart attack would have done very well. The same was true forinvestors after John F. Kennedy's assassination, on November22, 1963. The market's initial reaction was to sell off sharply,but the selling wave lasted for only a short while and thenprices began to climb.

In both examples the market was able to digest such horriblenews and take it in its stride was a positive factor. In effect, bothinstances represented a strong signal to buy. This price actionafter the assassination resulted in two things. First, the initialselling panic got rid of the weak holders—those who reacted in aknee-jerk fashion. When the market moved back above the preas-sassination level, it indicated that this type of selling had beencompleted. Second, that the market was able to take such poten-tially destabilizing news in stride demonstrated that it was tech-nically strong and was likely to move higher. At that time, therationale was that Lyndon Johnson had taken over and appearedto be in control of the situation. Since the market abhors uncer-tainty, this perception was greeted as a very positive factor. Thereal reason is more likely that the economy was in the earlystages of a long-term recovery, a factor that the market was verymuch aware of. Had the economy had been on the verge of a re-cession, it is doubtful whether the market would have taken thenews so heroically.

Just contrast the preceding response to the reaction of themarket to the resignation of President Nixon during the 1973-1974 recession. When Vice President Gerald Ford assumed thepresidency, he performed every bit as well as Johnson. However,the background of rising interest rates and a declining economymeant that stocks faced a bear market. The timing of Nixon's res-ignation may have been surprising, but the act was by no meansunexpected, unlike Kennedy's assassination or Eisenhower'sheart attack. Consequently, the market was able to discount thispossibility ahead of time. Even though Ford performed well, thetide of the bear market proved to be overwhelming, and pricescontinued to decline. The way that a market responds to a newsevent therefore can be very enlightening in telling us whether theprimary price trend is up or down.


Another example of the market's response to news came onJanuary 16, 1991, at the outbreak of actual hostilities in the Per-sian Gulf War. Wars are not always predictable but in this casethe Iraqis had been given a January 15 deadline to withdrawfrom Kuwait. Since they did not, it was predictable that at somepoint the United States and its allies would begin shooting.When war did break out, the market exploded in a manner con-trary to almost everyone's expectation.

Why was this? The answer lies in an analysis of the eventsand investor perceptions leading up to the war. Remember, thepossibilities of war were known well ahead of time. The markethad actually bottomed in October 1990. As the deadline grewcloser in the opening weeks of 1991 many investors decided tosell, thereby pushing the market down. Not only was there ageneral sense of uncertainty, but professional wisdom at thetime anticipated a further 100-150 point decline on the breakoutof hostilities. This eventuality, it was argued, would provide awonderful buying opportunity. The problem was that everyoneelse had the same idea. In a rather perverse way the market re-sponded to the war by exploding. One reason the market didnot act as anticipated was that the attack took place at nightwhen the New York market was closed. The initial response inJapan was precisely what people had expected, that is, an initialselloff followed by a rally. By the time the New York Stock Ex-change opened, selling in the global equity markets had givenway to a buying frenzy as the European markets began to ex-plode. This left no chance for American investors to buy at fire-sale prices.

We also have to note that January 15 had been preceded byextreme pessimism. Consequently, a significant number oftraders were holding short positions and were forced to covertheir borrowings at the opening on January 16. The morning ofJanuary 15 was a classic example of market participants allpointed in one direction. Bulls had liquidated and bears wereheavily short. As people began to discern that the market was notgoing to collapse, these positions quickly unwound. The shortscovered and the sold-out bulls, realizing that they were not going

v to Profit from Newsbreaks

to get the chance to get back in at bargain prices, started to reac-cumulate their positions.

The rationale that was used to justify the price rise was thatthe United States was likely to win the war hands down with itssuperior technology. In addition, consumer confidence, whichhad been buffeted by the thought of war and the prevailing re-cession, would bounce back, thereby resulting in a recovery. Thefact was that the Federal Reserve had already eased monetarypolicy, sowing the seeds for a recovery. The explosion of prices onJanuary 16 was therefore nothing less than a powerful confirma-tion that a bull market was underway.

Another point arising out of this example derives from theold Wall Street adage that the market rarely discounts the sameevent twice. In this instance, the market had sufficient time be-tween August and October 1990 to discount the negative aspectsof the war. When hostilities finally broke out, it was time formarket participants to focus their attention on something else.This is not surprising when you think about how most peoplereact and worry about predictable events. Most students takingan exam at the end of term begin to worry about it rather early.As a result, they study hard in preparation for the exam. This isnot to say that they do not worry about the ordeal about to con-front them. Their apprehension may even get a little more intensejust before the exam. However, the point of greatest concerncomes early on and is the triggering point for taking action, thatis, studying. If it were possible to measure the degree of anxiety,you would see that it would be most intense just before the pro-cess of studying begins. Once the period of study has begun, thestudents realize that the exam is not as difficult a hurdle as theyhad first thought. This does not rule out the possibility of re-newed nervousness just before the exam. However, the solidpreparation that takes place gradually gives them the confidencethat they can pass. In a similar way, markets prepare for any or-deal that lies ahead by declining in price. People take defensiveaction by selling, so that when the event takes place, all thosewho were concerned have had a chance to get out, leaving themarket free to discount the next event.


The market's reaction to news can be very revealing in rela-tion to stories in the financial press. One interesting exercise isto follow feature stories in the Money & Investing section of TheWall Street Journal. The commodity pages, for example, usuallyfocus on a specific commodity with an accompanying chart. Thecommodity making the headline has usually experienced a sharpprice move during the previous day or over the course of the pre-vious two or three weeks. To justify the coverage, the commoditymust experience a sharp price movement based on some newsevent. In Figure 9-1 the gold price clearly experienced a prettygood run prior to September 21st, the day it was featured. Theheadline on the commodity page read, "Gold Futures PricesJump as 7 Nations Agree to Provide Financial Assistance to So-viet Union." Obviously, the price had been running up in antici-pation of this event. Now that it was public knowledge, thechances of additional near-term gains were greatly reduced. Fig-ure 9-1 shows that this did in fact prove to be the case, for theprice retreated for a few days after the story ran.

A similar example is shown in Figure 9-2, but this time forwheat following a large drop. The headline reads, "Wheat Fu-tures Prices Skid to a 13-Year Low." Again, the day the storybroke proved to be a good reversal signal. These classic examplesare used to prove a point, but as with most approaches to marketanalysis The Wall Street Journal cannot be used as a fail-safe con-trary mechanism. My point is this: If a market is featured in sucha way after a prolonged price trend—be it up or down—thisshould serve as a warning flag that the trend may be about tomake an about-face. If the market in question closes in the oppo-site direction to that indicated by the story, chances are that thetrend will reverse. A news story is but one indicator, but it un-questionably represents a warning about entering the market atthat particular time. Generally, the odds will favor those takingthe opposite side of the prevailing trend, especially when theheadline refers to a 5-year high, 10-year low, and so on.

Quite often, we find that a poor earnings announcement re-sults in an initial selloff but that the price finishes the day on then1n<; side Usuallv such action is accompanied by particularly

How to Profit from Newsbreaks

1989 1990 1991 1992Figure 9-2 Wheat Prices 1990. Source: Commodity Trend Service,P.O. Box 32309, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33420.

heavy trading volume. The reason often is that investors were ex-pecting the bad news and had been holding off until it was out ofthe way. Of course, this has the effect of putting pressure on theprice because buyers were waiting until the announcement wasmade. Once the bad news is out, those investors in the know be-gin to accumulate the stock and the trend reverses.

The price action of stocks—or, in fact, any financial marketfollowing an important announcement—can be very revealing.We have already learned that if a market moves in the directioncontrary to the course that an uninformed observer might expectthat market has already factored in the good or bad news and anew price trend has probably begun. Whether that trend willlast for a short or a long time is another matter. On the otherhand, the market may be expecting bad news and get even worsenews than is generally expected. In this instance, one of twothings may happen. Either prices continue to sell off, in which


case little can be learned from the technical position since theprice is reacting in a perfectly logical way. Or, if the news isquickly absorbed and prices go on to make new "postannounce-ment highs," then this indicates a very strong technical position,and we should expect to see significantly higher prices. Exam-ples of this phenomenon were discussed earlier with XYZ stockand the market's response to the Kennedy assassination. In bothcases, market participants were able to look over the short-termhurdle and focus instead on a bullish long-term picture.

The same is true in reverse, where the market reacts per-versely to the most bullish news imaginable. I remember as a bro-ker in Canada in 1973 receiving unbelievable earnings on twostocks, Chrysler and a small Canadian electronic manufacturer,Electrohome. In both instances, the earnings were way above ex-pectations, but the stocks still declined. At the time, I could notunderstand why this was so, but having seen so many glaring ex-amples since, I have found that it is generally not a wise policy toignore such blatant signs of technical weakness. The reason thatChrysler and Electrohome sold off on the good news was that in-vestors were looking ahead to the next recession and were notwilling to hold the stocks no matter how good the current news.

10Dealing with

Brokers and MoneyManagers theSmart Way

Xlrven though most investors andtraders place their buy and sell orders through a broker, theythink very little about that relationship and how it might influ-ence their success or failure. Rarely do they consider that thebroker is the last person they speak to before a buy or sell orderis placed or executed. Many investors also make the false as-sumption that the broker not only is knowledgeable but also is ina far better position to gather information than they are.

The association between client and money manager is also acrucial one that does not get the attention it deserves. In thischapter, we will examine these relationships in closer detail,pointing out the dangers and describing some guidelines thatwill help you to develop both a better understanding of theseroles and a more profitable partnership.

The Role of the Broker

The role of broker can fit either within two extremes or at one orthe other end of these extremes. At one end his function is that of


order taker, at the other he might have total discretion over theaccount. There is less potential for misunderstandings at the ex-tremes because the bulk of the ground rules would already havebeen set. If the broker merely executes orders, this implies thatthe client is making all the decisions. Consequently, he can do lit-tle "damage" by giving poor advice. At the other extreme, theclient hands everything over to the broker. Once that decision hasbeen taken, the broker's role is that of money manager. In thisinstance, there is little he can do to affect the client's decision-making process until he is either fired or resigns the account.

Most client-broker relationships lie within these two ex-tremes, so a combination of these roles is played by the broker. Itis in this middle ground that the psychological dynamics of therelationship can shape investment success or failure.

It is amazing how most people pay scant attention to the se-lection of a broker, yet one small, suggestive sentence can resultin the gain or loss of thousands of dollars. A suitable broker isusually selected by word of mouth, typically by referral. Thisprocess may also take place through a phone solicitation or thefollow-up of an ad in response to a clever sales pitch. Neither ofthese introductions is likely to lead to investment success unlessthe client happens to be particularly fortunate. I class myself asone of the lucky ones in that respect for I found my brokerthrough an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Our relationship hasbeen alive and well for more than 12 years. We have our ups anddowns but generally speaking each of us knows what is expectedof the other. This is definitely the exception rather than the rule,however. I used to be a broker myself, and I can think of manyformer colleagues with whom I would like to pursue a social re-lationship but precious few with whom I would like to work on aprofessional basis.

An inexperienced trader or investor will undoubtedly relyon a broker's advice for his initial trade. If that broker is incom-petent or motivated by the thought of some quick commissions,the odds of success will be considerably diminished. Even ac-counts that have been exposed to the markets for years can suf-fer. For example, the failure of an account executive to call at the

Dealing iviti* ->rokers and Money Managers the Smart Way

right time, or to correctly enter an order can be crucial. This isespecially true in the futures markets where leverage leaves vir-tually no margin for error.

Keep in mind that brokers are usually paid on a commissionbasis. Consequently, if they are not completing orders, they aregenerating little or no income. When business is slow, even themost ethical of brokers cannot counsel you without the tiniestthought of the commissions influencing their advice. The pres-sure to sell can sometimes be even more intense since manyfirms bring underwritings to the market and require brokers tosell an allotment whether the broker believes it to be a good in-vestment or not. He cannot be legally forced to sell such issues,of course. Nevertheless, the pressure from management and thecompetition from peers are sufficient to trigger a significantnumber of "borderline" sales. Moreover, most of these new issuescarry a generous commission that cannot but contribute to aneven greater conflict of interest.

Another problem that we all run into occurs when, after verycareful consideration, we call our broker with an order to buy orsell a specific security. The next thing we know is that he hasmanaged to talk us into something else. This is by no means anunethical practice, but one by which a broker can inadvertentlyand, probably with the best of intentions, sway us into making awrong decision.

You may wonder why I assume that the account executivewill give you the wrong, rather than the right, advice. This hap-pens because the broker is literally sitting in the "crowd." Hewatches the newswires, probably listens to the financial channels,is inundated with the firm's research, and is heavily influencedby his fellow account executives. The odds that he will give youthe right advice are therefore pretty poor.

Several factors influence the broker. For instance, investorscommonly do not recognize that most of them are really conduitsfor their research departments. Recommendations to clients arenot necessarily made on the basis of what the broker himselfthinks but more on what "our research department likes." If thisisn't running with the herd, I don't know what is!


Peer pressure is another unhealthy influence so far as theclient is concerned. Usually, one particular broker in the officetakes the lead, because he is either a successful salesperson orhas had a few lucky recommendations. This is enough to set theball rolling as the urge to imitate this "leader" becomes irre-sistible. There are two problems here. First, the broker who is fol-lowing the leader usually recommends the stock more on thebasis that the leading broker is selling it than on its own meritsas he sees it. Second, the very spirit of this competitive activitymeans that sales are being made purely to generate volume in acompetitive spirit, not because a stock is the appropriate securityfor a specific portfolio. Managements, of course, love this com-petitive atmosphere since it generates more commissions. It isquestionable whether this is also true for the poor clients.

I do not mean to imply that there are no brokers that canthink for themselves, merely that they are a rare breed. After all,the brokerage community is, in psychological terms, a cross-section of the rest of the population. Why should it be blessedwith an abundance of independent thinkers? Brokers are hiredprincipally to generate sales, not to think creatively. Better forthe management to do the thinking by placing some juicycommission-generating ideas on the broker's plate. Since mem-bers of this select breed of independent thinkers are few and farbetween, it is of paramount importance that you either learn tothink for yourself or give full discretion to a professional whocan. By all means consider a broker's recommendations and in-clude them as part of your decision-making process, but don'tgive the advice greater significance than it deserves.

^ How to Choose a Broker

The first place to start is to examine the type of firm with whichyour prospective broker is associated. You should give top prior-ity to ensuring that the firm is stable. This is not an easy mattersince the size of the company is not necessarily a good indication

Dealing with Pikers and Money Managers the Smart Way

of the firm's financial standing. In recent years, we have wit-nessed many mergers of major brokerages as well as the failuresof futures brokers. One method for testing the stability of a firmis to evaluate how aggressive they might be in their advertisingand recommendations. Get hold of some of their promotionalmaterial or research. Compare this with other brokers' material,and a pattern will probably emerge. Generally speaking, thegreater the hype and the more aggressive the recommendations,the more vulnerable a firm is likely to be. A firm that is willingto risk its customers' money in questionable ventures is unlikelyto have its own financial house in order. Also, if a firm is goingthrough some difficult times, your broker cannot but help to becaught up in the office gossip and politics. This is bound to ad-versely affect his ability to service his clients.

A second area to consider is the firm's capability toprovide you with information—not the information that theywant you to have, but the type of information that is helpful toyou. After all, you will be paying for this material indirectlythrough commissions, so it should be tailored to your needs asmuch as possible.

The level of the commission structure can also be a seriousconsideration since it often reflects the kind of service that thefirm provides. If you are just placing orders and are acting as yourown information source, then it makes no sense to deal with abroker who offers lots of research but charges you high commis-sions for it. Commissions are not the only cost of doing business;poor executions can, and often do, represent an even greater ex-pense. This is especially important for short-term traders wherehigh turnover means that transaction costs have a greater effecton the ultimate outcome. It is usually better to pay a little morefor commissions if you are satisfied that the orders are promptand properly executed.

Establishing the competence of executions is a difficult mat-ter. Even in the best circ*mstances, the execution of orders can,and often does, go wrong. Do not expect your broker to be per-fect. However, if a pattern of poor executions starts to appear,


you are advised to question seriously whether you should con-tinue to retain his services. Still, if you have a long-time horizonand do not place orders very often, these commission and execu-tion factors will be far less important.

Finally, choosing a firm that can provide you with up-to-date reports of your account and with readable monthly state-ments can help you tremendously in doing a more efficient job ofmanaging your money.

Once you have settled on a firm, the next step is to choosean account executive (AE). I realize that you may select the AEfirst, but even in this case it is also prudent to check out the firmitself. If a broker is going to do a good job in helping you to man-age your portfolio, he first needs to know quite a bit about you,your financial position, and your investment objectives. If hedoes not have the important facts on your financial background,he will not be able to tailor his recommendations to your re-quirements. If he asks for the order first and then ask questionsabout you, a red flag should immediately go up in your mind.

You, in turn, need to know some things about the broker. Isyour business important to him? If so, you need to know howmany active accounts he has, their average size, and so forth. Ifyou are a small account and his average size is much greater, per-haps he will not be able to find the time to service you properly.It is also helpful to have an understanding of his investment phi-losophy, so ask him to explain it. If he likes charts and you likebalance sheets, you may not have much in common. Also, by ask-ing him what he thinks drives the market, you may find out thathe has no idea and therefore no philosophy. This is an indicationof someone who blindly follows the crowd.

We usually think of a broker solely as a source of recommen-dations, but even if you make your own decisions, he can still behelpful in other areas. In my own case, for example, I like to makemy own decisions but am terrible at record keeping. This is a rolethat my broker, a former accountant, is happy to fulfill. He alsoprovides me with information that I cannot get for myself. Hewatches the markets closely while I get on with the job of publish-ing a newsletter. Even with this necessary detachment, he is my

tuc u / u u / i f VM i

eyes and ears, reporting faithfully when some prespecified mar-ket condition materializes. In this way, I have someone watchingthe markets for me, and my time is not taken up looking at com-puter screens. Alternatively, you may be new to the markets andrequire your broker to fulfill an educational function.

A broker-client relationship should be a customized one, tai-lored to your needs and desires. You are the only one who canestablish such criteria, but once you have, you are in a better posi-tion to locate a broker who can fulfill these needs.

The potential for clashes is always present, even in the bestof relationships. If your personality and that of the account exec-utive are different, it's much more likely that you will have dis-agreements. This aspect is crucial because such clashes introduceemotions that are bound to affect your investment performanceadversely. Let's suppose, for example, that you decide to buyXYZ stock contrary to your broker's recommendation. If you donot have a good rapport with him, you will find it difficult to sellthe stock because you will have to admit, not only to yourself,but to the broker that you've made a mistake. Selling a stock at aloss is difficult enough, but when you also have a personal hur-dle to overcome with the broker, it may be the last straw thatprecludes you from making the sale. Alternatively, you mightwant to buy ABC for perfectly logical reasons, but are afraid todo so because you know that your broker doesn't like the stockor the industry. These types of conflicts are bound to arise fromtime to time even with the best relationships. However, if yourphilosophies and personalities are markedly unlike, the potentialfor losses to materialize will be that much greater.

Your first step in establishing a relationship is to agree onthe ground rules. Don't assume that your broker will fulfill allthe functions you want him to. You should state clearly and pre-cisely what you expect of him and ask him what he expects ofyou. Always be completely frank about your views and expecta-tions. A good broker-client relationship should mirror a partner-ship, because that is what it really is. Competent brokers realizethat maximum long-term commissions are a direct function ofthe success of their clients. It's a fact that when they are making

money, most people trade more; and when their equity is declin-ing, they are far less active. A broker may talk his client into exe-cuting numerous transactions, but if the client loses money, hewill either trade less or move the account to another broker.

We have discussed the relationship with the broker fromyour point of view, but his reaction to you can be equally impor-tant. For example, he may recommend a stock to you and later theprice will drop. His rationale for the recommendation may havebeen perfectly logical and justifiable, but a conscientious broker isbound to feel some sense of regret concerning the purchase. Insuch circ*mstances, you must communicate to him that you donot blame him for the result and continue to believe that he wasacting in your best interest. If you don't, he will hesitate beforecalling you next time even though he might have some valuableinformation about one of the companies you hold, or a recommen-dation that will turn out to be profitable. Consequently, if you donot have an open, friendly, approachable, and frank relationshipwith him, it means that an unnecessary and unprofitable barrierhas been set up between you.

You have to begin by deciding what role you want the brokerto perform. If you want him to provide research, you should tellhim so. If you want him to inform you promptly concerning orderexecutions, he should be informed of this as well. Just think aboutall the services that you need or don't need and let him know. It'sjust as important to let him know the things that you do not need,so you will not be unduly bothered and he will have more time toperform the tasks that you feel to be of greater value.

^ Money Managers versus Clients

The psychological dynamics between a money manager andclient can be as crucial as those between a broker and client. Youmight assume that once you have handed over your account to beprofessionally managed that everything will work smoothly. Thismay be true if the manager has sold you on his philosophy andthen performs satisfactorily. Unfortunately, this is rarely the


case. In previous chapters, I stressed that success in the financialmarkets requires a totally objective and flexible outlook. When amoney manager takes on a new account, he faces more than thetwin battles of beating the markets and mastering his own emo-tions that the rest of us have to deal with. He also has a thirdchallenge revolving around his relationship with the client. Thisdoes not imply that the manager is in an adversarial role with hisclient, for such a relationship could never be maintained for verylong. The problem is more subtle. The manager often finds him-self asking, "What does my client want? What will he think if Ibuy company XYZ and then sell it at a small loss because myview has changed?"

If the manager is buying and selling for his own account, hedoes not have to worry about such matters, since he has to an-swer only to himself. However, when managing an account, hehas to look over his shoulder continually and worry about whatthe client may be thinking. Consequently, the objectivity he mayhave obtained for himself stands a good chance of being replacedby concerns about his relationship with his client. Even thoughthe client may have researched the track record and philosophyof the money manager and they have a good personal relation-ship, problems can still arise because many clients continuallysecond-guess what the manager is doing.

The client places his assets under management because hedoes not have the time, expertise, or aptitude to invest for himself.If the manager is a real pro, he will be constantly going againstthe crowd. He will be buying when the news is bad and sellingwhen it is good. If the client doesn't have an aptitude for invest-ing, he will more than likely be of the opposite frame of mind.When prices decline, the news background is invariably negative;so it is little wonder that we find the customer calling up the man-ager when he has just made some purchases at fairly depressedlevels. The manager, for his part, is also questioning his newacquisitions, because it is rarely easy to buy at the bottom. Theclient's call expressing uneasiness therefore clouds the manager'sjudgment and adversely affects his confidence. Whereas he mighthave plucked up the courage to buy some more stocks at bargain



basem*nt prices, this kind of concern is likely to make him holdback and make purchases when prices and the client's comfortlevel are much higher.

Client-manager relationships can interfere with a successfulinvestment program in numerous ways. There are two approachesfor avoiding some of these dilemmas. The first is for you, as thepotential client, to make sure that your investment objectives arenot only realistic but are also consistent with the investment phi-losophy of the firm that you have selected to manage your money.Second, once you have made the decision to give the manager dis-cretion, let him get on with his job. Avoid the temptation to inter-fere. Obviously, this does not mean that you cannot or should notperiodically critique his performance, but you do need to givehim the benefit of the doubt in questionable circ*mstances. Themedia and fast-talking brokers have led many of us to expect in-stant success, but that is rarely the case. Quick profits usuallyarise from being in the right place at the right time—luck rarelystrikes in the same place twice.

If you compare the long-term performances of cash, stocks,and bonds, you will find that stocks offer the best rate of return.If you then analyze the performance of the stock market over thepast 100 years, you will learn two things: First, the market can beextremely volatile over short periods; second, the longer the timehorizon, the less the volatility and the greater the reward. Conse-quently, if you allow your manager to concentrate on the big pic-ture and do not worry him with day-to-day concerns, he will bein a far better position to give you the superior results you de-mand. In effect, the longer the time horizon, the greater the op-portunity for the long run (upward) trend to offset short-termvolatility.

If the manager does not perform after a period of two yearsor so, you need to reassess your relationship with him. It may bethat his particular investment philosophy is still relevant, but thatit has produced below-average returns over the past two years.This can happen to the best of investment approaches and is asimple fact of life. Table 10-1, for example, shows the total returnperformance of both stocks and bonds using Stock and Bond

Dealing with E ers and Money Managers the Smart Way

Table 10-1 Record of Return Performance on Stocks and BondsRecord of Buy and Sell Signals


Jan. 54Nov. 57Jun. 60Nov. 62Mar. 67Jul. 70Dec. 74May 80Dec. 81Nov. 84Nov. 89Dec. 90Total GainBuy/Hold GainNet Gain



DateJun. 55Feb. 59Apr. 62Feb. 65Jul. 68Nov. 72Sep. 77Mar. 81Jan. 84Jul. 87Aug. 90






S&P Gain (Loss)14.3214.4210.7926.7110.8839.3329.1625.5042.97



Bond Barometer PerformanceDateOct. 53Aug. 57Apr. 60Mar. 62Jan. 67Jul. 70Oct. 74May 80Nov. 81Nov. 84Jul. 89Nov. 90Total GainBuy/Hold Gain

(loss)Net Barometer

Gain'Index based on 20-year

Buy At*245.08205.70183.60189.72175.37115.3195.62


DateDec. 54Sep. 58Jul. 61Jul. 63Nov. 67Oct. 72Aug. 77Nov. 80Jul. 83Apr. 87Jul. 90


Sell At232.67200.42194.13189.72139.74132.05104.6564.3469.0795.9493.27


% Gain (Loss)7.2






98.77perpetual bond with an 8% coupon.

Source: Pring-Turner Capital Group, Walnut Creek, California.


Barometer models that I developed. We use them in the PringTurner Capital Group, the money management firm with which Iam associated, to allocate assets in our clients' portfolios. Theoverall performance is fairly good, but if we consider the resultsfor some specific time periods, such as 1967-1968 and 1980 forbonds, we can see that there have been a number of instanceswhere the performance has been disappointing. This underscoresthat even the well-designed models for investment approaches canand do fail from time to time. Remember, there is no Holy Grail.

Success comes at the margin through hard work and pa-tience; it builds incrementally through the compounding process.Your expectations as a client going into a money-management re-lationship are probably more crucial to the success of the projectthan those of your manager. Most people err on the optimisticside, believing that high returns can be earned with very littlerisk; they also prefer stable returns over unpredictable ones. Thisimmediately sets up a conflict because high returns are predom-inately a function of risk, and the higher the risk, the greater thevolatility and hence the unpredictability. Stability comes with acost and that cost is a lower rate of return. One way of gettingaround this problem is to give your manager time, because thepassage of time is the mortal enemy of volatility and the friendof superior risk-adjusted rates of return.

^ Matching Your Needs with theManagement Philosophy

The first requirement when selecting a manager is to tell himyour investment objectives and, as best you can, your ability totolerate risk and volatility. He can then judge whether his philos-ophy is consistent with your objectives and character. For exam-ple, you may tell him that you want to retire in 10 years on anannual income of $50,000. At an 8% rate of interest, this wouldrequire a capital amount of $400,000 at retirement. Your currentcapital is $100,000. Achieving that objective will require a gain of$300,000. Since the average annual total return from stocks since

Dealing with Brokers and Money Managers the Smart Way

1926 has been around 9%, it will mean that the manager has totake above average risks to achieve that objective. If you also lethim know that you are afraid to take big risks, your objectivesare clearly unrealistic and will need to be modified. Conse-quently, the starting point for the discussion should be your abil-ity to tolerate risk rather than your investment objectives. Thelevel of risk tolerance puts a cap on a realistic expected total re-turn. Once you establish your tolerance level, the appropriate re-turn commensurate with that risk can be calculated fromhistorical data. It is then possible to set a more realistic invest-ment objective.

If your objectives are consistent with the investment philos-ophy of the money manager, it is important to fully accept thebroad concepts. If you say you agree with his philosophy andsign a contract with him even though you do not fully accept hisinvestment outlook, conflicts are sure to arise. For example, if themanager has a conservative approach and regards the mainte-nance of principal as the guiding light of his philosophy, you willbecome frustrated at this safety-first strategy if riskier small-growth stocks begin to take off. You will read about the greatgains being achieved by this market sector and will be disap-pointed in not being able to participate. The manager cannot befaulted for this, because it is alien to his investment universe.This type of conflict is a recipe for trouble. Only by fully buyingthe philosophy and making a commitment to stay the course willyou allow the relationship a chance of success.

Even though a manager hates to turn away prospectiveclients, it is in his long-run interest to indicate that you shouldlook to someone else if your philosophies and risk-tolerance lev-els are different from his. An unhappy client will leave sooner orlater anyway and difficult clients drain managers of the energyand emotion that they need to devote to the market and theirother clients. By succumbing to the temptation of taking on alarge client that does not fit the client profile, the manager willjeopardize the performance of all his other accounts.

——— Part III ———


What Makes a GreatTrader or Investor?

He who knows much about others may belearned, but he who understands himself ismore intelligent. He who controls others maybe more powerful, but he who has masteredhimself is mightier still.


Jusi as there is no Holy Grail—that is, no easy path to quick wealth—there is no secret or for-mula that history's great traders and investors have called onto propel them to their great achievements. Each success storyis unique. Some of their stories are just that: tales, myths, orlegends.

The famous quip by former New York Yankee catcher YogiBerra—"It's not over till it's over"—is just as relevant to careersin the financial world as it is to those in the world of sports. JesseLivermore, for example, was a legend in his time, but he diedbankrupt. He certainly could be classed as a successful trader inhis heyday; indeed, he made and lost several fortunes, yet bothdied a broken man. Is this how we ought to judge success? Is thiswhat we want for ourselves? I hope not.


The problem is that many of us use money as a vehicle towork out our basic internal needs, but in fact money cannot offerus such solace.

It:can offer a short-term antidote, but it can never alleviateinsecurity, loneliness, or other forms of mental dependency. Ifyou are unsure what is stopping you from becoming wealthy,you will remain a victim of money. If you do not know whatyou want from money, it is unlikely that you will be able toachieve your financial goals. To follow in the footsteps of thetruly great traders and investors, you will have to changeyour habits and attitudes. Otherwise, you will remain at thestarting gate.

The quotation by the Chinese philosopher Lao-tse that be-gins this chapter summarizes the secrets of the market wizards.They understand themselves and in doing so have mastered theiremotions. Not being perfect, they make mistakes like the rest ofus. The difference is that their mistakes are less costly becausethey have learned to recognize low-risk ideas and quickly bailout of them if they do not turn out as expected.

Successful traders and investors possess confidence and astrong sense of self-esteem. They have feelings of personal worth.A truly successful trader or investor does not crave recognition ina wide sense; many, in fact, shun publicity.

As Kathleen Gurney put it in the March 1988 issue of Per-sonal Investor, "The money masters are in control; they knowthemselves and their money styles. They are aware of who theyare, where they have been and where they are going. Their moneysense of themselves is both positive and secure." Gurney addsthat it is this self-assurance that makes them secure that their de-cisions are the correct ones.

In Money Masters, John Train reiterates the view that thereis no one secret to success in the market. He believes that basi-cally two investment attitudes mark successful investors: Eitherthey can study with focused care and imagination what is undertheir microscope at the moment, or they see their work as "anexercise in cautious futurology—peering into the fog a little far-ther than the crowd." In addition, Train rebuts the argument

Whe * takes a Great Trader or Investor?

that these individuals are lucky. It is true that being in the rightplace at the right time can result in some spectacular success sto-ries. However, to maintain a position at the top for a long timecan only be achieved with hard work, lots of study, and a consis-tent performance.

Working hard and working smart are different things. Inhis book, Peak Performers, Dr. Charles Garfield sets out his con-clusions from interviews with more than 300 successful indi-viduals in business, sports, arts, and education. He found greatdifferences between a workaholic, who is addicted to activity,and a peak performer, who is committed to results. In the book,he lists six basic attributes common to individuals who achievepeak performance. Since these characteristics are common toall forms of successful activity, including trading, they areworth repeating:

1. A Commitment to a Mission. This ultimate source of suc-cess was common to all respondents. In deciding their missions,peak performers have first to decide what they really care aboutand what they want to accomplish. The motivation for their mis-sion is not expertise but a personal choice based on preference.

2. Results in Real Time. Peak performers establish realistic,measurable goals and act in a deliberate manner in order toachieve them.

3. Self-Management through Self-Mastery. Each peak performerwas able to demonstrate an ability for self-observation. This in-volved both the ability to grasp the big picture and small details.Survey participants were also able to utilize the technique ofmental rehearsal in which the most desired outcome of an eventand the most effective way of achieving it are first orchestratedmentally.

4. Team Building and Team Playing. This characteristic is butprevalent in traders and investors who often act alone. But it isan important trait as well in larger organizations where it is nec-essary to delegate investment functions. Team builders are ableto delegate to empower, stretching the abilities of others and en-couraging educated risk taking.


5. Course Correction. This refers to the ability to initiatechange and to learn from past mistakes.

6. Change Management. Peak performers have the ability toanticipate and deal with rapid, external changes caused by newtechnology or other factors and to construct alternative outcomes.

Summarizing his conclusions, Garfield states that what mo-tivates an individual to fulfill his talents is a strong commitmentto values. "These values—the old fashioned and very real quali-ties that make up a person's and organization's character—arethe leverage point for the whole internal impulse to excel, to put amission on its course."

Dr. K. Van Tharp, a research psychologist, has spent consid-erable time studying the psychology of high achievers and hashad extensive exposure to successful traders. He has tested manyof them to determine whether there is a correlation betweentheir success and specific personality traits.

Tharp's work covered three basic areas: psychology, manage-ment discipline, and decision making. The researcher discoveredthat successful traders in their psychological makeup showed awell-rounded personal life, a positive attitude, a motivation tomake money, a lack of internal conflict, and a willingness to takeresponsibility for results. Risk control and patience were key fac-tors in the area of management discipline, Tharp found. Finally,sound decision making requires a good understanding of techni-cal factors and the market, an ability to make unbiased choices,and independent thinking derived from competence.

Tharp's research also uncovered the characteristics com-mon to losing traders. They appear to be highly stressed, a traitthat impairs their ability to make sound decisions. They alsotend to be pessimists, to have personality conflicts, and toblame others when things go wrong. Furthermore, losers tendto be crowd followers, are easily discouraged, and rarely estab-lish a set of rules to follow. The psychologist emphasizes that alosing trader need not exhibit all these characteristics. One ortwo of them will suffice.

Whiu Makes a Great Trader or Investor?

Generally speaking, Tharp's work confirms many of theideas put forth by the other experts described in this chapter.Like Tharp, they conclude that successful traders and investorshold most if not all the following beliefs:

^ Money itself is not important.

4 Trading or investing is a game, hobby, or "love" above allelse.

* Profits are a fringe benefit.

+ Losing money is an accepted aspect of playing the market.

4 Mental rehearsal helps in anticipating all possible out-comes.

^ A high level of self-confidence enables them to convincethemselves that they have "won" the game before it hasbegun.

There is, of course, a big difference between justifiable andunjustifiable confidence. Justifiable confidence comes from a co-herent set of beliefs, usually encapsulated in a methodology ortrading approach that has been soundly tested. Well-foundedconfidence springs from a commitment to do well. This meansthat you are certain that you are doing the right thing and areprepared to make some sacrifices to accomplish your goals.

The Opposite Side: Why Do "Stars" Self-Destruct?

We can better appreciate what motivates successful traders andinvestors by looking at the other side of the coin and examiningwhy "stars" tend to self-destruct. Perhaps two classic examplesof this tendency are the entertainers, Elvis Presley and MarilynMonroe. Both enjoyed unprecedented international fame, sub-stantial wealth, and the adoration of millions of fans. Tragically,both ended their lives with an overdose of drugs.


In an article in New Dimensions in 1990, Roy Masters comesto grips with this seeming dilemma. He points out that starswith tendencies to self-destruct have attributes that are the exactopposite of those common to successful market operators. Thefinancial wizards have put their acts together and are comfort-able with themselves. They know that if they carry psychologicalbaggage their goals will be unattainable, so they make continu-ous efforts—partly conscious, partly subconscious—to improvethemselves by observing themselves.

On the other hand, as Masters points out, the stars are thevictims of their own successes. We know that everyone loves tobe loved, but, writes the author, "There is something strangelynegative and destructive about being unconditionally loved byeveryone, being constantly reminded that you are wonderful andcan do no wrong." This state, he goes on to warn us, reinforces aperson's worst attributes. The very reason these self-destructivestars began to seek this unconditional love and adoration maywell have been to avoid confronting their problems. Eventually,they discover that this type of "success" is the ultimate betrayer,for they are still miserable, guilty, or angry. Yet, as Masters putsit, "There is no more promised land to look for." Either the highthey experienced no longer satisfies them, or, more tragically,they begin to decline.

In a paragraph near the end of the article, Masters confirmswhat really makes a successful operator. "Contrary to popularmisconception, there is nothing inherently wrong with attainingfame, great wealth, or power. But a great deal of maturity is nec-essary to deal with and hold on to power and wealth withoutgoing crazy. And such maturity is acquired gradually through acertain crucial process." In effect, Masters is stating that theseself-destructive stars haven't got their act together, while tradersand investors with a long history of success do. Whereas thestars obtain their wealth very quickly with relatively little effort,market wizards earn theirs through hard work over a longertime. Market operators often go broke or are on the verge of giv-ing ,in before they become established. They pay their dues byi .1.. ;„

What Makes a Great Trader or Investor?

temporarily covering up their problems. Under the surface, theseproblems then intensify in a potentially destructive manner.

1 The Attributes of Great Traders and Investors

Being a market wizard involves no real secret. The rules and ex-planations are set out in this book. If you study the operationsand methodology of any of the successful names, either historicalor current, the same old characteristics come to the fore. We willexamine a few case studies later, but first here are a few thoughtson attributes that are common to them all. In a sense, I am re-peating some of the principles outlined earlier in this chapter,but they are so important that they deserve highlighting to rein-force the message.

First, every successful market operator is interested in themarkets and how they work, not because they promise instant oreven distant wealth but because of the fascinating inner workingsand the challenges they offer. To quote a Wall Street Journal articleby commodities specialist Stanley Angrist: "[Successful traders]share a surprisingly large number of attitudes in regards to whythey do it. For example, almost all claim that they do not tradefor the money, but view the market as a difficult game that ischanging constantly. They are by now rich and diversifiedenough to afford this attitude."

In a published interview with Jesse Livermore, Richard Wy-ckoff points out that the eminent investor operated in a fashionsimilar to that of a merchant who, "accurately foreseeing the fu-ture demand for certain goods, purchases his line and patientlyawaits the time when he may realize a profit." He quotes Liver-more: "There is no magic about success. No man can succeed un-less he acquires a fundamental knowledge of economics andconditions of every sort."

To us mere mortals, this highlights the point that if we tradepurely for the monetary gain, we are placing low odds on ourpotential for success. In effect, anyone who puts undue emphasis


strong emotion will override any attempt at maintaining objec-tivity. It is better in such circ*mstances to try to overcome thisnatural desire and trade or invest in smaller positions where themoney stakes are less. Only when we have begun to appreciatethe market as a challenge in its own right will we be in a positionto take a more aggressive stance.

A second characteristic is that almost all successful tradersand investors are loners. They more or less have to be, becausethey are constantly called on to take positions opposite to thoseheld by the majority or by the consensus view of the market. Tobuy low and sell high, they must be able to go against the crowd.Being a loner, of course, is not enough. They also need to be cre-ative and imaginative independent thinkers. There is no point inbucking the crowd just for the sake of being contrary. The in-vestor also needs to rationalize why the crowd might be wrongand what the alternative outcomes are likely to be. These moneymasters therefore have the ability or the knack to justify theircontrariness. This then gives them the confidence to hold on tothe position and swim upstream against the current of popularopinion.

Third, all great investors and traders utilize a philosophy ormethodology. It was once said that all roads lead to Rome butthat none of them start at the same place. When we examine thedifferent trading and investment approaches followed by themoney masters, we find that their goals—to accumulate wealth—are identical but their paths to that destination are vastly differ-ent. It does not matter which approach an investor takes as longas it works and the individual practitioner feels at home with it.Because he is comfortable with his methodology, he is able towork at it and refine it to its highest degree of efficiency. In ef-fect, he has to be utterly dedicated to his chosen craft, for onlythen can he truly excel.

Fourth, to achieve success in the markets, investors must bedisciplined and patient. This advice sounds so simple, yet para-doxically it is difficult to practice. Discipline means constantlygathering new facts and sticking to your rules. This is easy toachieve over the short run but much more difficult to maintain.

Wt. Makes a Great Trader or Investor?

The only way is to work at it time and again until it becomes ahabit.

You know instinctively that jumping out of a speeding carwill be hazardous to your health. Entering poorly reasonedtrades when rules are cast aside can be just as devastating toyour financial health. The difference is that you can easily per-ceive the danger from the speeding car, but the consequences oftrading recklessly are less obvious. You can read this sectionthrough and through and agree with its every word, but it is un-likely that you will fear a trade executed contrary to your rulesuntil you have experienced the pain of losing.

All great traders and investors also possess patience. Apredator waits patiently for its prey, and when the time is rightand the odds are in its favor, the predator pounces, ready for thekill. Skilled market operators move in a similar fashion. They donot trade or invest purely for the sake of trading or because theyneed the money. No, they wait for the right time and circum-stance and then take action.

There is nothing mysterious in this. Let's consider an every-day example of planting vegetables. Gardeners know from expe-rience that the optimum time to do this is in the spring. To plantin the summer would be too late and in the fall or winter no goodat all. This is evident to us all. We know that to get the best re-sults we have to be patient and wait until spring, when growingconditions are at their best. However badly we might want thosevegetables, we know that it is pure madness to sow the seeds inthe winter, because all chances of their survival will be lost.

Ironically, the dangers in the marketplace are equally greatbut in this instance we rarely have the patience to wait, largelybecause we are unaware of the dangers of getting in at the wrongtime. If we were, then as rational beings, we would wait until theright moment just as we would wait for spring. That we are un-aware of the dangers of impatience distinguishes us from themarket wizards. They know and understand the dangers, therest of us do not.

Fifth, all great market operators are realists. Once youhave entered a position whether as a trade or investment there is


a'lways the temptation when things go wrong to delude yourselfthat everything is still okay. This self-delusion is far less pro-nounced and even nonexistent in successful market participants.They are quick to recognize when conditions change and theoriginal reason for holding the position no longer exists. They aremarried to nothing and are not afraid to admit a mistake, how-ever painful it may be at the time. In doing so, they recognizethat to hold on will result in even greater pain down the road.This means that they religiously follow the rule to "cut yourlosses short." Most of us are afraid to admit to ourselves when aninvestment turns sour. We cling to the false hope that things willget better, rarely asking ourselves, "If I had the money right now,would I still want to be invested in XYZ Company?" Even whenwe ask that question, we can always find a mountain of excusesfor holding on to the position—the coming ex-dividend date, thebrokerage costs involved in getting out. The list goes on.

In Money Masters, John Train quotes Paul Cabot, "the dean ofBoston's institutional investors," as saying, "First you have to getall the facts and then you've got to face the facts . . . not pipedreams." He continues, "There is no way to be a realist unlessyou've experienced the many facets of reality, which means hav-ing attained a certain age. . . . The older you get the more you'vehad a chance to see how often there's a slip between the cup andthe lip."

Sixth, all successful market operators seem to have the abil-ity to think ahead and figure out what may lie ahead. This doesnot imply that they have a sixth sense that is unavailable to therest of us; it is more a talent for mentally rehearsing some of thealternative scenarios. Most of us assume that the current condi-tions and therefore the prevailing trend in market prices willcontinue ad infinitum. The truly great market virtuosi on theother hand are constantly looking ahead to anticipate what couldcause the prevailing trend to reverse. It is not so much that theyare smarter than the rest of us or that they are clairvoyant.Rather, they have trained themselves to question the status quoconstantly and to anticipate a possible change of course.

W,: Makes a Great Trader or Investor?

This training is a form of mental rehearsal for the next event.All possible scenarios are examined and the unlikely ones dis-carded. Then, when a change in conditions begins to take place,they are able to roll with the punches and take advantage of them.In effect, by trying to maintain a flexible outlook, the successfulmarket operator is far less susceptible to the element of surprise.

^ A Sampling of Market Wizards, TheirPhilosophies, and Their Rules for Success

Successful traders and investors share basically similar charac-teristics. I have treated these case studies individually becausetheir time frames and methodologies are so different. I have cho-sen but five studies from many possible examples. I selectedthese people because they have all publicly given us the benefitof their approaches and philosophies in a lucid manner. For thatwe should be grateful.

$ Investors

Warren Buffet

In The Money Masters, John Train refers to Warren Buffet as "theinvestor's investor." It is a title well earned. A $10,000 investmentin Buffet's original partnership in 1956 would have grown to$300,000 by the time it was dissolved in 1969. In that year, he dis-solved the partnership to concentrate on other investments, mostnotably his controlling interest in Berkshire Hathaway, whichwas originally a textile company but later became a holding com-pany. The price of shares in that corporation have appreciatedfrom $38 in 1971 to $9,000 in the early 1990s.

Apart from his talent for accumulating wealth, one of Buf-fet's outstanding attributes is his interest in educating hisshareholders. His annual remarks to shareholders of Berkshire


Hathaway are legendary. He also used to write to the share-holders of the original partnership. Every year he communi-cated the following:

I cannot promise results to partners, but I can and do promisethis:

a) Our investments will be chosen on the basis of value, notpopularity.

b) Our patterns of operation will attempt to reduce permanentcapital loss (not short-term quotational loss) to a minimum.

In this missive, Buffet was telling his shareholders that hewas a value player and contrarian as well as a long-term investor.Preservation of capital was uppermost in his mind as the princi-pal investment objective.

One important attribute of a successful investor is to stayaway from the markets when conditions are not conducive to hischosen approach. In 1969, when cheap stocks were difficult tofind and speculation was running rampant, Buffet wrote to hispartners:

I am out of step with present conditions. . . . On one point, how-ever, I am clear. I will not abandon a previous approach whoselogic I understand even though it may mean forgoing large, andapparently easy profits, to embrace an approach which I don'tfully understand, have not practiced successfully, and which pos-sibly could lead to substantial permanent loss of capital.

These remarks are most revealing since they indicate Buf-fet's intention to stick to the rules that had made him successfuland that he understood. He could have made money by playingthe speculative game but decided against that, because, he knewthat he might not have been able to get out when things wentwrong. Again, he was unwilling to risk his partners' capital. Theremarks also demonstrate a willingness to weather the stormand patiently wait for the bargains that appear once the specula-tive flurry is over, dragging both sound and unsound companies

What Makes a Great Trader or Investor?

Buffet lists six qualities that he believes are necessary for in-vestment success:

1. You must be animated by controlled greed and fascinatedby the investment process. He believes that too muchgreed will control you but that too little will fail to moti-vate you.

2. You must have patience. His time frame is much longerthan the average investor. He believes that you shouldbuy into a company because you want to own it perma-nently, not because you think its stock will go up inprice. His belief is that if you are right about the companyand buy it at a sensible price, you will eventually seeyour stock appreciate.

3. Think independently. He believes that if you don't knowenough to make your own decisions, you should notmake any decisions at all. He also quotes Benjamin Gra-ham (the father of fundamental analysis) "The fact thatother people disagree with you makes you neither rightnor wrong. You will be right if your facts and reasoningare correct."

4. You must have the security and self-confidence that comesfrom knowledge, without being rash or headstrong. In ef-fect, he is telling us that if we do not have confidence inour decisions because they have been poorly thought out,we are likely to be spooked as soon as the price goesagainst us.

5. Accept it when you don't know something.

6. Be flexible as to the types of businesses you buy, butnever pay more than they are worth.

Buffet also told Train that there are 11 characteristics of ahealthy business. This list is somewhat out of the scope of thisbook, but it is worth mentioning because of its significance. Buf-fp f <R r\ 1 rC f> O-O r» ft VMtr-Jr^or-r"


1. Offers a good return on capital.

2. Sees its profits in cash.

3. Is understandable.4. Has a strong franchise and thus freedom to price.

5. Doesn't require a genius to run it.

6. Delivers predictable earnings.

7. Should not be a natural target for regulation.

8. Should have low inventories and a high turnover of as-sets.

9. Should have owner-oriented management.

10. Offers a high rate of return on the total of inventoriesplus physical plant.

11. Is a royalty on the growth of others and requires littlecapital itself.

John Templeton

John Templeton's claim to investment fame comes largely fromthe success of his Templeton Growth Fund, which grew twenty-fold between 1958 and 1978. Counting reinvestment of all distri-butions, it ranked as the top performing fund during this period.This marks the pinnacle of his achievements, but there are otherhighlights before and since then.

One of his unique and admirable characteristics amongmoney masters is his establishment of an endowment that annu-ally awards a prize for progress in religion. He likens spiritualgrowth to gardening—if you find a weed you get rid of it, andyou do the same for a bad thought or emotion.

His philosophy is based on the premise that you buy onlywhat is being thrown away and hold on for an average of fouryears. He recommends that investors search among many markets

Wha \akes a Great Trader or Investor?

for the companies selling for the smallest fraction of their trueworth. These stocks, he argues, can be found only in companiesthat are completely neglected, that analysts and other investorsdo not even consider following.

As I have pointed out, one of the keys to successful investingis retaining your objectivity. One way to accomplish this is to cutyourself off from street gossip and unwanted solicitations fromyour broker. John Templeton lives in the Bahamas and instructsbrokers not to telephone him but to send him in writing whatthey think he would like to see. In The Money Masters, John Traintells us, "The distance from [Templeton's] large, cool, porticoedwhite house . . . to the roar and shouting of the floor of thestock exchange is measured in psychological light-years. Thehouse itself and everything in it are a silent reproach to excite-ment and hyperactivity."

Flexibility is another talent that Templeton shares withother great investors. He was a pioneer in the global marketplace,choosing to invest in an undervalued Japanese equity marketlong before global investing became a household game.

An additional quality possessed by most successful investorsis consistency. For example, Fundscope placed the TempletonGrowth Fund in the top 20 out of a total of 400 organizations inmaking money in bull markets but in the top 5 for not losing it inbear markets. This performance is even more impressive becausemany of the competing funds also held bonds, which are less sus-ceptible than equities to down markets.

Examining the lifestyles, beliefs, and investment philoso-phies of successful investors other than Buffet and Templeton re-veals that patience, flexibility, and hard work are irreplaceableallies in the quest for success. Detachment is a much easier goalto achieve for these long-term investors than for the traderswhom we shall soon turn to. Summarizing the careers of eightprominent investors in The Money Masters, Train concluded thatthey practiced 11 winning strategies, as follows:

1. Buy a stock only as a share in a good business that youknow a lot about. In other words, buy the business, and

Investment Psychology Explained - US Stocks …. How to Be Objective 3. Independent Thinking 4. Pride Goes Before a Loss 5. Patience Is a Profitable Virtuc 6. Staying the Course PART - [PDF Document] (2024)
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