Lesson 2b: What it really means to trade proactively

By Jani Ziedins | Free CMU

Mar 02

Cracked.Market University

I often say, “Trade proactively, not reactively.” This is even the second rule on my list of 23 Trading Rules. But in extremely volatile markets, it warrants expanding on what this simple phrase actually means.

The longer version is, “Trade proactively based on a sensible trading plan, not reactively by listening to your tardy emotions of fear and greed.”

While this expanded rule isn’t as catchy as the original, it makes a lot more sense in crazy volatile markets. That’s because in unpredictable times, we need to be reacting to the market’s moves, just not in the traditional sense.

Traditional “reactive trading” is making tardy decisions when the pain of regret overwhelms us. This is selling after markets already collapsed and we are “afraid things are going to get worse”. Or buying long after the breakout is obvious and we are “afraid of missing out”.

Reacting emotionally to the market’s moves long after they happen is trading a day late and a dollar short. To be clear, we should never allow ourselves to fall for these tardy trading decisions because they are extremely expensive and our regret is often compounded when the market turns against us a second time (i.e. bailing out just before the rebound or chasing a huge breakout right before the pullback).

If that’s the bad kind of reactive, what is the good kind? Proactive. Moving early. Before it is obvious to everyone. The key is not moving based on gut or intuition, but a thoughtful trading plan. One that we came up with when we were relaxed and deliberate in sketching out our trading decisions.

This is important because in crazy emotional markets, we cannot use conventional trading rules. Support/resistance/etc, none of that matters when the crowd is losing its mind. These huge disruptions move markets further and faster than anyone imagines possible. We need a trading plan that accounts for these extreme moves. The only way to do that is to throw out the conventional rules and react to the market proactively.

Last week’s selloff obviously went too far, too fast and everyone knew a sharp bounce was coming. The problem is no one knew when. Buy the dip a little too early and you watch devastating losses pile up. Get in a little too late and most of the discounts are long gone. And worse, if you are really late, you could be jumping in moments before the next collapse.

If we know the market is going to make a huge move but we don’t know when, the easiest way to trade it is to jump on every move early and see what happens. The market easily could have bounced last Monday morning and that dip was definitely worth buying. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the bottom. But if we started our trade small, got in early, and had a sensible stop, we would have gotten knocked out with a minor loss. And not only that, if we were aggressive, we shorted the violation of the prior lows while waiting for the next bounce. Then we get to do this all over again Tuesday. Cover the overnight short for a healthy profit, buy the first bounce, start small, and keep a tight stop. If that was the bottom, great. If not, short the next violation of prior lows. As it happened this time, we got to repeat this process Wednesday, Thursday, and even Friday.

As it turned out, I spent all week trying to buy the inevitable bounce and while I was wrong 4 out of 5 times, my thoughtful trading plan kept racking up a pile of money on my shorts. But that dip-buying persistence finally paid off Friday when the market bounced from those early lows and didn’t fizzle. One day later and we are 250-points above Friday’s opening lows. Not bad.

Not very often can we be wrong all week but still make a pile of money. But I had a sensible, thoughtful, and proactive trading plan. That was the difference between making money last week and getting killed.

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Tags: S&P 500 Nasdaq $SPY $SPX $QQQ $IWM


About the Author

Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and financial analyst that has successfully traded stocks and options for nearly three decades. He has an undergraduate engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines and two graduate business degrees from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes engineering at Fortune 500 companies, small business consulting, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two children.