As a private stock trader you should not see yourself in the role of the player, you should always see yourself in the role of the casino.
The reason why the casino always wins in the long run is solely due to an above average (read: >50%) probability of coming out ahead in each an every game they offer.
They achieve this 99% due to game design, the remaining 1% are jedi mind tricks such as the colors they use, the cozy carpet, free drinks or the maze structure at the venue.
A prominent example of a ‘rigged’ game is roulette. Roulette would had a 50% chance of winning and losing, just like coin flipping, if not for the 0 or ‘house wins’ button. And I guess we don’t have to talk about the slot machines.
So a casino stacks all the odds in each game they offer in their favour to ensure that they can’t lose in the long run. Apparently this is very valid business idea. Go check the charts of Stocks such as LVS, WYNN or MGM.
The real question is how can we mimic the casino and stack the odds in our favour as private stock traders?
The answer to this is twofold, and this article will cover only part of it. What I explain here is an important level in the Pyramid of Stock Trading Success!
First a trader can easily develop an edge over time simply by being more experienced than most other traders. 95% of all non-mentored self thaught traders hand over all their funds within a year or two before they quit. This is a higher truth of the stock market which most traders neglect. You stick around long enough and chances are that you will become a net profitable trader automatically.
But we don’t only talk about the stocks we trade in, we also have to consider the stock we choose not to engage with.
So the second thing is to make sure you never participate in high risk/low profit trades in the first place.
You achieve this by adhering to a multi-layered safety mechanism which prevents you from being ambushed from behind and allows you to survive the learning curve (especially the first couple years)
Here is a quick summary:
A more detailed explanation of each layer follows below:
Layer 1: You always cut your losses quickly
This one is so simple yet most traders are unable to do it. When your business risk, defined by your stop loss is hit you exit the trade. You do this when price slowly runs into your stop, you do it when a stock quickly takes you out and you certainly also do it when a stocks gaps down 20% beyond your stop overnight.
Every story of a blown account started with a trader not being able to get out of a losing trade.
Want to trade full-time for a living one day? Well then get out of your trades asap when they hit your stop loss price.
Layer 2: Keep you position sizes in check
Did you ever see a casino with only one big roulette table in the center of the hall? No? Well the casino would be in a bad spot if they had to rely on only one game. One lucky player and the casino would be in trouble.
When you trade in highly correlated growth stocks hold at least 3 to 4 names in your portfolio to be fully (100%) invested so that a single stock black swan event doesn’t hurt too much. Better hold 6 to 8.
Layer 3: Avoid stocks with a risky business case
In most cases this applies to smaller biotechnology stocks. Such stocks can have huge range expansions when a study show promising results. However if the study suddenly fails or the FDA decides against a new potential drug or treatment those names can disintegrate in an instant. This is especially true when their business case is built on only one or two products.
Then there are shady stocks with a hyped business case. I remember MGT which was a new security company. They prominentely got McAfee on board and then quickly hopped onto the crypto mining train in order to fund their security stuff. They exploded higher before imploding and were soon delisted.
And this brings us to the next layer.
Layer 4: Avoid penny stocks
Penny stocks lure in traders with 100, 200% or sometimes even lager daily moves. You simply avoid junk which can be moved by a single trader or group of traders. More often then not insiders pump up such stocks to suck in weak hands before selling them all their shares. Once that liquidity is gone you can be trapped in such a name losing it all.
Some argue that every stocks was once a penny stocks. Well, first this is obviously not true and second you are better off waiting until it matures so that the big -less nervous- money starts to trade in the name.
Layer 5: Don’t short buyout candidates
Don’t short small or midcap companies with an innovative or even revolutionary product or service. Chances are they are bought by a bigger company when you least expect it. This is especially true when they possess technology which is already used by or which can boost the product or the service of a larger company.
My rule is to never short anything below 70B market cap. However I violate this rule on an intraday basis sometimes when I see climax moves in smaller names. So the rule is more like this.
This rule includes well known growth stocks such as TSLA, NFLX, LNKD, MBLY and ACIA.
Well, guess why!
ACIA is a recent example and everyone who was short the stock into the merger news (many did due to the “bearish” reversal) now need a 60% win just to compensate their 37% loss. Those traders are now in a very weak position. I can relate because I also once suffered a 40% overnight gap loss. Details follow in Layer 8!
Layer 6: Avoid stocks with small floats
Stocks which only make a small amount of their overall outstanding shares available in the free markets posses certain risks which you must be aware of. First of all a small float decreases the effective market cap.
What I mean is that a stock with a 400M USD market cap (40M shares outstanding multiplied by 10$ share price) but a low float of only 4M shares behaves like a stock with an effective market cap of only 40M USD (4M shares float multiplied by 10$ share price).
Keep this in mind and make sure that you use this effective market cap in your baseline quality screen. If your screener doesn’t allow to search for it directly you have to calculate it manually.
The second danger with low float stocks is that of secondary offerings. Most companies couldn’t care less about the impact of such an offering on stock price so they often announce it when the stock is battered already. I have zero clue why they don’t announce it into strength.
Layer 7: Avoid illiquid stocks
This is a cousin rule to layer 4 (penny stocks) and layer 6 (low float ratio).
Make sure that the trading vehicle you engage with allows you to quickly move in and out. Depending on your account size this means that you simply can’t trade in certain stocks unless you use ineffective position sizes.
Illiquid stocks can be identified as follows:
A) A steady and coherent price action is a sign of high liquidity while jagged price action with huge tails is a sign of low liquidity
B) When the stocks is trading quietly on low volume you simply test the liquidity with a buy or sell order. If you can enter and exit with one or maybe two clicks (orders) everything is fine.
Layer 8: Don’t gamble on earnings
Giving up control in exchange of profit potential is never a good trade. You might disagree with me but the earnings reaction of a stock is a gamble with a 50/50 probabilty just like coin flipping.
Gambling on earnings means that you sit through earnings without any profit cushion so that you hazard the consequences of a -30% overnight gap down on you. Why would anybody do that unless he is a true gambler.
Remember you should act like the casino and not the gambler!
However if you have a large profit cushion you can sit through earnings with a reduced size. Always position size so that a potential -30% earnings move against you would not make you blink!
I’d go so far and say that a earnings gambler will never be a net profitable full time trader.
Guess who was a gambler once? LITB gapping down in 2013 with me being long a full position cured me from “gambling” for all times.
Layer 9: Use Preset stop loss orders and have phone line to broker
This one is special because many traders disagree with me on that one.
I always set a stop loss order which my broker can actually see. But I never ever felt that someone was going for my stop. Shakeouts move typically end on a PLL so you simply place your stops in a proper way.
I would never even go to the bathroom without a stop. I experienced a couple flash crashes already in my 10 year career so I know the risk.
The other reason why you should use preset stop loss orders is because the internet can go down or the trading station of your broker can stop working (never happend to me with Interactive Brokers).
In such a case it also comes in handy when you have a direct telephone line to your broker. Most brokers only offer that for clients with larger accounts. But even if you still trade small it doesn’t hurt to simply ask, maybe you are lucky.
Layer 10: Only trade in quality stocks
Create a quality baseline screening filter to make sure to only watch charts of quality stocks which are also in the eye of large stock market participants. Avoid all the rest and don’t even look at the charts.
A reasonable base-line filter is shown here. I also want to see good fundamentals. Here I focus on only two parameters. Forward EPS growth and/or quater over quater sales growth.
If you want to become sensitive to the little price and volume clues of high potential growth stocks you must make sure to only watch these higher quality stocks. If you watch charts of penny stocks or other junk every liquid stock does look ‘good’ to you I suppose.
I am proud to only engage and trade in my own little stockmarket within the stockmarket.
Apply all 10 layers on top of each other for 100% of the time and you are properly shielded against big losses.
I fully adhere to my “safety net” because I experienced first hand what can happen if you don’t. And if you believe that you need penny stocks and earning gambling to make money in the stock market you are on the wrong track.
With such a multi-layered shield (or “composite armor” or “safety net”) in place you can now focus all your attention on developing an edge over other traders by improving your actual stock handling and portfolio management skill over time.
If you do this you are on the winner cycle already and true stock market success in only a matter of time.