Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from Robert Prechter’s April 2010 issue of the Elliott Wave Theorist. For a limited time, you can visit Elliott Wave International to download the full 10-page issue, free.
By Robert Prechter, CMT
It is rare to have technical indicators all lined up on one side of the ledger. They were lined up this way—on the bullish side—in late February-early March of 2009. Today they are just as aligned but on the bearish side. Consider this short list:
- The latest report shows only 3.5% cash on average in mutual funds. This figure matches the all-time low, which occurred in July 2007, the month when the Dow Industrials-plus-Transports combination made its all-time high. But wait. The latest report pertains only through February. In March, the market rose virtually every day, so there is little doubt that the percentage of cash in mutual funds is now at an all-time low, lower than in 2000, lower than in 2007! We will know for sure when the next report comes out in early May. Regardless, the confidence that mutual fund managers and investors express today for a continuation of the uptrend rivals their optimism of 2000 and 2007, times of the two most extreme expressions of stock-market optimism ever.
- The 10-day moving average of the CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio has fallen to 0.45, which means that the volume of trading in calls has been more than twice that in puts. So, investors are interested primarily in betting on further rising prices, not falling prices, and that’s bearish. The current reading is less than half the level it was thirteen months ago and its lowest level since the all-time peak of stock market optimism from January 1999 to September 2000, the month that the NYSE Composite Index made its orthodox top. The 30-day average stands at 0.50, the lowest reading since October 2000. It took years of relentless rise following the 1987 crash for investors to get that bullish. This time, it’s taken only 13months.
- The VIX, a measure of volatility based on options premiums, has been sitting at its lowest level since May 2008, when wave (2) of ((1)) peaked out and led to a Dow loss of 50% over the next ten months. Low premiums indicate complacency among options writers. The quants who designed the trading systems that blew up in 2008 generally assumed that low volatility meant that the market was safe, so at such times they would advise hedge funds to raise their leverage multiples. But low volatility is actually the opposite, a warning that things are about to change. The fact that the options market gets things backward is a boon to speculators. Whenever options writers are selling options cheap, the market is likely to move in a big way. Combined with the readings on the Equity Put/Call Ratio, puts right now are a bargain.
- In October 2008 at the bottom of wave 3 of (3) of ((1)), the Investors Intelligence poll of advisors (which has categories of bullish, bearish and neutral), reported that more than half of advisors were bearish. In December 2009, it reported only 15.6% bears. This reading was the lowest percentage since April 1987, 23 years ago! As happens going into every market top, the ratio has moderated a bit, to 18.9% bears. In 1987, the market also rallied four months past the extreme in advisor sentiment. Then it crashed. The bull/bear ratio in October 2008 was 0.4. In the past five months, it has been as high as 3.4.
- The Daily Sentiment Index, a poll conducted by Trade-Futures.com, reports the percentage of traders who are bullish on the S&P. The reading has been registering highs in the 86-92% range ever since last September. Prior to recent months, the last time the DSI saw even a single day’s reading at 90% was June 2007. At the March 2009 bottom, only 2% of traders were bullish, so today’s readings make quite a contrast in a short period of time.
- The Dow’s dividend yield is 2.5%. The only market tops of the past century at which this figure was lower are those of 2000 and 2007, when it was 1.4% and 2.1%, respectively. At the 1929 high, it was 2.9%.
- The price/earnings ratio, using four-quarter trailing real earnings, has improved tremendously, from 122 to 23. But 23 is in the area of the peaklevels of P/E throughout the 20th century. Ratios of 6 or 7 occurred at major stock market bottoms during that time. P/E was infinite during the final quarter of 2008, when E was negative. We will see quite a few quarters of infinite P/E from 2010 to 2017.
- The Trading Index (TRIN) is a measure of how much volume it takes to move rising stocks vs. falling stocks on the NYSE. The 30-day moving average of daily closing TRIN readings has been sitting at 0.90, the lowest level since June 2007. This means that it has taken a lot of volume to make rising stocks go up vs. making falling stocks go down over the past 30-plus trading days. It means that buyers of rising stocks are expending more money to get the same result that sellers of declining stocks are getting. Usually long periods of low TRIN exhaust buying power.
For more market analysis and forecasts from Robert Prechter, download the rest of this 10-page issue of the Elliott Wave Theorist free from Elliott Wave International. Learn more here.
The Primary Precondition of Deflation
Deflation requires a precondition: a major societal buildup in the extension of credit. Bank credit and Elliott wave expert Hamilton Bolton, in a 1957 letter, summarized his observations this way: “In reading a history of major depressions in the U.S. from 1830 on, I was impressed with the following: (a) All were set off by a deflation of excess credit. This was the one factor in common.”
“The Fed Will Stop Deflation”
I am tired of hearing people insist that the Fed can expand credit all it wants. Sometimes an analogy clarifies a subject, so let’s try one.
It may sound crazy, but suppose the government were to decide that the health of the nation depends upon producing Jaguar automobiles and providing them to as many people as possible. To facilitate that goal, it begins operating Jaguar plants all over the country, subsidizing production with tax money. To everyone’s delight, it offers these luxury cars for sale at 50 percent off the old price. People flock to the showrooms and buy. Later, sales slow down, so the government cuts the price in half again. More people rush in and buy. Sales again slow, so it lowers the price to $900 each. People return to the stores to buy two or three, or half a dozen. Why not? Look how cheap they are! Buyers give Jaguars to their kids and park an extra one on the lawn. Finally, the country is awash in Jaguars. Alas, sales slow again, and the government panics. It must move more Jaguars, or, according to its theory — ironically now made fact — the economy will recede. People are working three days a week just to pay their taxes so the government can keep producing more Jaguars. If Jaguars stop moving, the economy will stop. So the government begins giving Jaguars away. A few more cars move out of the showrooms, but then it ends. Nobody wants any more Jaguars. They don’t care if they’re free. They can’t find a use for them. Production of Jaguars ceases. It takes years to work through the overhanging supply of Jaguars. Tax collections collapse, the factories close, and unemployment soars. The economy is wrecked. People can’t afford to buy gasoline, so many of the Jaguars rust away to worthlessness. The number of Jaguars — at best — returns to the level it was before the program began.
The same thing can happen with credit.
It may sound crazy, but suppose the government were to decide that the health of the nation depends upon producing credit and providing it to as many people as possible. To facilitate that goal, it begins operating credit-production plants all over the country, called Federal Reserve Banks. To everyone’s delight, these banks offer the credit for sale at below market rates. People flock to the banks and buy. Later, sales slow down, so the banks cut the price again. More people rush in and buy. Sales again slow, so they lower the price to one percent. People return to the banks to buy even more credit. Why not? Look how cheap it is! Borrowers use credit to buy houses, boats and an extra Jaguar to park out on the lawn. Finally, the country is awash in credit. Alas, sales slow again, and the banks panic. They must move more credit, or, according to its theory — ironically now made fact — the economy will recede. People are working three days a week just to pay the interest on their debt to the banks so the banks can keep offering more credit. If credit stops moving, the economy will stop. So the banks begin giving credit away, at zero percent interest. A few more loans move through the tellers’ windows, but then it ends. Nobody wants any more credit. They don’t care if it’s free. They can’t find a use for it. Production of credit ceases. It takes years to work through the overhanging supply of credit. Interest payments collapse, banks close, and unemployment soars. The economy is wrecked. People can’t afford to pay interest on their debts, so many bonds deteriorate to worthlessness. The value of credit — at best — returns to the level it was before the program began.
Why Deflationary Crashes and Depressions Go Together
Financial Values Can Disappear
Deflation is a Global Story
What Makes Deflation Likely Today?
How Big a Deflation?
By Nico Isaac
In the realm of market psychology, there’s a big difference between optimism and extreme optimism. The first is seeing the glass half full. The second is seeing the glass half full deep in the heart of a bone-dry desert. In finance, it’s what we call “Buying the Dip” mentality — when all outcomes, even losses, are cause for celebration.
We are there now.
To wit: With a new year upon us, the mainstream has already come up with a fresh tagline to define the next 360-or so days. It even rhymes: The Bull Runs Again In 2010. This projection is in no way “in spite of” the fact that the U.S. stock market just finished its first decade of negative returns since the Great Depression; it’s because of that fact.
See, according to the mainstream experts, this “Lost Decade” of abysmal stock performance (in which the Dow ended 9% in the red, the S&P 500 – 24%, and the NASDAQ Composite – 44%) is the very foundation on which a new bull market will apparently be born. One economic scholar recently coined the phenomenon the “Slingshot Effect” — the more severe the downturn, the faster the recovery. (Associated Press)
Adding to the upbeat chorus are these recent news items:
“The horrible decade has wiped out all the excesses of the previous two decades and put us back on track for more normal returns.” (USA Today) — AND — “It may be the best of all possible worlds.” (Business News)
Back in the late 1990s, when the “unstoppable” NASDAQ began to experience regular days of double-digit drops, it was “Buy-the-Dip.” Now, it’s “buy the entire lost decade.” And, as the Dec.31, 2009 Elliott Wave Financial Forecast Short Term Update reveals — current sentiment readings “continue to show that stock market bears have packed up and moved to Florida for the winter.”
The Dec. 31 Short Term Update also reveals two mind-blowing charts of the S&P 500 versus Investor Intelligence Advisors Survey Percentage of Bears — AND, the S&P 500 versus the percentage of “Fully Committed” bullish advisors since 2000. The current reading is the lowest bearish percentage in 22 years.
Take one look at the evidence, and you’ll see that a defining pattern emerges: Low levels of bearishness have consistently coincided with one kind of market move. Combine this picture with the other measures of investor sentiment like momentum, volume and Elliott wave structure, and the evidence tilts overwhelmingly in favor of an unforgettable year.
Elliott Wave International’s latest free report puts 2010 into perspective like no other. The Most Important Investment Report You’ll Read in 2010is a must-read for all independent-minded investors. The 13-page report is available for free download now. Learn more here.
By Vadim Pokhlebkin
It’s corporate earnings season again, and everywhere you turn, analysts talk about the influence of earnings on the broad stock market:
- US Stocks Surge On Data, 3Q Earnings From JPMorgan, Intel (Wall Street Journal)
- Stocks Open Down on J&J Earnings (Washington Post)
- European Stocks Surge; US Earnings Lift Mood (Wall Street Journal)
With so much emphasis on earnings, this may come as a shock: The idea of earnings driving the broad stock market is a myth.
When making a statement like that, you’d better have proof. Robert Prechter, EWI’s founder and CEO, presented some of it in his 1999 Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior (excerpt; italics added):
Are stocks driven by corporate earnings? In June 1991, The Wall Street Journal reported on a study by Goldman Sachs’s Barrie Wigmore, who found that “only 35% of stock price growth [in the 1980s] can be attributed to earnings and interest rates.” Wigmore concludes that all the rest is due simply to changing social attitudes toward holding stocks. Says the Journal, “[This] may have just blown a hole through this most cherished of Wall Street convictions.”
What about simply the trend of earnings vs. the stock market? Well, since 1932, corporate profits have been down in 19 years. The Dow rose in 14 of those years. In 1973-74, the Dow fell 46% while earnings rose 47%. 12-month earnings peaked at the bear market low. Earnings do not drive stocks.
And in 2004, EWI’s monthly Elliott Wave Financial Forecast added this chart and comment:
Earnings don’t drive stock prices. We’ve said it a thousand times and showed the history that proves the point time and again. But that’s not to say earnings don’t matter. When earnings give investors a rising sense of confidence, they can be a powerful backdrop for adownturn in stock prices. This was certainly true in 2000, as the chart shows. Peak earnings coincided with the stock market’s all-time high and stayed strong right through the third quarter before finally succumbing to the bear market in stock prices. Investors who bought stocks based on strong earnings (and the trend of higher earnings) got killed.
So if earnings don’t drive the stock market’s broad trend, what does? The Elliott Wave Principle says that what shapes stock market trends is how investors collectively feel about the future. Investors’ mood — or social mood — changes before “the fundamentals” reflect that change, which is why trying to predict the markets by following the earnings reports and other “fundamentals” will often leave you puzzled. The chart above makes that clear.
Get Your FREE 8-Lesson “Conquer the Crash Collection” Now! You’ll get valuable lessons on what to do with your pension plan, what to do if you run a business, how to handle calling in loans and paying off debt and so much more. Learn more and get your free 8 lessons here.
By Nico Isaac
If you want the latest news on the U.S. Dollar Index, try a search under its new ticker symbol, RIP. — as in, “rest in peace.” Let the record show: In the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 6, the mainstream financial community officially declared “The Demise of the Dollar” (The Independent).
The “coroner’s report” cites these details as the causes of death:
- An alleged (and later denied) secret meeting among leaders of certain Arab States, China, Russia, and France which aimed for the immediate discontinuation of oil trading in U.S. dollars.
- And, an open statement from one senior United Nations official that proposed the dollar be replaced as the world’s reserve currency.
In the words of a recent Washington Post story: “The growing international chorus wants the dollar replaced… a move that would end the greenback’s six-decades of global dominance.”
And with that, the line between negative sentiment — AND — “EXTREME” negative sentiment was crossed. It occurs when the beliefs about a market lean so far over in one direction, that the boat investors are sitting in is about to tip over… Just like the last time.
Case in point: Spring 2008. The U.S. dollar stood at an all-time record low against the euro after plunging more than 40% in value. And, according to the usual experts, the greenback was “dead”-set to meet its maker. On this, these news items from early 2008 say plenty:
- “The dollar is a terribly flawed currency and its days are numbered.” (Wall Street Journal quote)
- “It’s basically the end of a 60-year period of continuing credit expansion based on the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.” (George Soros at the World Economic Forum)
- “Greenback is losing Global Appeal… the ‘Almighty’ Dollar is Gone.” (Associated Press)
YET — from its March 2008 bottom, the U.S. dollar came back to life with a vengeance, soaring in a one-year long winning streak to multi-year highs. In the most current Elliott Wave Theorist (published September 15, 2009), Bob Prechter presents the following close-up of the Dollar Index since that trend-turning bottom. (some Elliott wave labels have been removed for this publication)
At a measly 6% bulls, the bearish dollar boat tipped over. The situation today is even more remarkable: The percentage of bulls is lower, at 3-4%, while the dollar’s value is higher than the March 2008 level.
It’s crucial to understand that markets don’t necessarily respond to sentiment extremes immediately. But, such extremes do indicate exhaustion of the trend — which is usually the opposite of what the mainstream expects.
For more information, download Robert Prechter’s free Independent Investor eBook. The 75-page resource teaches investors to think independently by challenging conventional financial market assumptions.
By Neil Beers
So Bob Prechter is bearish again.
That may be no surprise to some, but recall that Prechter was about the only bull on February 23 of this year when he covered the short position he had recommended on July 17, 2007. That was nearly two years later and 800 points lower in the S&P. And the Daily Sentiment Index (DSI) reading for the S&P had gotten down to only 3% bulls!
His February 2009 Elliott Wave Theorist explained, “The market is compressed, and when it finds a bottom and rallies, it will be sharp and scary for anyone who is short.” Elliott Wave analysis, the DSI, and other indicators suggested it was time for a Primary-degree bear market rally. And that is what we got.
Now in his August 2009 Theorist, Bob explains what “the prudent thing to do” in the markets is, based on the same Elliott wave pattern and sentiment indicators — plus the Dow’s 3/8 Fibonacci retracement from the March 9 low.
What’s so special about Fibonacci? And why is a certain level of Fibonacci retracement so significant in conjunction with The Wave Principle? Well…
In its broadest sense, the Wave Principle suggests the idea that the same law [the Golden Ratio] that shapes living creatures and galaxies is inherent in the spirit and activities of men en masse. Because the stock market is the most meticulously tabulated reflector of mass psychology in the world, its data produce an excellent recording of man’s social psychological states and trends. This record of the fluctuating self-evaluation of social man’s own productive enterprise makes manifest specific patterns of progress and regress. What the Wave Principle says is that mankind’s progress (of which the stock market is a popularly determined valuation) does not occur in a straight line, does not occur randomly, and does not occur cyclically. Rather, progress takes place in a “three steps forward, two steps back” fashion, a form that nature prefers. More grandly, as the activity of social man is linked to the Fibonacci sequence and the spiral pattern of progression, it is apparently no exception to the general law of ordered growth in the universe. … The briefest way to express this principle is a simple mathematical statement: the 1.618 ratio.
-Elliott Wave Principle, chapter 3
Fibonacci ratios in conjunction with The Wave Principle can help you anticipate trend changes. They allow you to calculate specific price levels of when and where a wave is likely to end. In this case, where the rally from the March 9 low is likely to end. There are several Fibonacci retracements that appear most commonly, so the market could of course move higher before it settles on the next wave down, “but we are no longer compelled to wait.”
Bob Prechter’s August Elliott Wave Theorist published a week and a half early: he did so to give subscribers time to prepare for what’s ahead. The issue provides a list of levels that mark Fibonacci and Elliott-wave related retracements for the rally. He analyzes which one is the most likely end point, and even explains how you can make the most of the waning rally.
You don’t have to be taken by surprise. Get the latest Elliott Wave Theorist and you’ll see where the rally is likely to end. Think about the difference this knowledge can make for you.
For more analysis from Robert Prechter, download a FREE 10-page July issue of The Elliott Wave Theorist. It challenges current recovery hype with hard facts, independent analysis, and insightful charts. You’ll find out why the worst is NOT over and what you can do to safeguard your financial future.
By Bob Prechter
The following is an excerpt from Robert Prechter’s Elliott Wave Theorist.
On February 23, EWT called for the S&P to bottom in the 600s and then begin a sharp rally, the biggest since the 2007 high. The S&P bottomed at 667 on March 6. Then the stock market and commodities went almost straight up for three months as the dollar fell.
On March 18, Treasury bonds had their biggest up day ever, thanks to the Fed’s initiating its T-bond buying program. The next day, EWT reiterated our bearish stance on Treasury bonds. T-bond futures declined relentlessly from the previous day’s high at 130-15 to a low of 111-21 on June 11.
That’s when there were indications of impending trend changes. The June 11 issue called for interim tops in stocks, metals and oil and a temporary bottom in the dollar. The Dow topped that day and fell nearly 800 points; silver reversed and fell from $16 to $12.45; gold slid about $90; and oil, which had just doubled, reversed and fell from $73.38 to $58.32. The dollar simultaneously rallied and traced out a triangle for wave 4. Bonds bounced as well. As far as I can tell, our scenarios at all degrees are all on track.
Corrective patterns can be complex, so we should hesitate to be too specific about the shape this bear market rally will take. But from lows on July 8 (intraday) and 10 (close), the stock market may have begun the second phase of advance that will fulfill our ideal scenario for a three-wave (up-down-up) rally. In concert with rising stocks, bonds have started another declining wave, and the dollar appears to have turned down in wave 5 (see chart in the June issue), heading toward its final low. Although commodities should bounce, their wave patterns suggest that many key commodities will fail to make new highs this year in this second and final phase of partial recovery in the overall financial markets.
Meanwhile, our forecast for a change in people’s attitudes to a less pessimistic outlook is proceeding apace. Here are some of the reports evidencing this change:
More than 90 percent of economists predict the recession will end this year. [The] vast majority pick 3rd quarter as the time. (AP, 5/27)
Manufacturing and housing reports this week may offer signs that the recession-stricken U.S. economy is within months of hitting bottom, economists said. (USA, 6/15)
Fewer people say they’ve prospered over the past year than in decades, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. Over the past two months, however, expectations for the future have brightened significantly amid rising optimism about a stock market rebound and economic turnaround. “I think the administration is going in the right direction,” says… Now 36% of those surveyed in the Gallup-Healthways well-being poll say the economy is getting better. That’s not exactly head-over-heels exuberance, but it is double the number who felt that way at the beginning of the year and a notable spike in the nation’s frame of mind. Thirty-three percent say they’re satisfied with the way things are going in the United States; in January, just 13% did. (USA, 6/23/09)
If only to confirm the socionomic causality at work, an economist quoted in the article above muses, “The one anomaly in the puzzle is that people shouldn’t be feeling better because the jobs market is so terrible and unemployment is likely to keep rising.” Of course it would be an anomaly, and people should not feel better, if mood were exogenously caused. But it is endogenously regulated, and it precedes social actions, which produce events such as job creation and elimination. That people feel better is evident in our rising sociometer, the stock market. If the rally continues, economists will soon agree that the Fed’s “quantitative easing” and Congress’ massive spending are “working.” Those predicting more inflation and hyperinflation will have the last seeming confirmation of their opinions. Then, a few months from now, some economists will probably express similar puzzlement when the stock market starts plummeting again despite the fact that the economy has improved.
But all of these considerations are temporary. Conditions are relative, and behind the scenes, the depression has been, and still is, grinding away.
For more information, download the FREE 10-page issue of Bob Prechter’s recent Elliott Wave Theorist. It challenges current recovery hype with hard facts, independent analysis, and insightful charts. You’ll find out why the worst is NOT over and what you can do to safeguard your financial future.
By Jeffrey Kennedy
To be a consistently successful trader, the most important trait to learn is emotional discipline. I discovered this the hard way trading full-time a few years ago. I remember one day in particular. My analysis told me the NASDAQ was going to start a sizable third wave rally between 10:00-10:30 the next day… and it did. When I reviewed my trade log later, I saw that several of my positions were profitable, yet I exited each of them at a loss. My analysis was perfect. It was like having tomorrow’s newspaper today. Unfortunately, I wanted to hit a home run, so I ignored singles and doubles.
I now call this emotional pitfall the “Lottery Syndrome.” People buy lottery tickets to win a jackpot, not five or ten dollars. It is easy to pass up a small profit in hopes of scoring a larger one. Problem is, home runs are rare. My goal now is to hit a single or double, so I don’t let my profits slip away.
Since then, I’ve identified other emotional pitfalls that I would like to share. See if any of these sound familiar.
Have you ever held on to a losing position because you “felt” that the market was going to come back in your favor? This is the “Inability to Admit Failure.” No one likes being wrong and for traders, being wrong usually costs money. What I find interesting is that many of us would rather lose money than admit failure. I know now that being wrong is much less expensive than being hopeful.
Another emotional pitfall that was especially tough to overcome is what I call the “Fear of Missing the Party.” This one is responsible for more losing trades than any other. Besides overtrading, this pitfall also causes you to get in too early. How many of us have gone short after a five-wave rally just to watch wave five extend? The solution is to use a time filter, which is a fancy way of saying wait a few bars before you start to dance. If a trade is worth taking, waiting for prices to confirm your analysis will not affect your profit that much. Anyway, I would much rather miss an opportunity then suffer a loss, because their will always be another opportunity.
This emotional pitfall has yet another symptom that tons of people fall victim to chasing one seemingly hot market after another. For instance, metals have been moving the past few years so everyone wants to buy Gold and Silver. Of course, when everyone is talking about it is usually the worst time to get into a market. To avoid buying tops and selling bottoms, I have found that it’s best to look for a potential trade where (and when) no one else is paying attention.
My biggest, baddest emotional monster was being the “Systems Junkie.” Early in my career I believed that I could make my millions if I had just the right system. I bought every newsletter, book and tape series that I could find. None of them worked. I even went as far as becoming a professional analyst guaranteed success, or so I thought. Well, it didn’t guarantee anything really. Analysis and trading are two separate skills; one is a skill of observation, while the other, of emotional control. Being an expert auto mechanic does not mean you can drive like an expert, much less win the Daytona 500.
I am not a psychologist or an expert in the psychology of trading. These are just a few lessons I’ve learned along the way… at quite a cost most times. But if you are serious about trading, I strongly recommend that you spend as much time examining your emotions while you are in a trade as you do your charts before you place one. What you discover may surprise you.
For more trading lessons from Jeffrey Kennedy, visit Elliott Wave International to download the Best of Trader’s Classroom eBook. Normally priced at $59, it’s free until August 17.
By Jeffrey Kennedy
The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Kennedy’s Trader’s Classroom Collection. Now through August 17, Elliott Wave International is offering a special 45-page Best Of Trader’s Classroom eBook, free.
Aspiring traders typically go through three phases in this order:
Methodology. The first phase is that all-too-familiar quest for the Holy Grail – a trading system that never fails. After spending thousands of dollars on books, seminars and trading systems, the aspiring trader eventually realizes that no such system exists.
Money Management. So, after getting frustrated with wasting time and money, the up-and-coming trader begins to understand the need for money management, risking only a small percentage of a portfolio on a given trade versus too large a bet.
Psychology. The third phase is realizing how important psychology is – not only personal psychology but also the psychology of crowds.
But it would be better to go through these phases in the opposite direction. I actually read of this idea in a magazine a few months ago but, for the life of me, can’t find the article. Even so, with a measly 15 years of experience under my belt and an expensive Ph.D. from S.H.K. University (i.e., School of Hard Knocks), I wholeheartedly agree. Aspiring traders should begin their journey at phase three and work backward.
I believe the first step in becoming a consistently successful trader is to understand how psychology plays out in your own make-up and in the way the crowd reacts to changes in the markets. The reason for this is that a trader must realize that once he or she makes a trade, logic no longer applies. This is because the emotions of fear and greed take precedence – fear of losing money and greed for more money.
Once the aspiring trader understands this psychology, it’s easier to understand why it’s important to have a defined investment methodology and, more importantly, the discipline to follow it. New traders must realize that once they join a crowd, they lose their individuality. Worse yet, crowd psychology impairs their judgment, because crowds are wrong more often than not, typically selling at market bottoms and buying at market tops.
Moving onto phase two, after the aspiring trader understands a bit of psychology, he or she can focus on money management. Money management is an important subject and deserves much more than just a few sentences. Even so, there are two issues that I believe are critical to grasp: (1) risk in terms of individual trades and (2) risk as a percentage of account size.
When sizing up a trading opportunity, the rule-of-thumb I go by is 3:1. That is, if my risk on a given trading opportunity is $500, then the profit objective for that trade should equal $1,500, or more. With regard to risk as a percentage of account size, I’m more than comfortable utilizing the same guidelines that many professional money managers use – 1%-3% of the account per position. If your trading account is $100,000, then you should risk no more than $3,000 on a single position. Following this guideline not only helps to contain losses if one’s trade decision is incorrect, but it also insures longevity. It’s one thing to have a winning quarter; the real trick is to have a winning quarter next year and the year after.
When aspiring traders grasp the importance of psychology and money management, they should then move to phase three – determining their methodology, a defined and unwavering way of examining price action. I principally use the Wave Principle as my methodology. However, wave analysis certainly isn’t the only way to view price action. One can choose candlestick charts, Dow Theory, cycles, etc. My best advice in this realm is that whatever you choose to use, it should be simple. In fact, it should be simple enough to put on the back of a business card, because, like an appliance, the fewer parts it has, the less likely it is to break down.
For more trading lessons from Jeffrey Kennedy, visit Elliott Wave International to download the Best of Trader’s Classroom eBook. It’s free until August 17.
By Jeffrey Kennedy
Close to ninety percent of all traders lose money. The remaining ten percent somehow manage to either break even or even turn a profit – and more importantly, do it consistently. How do they do that?
That’s an age-old question. While there is no magic formula, one of Elliott Wave International’s senior instructors Jeffrey Kennedy has identified five fundamental flaws that, in his opinion, stop most traders from being consistently successful. We don’t claim to have found The Holy Grail of trading here, but sometimes a single idea can change a person’s life. Maybe you’ll find one in Jeffrey’s take on trading? We sincerely hope so.
The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Kennedy’s Trader’s Classroom Collection. For a limited time, Elliott Wave International is offering Jeffrey Kennedy’s report, How to Use Bar Patterns to Spot Trade Setups, free.
Why Do Traders Lose?
If you’ve been trading for a long time, you no doubt have felt that a monstrous, invisible hand sometimes reaches into your trading account and takes out money. It doesn’t seem to matter how many books you buy, how many seminars you attend or how many hours you spend analyzing price charts, you just can’t seem to prevent that invisible hand from depleting your trading account funds.
Which brings us to the question: Why do traders lose? Or maybe we should ask, ‘How do you stop the Hand?’ Whether you are a seasoned professional or just thinking about opening your first trading account, the ability to stop the Hand is proportional to how well you understand and overcome the Five Fatal Flaws of trading. For each fatal flaw represents a finger on the invisible hand that wreaks havoc with your trading account.
Fatal Flaw No. 1 – Lack of Methodology
If you aim to be a consistently successful trader, then you must have a defined trading methodology, which is simply a clear and concise way of looking at markets. Guessing or going by gut instinct won’t work over the long run. If you don’t have a defined trading methodology, then you don’t have a way to know what constitutes a buy or sell signal. Moreover, you can’t even consistently correctly identify the trend.
How to overcome this fatal flaw? Answer: Write down your methodology. Define in writing what your analytical tools are and, more importantly, how you use them. It doesn’t matter whether you use the Wave Principle, Point and Figure charts, Stochastics, RSI or a combination of all of the above. What does matter is that you actually take the effort to define it (i.e., what constitutes a buy, a sell, your trailing stop and instructions on exiting a position). And the best hint I can give you regarding developing a defined trading methodology is this: If you can’t fit it on the back of a business card, it’s probably too complicated.
Fatal Flaw No. 2 – Lack of Discipline
When you have clearly outlined and identified your trading methodology, then you must have the discipline to follow your system. A Lack of Discipline in this regard is the second fatal flaw. If the way you view a price chart or evaluate a potential trade setup is different from how you did it a month ago, then you have either not identified your methodology or you lack the discipline to follow the methodology you have identified. The formula for success is to consistently apply a proven methodology. So the best advice I can give you to overcome a lack of discipline is to define a trading methodology that works best for you and follow it religiously.
Fatal Flaw No. 3 – Unrealistic Expectations
Between you and me, nothing makes me angrier than those commercials that say something like, “…$5,000 properly positioned in Natural Gas can give you returns of over $40,000…” Advertisements like this are a disservice to the financial industry as a whole and end up costing uneducated investors a lot more than $5,000. In addition, they help to create the third fatal flaw: Unrealistic Expectations.
Yes, it is possible to experience above-average returns trading your own account. However, it’s difficult to do it without taking on above-average risk. So what is a realistic return to shoot for in your first year as a trader – 50%, 100%, 200%? Whoa, let’s rein in those unrealistic expectations. In my opinion, the goal for every trader their first year out should be not to lose money. In other words, shoot for a 0% return your first year. If you can manage that, then in year two, try to beat the Dow or the S&P. These goals may not be flashy but they are realistic, and if you can learn to live with them – and achieve them – you will fend off the Hand.
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Fatal Flaw No. 4 – Lack of Patience
The fourth finger of the invisible hand that robs your trading account is Lack of Patience. I forget where, but I once read that markets trend only 20% of the time, and, from my experience, I would say that this is an accurate statement. So think about it, the other 80% of the time the markets are not trending in one clear direction.
That may explain why I believe that for any given time frame, there are only two or three really good trading opportunities. For example, if you’re a long-term trader, there are typically only two or three compelling tradable moves in a market during any given year. Similarly, if you are a short-term trader, there are only two or three high-quality trade setups in a given week.
All too often, because trading is inherently exciting (and anything involving money usually is exciting), it’s easy to feel like you’re missing the party if you don’t trade a lot. As a result, you start taking trade setups of lesser and lesser quality and begin to over-trade.
How do you overcome this lack of patience? The advice I have found to be most valuable is to remind yourself that every week, there is another trade-of-the-year. In other words, don’t worry about missing an opportunity today, because there will be another one tomorrow, next week and next month … I promise.
I remember a line from a movie (either Sergeant York with Gary Cooper or The Patriot with Mel Gibson) in which one character gives advice to another on how to shoot a rifle: ‘Aim small, miss small.’ I offer the same advice in this new context. To aim small requires patience. So be patient, and you’ll miss small.”
Fatal Flaw No. 5 – Lack of Money Management
The final fatal flaw to overcome as a trader is a Lack of Money Management, and this topic deserves more than just a few paragraphs, because money management encompasses risk/reward analysis, probability of success and failure, protective stops and so much more. Even so, I would like to address the subject of money management with a focus on risk as a function of portfolio size.
Now the big boys (i.e., the professional traders) tend to limit their risk on any given position to 1% – 3% of their portfolio. If we apply this rule to ourselves, then for every $5,000 we have in our trading account, we can risk only $50-$150 on any given trade. Stocks might be a little different, but a $50 stop in Corn, which is one point, is simply too tight a stop, especially when the 10-day average trading range in Corn recently has been more than 10 points. A more plausible stop might be five points or 10, in which case, depending on what percentage of your total portfolio you want to risk, you would need an account size between $15,000 and $50,000.
Simply put, I believe that many traders begin to trade either under-funded or without sufficient capital in their trading account to trade the markets they choose to trade. And that doesn’t even address the size that they trade (i.e., multiple contracts).
To overcome this fatal flaw, let me expand on the logic from the ‘aim small, miss small’ movie line. If you have a small trading account, then trade small. You can accomplish this by trading fewer contracts, or trading e-mini contracts or even stocks. Bottom line, on your way to becoming a consistently successful trader, you must realize that one key is longevity. If your risk on any given position is relatively small, then you can weather the rough spots. Conversely, if you risk 25% of your portfolio on each trade, after four consecutive losers, you’re out all together.
Break the Hand’s Grip
Trading successfully is not easy. It’s hard work … damn hard. And if anyone leads you to believe otherwise, run the other way, and fast. But this hard work can be rewarding, above-average gains are possible and the sense of satisfaction one feels after a few nice trades is absolutely priceless. To get to that point, though, you must first break the fingers of the Hand that is holding you back and stealing money from your trading account. I can guarantee that if you attend to the five fatal flaws I’ve outlined, you won’t be caught red-handed stealing from your own account.
For more information on trading successfully, visit Elliott Wave International to download Jeffrey Kennedy’s free report, How to Use Bar Patterns to Spot Trade Setups.