Oct 18

CMU: Why most traders screw up counter-trend trades

By Jani Ziedins | Free CMU

Cracked.Market University

Counter-trend trades are one of the hardest ways to make money.That’s because traders fight an uphill battle and their timing needs to be flawless, otherwise they get run over. Despite these overwhelming odds, all too often traders cannot resist the temptation to argue with the market. In this post I will help you understand why counter-trend trading is so difficult, when it is okay to go against the trend, and the risks you face when doing it. Knowledge is power and the more you know going in, the better chances you have of coming out the other side alive, and maybe even with a little extra money in your pocket.

As I wrote in a previous educational post, most traders don’t understand contrarian investing. Too many people mistakenly believe contrarian trading is going against the trend. Nope, the trend has nothing to do with it. Contrarians go against the crowd, not the trend. Big, big difference and if you are a little unsure, check out my previous post.

There is nothing wrong with a stock or index that goes up. That’s how the S&P500 went from 100 to 200, 500 to 1,000, and why we currently find ourselves above 2,500. If an investor knows nothing else, smart money bets on the market going higher because that is what it does. Blame inflation, productivity, money printing, or anything else, it doesn’t really matter. Markets go up more than they go down and that’s all that matters to the long-term investor.

But we’re traders and we want to trade. We don’t want to sit idly through every gyration. Not only do we want to skip the next pullback, we want to profit from it by shorting the decline. Everyone knows markets go down, especially after it goes up “too much”.  Unfortunately that overly simple logic costs a lot of smart people a lot of money.

Markets move in waves and I cover this another educational post, but suffice to say every bit of up is followed by a normal and healthy bit of down. Trading these waves is not a bad thing as long as we keep selling high and buying low. Unfortunately that is a lot easier to say than it is to do.

For beginners, the best way to swing-trade is to ride the wave up, sell when after a nice run, and then wait to buy the next dip. This way you are always trading alongside the trend. If you buy a little too early or late, it doesn’t really matter because mistakes are fixed by waiting it out. Did the market keep going down after you bought the dip? No problem, just wait for the rebound to erase your losses. Hold a little too long and the market fell under your buy point?  No worries, simply wait for the next wave higher.

Counter-trend traders don’t have these same protections. If they screw up and don’t exit immediately, the losses only get bigger as the market marches away from them. Short an uptrend at the at the wrong time and the more stubborn you are, the more money you lose.

I will be honest, I short bull markets. But I also acknowledge this is a low-probability trade and am doing it more for entertainment than to make money. But as long as I pick the right entry point, the risks are manageable.

The key to surviving counter-trend trades is to assume a trend will continue and it requires proactive timing. Short a move to the top of the range, not a violation of the lower end. As I said earlier, markets move in waves and the best short opportunities are when everyone is fat and happy. By the time traders are nervous and the headlines dire, it is too late. At that point a smart traders is thinking about buying the dip, not shorting the weakness. And when counter-trend trades show a profit, get paranoid of a rebound and start looking for an excuse to cash-in.

Remember trends continue countless times, but they reverse only once. The odds always favor a continuation of the previous trend and smart traders stick with the high probability trade.

There are ways to identify a trend that is dying and about to reverse. That sounds like an excellent topic for another blog post! Signup for Free Email Alerts so you don’t miss it.

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Oct 17

Why bulls need to be careful

By Jani Ziedins | End of Day Analysis

End of Day Update:

The S&P500 closed at yet another record high on Tuesday. Never mind the fact we only moved 0.07% above Monday’s record close, which was up only 0.18% from Friday’s close. Records are records and today counts…right?

For those of us that are paying attention, this looks a lot like a lethargic wedge higher and suggests this market is running out of gas, not on the verge of exploding higher. Explosive moves are by definition explosive. A tiny trigger blossoms into in a much larger move. Sometimes it is an unexpected headline, other times a technical breakout. But something triggers a surge of buying and away we go.

Unfortunately this wedge higher is the opposite of explosive. We keep getting good news. Today the Trump administration said they wouldn’t put conditions on repatriated profits and companies could use their newly liberated cash for dividends and buybacks. More cash in shareholders’ pockets is always a good thing. Then there was the technical the breakout as we moved into record territory. The cumulative result of both of these bullish developments, a measly 0.07% gain. Something so small it doesn’t even qualify as a rounding error.

Every day bulls are trying to push us higher, but the gains are getting smaller and smaller. That reeks of exhaustion, not unbridled potential. Without a doubt it is encouraging we managed to hold recent gains. Typically markets tumble from unsustainable levels quickly. This strength comes from owners who are confidently holding for higher prices and few are taking profits. Their conviction keeps supply tight and props up prices. Unfortunately propping appears to be the best bulls can manage. We need new buyers to keep this rally going and right now those with cash are reluctant to chase prices any higher.

Everyone knows the market moves in waves and it is obvious from the chart this market is at the upper end of its range. I still believe in this bull market and am most definitely not a perma-bear predicting a crash. But I recognize when the market gets ahead of itself and needs to consolidate recent gains. Without a doubt we reached a point where we need to cool off.

The quickest way to consolidate recent gains is dipping back to support. That is a normal and healthy way to reset the clock and clear the way for a continuation higher. The slower route is trading sideways for a longer period of time and allowing the trend lines and moving averages to catch up. We’re only a couple of weeks into this sideways trade and it would take several more weeks of treading water before we come close to consolidating recent gains. As a point of reference, the 50dma is still 70-points underneath us.

Strictly looking at the market dynamics, at best we trade sideways for several weeks. Worst we dip back to 2,500 support. Either way this is not a great time to be putting new money into the stock market.

If we move beyond the market and consider looming headlines, Republicans are making good progress toward tax reform. Without a doubt this encouraging news contributed to recent gains. But it doesn’t take a political science degree to know these negotiations get ugly, often to the point of crushing all hope moments before a deal is finally reached. That is standard operating procedure for Congress and we should expect more of the same here.

Republicans are currently in the brainstorming phase where everything and anything goes. But soon they will transition to the compromise stage where opposing sides and special interests dig in and threaten to blow the entire thing up if they don’t get their way. It is only time before the current feelings of hope for tax cuts devolve into cynicism. Most likely that shift in sentiment will be the catalyst that triggers a pullback to support.

Without a doubt our politicians could unexpectedly announce fair and reasonable tax reform ahead of schedule, but I certainly wouldn’t bet my money on it. Between the price-action and the headline environment, I suspect the next few weeks will be a lot more challenging for the stock market.

Buy-and-hold investors should stick with their favorite stocks, but shorter-term traders should look for opportunities to lock-in profits and the most aggressive can think about shorting. That said, the path of least resistance is still higher and any dip should be bought. This will be nothing more than a normal and healthy dip on our way higher.


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Oct 16

CMU: Are You a Victim of Beginner’s Luck?

By Jani Ziedins | Free CMU

Welcome to the new Cracked.Market University educational series. Look for new articles every Monday and Wednesday.

CMU: Are You a Victim of Beginner’s Luck?

Hang around trading circles and you inevitably hear of a phenomena called beginner’s luck. This is where a new person experiences unusually good fortune. How can a new person be more lucky than the experienced traders around him? Let’s investigate.

Statistics make a compelling argument a beginner has no better odds of success in a game of chance than someone who has been doing it for a while. Let’s simplify it to a game of betting on a coin-flip. If he predicts heads and the coin lands heads, he wins. If the coin lands tails, he loses. Simple enough.

Assuming a fair coin and toss, we would expect the outcome to be totally random for both the novice and the experienced coin-flip guesser. If there is zero ability to predict the outcome, skill has nothing to do with it and the result is down to random luck. Under these rules, a beginner and an experienced coin-flip guesser will have same level of success, on average winning half the time. Despite superstitious beliefs to the contrary, in games of chance a beginner has no more opportunity to be lucky than the experienced coin-flip guesser.

In a game of skill, you would definitely expect a more experienced participant to do better than a novice. An 18-year-old who has been playing football since he was six would most likely enjoy more success in a pickup football game than another 18-year-old foreigner who has never seen a football game.

It doesn’t take a genius to know the more you practice something, the better you get. This makes sense and no doubt applies to trading. But the skill that comes from experience implies the exact opposite of beginner’s luck. In most instances the novice will vastly underperform the experienced professional.

So where does this notion of beginner’s luck come from? Is there a way it can still be true despite these logical and compelling arguments against beginner’s luck?

The one thing we haven’t considered yet is human nature. A person who loses a lot of money in their first handful of trades will most likely quit in disgust. After losing $5k, $10k, or $20k in their first handful of trades, they will most likely come to the conclusion the market is rigged and it cannot be won. They quit and never look back.

But the opposite is true for a person who experienced early success. If a person makes $5k, $10k, or $20k on their first few trades, they think they have a knack for trading and become addicted to the thrill of winning. Without a doubt the people who experience early success are far more likely to stick with it and keep coming back. That early success will even convince traders to stick with it after a period of losses because in their heart they know they are good at this. It is only a matter of time before their cold streak ends and their luck improves.

So while it is true a beginner has no better odds of success in a game of chance, and a worse odds of success in a game of skill, beginner’s luck is still a very real phenomena in trading circles. That is because of survivor’s bias. Early losers quit and only the traders who enjoyed early success stuck around. Tha means in any groups of experienced traders, most of them started with a hot streak.

Unfortunately beginner’s luck is not sustainable and all too often trader’s mistakenly believe their early good fortune was due to skill, not luck. Rather than dig in and learn from more experienced traders, they assume they have this game figured out and don’t need any help. Their early success convinced them they already know everything they need to know. Only after they lose their first stake do they start looking for outside guidance.

If you are reading this, most likely you experienced some early success and that encouraged you to keep at it. But now things have gotten harder and losses are more common than profits. While it hurts, realizing trading is not easy is actually a good thing. And if you figured this out early, count yourself lucky. Traders who experiences too much early success keep upping the size of their trades until inevitable fall goes from emotionally demoralizing, to financially ruinous.

I’m glad you found this blog and my goal is to help other traders learn from my years of struggles and successes. No matter what the late night infomercials claim, trading is hard and it takes work. The first step is educating yourself. The second step is gaining firsthand experience by trading smaller sizes. The goal isn’t to make money, but to learn how to trade. The best way to approach the market in the beginning is viewing your account as the amount you are willing to pay in tuition. If you have $100k, start trading $20k. If you have $10k, start trading $2k. This way when you get wiped out, you have the ability learn from your mistakes and start over. Give yourself enough time to learn from your mistakes and your chances of success go way up.

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