Our decade long learning journey to become profitable traders
The learning curve rarely repeats but oftentimes rhymes. Read about our pivotal moments in order to avoid reinventing the wheel.
Starting from scratch
I was born, raised and currently live in a country with a solid retirement system where nobody invests in anything except their homes, let alone the “evil” stock market. Over here in risk-averse Germany we don’t even talk about stocks, I have met two maybe three guys in my entire life with whom I was able to chat a little about my late-discovered passion. Most have the strong belief that you must find a good bank which provides you with a nice diversified fund run by one of those magicians hiding on the top floor of their ivory towers in New York, London or Frankfurt. But that misconception is part of another story.
My dad once dropped out of a multiday monopoly match within the first two hours because he refused to loan any play money from the bank, go figure! My uncle on the other side emigrated to Vancouver, Canada after the war where he used to be a woodworker. It was only later that I found out that he lost roughly 60k (USD or Deutsch Mark) in the Canadian and US stock market in the 1970s (A fortune back then). I suppose that this financial loss made him nervous and was the reason for him to come back to Germany in the 80s where he retired eventually. My Mom told me once that he used to draw stock charts every day while reading the newspaper. So apparently he continued to think, or even trade the markets after his return. After he died I went through his belongings but wasn’t able to find anything stocks related at all. I’d love to reconstruct his stock market adventures but I suppose he destroyed all of his records. Maybe he simply wanted to forget about his loss? I don’t know and can only speculate over the reasons. So my dad has a high risk aversion while my uncle gambled in stocks. My grandpa (father side) was also a gambler, fast liver and locally respected artist. So who knows, maybe all that willingness to take risks is inheritable after all and can skip a generation.
Back to my story. I didn’t had any background in finance or any interest in it either as a teenager. As an US american this might sound far-fetched but over here in Germany the .dot com bubble runup or even the 2008 collapse wasn’t a thing. In 1999 when the US stock market produced fresh millionares left and right most adults in Germany only cared about making their computers Y2K ready. 10 years later when the financial crisis hit I was in my mid twenties and didn’t even fully realize that there was a crisis until 2009 when I started to get in touch with the markets. Even home owners over here couldn’t have cared less about Lehman’s and Bear Stearns going belly up. However we did take note of the 2011 EU debt crisis but it didn‘t hurt our bank accounts at all as money in the closet and under your pillow -the preferred place where Germans like to put their money to sleep- isn‘t really susceptile to stock market volatility and as long as inflation is kept in check everything is fine over here!
enginee risk aversion in the house!
It is beyond me how people over here are still put off by the idea to invest in stocks even today in times of negative interest rates. I am not talking about German banks because they obviously know how to play and lose the game just as well as their US counterparts.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
You can start late (I was 28 years old) with zero prior knowledge
The willingness to take risks is a character trait. Could very well be inheritable
If you want extraordinary things to happen you gotta take some risks, knowing that it can backfire.
A book lit my passion
Back to how I came in touch with the markets. It was in 2009 and I was sitting in my office at the university doing some late hour research. I can’t remember how exactly it happend but I must have clicked some clickbait ad or news and suddenly found my self reading an article about stock trading as a brief distraction from work at that moment. Recall that I had zero interest in that kind of stuff at all, I just recently started to develop a strong love for climbing and had that on my mind 24/7. Regarding my engineering and science job, well I liked it but just wasn’t passionate about it.
In that article they mentioned the book ‘How to make money trading stocks‘ from William O’Neil’ (Yes, of course it was that one). I recall searching for a pdf version without success and instead downloaded another book ‘The Battle For Investment Survival’ by Gerald M. Loeb onto my cluttered windows desktop. Don’t worry, I regularly bought the book a year later.
So for a short 30 mins the stock market had my full attention and in hinsight that brief moment late in the evening in my office was all the time needed to change my life. But not yet on this day! I skimmed the book briefly and forgot about it quickly after going back to my original task at hand. My research back then demanded my full attention as I was busy putting together my Master’s thesis in material science.
Fast forward roughly half a year when I finally had to clean up my windows desktop. Yeah I am one of those guys who likes to create piles on his desk, be it virtual or in real life. Anyway, I rediscovered the book that day, decided to print it and read the whole thing that night in my bed. I never looked back and in the ensuing months and years I spend roughly 4k € on trading books on Amazon. I was hooked by the idea that you can make money by ‚buying into‘ companies like AMZN, GOOGL, MSFT or IBM without the need to study finance or wear a suit (I hate suits). Little did I know that another decade of passionate study lay ahead of me.
And as my understanding of the markets as an independent entity grew, so did my love for it. Once it dawned on me, that I can create my own fortune from home by learning to handle visual information and navigate the ‘madness of crowds’ without having to deal with Wall Street and the financial world,…
…I was all in.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
You gotta develop a deep passion about the things you want to master knowing that this passion will be the only fuel to keep you going at times.
It is much more easy to develop that passion if you find early guidance which makes sense to you (In my case it was simply a book).
Trading as a science, a fallacy?
Year 1 & 2
I am a visual guy, I was drawing a lot as a kid and both my Dad and his Dad are artists. I always excelled at visual puzzles and riddles and somehow I ended up with an engineering degree despite an early passion for computer design in the mid ninties. The point is that I was lucky to find a book about trading (not to be confused with investing!) which focused on visuals, (read: stock charts) to begin with. It all made sense and sounded simple and straight forward to me. Pick a growth stocks with a constructive chart and according to some given fundamental metrics and with some luck (read: probability) it will turn into one of those monsters I read about in ‘Monster Stocks‘ by John Boik. Rinse and repeat and you’ll make a fortune in no time.
The rational me figured that all I had to do was to write down every little piece of valuable information from all those books and articles in a notebook. You have to see it to believe it and that insanity was only topped by my excel spreadsheet where I manually filled over 60 columns every morning from 6 to 7 AM with data from eIBD, MarketSmith screens and other online sources. Here you can read more about my failed attempt to outsmart the markets with my awesome and useless engineering and science skills. I even tried to reverse engineer Dr. K’s market timing model at that time because I truly believed that this must be the holy grail right there. In hinsight all this stuff was a colossal waste of time and certainly prolonged my learning curve for at least a year or two.
When it comes to active trading, every minute which you don’t spend accumulating practice in chart reading and trying to grasp how the market really operates is a wasted minute. It just strikes me that the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule might be suitable here. Spend 80% of the time watching the market and stocks move on your screen (doesn’t have to be intraday) and 20% of the time doing ‚scientifically backed research to discover the real get-rich-quick holy grail trading system which is somewhere out there waiting to be discovered by you‘.
You guys got the irony right?
The Pareto principle is something which should actually be taught in school in my opinion. Some might see it as common sense but understanding general principles like this or the law of dimishing returns and the principle of Occam’s razor can save you a lot of time over the years. And I am not just talking about trading here. A great example is the income you can earn as an employee. You’ll reach 80% rather quickly but to tap into the uper 20 or even 5% you have to invest a lot more energy and time while the income of the company owner is not affected by this. This is the very definition of the rat race. As a trader you are also not affected by dimishing returns early on. However the principle starts to apply again, once you have to put some more eggs in your basket (read more about diversification for growth stock traders in my aricle here) and can’t exploit the most explosive small cap stocks anymore due to your growing account balance. Trading is one of the few endeavours left which allows you to leave the rat race, renting is another one. Here an easy read on the inability of the current generation to understand the role of owning land when it comes to leaving the rat race via passive income. Active trading however is not a passive income source for obvious reasons.
So if you are a profitable active trader relying on your skill you still must try to create passive income via lending, renting or investing directly into smaller start ups. Active trading requires you to be both sharp and healthy, both traits which can be taken away by accidents or detoriate quickly as you age. Moreover you can’t expect your kids to turn into profitable traders so it is a reasonable effort to leave a legacy which can be carried on more easily by your offspring.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
You can’t outwit the markets by intelligence or problem solving skills alone. Otherwise, Nobel prize winners would have an easy time with the markets.
Spent your time and dose your effort wisely (Principle of dimishing returns).
Spent the majority of time practicing the craft you want to master (Pareto Principle).
Only add complexity when needed. Do what works and use that as a foundation (Occam’s razor).
Stop losses to the rescue
Year 2 – present
After saving up my initial 10k stake and studying the markets for almost two years I finally opened my frist broker account in Q2 2011. It didn’t start well and my account balance slowly but steadily sloped downward from day one. The fact that the EU crisis hit at the exact same time didn’t help either. The market was one giant moshpit during that year as it was trading in a 15% wide sloppy channel. As a diehard O’Neil follower I bought into every base breakout during that time and boy did I suffer. I recall having over 10 stop loss hits in a row during my first months in the market. What a nice and warm welcome by Mr. Market. I was humbled but learned my lesson and as a result, never ever let a stock trade through my stops without excecuting them in 8 years of trading real money. Needless to say that I failed to seize the opportunity that arose right after the crisis in 2012 as I was still licking my wounds and traded from a position of weakness.
In hinsight this brutal initial period was the single best thing that could have happended to me early on. I was forced to adhere to my stops from day one just to survive and that safety net is deeply ingrained ever since.
In 2013 I got caught in a nasty overnight gap down in $LITB and closed the trade within the first minute of the next trading day without a second guess.
A major lesson in risk management early on. $LITB gapped down 40% overnight after reporting weak earnings. I entered late and ignored three red flags. I cut my huge loss quickly and learned for good that you never ever hold a stock through earnings with a full position size.
It was already like a reflex or an instinct by that time and in hinsight I am surprised that I didn’t hold it a little longer intraday to get out at a better price. This incident really shows how I approached my stops and losses from day one and it is probably the number one reason why I am here today without an account crash under my belt. It goes without saying that this LITB trade was also the last time that I gambled on earnings ever since.
Today I rarely hold a position through an earning announcement at all. And if I do, I make sure to scale out beforhand so that even a 30% gap down wouldn’t make me blink. Besides my strict adherence to stop losses and the avoidance of earnings, another big part of my story is surely the fact that I never ever switched trading systems. Today I am looking at the same type of charts and similar entries compared to 10 years ago. I have a small universe of stocks including recent IPOs, more mature growth stocks and a couple disruptive names. I never touched a penny stock or futures in my life and only dabbled in options for half a year before abondoning it again. I like to keep things simple and believe that the stock market is all about specialization. I have yet to find an all-rounder who manages to juggle all the different markets and trading approaches with any noteworthy success. Don’t get me wrong here, it is perfectly find to switch systems early on until you find one which suits your personality and lifestlye. But once you are set it is all about gathering experience. Many years later you will realize that the system you picked had nothing to do with your success. You simply turned yourself into a trader over the years and you slowly realize that the” holy grail” is actually your skill accumulated over time. At that point the system doesn’t matter anymore.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Defense first, profits second. Having to dig your way out of a deep hole all the time is very taxing.
Always cut your losses short and exit a trade when it hits your predetermined trade specific max risk threshold.
You exit when a trade slowly trades through your loss but also when it gaps 20% below it overnight. You do this to preserve emotional and monetary capital so that you can seize fresh opportunity ahead.
The cheesy golden rules of trading
Year 5 – present
In my opinion the discipline to stick to one system and the ability to cut your losses quickly is the perfect combination of traits you want to aquire as a trader early on. And it shouldn‘t surprise anyone that those two rules are commonly referred to as the golden rules of trading.
If you don’t cut your losses you won’t survive long enough to make it through the learning curve. And if you hop systems all the time your learning curve will be prolonged into eternity.
As you can see both rules are extremely synergetic on a very basic level and together they build the foundation on which you can raise just any imaginable trading endeavour. If you already read a couple books about trading you probably didn’t pay much attention to the last couple sentences because you are so fed up with the so called “golden rules”. But if I would sit next to you right now I wouldn’t allow you to continue reading until you at least reread this paragraph at least five more times.
So just imagine me sitting right there next to you and politely asking you to reread it again at least one more time. Could you deny me that request? Without adhering to the golden rules you will not stand any chance, period!
As a novice starting from scratch you might argue that you need to find a working system in the first place to begin with. As a matter of fact there is no such thing as a working trading system in the beginning and there are certainly no secrets which you could possibly discover beforehand. Do some research to get a good overview of the different trading approaches and then decide wether you want to focus on charts or on fundamentals or something else depending on what you enjoy most. The next step is to simply pick an entry method. That could be a simple moving average crossover, a known candlestick pattern, break of resistance or even an earnings announcement, It doesn’t really matter.
The magic ingredient which will turn almost any system into a working one is your skill and you won’t have much of it in the beginning. You might have talent but you better not confuse talent with skill at this point.
I have a concept which I call the “winner and loser cycle”. When you start out fresh you are in the loser cycle, call it beginner at that time if you want but you will likely lose. Once you have a solid foundation in place you will transition to the winner cycle eventually. Being on the winner cycle means that you accepted that there is no holy grail and that you have to live the process of failing forward until you made it.
I promise to create a less messy version of the concept soon.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Accept that their is no magical pixie dust which turns you into a profitable trader thus skipping the learning curve.
Once you found a style you enjoy get a strong foundation in place via solid money management and strict protection rules. Once inside the winner cycle you will accumulate quality practice hours and slowly transition towards profitability as your stock handling and chart reading skills grow over time
An unexpected wingman
Year 2 & 3
In late 2011 I came back in touch with a close friend of mine. We lost contact for a couple years and as we have met again we quickly realized that we both suddenly had a common interest in the financial markets. And we never ever talked about that kind of stuff since we first met in 5th grade.
With quantuum mechanic’s entangling, black holes, and stuff like the holographic theory of our universe you really have to wonder from a science point of view if everything is somehow connected and if a thing like ‚coincidence‘ even exists.
Anyway, we had an awesome conversation that night and I recall citing plain market widsom like a fool. But we both enjoyed it. Little did I know that I was still in the first quater of the learning curve. I felt like a market wizard already and now there was suddenly someone with whom I could talk about the stuff I am so passionate about, it felt just great. My friend is into forex and with his background in coding he was naturally leaning torwards the automated side of the trading game. He is rather risk-averse and he will be the first one to tell you that he can’t take too much heat. So keeping a certain distance to the action, as it is the case with automated trading, was a smart thing to do for him. He simply has a very good flair for finance in general.
Meanwhile I continued to focus solely on stocks and it just happened by chance that I read a book with an article about automated trading and martingale systems. I already knew that maringale, or any other average-down approach, is deeply flawed but after a couple months we both somehow ended up developing a sophisticated portfolio based martingale system. We convinced ourselves that the risk can be kept in check when you just mix enough carefully backtested and non correlated systems together, apply sound risk management and allow for a couple of the systems to fail in the process. Well it turned out that was not the case and it imploded in the end after the markets changed character in october 2012 just a couple month after we launched our system.
NZDAUD set out on a two year lasting steady rally without any noteworthy pullbacks. A martingale grid based system needs retracements otherwise it will just continue to average down until the inevitable margin call spoils the party. So we were guilty of overfitting our system to backtested data despite our efforts to avoid exactly that. Once the currency pair decided that the pricing was all wrong it just exploded to a new price level without looking back and killed our ‚sophisticated‘ system in the process. The full story of this endavour will probably be part of another article in the future.
Our computers, armed with an backup power supply system, ran 24/7 backtesting more than 10 strategies in parallel with high quality tick data, in hinsight spending all that computing power on mining bitcoins would have been more profitable I suppose. So while this initial adventure into forex prologned my learning curve to some degree I don’t consider it a waste of time. From time to time it can be very refreshing to leave your regular field as this allows you to see things from a different angle and it can also be a great source of inspiration and motivation. While it was certainly a failure from the profit perspective it nevertheless was a great experience which taught us a ton about risk and especially about portoflio management and we both ended up with a great trading partner who happened to be an old friend. From a business perspective it is also irreplaceable to have someone on your side you can trust and relate to.
Call it bad luck as we launched our system right into the only year within a 16 year period which had the ability to crush it. Markets change all the time and a rigid system which lacks the ability to adapt isn’t of any value.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Learning to trade is a emotionally taxing process. It is extremely helpful to share the burden with someone who you can trust.
While it is generally a waste of time to dig too deep in other fields it can sometimes give you new impulses and ideas. I did it because I wasn’t able to create profits with my stock trading yet. Once I came back I was armed with a lot of experience in money management and this helped my trading tremendously.
The days you fail the hardest in life are the days you learn the most. Don’t let your major failures go to waste!
Let there be light (My quantum leap)
Year 4 – 5
Through our initial forex endavour I gained some fresh motivation to lift my discrete (read: non-automated) stock trading to the next level. In the following years I gave up my proud but useless excel spreadsheet and started to follow one guy only, Gil Morales. Before that I was following the ideas of techniques of several trading gurus (Dan Zanger, Dr. Chris Kacher, Kevin Marder, Scott O’Neil via Marketsmith webinars and Gil) simultaneously.
At that point I was already a paying member of Gils service for 2 years and his meta approach to trading and his boldness was the big part that I was missing in my own, more scientific, trading approach. I also experienced in real time how Gil adapted his trading method according to how the market changed. In an effort to strip off complexity and focus on the basics I turned my back on all the others guys mentioned above.
I was deeply impressed with the way Gil came up with fresh tweaks and techniques on the fly to preserve his edge in the era of quantitative easing aka money printing. In the end he held what his prospectus promised and taught me how to fish. It was tough at times because he doesn’t focus much on money management and I couldn’t always relate to his ideas and thoughts or even himself as a person as he has a rich background in finance where he used to be an institutional level fund manager. During that time I slowly backed away from trying to make trading an exact science and started to shift my focus onto myself. That was the time when I truly cut off all the noise except what Gil had to say. I soaked up his words and it slowly dawned on me that trading has nothing to do with intelligence (not because of Gil, he is damn smart) but rather with emotional discipline and the ability to adapt to changes. During the first years the weak link of any trading system is the guy sitting in front of the computer!
I started a personal trading journal in excel but I didn’t had the diclipline to truly write down my real time thoughts and ideas and it wasn’t of any value to me after a while. I figured that I need some sort of extrinsic motivation which forces me to write down my ideas and thoughts with care and conscientiousness. That’s when I started posting on Twitter under the tag @ThweisSXFX in 2013. My feed was a pure personal journal and conent was self-centered until I added a little educational twist in 2017. Turned up the educational value end of 2018 when my follower count multiplied after a tweet from @Scot1and.
What you read there are my own journaled real time ideas & thoughts and I browse them everyday going back over old post in order to learn from my mistakes and recall my thinking. Twitters search function is extremely powerful and one of the major reasons why it works so well as a journal. You can use tags and follow up on your ideas by retweeting them. My feed is quite often my own best emotional trading indicator as well. Sometimes I can quickly sense that my ego crawled back into my trading when going over recent posts. I don’t actually seek interaction with others on twitter and don’t reach out much or run ads or other bs because I try to eliminate external noise as much as I can. However I won’t lie and do enjoy the interaction from time to time.
And by the way, if you already forgot what this paragraph was about because you constantly felt the urge to scream at me that a quantum leap is actually only a tiny hop you have your focus messed up. If you focus on every meanigless detail in trading or life in general you hinder your ability to soak up and remember the important information. It took me many years to develop the ability to truly listen to others focussing on the important stuff they said without only cherry-picking out the details which I was able to relate to and where I could add my two cents. This has to do with one’s ego!
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Trading is all about rewiring and turning weaknesses into strengths. Trading techniques and other tools are secondary.
Having a mentor is not about learning the best tricks and tweaks! It is about learning how one single mind approaches all different aspects of the game. When you have several mentors whispering into your ear, you will likely end up with the worst traits of them all.
Creating a working trading system is a fragile affair with you being the core element. Cherry picking techniques is a dead end. Adopt a whole mindset and then work from there.
When following a mentor you should have the ability to ignore the useless stuff and identify the valuable information. It’s not about constantly adding your two cents. It’s about listening.
You must have a trading journal, period. This forces you to review your mistakes. Making this public adds a lot of quality and conscientiousness.
I can catch fish!
Year 5 – 7
Back around 2015 I realized that I was doing much better with my own stock ideas compared to what Gil was putting up. It took me two attempts to cut myself loose because you get so used to being fed with other peoples opinions and ideas that it is a strange sensation when you suddenly have to rely on your very own thinking. I remember that I made it a sport to do my own stock picking beforehand and then compare my ideas with what Gil came up with in his weekend reports.
I never really came in touch with him personally but he once acknowledged my stock picking skills on his feed. I nailed the textbook cup and handle in WB in march 2016 as it reminded me a lot about VIPS’s pattern in 2012 (See charts below). I boldly posted on Gils feed that WB could turn into VIPS 2.0. In hinsight this is so cheesy and meaningless but by praising me back then he actually handed me the scissors to cut myself loose for good.
Always remember that the intention behind what someone does or says doesn’t have to match with how you perceive or feel about it.
For Gil it was just some regular chat but for me it changed a lot. WB turned out to only make 600% compared to the 5000% move in VIPS so I was obviously wrong with my call. But when being wrong means you still make the trade of your career up to this point you can’t complain, or can you? By the way WB VIPS or LCI gave me the insight that you can still trade the classic patterns but with one constraint, they must be under the radar and not obvious to everyone. There is a very easy and reliable way to figure out quickly if a name is under the radar or not. Go to ST and check the activity for your specific stock and if every other post is loaded with emotions you know for sure that the stock you are looking at is way too obvious and that a lot of weak hands are on board.
I am always on the hunt for under the radar cup and handle, double bottom and flat bases. I actually bought MBLY (Mobileye) in the handle two days before it was bought by MSFT a couple years ago. MBLY at that time surely wasn’t obvious and there wasn’t much hype or attention surrounding the stock. Those under the radar classic patterns are rare these days hence you will have a hard time building a whole system based just on them. But don’t be fooled, they still posses the power to predict some monster stock moves for sure due to being based on perfectly sound mass psychological patterns.
I want to give a shout out to Gil who was my mentor without knowing it. Thank you Gil ‚400% balls to the wall‘ Morales.
Weekly charts of rare under the radar, textbook cup and handle patterns. Walmart is the originator from 1980. If you find one of these in todays market you better trade it. Problem is that most traders are way to sloppy with their definition of such patterns. A cup and handle is all about the little price and volume clues and not just the general shape.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
The accumulation of quality practice will naturally make you find your own stock ideas eventually. Once you feel that you are doing much better with your picks it is time to leave the stock picking service. See this as your gratuation.
Without realizing it you will slowly start to tweak the working system you learned from your mentor in a way that it better suits your personality. For me this meant to pick smaller stocks and reducing the time horizon of swing trades. I also had to grasp and develop a complete money management approach myself.
Entering castle solitude
So there I was without a mentor all on my own. I continued to do better with my trading but I was still missing some sort of stability in my routine. After slowly getting rid of all the unencessary tools over the years I was left armed with only one monitor on my desk, a screener ( Finviz), a charting tool ( Tradingview), Twitter and my brokers Trading Work Station.
I traded a lot and posted my real time ideas and thoughts on twitter. However I was not taking enough care of my portfolio. I had a couple fixed position sizes I typically used depending on the setup, utilized some easy scale-in and scale-out techniques and quite often enganged in trades which I would label impulsive nowadays. If you’d have asked me which one of my setups works best I could have only given you an educated guess because I had no reliable data at hand. I believed that I can easily go through all my trades with the statements I get from my broker at a later time. As a result I reviewed my old trades halfhearted and typicially focused only on the losers ignoring the fact that optimizing the winning trades would be equally beneficial.
During that time a strange kind of overtrading sneaked into my trading as I was unable to sit infront of my screen without engaging with the market. It is not that I wasn’t disciplined enough, it was because I was searching for setups all the time. And when you just search long enough you will find one which fits your rules eventually. You will deceive yourself by convincing yourself that the mediocre setup you found is a good one and as a result you will likely trade it. I did this regardless of the fact that I was fully aware of it all the time. I believe many traders can relate to this. Quite often you know exactly what you should do but somehow it is hard to pull off. The fact that knowing things is not equal to actually doing things is a major insight you will get as a trader after a couple years.Click to Tweet
Every single aspiring trader knows after a while that you must adhere to your stop losses. It is repeated over and over again up to a point that you become numb and take it for granted and start to look for further ‚golden trading tips‘ without even getting this first one right. It is the same with many phrases and quotes, they are repeated so often that most people are unable to see the true widsom they posses.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Once your mentor taught you how to fish it helps tremendously to isolate yourself for a while. This will reveal remaining weaknesses and teaches you to follow your own conviction without seeking confirmation.
Trading in isolation will brutally expose your remaining weaknesses. In my case it even created a new one… overtrading in a different form.
Working on my puzzle
Year 7 & 8
So what I did next was filling in a major piece of my puzzle. I created a neat little excel portfolio which allows me to track my open and more importanly recent closed trades. It shows me when I overtrade and it helps me to keep a cool head when I am doing exceptionally well. There is a lot of statistics involved so I preserved some of the science in trading after all.
I am actively monitoring my trade outcomes for flaws which I need to adress. My portfolio allows me to figure out if the trading results for a setup are just by chance or robuts (read: statistically significant). I trade only the best setups and I drop those which lack performance. It surely is a big part of my edge because few private traders do this as most guys simply trade in a way so that their bad setups dilute the porfit potential.
The big funds are forced to make portfolio managament an art because they lack the inherent ability to just get out of the way quickly due to size. Small private traders typically don’t take great care of that because they know the can just switch to cash quickly. It is a smart idea however to combine the best of both worlds and thats exactly what I am doing. As a trader you want to act as if you are the casino and not the gambler. In order to do that you have to employ statistics to maximize the probability of coming out ahead in the end.
Overtrading is a thing of the past for me now for some years. I also slowly realized that I was doing much better with my stock picks when I don’t spend too much time searching for them. Today I schedule 30 min two times a week to find new setups by browsing through roughly 500 charts. If I can’t find any good ones within that time frame so be it.
Being aware of my past trades and getting rid of stuff which doesn‘t work well was the boring part that I was completely missing in my approach up to this point. Every aspect of your trading should be monitored and analysed in order to hone your edge. And this is not nearly as complicated as it may sound. Generally speaking I separate trading into two regimes. I treat stock picking and chart reading like an art and portfolio management like an exact science which involves heavy use of statistics.
Most traders turn this upside down as they try to make chart reading an exact science with a myriad of indicators and absolute values and at the same time they are lazy and sloppy with their portfolio management. I can guarantee you that the latter is a false approach leading nowhere in the long run. You simply can’t predict the markets and the market couldn’t care less about your chart overlays.
A good example is the fibonacci retracement where traders only see the cases when it works and ignore the majority of cases when it doesn‘t. Fibonacci retracements are not real and have zero statistical significance as the distribution of retracements most certainly follows a mirrored ‚log-normal‘ curve with a median value around 25%. Retracements at the 23.6%, 38.2%, 61.8% and 76.4% marks are explained by statistical chance alone unfortuanetely. Same with the 10, 20 or 50 day simple moving averages, they bear no deeper meaning but traders utililize them for over a century now and they simply turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Better take the time to learn to identify the little supply and demand clues hidden in the price and volume action of a chart and trade a selected little universe of stocks based on those clues only a few can interpret correctly. In the end why do traders expect that creating an edge over other traders is as simple as adding a chart overlay in the first place?
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
As a trader you can’t afford to leave proper portfolio management out of the equation.
You have to employ statistics in an efford to only do the things which really translate to a higher profitability. You can’t do this without collecting and analyzing your past trades.
Stock market timing, why so effortless?
Trading became somewhat effortless over the last years and my ‘living portfolio’ helped me discover another major flaw in my trading. That flaw was my inability to only trade heavy when there is an open window of opportunity and to sit on my hands when said window is shut. Right know all I do is monitor my trading and I intervene whenever I see some sort of deviation.
I also make little thought experiments all the time, e.g., I ask myself what could the market do now to make sure to leave most traders behind or if the late comers are in a position such that a nasty reversal today will break their spirit or if they can easily digest it. It is usually pretty easy to get to a solid conclusion regarding such questions. When I started reading all those books from O’Neil, Morales and so on I was stunned by one statement which you barely find in other books and that is that timing the markets is doable and actually rather easy.
Well after accumulating 10 years of experience as a growth stock swing & position trader I can assure you that you will always be able to get out of your stocks before a major correction. Your own stocks and other leading stocks will give you the signals way ahead of time. As a swing / position trader it should be a large part of your edge to step aside when the dogs start to bark and not just when the walls start to shake and the earthquake is about to hit you in the face with full force. As a matter of fact you are naturally pushed to cash by your stocks as they begin to flash red flags.
That works best when you are engaged and watch the the first wave of leaders during any opportunity cycle as they are the ones who set the rythm. That’s what I typically refer to as leaders and laggards. The laggards can also make you money but they are not good at timing the markets because quite often they lift their head right before an intermediate market correction. However that kind of stuff is beyond the scope of this article.
I couldn’t care less about the so called classic stock market cycle but I do know from experience that there are typically 2 to 4 brief windows of opportunity every year. The trick is not to overtrade in between so that you are in a strong position to fully exploit an open window once it arrives.You gotta be bold and fearless when you smell opportunity. And you can’t do that when you a sitting in a corner licking your wounds.Click to Tweet
I typically seek entries when the window is open and try to just sit tight and let the market do the magic in between when things are less clear and decisive. From experience I can tell you that pulling this of is impossible early on and will become effortless later on as you gain a feel for how the market operates. I am afraid that there isn’t much in between.
You can compare this to a team sport if you want. When you enter your first practice game with a grown and mature team you often just rush around as you are always one step behind. It is the same thing for a trader when he enters the real markets for the first time. You are initially behind and slowly but steadily gain traction due to the accumulation of practice hours until you catched up and find yourself in sync with the game. After many years you suddenly realize that you are actually a step ahead now as the game appears to be in slow motion to you. It will feel effortless eventually because you get all the little clues automatically as your subconcious mind is now running the show.
There are certainly no shortcuts to this and there is strong scientifically backed evidence that you truly need to put in the hours first. But if you get the other parts of the trading game right you might turn a net profitable trader much earlier and what I wrote here will just be the icing on the cake.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
As a trader you have to live a constructive process which will naturally lead you in the correct direction and allows you to make little adjustments if you in danger of going off-track.
Over the years you will slowly advance from chasing the market to actually being more and more in sync. You will pick up a lot of hidden clues unconsciously as a result of your cumulative experience over the years. If you think this can be forced you are a fool.
You will know when you reached the meta game level.
Grinding along the learning curve
I just did the math and as a matter of fact I spend roughly 8000 hours with the same trading system that is price and volume action. In the beginning I was overwhelmed by all the input and vast amount of information out there but over the years I was able to break trading down to the basics.
In my opinion it is extremely misleading when a seasoned profitable trader tells a novice that the game is effortless and that all you have to do is focus on the basics and master the simple things. What he says is correct of course but in order to be able to believe it or better yet act accordingly you need a lot of experience under your belt. The problem is that you probably won’t believe the successful traders right away.In the beginning you won’t believe that most of the complex stuff is useless unless you tested it in the field by yourself. And you certainly won’t believe that you will be your own worst enemy and the weakest link in your trading for years to come.Click to Tweet
This is where a real mentor by your side would come in handy. In the end trading might be just another sophisticated profession which requires years of studying and experience, e.g., like a surgeon or a navy seal, mixed with some art and free thinking. In my opinion the reason why so many fail is manifold, some think they can outsmart the markets while others just can’t accept the fact that the market moves unpredictable. Many don’t even put themselves in a starting position to even remotely have the chance to make it by hopping systems and searching for the holy grail for an eternity until they give up altogether.
However the majority likely fail because they run out of money before they have been able to rewire and relearn the behavioural pattern needed to succeed in the markets. It just takes time and a lot of try and error. A strong ego could also act like an inpenetrable barrier between you and trading success. And on top of that you certainly need razor sharp risk management to make it over the years without depleting all your emotional capital.
Stories from the dark alleys of trading like sitting through drawdowns commonly called as ‚bag holding‘ will put you in a very weak position. Sticking to losing trades will block your capital, it will be a seed for destructive emotions like hope (yes emotions are bad when it comes to trading), and it will likely nibble your mental barrier away piece by piece and free your demons.
Stay off dark alleys at all costs! Follow the light side by cutting your losses quickly, licking your wounds overnight and then start fresh the next day. This will put you in a very strong position to act from. The same is true for selling or realizing part of your profits into big moves. And if your private life suffers because you stare at a screen all day long neglecting your health or your loved ones you are also doing it wrong. Besides proper risk management you also need peace of mind.
Guess why so many successful traders live in remote places far away from the epicentres like New York, London or Frankfurt. There are probably more successful traders around lake Tahoe than on Wall street. Ok I am exaggerating a little bit on the last one but you get the point.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Trading is about specialization. There is no difference to any other field. If you want to make constant profits you must be better than the majority of all other market participants. (You probably have to be better than 95%)
Trading is different from other competetive endeavours as you have to compete with the Elite from day one. There is no minor league of trading. Your first years are ALL ABOUT SURVIVAL in the major league of trading as a freshman.
The only chance you have is to keep it simple by mastering the one thing which gives you the most bang for your buck. As an active trader this is undeniably the ability to read the price and volume signature of individual stocks.
Rise of the Machines
Year 5 – present
This will cover the progress we made over the last years in our automated approach to the currency markets. Some algos are trading real money for over a year now.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
Hello ego, long time no see
This will cover my ongoing process to handle the noise and attention which came with a growing Twitter audience. My ego had an easy time to make brief comebacks. I had to constantly work on suppressing it.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
From A to Zycle
This will cover the formulation of my whole approach after all the pieces of the puzzle finally have fallen in place.
Key takeaways & Pivotal moments
That was then, this is now
I do like to educate others and while I am not a professor I nevertheless enjoyed the interaction with students back during my time as a research assistant at the university. Our goal with ‚thweis‘ is to help aspiring traders avoid some of the time draining sand-traps we happily stepped into ourselves during our prolonged journey.
We want to show you that the magic ingredients are self-criticism and the instrinsic desire to ‚beat‘ the market and not just the external desire to accumulate wealth. If you manage the risks along your path and develop a passion for trading you will endure the drought that is the learning curve. We hope that our insights, failures, techniques and general guidance can help novice traders find their way much quicker compared to us. Time ist either the ultimate nemesis or saviour depending on how you see it but it is certainly a limiting factor when it comes to mastering the art of trading.
I truly believe that a trader can speed up the learning curve if the correct information is presented to him in a way he can comprehend and relate to. And I am certainly not referring to the common generic nonsense such as ‚follow those 7 rules to keep your emotions in check‘ or ‚200 top trading setups to help you succeed‘ or ‚A quick guide to make a living as a trader‘ or
…you get the point.
We will continue to deliver concise information and no wishy washy sales pitch. Don’t expect us to flood our blog with second or third tier articles just to ‘fill the pages’ so to say. We only share the things we believe in and actually do ourselves. Trading is all about finding your weaknesses and improving them while building on your strength. If there is one secret or holy grail insight it would be the following:
As a matter of fact this is my trading mantra now. I picked it up somewhere years ago and put it in a top 7 list and today it is the last one remaining on that ‚list‘. Whenever I shift my focus from making gains over to managing my losses I end up making gains almost automatically just by being in sync and ready to seize opportunity when it counts. It is uncanny how reliably this happens these days. Successful trading is all about timing. Once you caught up with the pulse of the markets after years of practice you yourself will be the holy grail. It will not be because of awesome stock setups or handling rules it will be because of your ability to time the cycles of the market and to always be at least one step ahead of the trading crowd. Trading is not about reaching absolute mastery, it is just about being slightly ahead of the majority of market participants more often than not. Afraid of getting eaten by a bear or impaled by a bull? The good news is that you don’t have to outrun them, you just have to outrun the slowest human around. The Stock Market is similar
If you would start today to focus less on your wins and more on your losses, much would be gained! I would even go so far and say that you would make a two year forward leap on the learning curve overnight. I am dead serious about this.
I am afraid to tell you that picking stocks and applying some golden rules is only the basic part of the game. But unfortunately that’s the intimidating truth. In order to succeed as a trader you have to focus 80% of your time on the boring stuff (Portfolio management, risk management, reviewing past trades and so on) and only 20% on the thrilling stuff such as picking hot stocks.
As we arrive in the present this article comes to an natural end. But it is common knowledge that you can‘t end a trading article without some more quotes from awesome human beings. There are gazillion quotes out there but the follwing two from my childhood heroes are with me since the 90s. As it turned out, they truly describe what it means and what it takes to be a trader and I know you can relate even if you are not a kid from the ninties.
Please be aware that you don’t need to be the Michael Jordan or Burce Lee equivalent of a trader to succeed. Just work hard, get in the hours and learn from your mistakes and do all this while keeping an open and shapeable mind. Every trader has a unique story but they all have one thing in common. They aquired the same traits and tools needed to succeed in some way or the other over many years.
If you find joy in trading and if you stay off the dark alleys, the journey will be it’s own reward and you will make it eventually.
More power to you!