Aug

21

 I've been studying the history of market corners in wheat, and ran across a gem which I thought there were no intact copies.

D. W. Griffith made a silent movie called A Corner in Wheat back in 1909 about a ruthless speculator who cornered the wheat market much like Leiter attempted to do in 1898. The spec put on his squeeze, got rich and took his friends and bevy of beauties to celebrate in high style complete with toasts of champagne and gallons of hubris.

Incidentally, his movie had the first cinematic depiction of trading in the wheat pit. While the spec and his gang were partying, the poor suffered, children went hungry, farmers were wiped out, bakeries ran out of bread, and there was social upheaval with police action.

The tone of the movie was not kind to speculators which was par for the course in those days. Grain traders have never been popular, blamed by everyone from the farmer, the miller, the government, all the way to the consumer for the ills in the world.

The period of 1875-1915 was a time when the grain trade was under fire on all sides. Griffith capitalized on that public sentiment and made sure to follow the age old Hollywood program where the rich are always evil and the poor are noble beings. He made sure that the protagonist met a bad end(drowning in his own wheat in an elevator accident), proof that karma will always catch up with the bad rich guy. Still, nobody ended up happy at the end of this movie.

The Griffith movie is based on the Frank Norris story "A Deal in Wheat" and his novel The Pit. Norris was working on his Epic of the Wheat trilogy of novels when he died of a ruptured appendix at age 32. He and Stephen Crane, who also died at a young age, are essential reading if you want to understand why so many European and American intellectuals thought Socialism would surely be coming to America after the turn of the 19th century.

Aug

17

 Based on the timing indicated, he must be significantly underwater at this time. That assumes he has not thrown in the towel by now: "Soros Doubles His Bet Against S&P 500 Index"

John Bollinger writes: 

The interesting question for me is: Why is he advertising this now?

Peter Tep writes: 

Good point, John.

Sounds like he is releasing the hounds, so to speak.

Did the same for his short Aussie dollar trade some years back and also his long gold position–get long, get loud.

Jeff Watson writes: 

The more important thing is, who cares what the Palindrome says he does. Whenever anyone who's purportedly a big player discloses his supposed position, I look at his motives with a big grain of salt.. People bluff in the markets as much as they bluff at final table of the WSOP. It's all a mind game, and while one should take in what the opponent says, keep in mind that their disclosure is not for your benefit and it could be a bluff. A good lesson is to look at announcements like this and try to find tells….they exist. Nobody ever discloses their position(real or fake) to the media to be altruistic and benevolent. The sad thing is that many people(retail investors, CNBC watchers etc) believe in the good will of the Palindrome and the Oracle to the small investor. Those same unknowing investors are the pilchards that are eaten by the sharks.

anonymous writes: 

"keep in mind that their disclosure is not for your benefit"

That is a key. Even if it is true it is still not for our benefit. For example "they" cover while "we are riding a growing loss waiting for the idea to play out. Our entry was their exit. The flexions/greats/insiders see angles we can't, if we listen regularly our account balances will be eaten. 

Petr Pinkasov writes: 

I struggle to see how in 2016 it's even intellectually sound to present Q as another 'dagger on the steering wheel'. It's hard to quantify the intellectual capital that investors are willing to pay 50x earnings. 

Alex Castaldo writes: 

Exactly. What is the Q ratio for AAPL, how many factories do they own and how much are those factories worth in the marketplace? (Rhetorical question). The Q Ratio is a statistic from another era, when John D. Rockefeller built oil refineries bigger than anybody else's or when Mr. Ford bragged about his new River Rouge plant. It has limited value in many businesses today.

Another smaller point: the proposed tail hedging strategy is designed to break even if the S&P declines by 20% in a calendar month. In the last 30+ years (367 months) this has happened on only one occasion (October 1987). It is quite a rare event. Would you do this tail hedging all the time? I am not convinced that the numbers work when you consider that every month you are paying for put options.

 Alston Mabry writes: 

Doing some searching, I ran across this on FRED:

Nonfinancial Corporate Business; Corporate Equities; Liability, Level/Gross Domestic Product

Cheap-seat question: I know what GDP is, but I'm not sure about "Nonfinancial Corporate Business; Corporate Equities; Liability". Is that simply adding up the liabilities side of the ledger for public companies? Actually, it peaks Q1 2000, so it must involve market capitalization.

But it does peak Q1 2000 and Q3 2007. Of course, ex ante how do you know it has "peaked"?

Ralph Vince writes: 

All measures from an era when there was an ALTERNATIVE to assuming risk — that alternative now is to assume a certain loss, or, at best, a large rate markets exposure for the (slightly) positive rates at the longer durations.

This is an ocean of money that is coming through the breaking dam. It likely will go much farther and for much longer than anyone ever dreamed. Imagine the unwinding of the government-required-soviet-style Ponzi schemes like Social Security, which, at some point must start affording for self-direction to provide an orderly unwinding. Not only from the natural bookends of life expectancy, and pushing out the book ends to where too few could expect to ever collect from it, but the pressure from below in a runaway market for self-direction. This too will fuel the hell out of this run and make it last much longer than anyone dreams of.

Every equity that yields a dime has greater value than the certain loss; every wigwam that provides shelter too, from investing in the ingredients of pizza in Pulaski to Poontang in Pyongyang, all the wealth of the world must come out of the shadows and find a risk — and this creates a self-perpetuating feedback that is something we've never seen.

This is the move that comes along once in a century at best, and we're already starting into it. The measures of the world of positive rates (which may not be seen for a long time) I do not believe are germane to the world today.

Aug

16

 I'm down in New Zealand skiing and kiting. This year is a fairly cold year and has had considerable amount of snow. I've noticed this seems to be a harbinger of global patterns. Another anecdote is that 2005 was an outstanding wine vintage. I had a 06 Pinot Noir and it very good. In Burgundy France my vintner friend tells me that 05 was the best in a decade and that 2015 will be the best in more than a decade. I ve tasted the 2015 en Cave and it's absolutely out of the park compared to recent vintages and may the best of this century. Note the global pattern.

Jeff Watson writes: 

At this low in this solar cycle 24, the sunspot count is extremely low with the sun being very quiet in all solar measures There is a correlation between sunspot minimums and lower earth temperatures. It would not be a stretch to call for a Maunder type minimum (1645-1715) when the sun got quiet and average earth temperatures plummeted. Not all "experts" agree that the lack of sunspots caused the little ice age, some attribute increased volcanic activity.

anonymous writes: 

Check out the site spaceweather.com

The site has a running tally on "spotless" days per year:

2016 total: 20 days (9%)
2015 total: 0 days (0%)
2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)
2009 total: 260 days (71%)

Aug

6

Reading about the birth of cities, it is clear that a strong and productive agriculture was necessary to support the cost of heating, transporting, and feeding the urban craftsman and infrastructure. Cities had to grow near productive agriculture and be downstream where the cost of transportation was low. One wonders if there is a relation between the grain price versus the manufactured good price that is predictive today. In the old days manufactured goods used to cost 100 times the cost of agricultural good, like cloth versus wheat. If the ratios get out of whack today, are there predictive moves? This is a good start: "The Global Pattern of Urbanization and Economic Growth: Evidence from the Last Three Decades"

anonymous adds:

This economic phenomenon is why many towns in Europe emerged in the middle ages as communities which grew up in proximity, often surrounding, Benedictine Abbeys, and why St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe. The monasteries, which excelled in agriculture and the production of byproducts like cheese and alcohol, offered hospitality, and medical care to travelers, because in that Catholic spirituality, anyone in need who knocks on the door is treated as if they were Jesus Christ, because they might well be, and in any case that is how he promised we would be judged at the end of time. (c.f. Gospel According to St. Matthew, xxv. 31-46) The monasteries were walled to provide save haven from bandits and barbarians.

Jeff Watson writes: 

I don't think you are asking the right questions, but then again I never seem to ask the right ones either. I've pondered this same question for 30+ years, and found that any solution is way above my pay grade. For the past 125 years, real grain and real manufacturing prices have been racing to the bottom, and the race isn't over and probably won't be for awhile. Maybe when they both finally hit bottom, we'll find a good ratio, but until then one should study other factors like world supply, demand, yields, weather, exports, country movement, dollar value, etc. Maybe I'm overlooking something that's outside the box, and should pay the price for missing the mark, but again, I don't know. Playing the grain markets is the same as beating your head against an ancient master of the game of Go who's holding a tree stump in the way of your head. Grains are a very tough game, the toughest game there is. Despite the fact that many outsiders seem to think how slow the grains seem to move vis a vis the currencies, ES, bonds etc, the grains are designed to extract the maximum money possible out of the outsiders. Grains to the outsiders look easy, seductive, and that's the beauty of the game/con….they're like a carny game that look so easy. Jadwin won the game……until he didn't.

Allen Gillespie writes: 

I found Profitable Grain Trading by Ainsworth a good economic text with some forward thinking on his Dow Theory of Grain Trading.

Aug

3

Most investment is currently directed to the most profitable asset: Renewables. It's so voluntary that non-utilities and utilities alike are jumping into the game. This includes Exelon, Southern, Duke, Dominion, NextEra. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Berkshire and several new players.

Today, renewables are the industry's cost leaders. Everyone wants margins. Few are willing to risk billions in marginal assets (new coal, new nuclear, new gas boilers, new oil burners).

Keep in mind, that the nation has surplus capacity. The market for that capacity is clearing, but it will take several more years to reach stability.

Also, keep in mind that the nation's utilities all received 100% government guarantees when they build existing coal, nuclear and oil-fired power plants. Some utilities, like Southern, are capturing more than 100% government assistance. Others, like Exelon and Entergy are capturing a second round of government guarantees on fully depreciated power plants (New York). However, for the most part, government tired of these guarantees and told utilities that (1) they would be compensated for any stranded costs, (2) after receiving payment they are on their own and (3) they must rely on the free market for future revenues. Apparently, the free market valued these depreciated assets so low that owners are now begging for new government support (Exelon, Entergy, Dynegy). Renewables never received the same level of government assistance as their larger cousins and they are not needing additional financial support.

Aug

2

 Here's a recording of the full 2+ hour speech that the late legendary bond trader Charlie DiFrancesca gave in 1989. It's very pit centric and somewhat outdated, but he still delivers a hundred meals for a lifetime.

Gary Phillips writes: 

There is a great story about Charlie D. After a particularly tumultuous day in the bonds, the pit had emptied out as usual, except for a few stragglers who remained sitting on the steps. 'SPL' was sitting there looking unusually despondent as his clerk P&S'd his remaining cards. Charlie happened to walk by and ask one of SPL's other clerks "what was wrong with Steve?" I wasn't privy to those words, but as Charlie walked away I heard him say, " Shit, I thought Steve could handle dropping 2Mil better than than THAT!

Jul

25

This is a very good article on haggling, and how it actually reduces the price of cars: "Why Do We Haggle for Cars?". Haggling with automobile purchases is a stepchild of horse trading.

Jun

28

An interesting reading for people who deal with probability. The last sentence of this article, "Blackwell's Bet", sums it up nicely: "It's unexpected and ironic that an unrelated random variable can be used to predict that which appears to be completely unpredictable."

Rocky Humbert writes:

I would posit something that is market relevant. The envelopes contain positive integer amounts of money.

For simplicity, let's say you open envelope X and find that it contains $5. And we are trying to guess envelope Y.

There are are only 5 possible amounts that are smaller than X: $5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

But there are infinite number of possible amounts in envelope Y that are greater than X: 5, 6, 7, 8…. to infinity.

Since we know nothing about the distribution, is it not reasonable to surmise that Y probably is in that much bigger universe (between 5 and infinity)?

This is intuitive. Not mathematical. The same thing is true for people who trade on the long side. Prices can rise an infinite amount. But they can only decline to zero. Hence, there is a natural edge to trading from the long side ceteris paribus.

Jun

14

The old grain room of the CBOT was converted into an urban golf course for an event. May the ghost of Cutten haunt them.

May

23

 Nick Gillespie interviews Annie Duke, World Series of Poker bracelet winner on critical thinking, decision making, confirmation bias, probabilities, game theory, poker, politics, and a host of other delectable subjects.

This interview is 42+ minutes long and contains more trading lessons than one will learn in a month.

.

.

May

16

 The last of the first Waikiki beach boys, Rabbit Kekai, died today at the age of 95. Rabbit was an original, started surfing when he was 5 years old. His mentor was the great Duke Kahnamoko, who was an Olympic swimming champion and father of modern Hawaiian surfing. He surfed the original boards, then easily made the transition to the modern boards Rabbit surfed better than anyone his age group from the 1930's-1990's. He was still surfing at the age of 90. Rabbit ran a surfboard rental concession at Waikiki beach until a couple of years ago, and it was a rite of passage for any Haole surfer to rent a board from him and afterward he would willingly talk story all afternoon long. Today is a very sad day for the surfing tribe.

"Surf legend 'Rabbit' Kekai dies at 95"

anonymous writes:

Thanks Jeff. He will be missed. Had the pleasure of surfing Boca Barranca, Costa Rica a few years back. The site of the annual Rabbit Kekai Toes on the Nose Longboard classic. Arguably one of the longest lefts on the planet. Pura Vida!

Shaka,

Almanac Surfer

May

9

 Cold fusion (like a perpetual motion machine) is a fraud that makes me think of a great con job, like anthropomorphic global warming, a delayed tape, a big store.

This is most definitely a long con.

All big cons, long or short are meant to dupe innocent people and separate them from their money.

The market is full of cons, even in the most traded instruments.

Somebody is always performing magic at the expense of the gullible.

May

2

 A broker in 1880 on floor said "seal". Others misheard him. Thought he said "sell". One person started selling, and others followed. A terrible panic occurred. Icahn said "apple". One person started selling. A rout ensued. Yes, the market moves every day for ephemeral reasons. It makes a regularity man "humble". Can you think of other stupid reasons for a market move? Late Thursday declines?

Alston Mabry writes: 

I think it's less ephemeral if you model it this way: (1) Many players were looking for en excuse to sell; (2) Icahn provides the excuse for selling AAPL; (3) falling AAPL provides the excuse for selling, say, INTC, which (4) provides the excuse for selling…and so on.

Jeff Watson writes: 

This reminds me of a drought back in the 80s where grains were moving much higher for weeks. It was an overcast day and someone noticed a few raindrops on the window, 10 minutes before the close. An astute local started selling and telling the pit to look at the window, "It's raining outside." Everyone started selling and the bean and corn markets went from bid limit up to offered limit down. Those few drops were the only rain that day and afterward, the markets resumed their summer weather drought pattern.

Gary Phillips writes: 

Back in the same day, I would often "break" brokers I stood next to (in the bond pit), so that they could use the bathroom.

On one occasion I was covering someone's business when an order was arbed into the absent broker's clerk. "Gary, buy me 200!" he barked. I looked over to Charlie D, hand-signaling 200, and took his offer. "You're filled– bought 200 at even!", I relayed back to the clerk.

It was then that the clerk frantically grabbed my arm and informed me he went backwards on the order, and that it should have been a sale and not a buy.

Before I even had a chance to react, the market violently sold off 45 tics. I was now long 200 bonds, 45 tics higher, and also owed the customer a sale for 200 bonds, 45 tics higher.

At the time nobody knew what had happened, but it turned out that there was a rumor that George Bush (Sr.) had been shot. I felt the color drain from my face, and my financial life flash before my eyes.

Not surprisingly, the market bounced back and completely retraced its move lower when the rumor proved false, allowing me to get off the 400 bonds I needed to sell.

Yet, I often wonder if there would have been a different resolution if the donkey had been in office instead of the elephant. A fitting lobogola indeed!

anonymous writes: 

One wonders if Icahn is talking the Trump book at this point given their mutual admiration and Trump's early desire for him as Tres Sec which Carl has repeatedly negated.

Apr

14

 Wheat and corn are up close to 3% today. Junk following up as well. Why would ag commodities and junk be correlated? Carry?

Jeff Watson writes: 

I haven't looked at that correlation, but am closely looking at the May CBOT/KCBOT wheat spread which is quite inverted and is widening. Somewhere along the line, a great trading opportunity will present itself. However, the caveat is that one only need to look at the 2007 Dec CBOT/KCBOT inversion that caused major mayhem with many of the specs. Market and personal memories of that time suggest that trading any spread of this nature to be similar to walking naked, blindfolded through a minefield. Caveat Emptor.

Mar

11

Ag commodities have been on a long downward move close to 40% for over 4 years. I know because I started buying some a while back and am getting slammed.

Also junk bonds have been on a similar downward spiral for years.

However, for the first time in years, both seem to have gotten a bit of a bump.

Not sure if its a continuation of the slide or maybe close to a bottom? I notice a few other things like oil, gold seem to have slowed their declines as well and gotten a bit of a lift.

I wonder if deflation is starting to abate.

Alex Castaldo agrees:

A remarkable turn. I would add that emerging market stocks have also turned up after long underperformance. See for example VWO (Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets Equities), EWZ (Brazil, an exporter of the aforementioned commodities), etc.

Mar

8

Here's a great video about the fish business, from broker to chef. The fish market is shown first, a big broker discusses the ins and outs of the fish market and supply and demand. The video shows where all of this ends up on a plate. Sometimes a spec needs to look at a cash market for a bit of grounding.

Feb

11

Today came the announcement that gravitational waves have been observed. This is bigger than the moon landing and is the biggest scientific thing since Newton's First Law. The cleverness of the human mind makes me think that the space time fabric will be successfully hacked in 100 years. Commercial applications anyone?

Feb

2

 One problem with using satellites for measuring crop yields is that although they don't involve much manpower, they are not as accurate as direct measurement on the ground and in the fields. Still, the costs of satellite data keep decreasing, and the images are getting better. One problem with remote sensing is the yield gap, which is the difference between yield potential and and the average yield.

Lobell has written a paper explaining the methodology of using remote sensing for estimating crop yields and calculating the yield gap. This is a fascinating high level overview of remote sensing of agricultural fields, what goes into determining usable parameters, methods of calculations, fudge factors, etc.

The techniques discussed are not only another tool in the trader's tool belt, but can be useful to anyone in the grain business.

Andrew Goodwin adds: 

It is possible to clock the timing of the passes of the satellites over the relevant areas. This is how the weapons inspectors have been defeated. You simply cover up the activity when you know the satellite is about to get an orbit able to take pictures of the sensitive sites. One counter method is to put propulsion on the satellites so that you can change the orbits and catch the brigands in a position of culpability. This is why the time of day and day of the week pattern trades should not work well in trading against those who can access the data of the satellites with the flexible orbit change features.

I would prefer to have stealth high altitude planes do fly overs randomly in the sensitive areas to garner useful data on agriculture.
 

Jan

29

 "Future Grains"

This is seeing the data before the actual data is announced. The rice example leads me to think that the same can be done with corn, wheat, cotton, coffee, poppy, coffee, and any other crop that has color change that is visible from satellite imagery.

It definitely gives a leg up for this to those that get to see the commodity of choice they trade or hedge.

Is it really for the common good of the world or is it to be a tool for a heroic trader?

Jeff Watson writes: 

I've been using satellite data since the 80s. 

Jan

28

 After some practice, a kid can throw a ball and compute the trajectory on the fly. It becomes internalized. Mathematically it is a complicated computation. Normally people don't think statistically unless say after 45 years of doing it it is internalized.

My question to Chair and others is whether after trading for many years using statistically based evidence you have internalized the data and math such that a trade is similar to throwing a ball. Computations of course help reject ideas, or deflate misconception, or identify newly arising cycles but what percent is intuition? Even system traders identify new systems by eyeballing data or plots or using analogies.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

If we are talking baseball, the throwing equations have their own internal derivatives. To throw a ball well enough to play the game at even a semi-professional level as a pitcher requires a great deal more than "some practice"; for the people who make it all the way to "the show" the internal computations get down to the questions of how much pressure you place on the joint of each toe. The calculations about how you hold the ball for each pitch are maddeningly complex; then there is what you do with your biceps, elbows, trunk, etc.

I suspect surfers have the same kind of subtlety in their thinking about what they do. But, I don't know: can't pitch, wouldn't dream of surfing. What I do know as a catcher is that pitcher's internalization process is never finished; they are flakes because they have to be.

anonymous writes: 

When surfing at the home break, most of the good locals have it pretty well wired. Knowledge of the bottom, how the surf breaks on different tides, swell direction, currents, winds, and where the wave will peak allows a local to successfully get waves. When traveling for waves, new breaks tend to present a host of different challenges. While I will never have another place wired like my local break, when visiting a different one, I'll catch a few waves, but the locals will catch many more. I find injuries are more common at other breaks, mainly because of the lack of knowledge of the wave and the lineup. An outsider never knows all of the quirks, inside rules, players, and forces at a beach.

Seems like a good time to present a market analogy. A competent local surfer generally gets more waves than a competent outsider, just like an insider or specialist in a single market generally has more opportunities than outsiders for good trades. The insider/specialist knows his market just like the surfer knows his home break.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Surfing is a good example of an intuitive process internalizing complex multiple variables. At my big wave spot I know the secret line up markers: a grass spot on the mountain, the tops of certain palm trees, a rock, some foam. It puts me in a 6 foot square in the ocean. I can see the waves in the distance, sit in a certain spot, and the wave come right to me. Someone 6 feet to the right is in the wrong spot. Newbies often get slaughtered. For example, there was a big crowd out two days ago with medium size waves when a HUGE set came thru and washed almost everyone out who were sitting on the inside.

On the rare occasion that I hit it right, I enter a trade at a good spot and ride it on most of the full move. You can feel the variables, the amount the market has fallen, its speed of trading and movement, the way its trading. The price location in relation to the last week, the last few days, the last few hours give info. When to go out and not watch. Seems like there is a lot of info being processed internally, somewhat unconsciously that has valuable input. Ideally one could quantify all these and have a computer do it with AI better than a human. The multiple variables make it hard to quantify though. I suppose some simple rules apply: after multiple 2% drops is a good time to buy or after a 50 point down move in a day on the third or fourth down day, after fake bad news, on on some stupid announcement like FOMC and the market dives 50 points for no reason. I'm sure there are more rules of thumb that one always keeps in the back of your mind, including all of Chair's caveats, and all Wiswell's proverbs. Maybe that's the point, over time one internalized all the rules, the basic setups, the data, even more complex set ups, without having to count on the fingers as its happening. 

Jan

27

 Many have seen the brilliant, viral video from Casey Neistadt snowboarding in Manhattan on Saturday. Casey did a brilliant job and millions have seen his artful video which already has 100 million hits on Youtube.  I love Casey and my entire family appreciates his work, but at the exact same time he was filming during the blizzard, a couple of surfers in Montauk were hitting it hard with 10' waves, and this would have to be labeled as one of the best surf sessions of all time. Casey did a bang up job with his video, and having Sinatra's song as the background was nice, but this surfing video, with Pearl Jam in the background captures the zeitgeist of hard core, northern, surfing. For what it's worth, both videos are great.

Jan

4

 In the 1880's, Henry Demarest Lloyd wrote the following essay.

It's of interest to anyone who is involved in the grains.

Deeply flawed.

Completely wrong in places, plenty of muckraking, and rather populist in view, it still today remains required reading for any student of the grain markets.

"Making Bread Dear"

Dec

31

I would like to wish each and everyone of you a very Happy New Year. May the year 2016 find you with good health, great wealth, and much happiness. May you find the patience to analyze a trade before you pull the trigger. May you better learn how to properly exit a trade and handle losses with aplomb. May you learn to handle the winners also. May you keep the humble approach that has gotten you this far, and keep hubris at bay. Finally, may all your trades in 2016 be winners, with GS or C@rgill on the other side of your trade.  Have a happy and prosperous New Year. 2016 might be the best year in a long time for trading.

Dec

9

 One is a terrible chess player. I can't seem to see all the tactics the way I do in checkers where in thousands of games I have never fallen into a trap, whose traps are at least as complicated and difficult to unravel as chess. However, occasionally I try to play a game online so I can help the 9 year old son in his games. When I do, I always find it takes me about 15 minutes to gain a base of operations for the trading. You see, the clicks are so similar. You move it up, and your opponent moves it down, and you both try for the same square et al. I believe this is the real similarity between chess and markets. The opponent is the same, and he's always trying to take the center from you and forcing you to the side et al.

Jeff Watson writes: 

In any free market transaction you need to have a handle on the inside of the mind of the opponent, just like you need to know the motives of the counter party to any trade of size you have on.

anonymous writes:

In chess and trading during these conflicted times one must:

focus on the process

keep their fears and anxieties in check

not worry about unseen threats they can't control

understand the nuances of conflict

center their decisions somewhere between "instinct and reason"

not defy the lessons of history

A game of chess is pure. It is a free market with a level playing field and a product of spontaneous action, not human design. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same in reference to the markets.

Nigel Davies writes:

It's simply a question of practice. My son Sam was far from being a 'natural' with chess tactics but after doing 70,000+ chess puzzles he's not at all bad. There's a nice example here starting 24.Nf7+.

The real beauty is that of systematic practice turning into mastery. Here he dispatches a stronger and highly experienced opponent with very good strategy and controlled tactics at the end, not bad for a boy who was bottom of all his classes a few years ago.

To master something it's important to break down the required skill into component parts (for chess you have tactics, strategy, endgames, openings and psychology) and work on each of these. Then the component parts need to be brought together via competition. Simple but it requires time, discipline and staying power.

Dec

4

What a fantastic awakening from hibernation to the cost of all weak players. Hats off to an amazing and stirring way of creating vig, slippage, and paying for the markets infrastructure.

Jeff Watson writes:

Have you ever noticed that a headline event that everyone and their brother are arguing (like a rate hike), the $2.00 bettors end up taking both sides, usually they're bearish. Market media is pumping the entire thing. When the event happens, or doesn't, the mistress moves the market both ways and deftly cleans out the entire herd of juveniles, plus she takes out all the people who bought quinellas and trifectas.

As an aside, here's a glossary of track words and phrases with good meanings. One could find market parallels in almost every word or phrase, just like Bacon. This site is sublime. 

Nov

25

I subscribe to several agricultural private forecasting firms and while one still has their feet on the ground estimating the yield county by county, most are using models that are even higher tech like this modelling system.

Nov

23

 The contango between current prices–oil for delivery within 90 days–and those 6 years out attracted my attention for what is probably a very stupid reason. I have been rereading Charles Dow's journalism, and I was struck by his comment that the "commercial cycle" (his term) in prices ebbed and flowed every 6 years. Not 4, not 11, but 6. Dow thought that scientific speculation (also his term) was a matter of finding values within the prices that the markets produced each moment. Values for him were not some Platonic idealization but a matter of commercial sense. One of the rare complaints he ever wrote to his readers about them was that, in dealing with the stock market, they abandoned the very commercial sense that had given them the money to speculate.

Is there value in a future commodity price that is, once again, at a rare extreme compared to the costs for present delivery? Dow would have thought so.

P.S. FWLIW, Dow thought a scientific speculator should expect to double his money in every commercial cycle–i.e. earn 12% compounded annually.

When I asked "is there a value in a future commodity price that is, once again, at a rare extreme compared to the costs of present delivery?", Charles Dow would have thought so because, as he wrote, "the best profits in the stock market are made by people who get long or short at extremes and stay for months or years before they take their profit." Contrary to modern journalists, Dow made no presumptions about his own abilities to find where in an extreme the profits were to be found. In oil itself? In E&P stocks? In refiners? What made Dow such an exceptional journalist was his rare combination of humility and curiosity. He wanted to know what the market would tell him; he never thought he had advice for the market.

Jeff Watson writes: 

That's the difference between a professional and everyone else. The professional lets the market speak to them, tell you the story, and everyone tries to tell the market what to do based on their own cognitive biases. 

Nov

19

 A friend posted this link to his Facebook page. It's about the chess scene in Bryant Park, Manhattan. It's a very well written article, and I suspect it will be the best 3 minute read of your day. Lots of the highlights in the article make me draw parallels with the markets. For example:

The author said, "A chess match with a stranger in a public park involves a sudden and awkward intimacy…You are usually silent and bent forward, concentrating together, antagonistically, on the same problem. You are conscious not only of your own position and ideas on the chessboard, but also of the stranger's body, energy, breathing, where the eyes move on the board and what they speak of intent." In the markets, one needs to get inside the counterparty's head to understand the motivations, strategy, and game being played. (If one doesn't know who is on the other side of the trade, one must figure out the rationality of the other side, because they have reasons to be in the trade that are just as important as yours.

He further went on to say, "I have staked out a solid position I can feel myself coming undone. Usually this occurs when I build an early lead and then become so terrified of squandering it that I panic and end up doing just that." How many times has one blown a good position and had a winner turn into a loser…and one watches it unfold, well aware of what is happening."

Interesting point brought up: "He was the stronger player but I should have won." In the markets, one can beat a stronger player if one is nimble. Every trade I enter, I enter with the assumption that the counterparty is stronger than me and has better information.That way I can plan my escape if things get dicey.

He adds: "What is it about chess that can make losing so annihilating and the reactions to it so acid?" Amateurs and the public mentally beat themselves up over a bad trade, when the proper thing to do is figure out how you FUBAR'ed the trade and the lessons that can be learned. He postulates, "The supercollider of egos and skill levels at the park can produce democratizing and humbling effects." There is a lot of ego around the markets, and that is not necessarily a good thing.

He went on, "The randomness is part of the draw but also provokes a fear." Markets can be very random, especially when the form is about to change and it's trying to figure out a price where it will trade at.

As an aside, two things my mentor taught me. Nervous markets close lower, and markets always move to the level where there will be the maximum amount of trades allowable at that time. That's why when we were locals and the market wasn't moving, we'd start offering the market down and start selling in order to bring the market to a place where the paper would come in. It's not really different in the electronic age.

Oct

27

 "U.S. to prosecute high-speed trader in first criminal spoofing trial."

Has it ever occurred to anyone that some of these "spoofed" orders were put out there, not as spoofs, but as real orders to get filled? The markets are still a game of deception, and spoofing is a valuable tool. I knew guys that would bid for 3 mm bushels a half cent under the market and would pull the bid when it got close (it was a primitive spoof but it worked). Sometimes traders put out the "spoof orders", got hit and were able to adjust their position, whatever way it was, and the counterparty has no clue what's going on.

There's always someone out there that, for whatever reasons, will always take the other side of a huge order. There is also an idea going around that if you can hit and fade a spoof order you will make money, and this is not necessarily true. As an aside, in the grains, it's usually easier to get your price for a half million bushels than if you were are trying to buy or sell 5,000 bushels where you will get dicked around for a quarter cent. There is always a big commercial, grain company, hedger, or large spec willing to take the other side of a big order, and there is a good chance you will get filled at your price.. 

Oct

26

 Here's Old Man Cutten's short book "Story of a Speculator." Cutten was bigger than life and was arguably the biggest individual wheat speculator in history. There are so many market and life lessons contained within, and it gives a glimpse of what the grain trade was like a century ago. His market lessons contained in this short read became my lessons when I was first starting out. His comments on liberty, government, and choices are priceless. So much of this is relevant today, which is an added bonus.

Stef Estebiza adds:

"None can dictate prices who cannot control production" -Arthur Cutten

Not all of what you see is GOLD.

Read to the end of the first page and the start of the second in "The Parable of the Rich Fool"

Larry Williams writes:

That widely circulated epitaph of speculators misses some key points as it did with Cutten.

Henry A. Wallace, the then United States Secretary of Agriculture charged Cutten with improper trading activities and tried to have him barred from trading on all futures exchanges in the United States. This ultimately went to the US Supreme Court in the case of Wallace v. Cutten, 298 U.S. 229 (1936) (decided in Cuttens favor over the issue "was Cutten guilty for violating laws that were passed—after—the acts of commerce/speculation were commited).

The government then went after him for income tax evasion. The tax suit would only be settled by the executors of his estate, because Arthur Cutten, his fortune vastly depleted by the stock market crash and the cost of lawyers to defend him from the government lawsuits, died in Chicago of a heart attack a few weeks short of his sixty-sixth birthday. His body was brought back to his Canadian birthplace and interred in the family plot in Guelph's Woodlawn Cemetery.

So we have gummint guys going after evil speculator and breaking the poor fellow. I'm certain Soros learned from this which explains is ability to fund politicians.

Most folks live for today or in the past, speculators live for and wager on the future. They are the builders of the future.

Oct

20

 Monday, October 19th is the 28th anniversary of the 1987 crash. As I was a young pup in junior high school in Queens, NY at the time, I certainly remember the reaction around New York be it media, neighbors, etc. I even watched my father pretty much chug a scotch when he got home that night and he is an Accounting Professor who never drinks and is certainly not of the speculator ilk. (He likes his drift nice and slow) For participants who lived it, what is the best thing to do in that situation? Certainly, taking out the canes is warranted for best of breed stocks. But does one start thinking differently, would a past in a form of martial arts training, boxing, or Krav Maga be of help? I can't help but think of the value of situational awareness as is taught to fighter pilots. Any insights would be appreciated.

Jeff Watson writes:

That week in '87, the grains had a magnificent sell off, which made many locals millionaires. I know that I had a good year in a 7 day trading period. That rout was almost as good as the Chernobyl disaster a year and a half before when one was able to sell as much grain as their account would carry……at the top. However, Chernobyl had some tectonic shifts which caused mini quakes for months. Lots of newly minted millionaires on the 19th, and the existing trade didn't get hurt that much so it was good business for all.

Russ Sears writes:

This, I believe, is a great question for sports psychologists. Visualizing your actions in a stressful situation and deciding ahead how you are going to react is very helpful. Then when the pressure comes your instinct is much more likely to go with what worked in your visualization rather than choke, flight, or freeze. You are even able to choose your fight tactic.

If I would have known this in 1992 at my peak in running but novice at the marathon, I could have been an Olympian. The USA competition was weak that year and I was at my prime. But when I hit 20 mile mark in the LA marathon at 1:41 time of change but also hit the wall soon after and crashed and burned because I eased up rather than pushed through it. That pace was easily the fastest pace for a USA runner up to that point that year if I could have head even close to it.

On active trading I found though that much of the stress comes from watching the market too closely so that every jump seems to need preparation. But basic risk management says to have a cash contingency stored for a short emergency use whether it's a stock crash or a bout of unemployment.

Mr. Isomorphisms writes:

Five minute miles. I just can't wrap my head around that.

Russ Sears writes:

Easier for those who run 65 second 400's than those who run 11 minute 2-miles, imo.

Oct

1

Here is an old USDA working paper on the mechanics of wheat and corn price forecasting. It's a very interesting read, but flawed in so many ways, and I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to spot the numerous flaws. Still it does give insight into what and how the people at the USDA are thinking and there are market lessons in that.

Sep

17

 The trouble with progressive wagering systems is the vig is always much higher than the advertised 10%. Plus whatever the state take out is, it really grinds against you in both the short and long run. Plus the knockout rules without a rebuy (which is always a bad deal but suckers love it) tend to make this a random event….this should be tested.

I know Johnny Moss couldn't pass up 15:1 odds on that sucker punch to knock out the champ, but going for the long odds is stupid and goes against everything I have ever learned.

Anecdotally I will say without equivocation that I have never won long odds, and if I got a little "Lucky,", never was paid true odds. The market is always going to offer you the shortest odds it can charge because there is always a spread.

Since I became an adult, I learned to offer really long odds all the time (a big long term put or call so to speak), but I won't take long odds as I have no control of the vig with the taking odds whereas I do with the offering of odds.

One is better off taking a bet that feels good and think it's a real 3:1 shot but it's on the board it's trading at 11:2. Going for the 15-20% and greater odds is just making the bookie writing the long odds, rich. When you take odds like that, you are playing the lotto and we all know how that turns out.

Sep

10

There are many market lessons here in this Seinfeld clip and many more questions begging to be answered.

Aug

10

One could make a case that Ceres is singing a new song in the grain market, a song that has been frequently heard in previous Augusts. How long she will be singing it, I don't know as it is way above my pay grade. I'm just a paying customer on this ride.

Jul

20

 Mick Fanning was attacked by 2 great whites in the final of the J-Bay contest, the biggest contest of the year. Luckily he emerged unscathed with no physical damage. Sadly, the interview afterwards has been removed from the web, but in it he said that he was totally shaken and said that it wouldn't matter if he ever competed again in surfing.

This reminds me of when I got whacked in the Mexican Peso debacle in 1982 and also saying that I might never trade again. I empathize with Fanning on 2 levels as not only did I get whacked in a few big trades in my life, but I also have been chased out of the water by sharks in New Smyrna Beach, more than once.

One hopes Fanning will return to surfing, but one would understand if he didn't. I know lots of guys that got blown out in the market, never to return. I also have a friend who was a life long surfer who got bitten on the foot by a 5' shark and quit surfing on the spot, never to get wet again.

I wonder what makes some people quit and some people come back. There's some kind of primal fear surfing, when you know that you are not at the top of the food chain and can get eaten alive. Check out this gnarly video .

Jul

8

 Trading pits, you had a great 167 year run. You taught me almost everything I know, and you aided in my development as a spec. We had a lot of fun, although most of that fun cannot be repeated in this venue. The pits were unique…there is no business school in the world that could teach you how to handle it when one buys 3mm bushels of wheat, and suddenly the entire pit is in one's face with offers, palms outstretched, doing severe damage to one's account. Thanks for the memories, market lessons, life lessons, lifelong friendships, and the great game you let me learn. This image courtesy of the www.tradingpitblog.com.

Jun

19

 Can one predict with all the trillions swashing around, and the ability to print money, and all the countries meeting to save their perks and flexionism, and the Greek stock market vigilantes down 15% in a week to make sure there is a deal, that a deal will be made. And it will be flimsy one. That as soon as it's made, it will be like the two 8% drops that occurred back to back when the bail out deal first was missed and then was made.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Greece's GDP is a little over half the size of the Dallas-Ft Worth Metroplex GDP. As far as the total Eurozone GDP is concerned, the Greek GDP is a metaphorical rounding error. If France and Germany are going to get screwed, they control the ECB and can print some more money. But news and concern about the Greeks suggests that the flexionic cowboys driving the herd this way, then that way, their Border Collies nipping at the heels of the herd.

Jun

17

 One grows tired of not possessing a concise, very readable and practical text covering the majority of known statistical tests.

Despite the last edition being 10 years old, I believe that the book 100 Statistical Tests by Gopal K. Kanji is the very best book of its kind–period.

Each test covers no more than 2 pages. The author suggests when to use it, shows a practical worked example and some other info with tables in the back of the book.

If one wants more detail then a deeper text can be consulted elsewhere. But as a grab off the shelf, check the index for your test and then see how it is done tool, this book scores very highly with me.

William Hughes writes:

Here is a downloadable pdf link for the "100 Statistical Tests" book you were discussing.

Jeff Watson writes: 

In addition to that excellent book here is a great probability and statistics cheat sheet.  

Jun

11

 We were sitting in a clubhouse at the track last weekend when the big gambler of our group started bragging about his winning game of blackjack. He mentioned that he was the best card counter around and that he played a near perfect game of blackjack. I smelled an opportunity and told him that I consider myself to be the best card counter on the planet. I added that I know where every card in the deck is, and I would gladly put my money where my mouth is. I told him that he could shuffle a deck of cards as many times as he wanted and then start turning over cards in front of me, at about a 5 second per card pace. When he got to the last card, I would tell him what it was before he turned it over. I would not touch any cards at all and only he could handle them. I offered him 2:1 to get him to bite, and the other two guys sitting at the table also wanted some action, so I helped them out as a benevolent gesture.

My friend shuffled the deck 7 or 8 times, cutting the cards several different times. He started turning the cards over in front of me, and I stared in deep concentration. When we got to the last card I took a breath and said, 2 of hearts. He turned the last card over and it was the 2h. The guys asked me how I did that, and my reply was that I am a savant when it comes to cards.

The key to this surefire bet is that one must assign a number value to every card in the deck. I do it this way….Ad is 1, Ah is 2, As is 3, Ac is 4, 2d is 5, 2h is 6 and on an on until the Kc which is 52. If one adds all the assigned numbers in the deck, the sum of 1+2+3+…..52 totals 1378. When playing, every time the dealer flips over a card, one simply adds the assigned value to the running total. At the last card, if the sum is 1372, that subtracted from the total of 1378 gives it an assigned value of 6 which makes the last card the 2h. Another example, had the total been 1327, the bottom card would have had a value of 51 which would have been the Ks.

To be successful with this prop bet, it takes some practice, requires discipline, a bit of mental math, and a quick memory to recall the assigned values of the cards as they are turned over.

There is no such thing as a new prop bet. Everything has been done before….the aforementioned prop bet is a variant of another bet that is at least 150 years old, maybe older. However, my buddies thought we were playing one game, but I was playing a totally different game. Despite the fact that all prop bets are very old, people still fall for them. My friends did not even know that they were being victimized by a prop bet, and that's the best kind of bet. The market offers hundreds of prop bets a day, and there is no shortage of suckers lining up for the sure thing. In the markets, the suckers think they are playing one game, but another game is being played on them entirely. The prop bets that I offer are no different in end result than the prop bets that the market offers…..and I have been known to bite on those market bets from time to time. The market does the best job disguising the fact that the opportunity offered is a prop bet, and that is why it's so easy to get crucified. One can walk away from one of my sure thing bets……it's not that easy as far as the market is concerned.

Whenever I think of walking away from prop bets, Runyon always comes to mind, Sky Masterson specifically. He said, " One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider."

May

28

 New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan hit one out of the park when he wrote about about moving to Hawaii as a kid. This very well written piece discussed family, middle school, friends, enemies, romance, surfing, and trying to survive as a racial minority. He did a great job of describing the culture shock felt by a white boy from affluent S. Cal, moving to a rough, working class part of Oahu.

It's quite a long read, but it's well worth saving for a rainy day. Finnegan has written a few other articles about surfing for the New Yorker. In another story featuring the famous Dr. Renneker, Finnegan wrote the following description of famous surf breaks, comparing them to different composers.

Finnegan wrote:

Ocean Beach is the polar opposite of Waikiki—cold, gritty, scary, not for beginners. I find beauty in it, but an utterly different, more challenging, modernist beauty. Captain Cook, when he first saw surfing, compared its effects to those of listening to music. When I think of Waikiki, I hear early classical compositions: fugues and Bach concertos, sacred music. Being out at Ocean Beach is like surfing to Mahler. This glistening morning at Four Mile has a score by Handel. That wave in Indonesia might have been composed by Mozart. Sunset Beach is pure Beethoven. Strangely, when I think of the best wave I've ever surfed—the one breaking off an uninhabited island in Fiji—I hear no music at all.

That is some of the best surf literature, ever. Many specs, the Chair especially, like to make comparison between different kinds of music vs different kind of markets. Just as one can compare music to markets or music to surfing, a few of us compare markets to surfing. To quote Mr. Sogi San: "There are many market lessons in surfing." I agree totally and learn new ones all the time. Both of those articles contain food and nourishment, maybe not a meal for a lifetime, but certainly a hearty snack.

May

11

Over at Business Insider, they carried this graph. It looks pretty scary. I don't think it's possible to sustain current prices in the face of declining inflows, but maybe I'm misinterpreting it.

Larry Williams writes: 

Look at the chart! This has happened many times before where the blue line guys got out and the rodeo went on higher. It's not the first rodeo they missed. Who're you going to believe, the chart or a cub reporter?

Steve Ellison adds:

I don't have the data to test this rigorously, but my hypothesis is that "net inflows to mutual funds" is a contrary indicator if it is an indicator at all.

anonymous writes: 

All the studies such as the ones carried out by DALBAR suggest that returns weighted by investor money flows are always worse than time-weighted returns.

There is a movement of people who think that this "behavior gap" can be closed with education or sound advice for all. I find it more likely that it is a necessary feature of markets for the reasons described by Bacon. Some can do better but nothing can work for everyone at once.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

One would have thought that this post came from Mr. Conrad rather than you, who has been exposed to the drift.

Bud Conrad responds: 

Mr. Niederhoffer mentions my name as suggesting I might be bringing negative opinions about the future for the stock market, but I have been relatively quite on this list in that nature in recent years. My base for stock market valuation comes from the view of comparing the potential return from the stock market earnings to that of long term government bonds. For several years and continuing to today, the returns from stocks as measured by dividing earnings by the price (E/P ratio) have far exceeded the returns from fixed income, so I have been a bull on stocks, despite the many worrisome commentaries about the general economy. The Chair and others will recognize this general approach as sometimes called the "Fed Model" for stocks. My summary comment is that "The stock market is the best game in town", sort of like the comment on the dollar compared to other currencies as "The best horse in the glue factory".

I have been bullish stocks for the first half of 2015, but with caution that there are other forces like the Fed raising rates, a slowing GDP for the general economy, a disastrous collapse in the oil and gas fracking that will cost lenders huge sums, and continuing trade and government deficits that make me be more concerned that the outlook for 2016 is possible for a down turn. I'm interested in extending that watch for a turn in stock market optimism as others find quality analysis.

As to the specifics of the flows in the chart from BofA ML, I notice that the 2013 down turn in flows didn't hurt this bull market, so the indicator may not be capturing some of the drivers, like possibly foreigners that are even less enamored with their domestic prospects, who may be finding dollar denominated assets much safer than say those in the declining Euro. As a related note in my local area: Palo Alto is supposedly 20% owned by foreigners, mostly from China. Real estate prices are booming in Silicon Valley, and there is plenty of inflation in asset prices here.

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

This was an interesting point, reminding me of a disaster of a trade I had in 2005. Copper, for the first time in history, eclipsed its decades-long resistance of Fibonacci $1.6180 level at the COMEX. It was clearly driven by developing China demand, and I wouldn't stay in its way. I had good luck picking up Longs at the other Fibonacci end around 61.8 cents just six years prior…

But as the 2005 rally progressed beyond the $1.6180 breakout and all the way to the un-phathomable $2.000/lb round - I could hold myself off no longer. My Shorting reason was that throughout the 2005 rally, COMEX Open Interest figures have declined(!) dramatically. Classical technical analysis states that a commodity's prolonged upside run, when accompanied by progressively declining Open Interest - must be Shorted!! The reasoning is very compelling: in zero-sum game, such event can only mean one thing - that the pricing is extremely over-bought, while progressively more-and-more Shorts have already covered!! Thus, as a new Short, you're getting the greatest downside potential in history, while the risk of potential blow-off to the upside is now severely constrained. Well, I'm still a huge believer in this indicator, except…

…2005 happened to be the first year of an unprecedented GEOGRAPHIC shift in Copper inventory. Away from the COMEX in US, and in favor of the LME in London as well as a brand new physical and derivative market born in China and vicinity. While the COMEX Open Interest was going through temporary decline, the pick-up overseas was enough to feed the demand and put further increasing stress on supply. Thank goodness for my catastrophic COMEX stop-loss above $2.0025 - that trend roared unabated straight to the next Fibonacci extension of $3.62!

anonymous writes: 

Some people are going to believe what they want to believe, hear what they want to hear, and avoid information that contradicts what they already think or believe. These are the people who find comfort with a group-think mentality. On the other hand, there are those who love to fade the market, for the sake of being contrarian. These people cannot resist doing the opposite of popular opinion and possess a mindset toward reactive devaluation. This forum strives to operate on a level where useful information is transferred from one reader to another; often times from the extremely knowledgeable (victor, rocky et al) to the less-so (myself included). We all strive to reach independent conclusions based on a reasoned process. We ignore popular opinion, and do not take anything at face value. We keep open minds, organize and filter our ideas to determine what is relevant, yet allow conflicting ideas to generate new conclusions.

In an effort to promote and perpetuate this practice, I still find myself sanguine about the prospects for the market. Real short-term rates are still negative. The fed maybe tightening, but the yield curve is steepening. GDP has averaged 2.25% per year since 2009, and yes, real GDP growth in q1 was weaker than expected; but that may only serve to be a down-tick and not the beginning of a nascent trend, as as was the case last year. Growth is there, but it has been stultified by the Obama administration's policies. If we were to see tax rates and regulatory burdens rolled back with a new administration, we could see a renewal of corporate investment and risk-taking and an acceleration in productivity and growth, and a much higher market yet.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Many are overthinking this stock market and are missing out on the move. Trying to fit events into one's belief system can be very costly in the long run. Sometimes, like in surfing, you just gotta catch the wave because it's a groundswell, and the waves are stacked up like corduroy all the way to the horizon. Plenty of opportunities here.

May

7

 Guaranteed paydays in boxing implies there is no inherent risk premium, so taking larger risks in prizefights does not provide larger returns. Accordingly, Floyd "Money" Mayweather took very little risk last Saturday evening, and fought "not-to-lose".

Both traders and fighters are susceptible to being emotionally enticed into behavioral patterns that adversely affect their performance, so while Floyd's approach may have appeared to be "uninspired", his strategy was based on reason rather than emotion.

Throughout the night Mayweather displayed superb technique, pacing, discipline, patience, and emotional symmetry.

In the end, the punch count was close to even, but Mayweather landed more "big" blows. It may not have been an exciting fight to watch, but asymmetric punches were the difference.

Mayweather exploited Pacquiao's weaknesses while staying away from his opponent's strengths. Even though Manny was the aggressor, Mayweather took the fight to Pac-Man and pressed at the right times. When the openings weren't there, he covered up and rested.

The chair exposed naive analysis of the markets for the pseudoscience it is; with technical mumbo-jumbo, spurious correlations, and causal urban myth making it a negative-sum proposition for most to try to predict the market.

Even for non-pugilist tacticians who can make a variant perception of the market look like anything but rocket science; without proper execution, an ever-changing and idiosyncratic market will quickly render any prescient analysis less than effective.

A trader sits down in front of his screens, and faces what is arguably a much tougher and more formidable opponent. At times his opponent is very predictable and easy to hit, but the majority of the time, his opponent is extremely unpredictable and elusive.

The trader will know his opponent's tendencies and have a plan, but just like the fighter, the trader will ultimately rely on a dynamic assessment of price action and adjust his strategy accordingly.

In either game, no matter how well you have sized up your opponent and tested your strategy, you still have to go out there and fight-your-fight.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Gary, great post by the way.

I might add, the "not to lose" habit is the most important characteristic of any successful speculator. When winning, one presses their bets, and when losing, one takes the losses with alacrity. Managing the losses with strict discipline will allow the wins to take care of themselves, provided one knows how to take a win. Winning is not as easy as it sounds or looks.

Gary Rogan writes: 

Once again diversification is an alternative to taking losses "with alacrity", at least in some markets. If what you are buying or selling has no known intrinsic value than perhaps there is no choice but to let the market be your guide. But as the well-known metaphor of "Mr. Market" indicates, in some areas "he" is not rational and should be taken advantage of instead of being used as a guide. I know that's not how you operate Jeff (and what's the intrinsic value of onions when not in a burlap bag?), but there are alternatives.

Apr

29

Here is a very important website all about Darwin's smarter cousin Sir Francis Galton, one of my top 3 heroes. The website contains links to everything he ever published. One cannot stress enough the importance of the works linked here, and it's all online, free, and in the public domain. I plan on re-reading everything Galton ever wrote, starting yesterday, and finishing it this summer.

Apr

20

 "There is one good thing about Marx: he was not a Keynesian."

-Murray Rothbard

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Marx also agreed with Rothbard about central banking: "Talk about centralization! The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralization, and gives this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner— and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it." (Das Kapital, Volume 3, chapter 33).

They also shared - along with nearly everyone else - the notion that money was something other than the unit of account that the people with guns and official uniforms accept in payment of taxes.

Neither they nor the best current historians on the Constitution (Rakove, David. O. Stewart) understood the full genius of the Federal answer contrived by a collection of planter debtors, merchant lenders, lawyers and army pension holders in 1787:

1. The country would have only coin as money because no other form could avoid the cheating that can be produced by the stroke of a lawyer or accountant's pen or the vote of a State Legislature

2. Congress had the power to define what the Coin would be, provided that the unit of account for both U.S. and foreign money was a specified weight and measure

3. What the States and people and the Federal government did with their freedoms to get, borrow and spend was up to them

Apr

13

I was discussing the stock market today with some perma bears who complained that this market does not reflect reality while giving a hundred reasons why it should go down hard. I commented that the market reflects reality, just not their personal reality. Profitable traders look at what is really happening, not at what should ideally be happening.

Apr

10

 One of the most frustrating things in trading is when you research a (qualitative, not a systematic) trade, stay up late figuring out how you want to express the idea to maximize gain and minimize loss, and then the next day when you want to put on the trade that stock is up near 3%.   

Considering it has done nothing for months you figure, "I will wait till to buy on a decline a bit lower".  Then the next day you see it is up 8% and the options you had looked at were would be up 60% in a few days had you conceived of the idea just 1 day sooner. 

I think at such times (similar things have happened to me 3 times so far this year) one is very prone to going on tilt, such as finding some other market to chase, or otherwise do something out of frustration that is not logical and end up losing what you would have made had you been one day sooner.   

I am wondering if there is any way this sequence of events can be generalized beyond specific circumstances of one trader, to general market phenomenon, maybe even events that lead to predictable circumstances.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Whenever I go surfing, I miss a lot of good waves. I either am in a wrong position, miss it completely, or just blow it off thinking a better one will be behind. I never feel bad about missing a wave because there will always be another wave sooner or later. I look at trading exactly the same way I look at surfing.

John Floyd writes: 

Agreed, put another way as someone once said to me “there is a bus every 5 minutes”.  Also importantly in terms of the limits of time and energy don’t spend it worrying about missed moves, focus on what is ahead.  

I read a poignant quote recently in The Joyful Athlete: ”Second tier athletes tended to beat themselves up for mistakes, while the champions simply noted their errors and moved on, wasting no energy on self-recrimination.” 

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

I have the same problem. Sometimes I wait on a trade too. I think it is greed, the desire to seize the least/highest perfect. So I remember: "Luke, trust your instincts!"

Anonymous writes: 

I strenuously disagree with the philosophy that "there is a bus every five minutes." (My late great father used to say, "there's always another street car.")
 
This is a rationally flawed analysis. Because it treats an opportunity cost as economically different from a realized cost.  The reality is that the P&L from an opportunity cost is real, and it compounds over time. And this is true so long as one is consistent regarding timeframe, methodology and performance benchmarking. The most pernicious thing about this street car delusion is that it can be hidden,  rationalized and forgotten.
 
By way of example, our fellow Spec Lister and Bitcoin Booster, Henrik Andersson declared on March 12: "Crashing commodity prices, currency war, crashing yields (with a big chunk of European debt trading at negative yield), surely this can't be because everything is so rosy in the world, this cant possibly be 'good' news. Couple this valuations close to ATH  and I have for the first time in 25 years sold everything (I started investing when I was 12). Everything." 

Since this declaration, the SPX, Dax and Nikkei have all risen between 3 and 6% — and the DAX is at an all time high.  If Henrik measures his performance on a daily or weekly basis, this is a bona fide opportunity loss of substantial note. But if Henrik measures his performance on a long term, multi-year basis, it is way too early to render a verdict and this opportunity cost may well morph into an opportunity gain.

John Floyd comments:

Point well taken and a good one. I was afraid my quick comment might garner the need for elaboration.   The point I was trying to make is if you “miss” a trade you should learn from the experience and move on, while trying not to repeat the same error in the future. Juxtaposed against expending energy lamenting the perceived lost opportunity, which also has a cost. Assuming this is done with some degree of improvement I think it is both rational and sound.  In this way the opportunity cost is treated as real and minimized over time. If there is improvement made then returns are compounded in a positive fashion as opposed to a pernicious one.  In anonymous’ example that might even mean Henrik recognizes what may or may not have been an incorrect thesis and “buys” everything the minute he read anonymous’ post.  

Sushil Kedia writes: 

My two cents on the table:

Opportunity costs as well as realized costs are both known and quantifiable only after the market has moved. At the instant of a decision as to whether to decide to take a trade or not, both are unknown.

Since a real P&L is a progression of a series of unknown infinitesimally sized but infinite number of moments, it is likely a flawed debate to undertake whether or not opportunity costs compound, since if those said opportunity costs actually turned out to be realized losses they too would compound.

Transliterating approximately what the Senator has said often in the past, the purpose of a trader is not to be in the market, but to come out of the market, one would like to tune one's mind to focusing on how much could one gain without losing beyond a point. For each this is a unique set of numbers despite the market being same for all. This uniqueness comes not only from different skills, but different restrictions on the types of trade one is allowed to take, the different marketing pitch each has to use for garnering risk capital (oh we keep transaction costs low), the different risk tolerances each must remain within etc. etc.

So each needs to focus on how one will travel from an infinite series of infinitesimally small pockets of time in deciding when to not decide. 

Paolo Pezzutti writes: 

With regards to missed opportunities, I have two observations.

Firstly, I think our mind is biased in focusing on the good trades that one could have made. We tend to forget the bad calls. It is true, however, that if your trading methodology is systematically not "efficient" then your performance will eventually be sub par.

Secondly, if you continue to miss opportunities, you may have an issue in pulling the trigger when it is the right time to do it. I have a long way to go to improve my trading and I think I have to work on both these areas. My trades are inefficient, because I can spot good entry points but my exits too often get only crumbles that the market mistress is willing to leave on the floor after a lavish dinner. Moreover, one tends to be afraid of taking the trade right when the risk/reward is more convenient, that is when fear is the prevalent sentiment in the market, the moment when you should "embrace you fears" as Larry Williams would say.

As a final comment, I have to commend the market mistress for her naughtiness and deceitfulness. The employment report on Good Friday released with markets closed saw prices of stocks plunge seriously (20 pts in 1 hour) to get 30 pts back on Monday.  Many opportunities during the Easter weekend in stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities because of ephemeral end deceptive moves. Who knows if they were orchestrated or simply "random". 

I went short gold on Thursday at the close (1715) at 1202.6. The first price  printed on Monday was 1212.7. I eventually took a loss later that day of about 14 points. After 2 days gold was down at 1994. Focused on my potential loss, I did not exploit the huge opportunities offered. Afraid of even bigger losses, I liquidated my position instead of trying to close the big gap printed at the open. Moreover, I did not buy stocks or bonds to trade the obvious lobagola move. Double damage.

It is a matter of mindset.  There are coincidences, situations; there is the ability of a trader to translate into action tests, statistics related to these conditions created by the market mistress. The more extreme the conditions, the more compressed is the coil, stronger and more powerful it will be the reaction in the opposite direction. Much to learn.

Duncan Coker writes: 

I have always had a hard time reconciling opportunity costs/gains with realized costs/gains, though I know in economics they are comparable. For example, a casual friend offered me a private investment opportunity which didn't smell quite right and I declined and I left the money in cash earning -1% real rates. Shortly thereafter the enterprise went bankrupt and all would have been lost. I suppose on an opportunity basis it was a huge success for me, 100% gainer, and yet my cash account is the same earning -1%. Every day trading is a missed opportunity to be fishing on a nearby river which is easier for me to grasp and adds to the overall cost of the trading endeavor. Being able to forget and move on is a useful thing in trading. A swim or run at the end of the day does it for me.

anonymous writes: 

I do believe one can go broke from taking profits. Maybe if one has very few positions at a time this could take a while to notice (the benefit to marketing a long term strategy of any sort– few observations) but everyone will fail.

Think of football, a defense might determine that if they can hold the other team to 17 points that they have won their part. What if the offense deploys their secondary after 14 points? May your successes be larger than your defeats.

We are playing an unbounded game, we have no idea the amplitude of future gains or losses, let alone their frequency. Taking profit when unwarranted may not give us a chance at tomorrow.

As for opportunity, we all balance the fear of missed opportunity with the fear of loss. The more successful traders I've known are slightly more fearful of leaving money on the table than losing money. Slightly.

But that depends on the difference between the value and utility of the opportunity. Duncan, you bring up the ultimate question about the purpose of life. Way to make this a deep conversation.

Apr

7

A floor trader from the Merc was replaced by a computer algorithm. His life after the pits was documented in this fictional series of short videos. Every stereotype of traders and ex-traders is touched in this comedy.

Mar

16

A surprising number of SPU 500 stocks are between 95 and 100 having fallen recently below the round. JNJ, MCD, AON, GPC, GILD, HSY, ITW, NKE, PVH, PEP, PNC, R, SWK, PLC, SBUX, INTU, CME, MCO, MJN, it will be interesting to see how many of them and in what duration climb above 100 and whether this is non-random or not.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Corn and beans went through their round. Wheat is hovering above it…for now.

Mar

5

 What are the odds of playing Texas hold'em, getting a pat straight flush on the flop and losing to a higher straight flush? What are the odds of driving a new car out of the car dealer's lot and having it totaled by a truck? What are the odds of your wife, who has never made a bet in her life, sweeping nine trifectas in a row(3 of them paid four figures) at the dog track? What are the odds of seeing four people get bitten by sharks within thirty minutes while surfing at New Smyrna Beach? What are the odds of playing the best golf game of your life with a hole in one, three eagles, two birdies, yet still losing by a stroke? What are the odds of both grandmothers dying exactly a year to the day apart, same time of day, in the same hospital room? What are the odds of losing forty two copper trades in a row? What are the odds of standing in line to buy a scratch off lotto ticket, and the person ahead bought the same ticket the wife requested and it paid $120,000. What are the odds of going to Publix, and within ninety minutes, running into three people from different periods of your past? What are the odds of running into a guy from first grade while waiting for a train in Morocco? What are the odds of winning two first prizes in two separate drawings at the grand opening of a mall?

None of this is good luck, bad luck, or is unusual because people beat long odds all the time and it's easy enough to explain. Life presents thousands of opportunities/happenings/events every day. Multiply that by thousands of days, and there are millions and millions of opportunities/happenings/events every lifetime, and the total distribution will show a number that could be described as long shots.

One's chance of facing and beating long odds(for better or worse) in one way or another during a lifetime is near 100%. Repeating the mantra that beating odds is not always favorable, as failure has odds too.

The markets offer the player all kinds of odds, changing all the time, all day long, every trading day of the year. For every few thousand 3:2 plays, there will be some that offer 50:1, 100:1, 1,000:1 or maybe more. It is likely that the participant will stumble across many of these long odds scenarios in a career. Looking at the chart where an option traded for a quarter, it is important to remember that someone bought that option which immediately went to $85, and somebody also bought beans at $6.00 that doubled. Conversely, someone sold that option, and sold the beans which possibly caused them great harm.

All in all, it's important for the spec to develop good skills and learn to handicap everything in life and the markets. Although cliche, it's necessary to expect the unexpected. Keep to the high ground when the 100 year flood shows, and don't get cocky when three inches of gold unexpectedly rain down on the street.

Mar

4

This is a very interesting paper: "Grand tree of life study shows a clock-like trend in new species emergence and diversity"

Mar

2

This is an excellent article on deception with many applications to our field where deception is needed at all levels to stay ahead of competition.

Gary Phillips writes: 

We're not only susceptible to being deceived by the narratives of others, but by ourselves as well. We take a linear view that doesn't lend itself to the complex systems described above. We see something happening in the market, and we can't help but create our own narrative to explain what's happening. Traders are very good at linking cause and effect, often incorrectly; thereby unintentionally deceiving themselves.

However, you can't understand a complex system, by simply looking at it's individual parts. There are multiple heterogeneous agents that make independent decisions that evolve over time. These agents will interact which leads to emergence i.e., the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. and, emergence will disguise cause and effect. Therefore, it may be difficult to determine if deception would have an effect on the outcome, or not.

In hindsight, it's often the hidden factors that one did not anticipate or even consider, that were the drivers behind a move. So, even a move built on the back of deception or misinformation, may still be an actionable event, if one if one practices good trade management.

Jeff Watson writes: 

I remember back in the pit days when I'd want to shake out some weak hands by trying to fake a rally…..I'd start, then after 5 minutes I'd start believing my own fake out.

Feb

23

 One's reading material for his trip to Florida to say hello to Irving Redel were 3 chemistry texts: Principles of Chemistry by Michael Munowitz, The Extraordinary Chemistry of Ordinary Things by Carl Snyder, and Science 101 by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese.

I'm too aware of my ignorance to try to devolve the million things we can learn about markets from chemistry so I'd appreciate my more erudite colleagues here to suggest things. However, I found the tendency of all elements and molecules to form Octets very resonant of moves to the inextricable move of markets to round numbers, and their stability as of the noble gases once they reach there.

Also, one found the discussion of catalysts and inhibiters very resonant as some recurring things like aluminum chloride a catalyst like Janet Yellen or employment and inhibitors like enzyme inhibitors and the quiet before announcements also very common.

What are the acids and bases of the market? The activators? And how does total energy stay constant in markets in a closed system and what predictive value does it have like when the Greek news was very bad, the potential energy was so great for a move to the upside. An ignoramous like me poses these ideas and solicits some erudite thoughts and possibly paths to reduce his ignorance.

And of course, the most salient of all chemical relations. What is the periodic table of markets about. Which are the groups of similar behaved ones? Which are most reactive. Which combine and reduce and increase et al?

Jeff Watson writes: 

As of late, the equity market has been chugging along, with a bias to the upside but within a narrow range. News and reports that one would expect to wreak havoc and change on the market have not made it budge. One could compare the equities market to a buffer solution. A buffer solution is composed of a weak acid or base and it's conjugate acid or base in an aqueous solution. A buffer solution readily withstands a moderate amount of strong acid or base added to it where the pH will only change a little. Consider the market to be the buffer solution and the added acid or base to be the news or reports. Bad news does not make the market go down that much but conversely, the good news doesn't make it rally hard either. Along those lines, one would consider the buffer capacity to be the most important characteristic and measurement. The buffer capacity is a measurement of the resistance of a buffer solution to pH change with the addition of hydroxide ions. This can be easily quantified, and the formulas can be found in any quantitative analysis textbook. The buffer capacity of the market can be defined as how much resistance the market will have to change, given the amount of good or bad information supplied it.

Feb

3

"I'm healthy, and I'm competing with guys who are literally half my age or less. I don't personally tie anything to that. I don't care what my age is. These are my peers, and I'm surfing against them. If they have a problem that I'm older, then go ahead and beat me." — 42 year old surfing great, Kelly Slater.

Jan

24

This is a very good business lesson from Frank Zappa.

Jan

9

 Try playing this hold'em game mano a mano against the computer which has solved limit games with two people using artificial intelligence.

Ed Stewart writes: 

This article has an interesting quote perhaps relevant to our field:

"Another change (In the algorithm) involves skipping the usual step of averaging the latest strategy with all previous strategies; the algorithm just uses the most recent strategy.

"The algorithm goes from three steps to two steps," Burch explains. "We throw away the final step."

Jan

5

 Media advice is of little worth, except for a fade perhaps. After all, the primary purpose of the typical financial reporter is to make his/her quota in inches. Quantity over quality. The purpose of the financial media is to sell ads, make money, and hook you like a fly fisherman casting a fly at a trout. The TV financial media has been taken over by guest experts(touts). I avoid reading or listening to them like the plague as I prefer to make my decisions looking through my own lens, not the lens of others(who are observers, not players), second hand.

This broken down old grain trader looks at the financial media with a very flinty eye, much like one looks at the guys at the track who sell tout sheets when you walk past the turnstyle. Make your own decisions, keep your own counsel, and play your own hand. If you need advice, there are private subscription services, for a high price, that might, sometimes be worth listening to, but unless they have skin in the game avoid them like the plague.

Craig Mee writes: 

Everyone is now a salesman trying to justify themselves…listener beware. Funny how the country boys seem to do less talking and more listening and see things more clearly. I suppose that happens when you're not selling your soul on every deal as a means to pay the rent.

Jan

2

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."

-Damon Runyon

Dec

31

Really thin markets are always controlled by total insiders, that's why they are thin by design. Avoid them like the plague, because as the Chair has been known to say, stay out of markets where there are only a couple of market makers to take the other side, and they will only let you out at their price, not yours, or the last tick for that matter.

Dec

27

 The film version of Guys & Dolls is often repeated during the holiday period. It contains some sage advice on gambling, handicapping and, if you so desire, how to run a floating craps game without getting caught. It features a thirty-year-old Marlon Brando at the height of his acting powers as big time gambler Sky Masterson. Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska and so the financial advice should be reliable.

Here are some apposite quotes:

I know it's Valentine, the morning works look fine

You know, the jockey's brother's a friend of mine

And just a minute, boys I got the feedbox noise

It says the great-grandfather was Equipoise

I tell you Paul Revere, now this is no bum steer

It's from a handicapper that's real sincere

I'm pickin' Valentine cos on the mornin' line

The guy has got him figured at five to nine

So make it Epitaph, he wins it by a half

According to this here in the Telegraph

Nathan: Not Sky. He doesn't lend money. He bets money! So why don't I bet with him? Why don't I bet a thousand with him on something?

Nicely: You would bet with Sky Masterson?

Nathan: I am not scared. I am perfectly willing to take the risk, providing I can figure out a bet on which there is no chance of losing.

 Nathan: Offhand, would you say that Mindy sells more cheesecake or more strudel?

Sky: Going strictly by my personal preference, I'd say more cheesecake than strudel.

Nathan: For how much?

Sky: What?

Nathan: For how much?

Sky: Why, Nathan! I never knew you to lay money on the line. You always take your bite off the top.

Sky: Nathan, let me tell you a story. On the day I left home to make my way in the world, my daddy took me to one side. "Son," my daddy says to me, "I am sorry I am not able to bankroll you to a large start, but not having the necessary lettuce to get you rolling, instead, I'm going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, you do not accept this bet because, as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider. Now, Nathan, I do not suggest that you have been clocking Mindy's cheesecake.

Sky: But if I wish to take a doll, the supply is more than Woolworths has got beads.

Nathan: Not high-class dolls.

Sky: There's only one class: interchangeable.

Nathan: A doll is a doll?

Sky: All dolls, any doll. You name her.

Nathan: Any doll? Will you bet on that? Will you bet $1,00 bucks that if I name a doll, you can take the same doll to Havana with you tomorrow?

Sky: You've got yourself a bet.

Nathan: I name her.

Sky: Her?

Nathan: Sergeant Sarah Brown [head of the Christian mission].

Sky: Daddy! I got cider in my ear.

 Arvide: What are you unhappy about, son?

Sky: Gambling.

Sarah: Apparently you're a successful gambler.

Sky: Is it wrong to gamble, or only to lose? I'll come back for help when I'm broke.

Sarah: Don't misunderstand. It's just so unusual for a successful sinner to be unhappy about sin.

Sky: Besides, my unhappiness came up very suddenly. Maybe it'll go away again.

Arvide: We can keep you unhappy, son. Give us a chance. You don't look like a gambler at heart. What made you take it up?

Sky: Evil companions. Evil companions who are always offering me sucker bets.

Sarah: Just what is a sucker bet?

Sky: A bet that is reserved for suckers. For a gambler to get sucked in on such a bet is most humiliating. But to lose it means that you are marked for a very long time as a chump. You must go all out to win it.

Sarah: Is that so terrible, to be marked as a chump?

Sky: Among my people, being a chump is like losing your citizenship. A chump is an outsider, a yokel who will buy anything with varnish on it.

Sarah: Like a solid gold watch for a dollar?

Sky: This is a real chump.

Sky: Only one thing has been in as many hotel rooms as I have - the Gideon Bible. Never tangle with me on the Good Book. I must have read it a dozen times.

Sarah: If all that was no help to you…

Sky: Who says it wasn't? In one of my blackest moments I came up with a three-horse parlay: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

 Big Julie: And since I've been cleaned out of cash, I announce that I will now play on credit.

Nathan: Big Jule, you cannot imagine how exhausted they are. Especially on a non-cash basis. Me, personally, I'm fresh as a daisy.

Big Julie: Then I'll play with you.

Nathan: But I am not a player. I am merely the operator.

Big Julie: You been raking down out of every pot. You must have quite a bundle.

Nathan: Being I assume the risk, is it not fair I should assume some dough?

Big Julie: Detroit, I'm gonna roll ya, willy or nilly. If I lose… I'll give you my marker.

Nathan: And if I lose?

Gangster: You will give him cash.

Nathan: Let me hear from Big Jule.

Big Julie: You'll give me cash.

Nathan: I heard.

Big Julie: Here's my marker. Put up your dough. Anything wrong?

Nathan: "IOU one thousand. Signed X." How can you write "one thousand" but not your signature?

Big Julie: I was good in arithmetic but I stunk in English.

Nathan: Here. This'll put you through Harvard. Big Julie: I'm rollin' the whole thousand. And to change my luck, I'm going to use my own dice.

Nathan: Your own dice?

Big Julie: I had 'em made especially in Chicago.

Nathan: I do not wish to seem petty, but may I have a look at those dice? But these dice ain't got no spots on 'em. They're blank.

Big Julie: I had the spots removed for luck. But I remember where the spots formerly were.

Nathan: You are going to roll blank dice and remember where the spots were?

Big Julie: Detroit… do you doubt my memory?

Nathan: Big Julie, I have great trust in you.

 A lady wouldn't flirt with strangers

She'd have a heart, she'd have a soul

A lady wouldn't make little snake eyes at me

When I've bet my life on this roll

So let's keep the party polite

Never get out of my sight

Stick with me, baby, I'm the fella you came in with

Be a lady Luck, be a lady, Luck, be a lady Tonight

Jeff Watson writes:

Those are such great quotes. Runyon once said that all life is 6:5 against. You can make a hundred billion dollars like the Walton family has done, but Runyon's 6:5 grind ensures you will ultimately lose.

Dec

23

 American Exceptionalism. I have always hated that phrase and the perverse doctrines that accompany it. The American Constitution is remarkably exceptional; one wishes it were still followed. But the idea that we Americans were born or (equally bad) become endowed with some special grace is one that makes me look for the Exit sign in the hall every time I hear it.

It also reminds me of the disastrous presumption that infected so much of the period that Stern writes about and led to WW I.

Ed Stewart writes:

I notice that every time I start believing that I am an exceptional trader (like I did a few weeks ago), a large loss is near at hand. Best to curtail commitments at the hint of that feeling– the opposite of what the feeling suggests to do.

Gary Phillips writes: 

Success is more destabilizing emotionally than failure.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Failure is absolutely necessary–in fact, nothing is more necessary, in all aspects of life.

For one, it teaches the individual not so much not to do what caused the failure, but how to regroup, reassess and recover from failure. The lesson of failure is about what you do afterwards.

Many things in life require failure. No one learns, say, to lift a lot of weight, to solve a differential equation, or do a backflip on pavement, without failing many, many times. There is no may to accomplish many things in life without enduring the requisite and many failures required.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Failures teach you much more than successes which can lull you into complacency and hubris (like when you have 10 successes in a row). But you must attention pay attention to and analyze the failures inside and out. You have to ask yourself "why?". Ralph hit the nail on the head with his post.

Ralph Vince replies: 

The 13-year-old boy looks around the gym, struggling to lift pipsqueak weight. Failing.

I point to all the old smellies, putting up ungodly amounts of weight.

"You see those guys - every one? Every one of them failed at every increment, every 5 pound increment between what you are failing at and lifting what they lift and they failed at every increment over and over. That had to keep trying, eventually, sneaking up on it. Failure, repeated failure, is part of the process."

Dec

19

 It has been said by many biologists and vets that wild and domestic animals will appear to be healthy while they are really sick or terminally ill. It's a survival mechanism of the most basic order.

Reptiles often exhibit this type of behavior, within a 24 hour period going from relative calm to death spasms, then death. How many players in the markets put up fronts that all is well, while keeping their hand over a cut femoral artery because they are bleeding so badly.

Humans and animals use the same defense mechanism. Animals don't want to get eaten, and traders don't want the competition to know the weakness of their hands, so they act strong.

Dec

15

"It's easier to die when you have lived, than it is to die when you haven't. So I say to all of young people: go make memories, beautiful memories. When the time comes for you to go, you will not go alone."

-Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz

Dec

2

 An all seeing eye could write a novel about what happened today. Some lessons seem to cry out. Buy on the announcement of the bad news. Gold lost the vote in the mountains, and oil lost the OPEC meeting amid talk of 40 buck oil. They both sent up 10% or so from low. The first day of the month is the most bullish day. Great. Too many people know it. Great time to sell when it don't open the right way. Bonds, nas, and dax finally went down after 12 or 13 of the last 15 up. Nothing goes up forever even stocks and bonds. Gold's price up 50 bucks from its overnight low has nothing to do with deflation. It's beautiful, useful, and a hedge against evil. When the battleship is leaking, that's the time to buy. Commodities all around at 5 year low. They're up 3 or 5% today.

What other things do you see that the all seeing eye should note?

anonymous writes: 

The sneak attack has to come at night, on a holiday, when the Americans, and only the Americans, are eating turkey and on holiday, stuck in airports.

Ken Drees comments: 

The grains at the end of the summer–indeed. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

Something needs to be done to avoid the supposed "government shutdown" by Dec. 11. Talking about it could provide some mild market-related entertainment.

Steve Ellison writes: 

Silver made both a 20-day low and a 20-day high on Monday. Going back to 2006, I find no previous occurrences of such an event.

Craig Mee comments: 

It would appear the commodity turn around was a function of a Friday Monday suicide run created by combined single factors and then astute cover, not by a function of any meaningful low being in and a return to global meaningful growth.

Duncan Coker writes:

March Chicago wheat had a robust move to the upside almost at limit on Monday, which in this case was not mimicked by the other grains, in other words grain spreads got a lot wider.
 

Jeff Watson comments:

Yesterday, the spread between beans and wheat narrowed, and is still narrowing, while the spread widened with corn. Spreads in wheat stayed pretty much in line. Due to arcane exchange rules for the delivery in grains, there is much gamesmanship in the front month that's ready to expire. The gamesmanship comes from the cash side of the business.
 

Nov

19

 Dorian Paskowitz was the patriarch of America's first family of surfing. He died last night at age 93 as a result of complications from a broken hip. He surfed until last year. He was a Stanford educated MD who chucked it all and raised 9 kids in a succession of beat up old 24' RV's traveling to wherever the surf was good.

He did not believe in formal education for his kids, and preferred them to learn from wise people wherever they went. Money meant nothing to him. He was a health guru, and also ran the Paskowitz Surf Camp, which his kids run to this day. He did more for peace in Gaza than any politician by introducing surfing and teaching Palestinian and Israeli kids to surf, and to surf together.

I ran across him and got to know his clan over a 30 year period, and found him to be a perfect gentleman who was always willing to share a wave. Some of his kids are close friends of mine, and it looks like I might be making a quick trip to California for a paddle out in honor of Doc, whenever that happens. Doc and I fundamentally disagreed on everything political and economic, but he still had my respect.

Some notable quotes from Doc regarding health are as follows:

"Some of the most profound realizations that I came to about health did not derive from medicine, but derived from surfing."

"Health is a presence of a superior state of wellbeing, a vigor, a vitality, a pizzazz you have to work for every single day of your life."

His book Surfing and Health is one of the best books on health I have ever read.

RIP Doc.

Nov

5

 The dollar is strengthening. I remember when I was young in the 50s and 60s and the dollar was worth 350 yen, and 7 Francs. Bank accounts paid 5%. The world was a great deal. I wonder if that world will return.

David Lillienfeld writes: 

That was the world in which Jews and blacks couldn't own homes in some neighborhoods and could be refused service at will by any business. It was a world in which someone could be denied a job because of his/her sexual orientation, ditto for renting an apartment/buying a house. It was an era in which when women worked, they were expected to earn a fraction of what their male counterparts did, particularly if they were married since they weren't (it was assumed) the primary source of income for the family. It was a world in which a physician might not inform a patient of a diagnosis of cancer or pressure a patient to participate in a research study after the patient had declined to do so—in some instances, declined repeatedly. It was a world in which a black man with syphilis in a government study would be denied treatment in the interest of learning about the disease's natural history, though without the man having given any consent to be so studied. Ditto for Guatemala men and women, who were infected with syphilis by the US government with the same aim of learning about the natural history of syphilis. That world included an American government which didn't hesitate to listen in phone calls as it pleased and spied on persons as it pleased.

I could go on. There were lots of aspects of that world that were good economically, it's true, but there were lots of downsides, too. Maybe the level of discrimination is the same as back then—just less visible, but I'd like to think that we've matured as a society, as a country, such that there's been a reduction, ideally a significant reduction.

Is today better? Worse? I don't know that I can given an answer other than to note that it's a different world. Would I like our economy to be such that we had the dollar at 350 yen and 7 francs. You bet. But as for the rest of that world, I'm not so sure.

Jeff Watson writes:

But we live in a world where the poorest of the poor can own a smartphone and have the access to information greater than the library at Alexandria, in fact they have all the information of the world available to them. I'm very optimistic for the human race. Our poor are better off than Louis XVI in almost every way.

anonymous writes: 

The central conceit of many well intentioned people is that the poor are dumb and can't find their way around anything. We think the poor need help, and they need our money transferred via politicians to be made whole. As the Chair drums the cadence in our heads, it's "the idea that has the world in it's grip." That conceit needs to go away as it is just wrong. The war on poverty has cost enough to give every poor person a couple hundred grand, but the money has gone to programs, not the recipients. Not all poor are dumb at all, they are victims of circumstance. However, the war on poverty will continue, as will the war on drugs, terrorism etc as there's really big money in it for the insiders. 

Oct

17

 There is kind of a nice but terrifying symmetry in the chart looking at the last two days, with a big red line in the middle.

In candlestick theory when the open and close are the same, it shows some sort of balance between buyers and sellers forming a doji pattern. These kind of things are testable. Also supposed to evidence change in direction when it occurs after a decline or rise.

I imagine in the old days in feudal Japan they would paint their charts for the rice warehouse receipts with a brush and ink while sitting in the tatami mat room in a kimono warmed by a charcoal brazier.

Jeff Watson writes: 

This is a good accompaniment to Sogi-San's mention of rice: Dojima Rice Exchange.

Jim Sogi replies: 

The Seventeenth Century Japanese rice traders relied on horse riders and runners to get the news of the crops and the buying and selling. To beat the time delay one enterprising trader rigged a series of flags on hilltops to relay the info to him in town so he would have the info he needed to place his orders ahead of the other traders. Definitely our kind of guy!

Jeff Watson writes: 

The Japanese taught old man Rothschild a thing or two 50 years before his coup in London. Hail to thee who can get and act on information quicker than the opposition.

Etali writes:

When living in Hong Kong, I learned of the story of an early British banker anxiously awaiting on Victoria Peak for signs of arriving ships from London. Apparently , the banker and shipping crews had worked out a flag signalling system. Certain flags signalled that the business news from Europe was good. Upon seeing the "good" flag, the banker rushed to the exchange to get his buy orders in before the ship from London docked. Other flags indicated the news was bad and of course, the baker dumped shares before anyone else had the news. This particular banker went on to found one of the beginnings of a highly successful British merchant bank.

Balzac: "Behind every great fortune, there is a crime!"

Oct

7

 Finally Ag Commodities are getting a little break after months of straight down. Coffee up 7%. What was the explanation? Strong dollar dampens ags exports. Note that the yen and Euro are getting a little bounce today too after both being in downtrends for months. They are really driving the yen down.  

Jeff Watson writes:

But the question remains…Is Dec corn going to break 3 and are Nov beans going to break 9? Commercial hedging companies sell and deliver if necessary. The selling pressure from hedging companies is a real headwind in your face, even in a bull market. While one has enjoyed a respite from the continual decline in prices, one wonders….has the form changed, is this a bottom, or is this a selling opportunity? For the past year if you sold into strength in the grains and held for a couple of days, you made a very serious return. That's been the form and one wonders if it's changed. I recently got faked out in the grains around an important price point, and left 40% of the money on the table had I cashed in on Friday. Oh well, things could be worse…I'm a terrible poker player, and Ceres is very stingy. 

Sep

22

Trader, from Jeff Watson

September 22, 2014 | 2 Comments

 44 years ago, the Beach Boys went through a major shift and produced some incredible material. One of my favorite songs of theirs is the antithesis of who and what I am. It is called, "Trader," and blames the decline of everything on the spread of people willing to trade goods and services for the mutual benefit of both sides. Still, I love the song because I am above pettiness, will continue to love it, despite the message. My first summer girlfriend in San Diego, turned me on to this when I was 16, and if you saw her you would capitulate also.

Trader sailed a jeweled crown
Humanity rowed the way
Exploring to command more land
Scheming how to rule the waves.
Trader Trader spied a virgin plain
And named it for velvet robes
Wrote home declaring,
"There's a place
Where totally folks are free
(Happily completely)
Nourishment fills the prairies and the hillsides
And animals stalk the mountains and the seaside
And fish abound the lakes and birds the skies
Signed sincerely."

Trader found the jeweled land
Was occupied before he came
By humans of a second look
Who couldn't even write their names shame
Trader said they're not as good
As folks who wear velvet robes
Wrote home again and asked, "Please help
Their breasts I see; they're not like me
Banish them from our prairies and our hillsides
Clear them from our mountains and our seaside
I want them off our lakes so please reply
Signed sincerely."

Trader he got the crown okay
Cleared humanity from his way
He civilized all he saw
Making changes every single day say
Shops sprang over the prairies and the hillsides
Then roads cut through the mountains to the seaside
The other kind fled to hide, by and by,
And so sincerely
Cried."

This song is the antithesis of what I believe, and how I run my life, yet I love it and it will always be on my playlist…maybe for sentimental reasons, who cares. As a side note, when this song was recorded, the author and singer of this song, Carl Wilson was a 20% shareholder in a $150-$200 million dollar value enterprise.
 

Sep

11

Grains, from Jeff Watson

September 11, 2014 | 2 Comments

 One must note that the grain market is on its contract lows. 6 months ago, the mention of $5 Dec wheat would have gotten you laughed out of the room, and we're almost there. Same thing with Dec corn closer to $3 than to $4. Nov Beans blew through the $10 the other day and hasn't looked back yet. The gravitational effect of the nearest buck in the grain markets cannot be over-emphasized. Furthermore, the fundamentals like country movement, crop size, carryover, demand, and a few other things support the lower price theory. When beans were at $10.75, I joked that when they got down to $10, I would probably not want to own them at all. Same thing with $5 wheat.

anonymous writes: 

I have very few kernels of knowledge on the grains. But, hidden in Jeff's note I think are some essential points that apply to markets. First, the power of sentiment/positioning and the force of the subsequent shift or reversal of the same. Second, while moves often take time to develop when they do the move is often faster and farther than expected. Third, the momentum in prices that can be generated and the signaling indicators within those price changes and levels. Fourth, the fundamentals and/or perception thereof and the confluence they might have with other supporting factors. Fifth, how does the psychology and risk around such a situation develop and best be handled in terms of adding, cutting, reducing, etc..

Prospectively we might ask what other markets might display similar conditions now to the grains a few months ago?
 

Sep

10

 The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a journalist, is about the formation and the neurophysiological basis for habits and how to change them. I've been interested in this since I was younger. My essay to get into Reed College was about the neurophysiological changes in the brain of the Buddhist monks who meditate for hours everyday. It would take another 25 years before experiments shed any light on this subject. I've also followed behavioral psychology and thought there must be more to it than behaviorists documented.

Apparently the Basal ganglia, a primitive organ in the brain responsible for reflexes is changed when habits form. Habits form on a behavioral feedback loop where there is a cue, a routine and a reward. The habits are subconscious. There is no simple solution because habits are created in a complex environment. It's not always clear what the cue, the routine, or rewards are, and often they're not what first appears.

The author talks about simple habits, experiments with brain damaged patients, about alcoholism and AA, and habits of organizations. Everyone who reads the book wants a simple answer and cure to change their bad habits. It's not that simple. One has to look to see what the cues are and what the true rewards are. The book was a good read, and well documented with notes and sources.

Alston Mabry writes: 

The Power of Habit is a very interesting book. I would recommend, along with it:

Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney and The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge M.D.

Aug

28

 What can be learned from the ice bucket challenge–the challenge task itself, how it has spread, why people enjoy watching it, and how when you search for "ice bucket challenge" on YouTube the next suggestion is "ice bucket challenge fail". The ice bucket challenge fail video reminded me of a stop-stop order that has skidded out of control and exits much worse than expected.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Patrick Stewart has a most elegant way of handling the ice bucket challenge. This meme is transferred similar to a way the Chair described years ago.

Aug

15

 This goes with the chair's admonishment to never play poker with someone named doc. Never play poker with a magician either, you will always lose.

Larry Williams writes:

There is this trick I've seen which is perhaps the all time best card trick. I call you on the phone
a million miles away, you cut a deck and choose a card. I tell you what the card is. 

Seems impossible, until you know how it's done and that's a lot like trading.

Jeff Watson writes: 

Larry, bravo, but do you think
you should let the masses in on this trick? That trick is the bomb and a
variation of that is my current bet of the moment at the 13th hole of
my club. I try to be hush-hush about profit centers like these nice
little bar wagers, and any other prop bet, including wheat, which seems
to be at the center of the board on the craps table lately. The wheat
market's been asking how may ways does it take for the pass to be made 4
times in row with the dice?(I know the answer, just trying to provoke
some good insight from the readers).

Aug

14

This is an enlightening article written in March about crop insurance that should explain some things to the layman.

Aug

11

 In the grain markets, if you don't know who all the players are and what they're doing, you have no business playing. If you are gambling, the grains are just as good of place to lose your money as anything else. Even the best gamblers in the grains are, at minimum playing the pass line, and the house still has that hard to overcome 1.414% edge over them. Is the identity of the players and what they are doing as important in other markets or does the total size of those markets dwarf the individual or commercial? Can an individual move a financial market, for an appreciable time, anymore? In the grain markets the commercial interests expect the speculators to do all the heavy lifting, then skim off the creme and leave the whey to the speculators. Need to check the market in whey, I guarantee there is one.

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