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The Relationship between Success and Credibility (Part 4)

Today I want to conclude by further emphasizing the respect I give to those sharing losing trades.

Gloria Loring taught us that we cannot have the good without the bad so I see little point in trying to overlook the losers. I believe I have at least as much to learn from the losers as I do the winners because the former can deliver me to Ruin.

When people suffer catastrophic loss, they tend to go quietly into the night. Maybe this is in hopes of preserving a positive self-concept or minimizing damage to personal reputation. A sense of shame may also play a role. Sharing failure with others could prevent the rest of us from repeating similar mistakes but Schadenfreude is a coping mechanism too.

On a smaller scale, this phenomenon of “going quietly into the night” seems to happen with regard to any losing trade.

As discussed last time, a great way to improve as traders is to understand mistakes we are most likely to make. These include mistakes made by others. I would prefer to hear a presentation on losing rather than winning trades because the latter, in my opinion, is more likely to be contaminated with self-promoting conflicts of interest.

I have considered creating a seminar on “ways to save thousands in the financial markets.” In this program I would discuss financial frauds and shady practices that I have encountered during my years studying the financial/trading landscape. I definitely believe one key to long-term trading success is to avoid being derailed by the tempting offerings (e.g. black box systems, trading newsletters, trader education programs) professing mouthwatering performance numbers. These are more likely to rob you blind should you get suckered in.

Ironically, I decided not to move forward with this seminar idea is because I questioned whether the negative is marketable. People often don’t like to hear the negative. Even I prefer to focus on the positive but I had to grow up sometime and realize that it’s not all winning and roses out there. Losing is part of life and I believe I have much to learn from its lessons.

I have often thought that a string of early wins can be a curse for those new to trading. If they assume this early success to be representative of future win rate then they may increase position size too fast. This leaves them vulnerable to the possibility of catastrophic loss when Mr. Market decides to change his mind.

I once heard “that’s why it’s called trading, not winning.” Sometimes it takes time for the reality of losing to set in.

The Relationship between Success and Credibility (Part 3)

A trader who never wins has no/little credibility with me. A trader who wins but has a small sample size to show has no/little credibility with me. Today I want to consider a trader who usually wins and has losing experiences to share.

I hypothesize that a high percentage of traders would make similar mistakes given a particular trade or difficult trade situation. Although an interesting concept, in practice I would have a very difficult time ever finding a large sample size of people holding the same option position. As more traders share details about different mistakes, though, the probability increases that some of the [theoretically] common ones will be covered. This can be useful education for that high percentage of traders mentioned above [minding the possibility of curve-fitting if said lessons pertain to overly specific circumstances].

Scarcity makes losing lessons from winning traders especially valuable. I have been disgusted with the absence of losing trade talk in times when the market has gotten really nasty. September 2015 sticks out in my memory. In one month, the market corrected 10% while volatility tripled: nightmare conditions for any positive delta, negative vega trader. I facilitated a six-person trading group at the time and the only one who talked about losing trades was me!

I think losing lessons from winning traders are much more relevant than losing lessons from losing traders. What seems important to losing traders may not actually be: they lose regardless so how would they know? What seems important to winning traders is noteworthy because they usually make it work.

We should be aware that one reason winners brag is because winning sells. I am always on the lookout for conflicts of interest when I hear discussion of winners.

Losing, on the other hand, gives rise to a different set of emotions and perceptions. Nobody wants to be a loser and people do not want to be on a losing team. Dayananda Saraswati said it really well:

     > In life, loss is inevitable. Everyone knows this, yet in the core
     > of most people it remains deeply denied – “This should not
     > happen to me.” It is for this reason that loss is the most
     > difficult challenge one has to face as a human being.

I perceive added sincerity and greater relevance when people share experiences about losing.

I will complete this mini-series next time.

The Relationship between Success and Credibility (Part 2)

Last time I began discussion about credibility. Before I proceed to distinguish between losing traders and losing trades, I want to expound a bit on sample size.

I recently found a new Meetup that advertised the following:

     > Organizer/Facilitator is experienced with US stocks
     > and options. He quit his job and invest [sic] safely in
     > Singapore using US stocks for passive income. With
     > 5% monthly returns, he able [sic] to enjoy more time to
     > document his trades, analysis [sic] and exploration.

This raised multiple points of scrutiny for me so I messaged the organizer: “what about 5% monthly returns do you think is not an ‘overnight, get rich quick scheme?'”

I was challenging his notion of “safely.” Plenty of people would be making 60% per year if it were reasonable to do so.

He responded: “nope, because it’s about consistency every month with due diligence done to ensure capital is always safe.”

Rather than target his use of “ensure,” I replied: “calculating returns based on invested capital is meaningless. Anyone can be ‘brave’ and take excessive risk on a sliver of their portfolio. If you succeed and make 5% per month on that then the actual return on total net worth is only a fraction.”

He asked “well if u find it meaningless, how would you calculate your profits from your experience of trading?”

“On a trade-by-trade basis I think it’s okay to use invested capital in the denominator if it is relatively consistent across the set of trades (or if you have a logical plan for dealing with the significant differences when it’s not). For overall performance, though, I think you must divide by total net worth.”

In response, he wrote: “that sounds reasonable as well. 80% of my net worth is traded to achieve my 5%. Remaining 20% I trade on good market condition for other strategies. I don’t really do any day to day trades, so I can only summarize my trade results after 1-2 months for each trade.”

I asked, “5% for how many months?”

He responded, “10% for 2 months averages out to 5% per month.”

There’s our gremlin!

Two months is virtually meaningless as a track record because it is such a small sample size. I discussed in the last post how Mr. Market sometimes allows much longer tastes of success due to no particular trader skill whatsoever. All credibility with me was therefore lost.

As they say on Shark Tank, “for that reason I’m out.”

The Relationship between Success and Credibility (Part 1)

Recently I have been trying to slim down my Drafts folder by completing some blog posts. The current topic is whether consistent profitability ought to be a sufficient or necessary condition for credibility when listening to others talk trading.

This post goes back to “Mr. Know It All” who I introduced here and proceeded to discuss here.

Actual success does not mean I know what I’m talking about. I could be far too aggressive with regard to risk management and lucky not to have gotten clobbered [yet]. In my experience, Mr. Market offers extended tastes of random success between the occasional, inevitable days of reckoning where most traders will be forced to pay the piper.

“Actual success” is a term that demands operational definition. Claims of profitability are more encouraging when backed by large sample size. Generally people claiming profitability are not forthcoming with enough details to assess validity of those claims (e.g. number of trades, time interval, and position size relative to whole portfolio). This is especially true for strangers or acquaintances.

Mr. Know It All offered unexpected transparency when he admitted a track record of losses. I wondered if he planned to continue [losing money]. Was trading futures his substitute for buying lottery tickets? He clearly enjoyed being listened to and viewed as some sort of authority but why would I follow anything he said?

If you believe the statistics then most traders lose, but should they all be ignored? My initial response was affirmative unless I just want to lose a little over a limited period of time. This is a gambler’s mentality, though, and I am here to trade as a business. Traders who lose because of excessive position sizing may have some useful knowledge to share provided I am less susceptible to greed and able to trade smaller.

I do not believe disciplined traders should lose on a regular basis—certainly not to the extent of being net negative over an extended period. These people should be trying to learn from others rather than looking to soak up spotlight for themselves.

I will continue next time.

Market Measures Mistake (Part 2)

Last time I discussed my first criticism of the Tasty Trade show “Market Measures” (MM): reporting of incomplete information. My second critique is an occasional mistake in tabulating the results. A good example of this is the MM episode from November 8, 2016.

MM claims taking assignment on the short put and selling a call against it improves the overall trade. Slide 5 says this increases both the overall winning percentage (from 92% to 96%) and the average P/L (from +$46 to +$53).

Pay close attention to slides 3 and 4. Slide 3 says 92% of trades were winners. The average P/L was $46 and the average length of trade was 17 days. Slide 4 says losing trades lost an average of $769 in 42 days or $682 in 64 days if rolled (assignment followed by writing of a call). Consider case 1 where a losing trade is followed by a winning trade (likely due to the 92% win rate) vs. case 2 where the losing trade is rolled.

In case 1, we have average P/L’s of -$769 (average losing trade) and +$117 (average winning trade), which sum to -$652. The average trade length is 56.8 days (based on information from slides 3 and 4).

In case 2 we have an average loss of $682 in 64 days.

So despite the fact that rolling (case 2) turned 45% of the losing trades into winners (slide 5), simply realizing the loss and putting on a subsequent trade (case 1) did better (in 10% fewer days). While they don’t give enough information to calculate the average winning and losing trades, even if the winners only averaged +$1, the losers averaged -$1,241. This is over 10 times the average winning trade: a difficult number to stomach.

Yes, the improvement in average P/L on slide 5 is good but the implication of slides 3 and 4 is equally bad. I therefore see no justification for the all-positive takeaways shown in slide 7. I also walk away wondering if the numbers add up at all and I can’t know for sure because they provided incomplete information. I have sent a follow-up e-mail asking for another response two months after my initial e-mail received none.

In summary, I enjoy the MM show and I support the Tasty Trade efforts to boost financial literacy. The sloppiness does not set a disciplined example, though. Presenting incomplete information may be okay for people trading as a hobby. It cannot be taken seriously until sufficiently rigorous for a trading business, though, which is probably just what the disclaimers aim to suggest.

Market Measures Mistake (Part 1)

I am a regular viewer of Market Measures (MM) on the Tasty Trade network and I am a big fan of what Sosnoff, Battista, et. al are trying to do on the show. Unfortunately, I sometimes think they do a poor job of doing it.

Although categorized “optionScam.com,” I do not consider Tasty Trade fraudulent despite some conflicts of interest. I do believe their approach is sometimes flawed. I sometimes wonder whether presenters are intending to deceive or simply victims of the “don’t know what they don’t know” syndrome. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.

I believe the audience has an opportunity to apply critical thinking in order to see through the mistakes. Doing this can prevent unexpected losses of capital. In this blog, I label this due diligence optionScam.com.

My criticism of MM is two-fold with the first being a failure to report key information.

They begin with an outline of the study, which I sometimes find to be incomplete. In other words, the description is not enough to allow me to replicate their study. I believe this is essential in any scientific research because a failure to do so is carte blanche to report numbers regardless of accuracy.

MM rarely mentions transaction fees, which I consider a major fault. I have demonstrated transaction fees to be capable of making or breaking a backtrade. A few years ago Sosnoff talked about “resort fees” as something they included. On December 12 of last year Sosnoff said “and this takes into account all the resort fees, all the commissions, and everything else.” Exactly what did they use for resort fees and commissions? And why associate them with a vacation? Get serious and specific because transaction fees need to be mentioned whenever trade statistics are presented.

Most episodes leave me wondering about key metrics. They present things like average credit, win rate, and average PnL. Sometimes they present largest loss, which I consider mandatory reporting for every single study (drawdown is risk). Rarely do they report number of occurrences: is it a large enough sample to be valid? Seldom do they report buying power reduction: are the results large enough in terms of return on capital to be meaningful?

I will continue next time.

The Fallout from Financial Fraud

I’ve done a lot of posting in this blog about things in finance that are not what they seem. At worst, we’re talking about a criminal act of fraud. Today I’m going to talk a bit about why we should care.

Taking steps to avoid falling prey to fraud may seem obvious to some. Without thinking too much about it, people may indicate a desire to avoid being taken advantage of, to avoid being robbed, or to avoid a bruised ego (pride).

Because of my background in psychology, I took particular interest in a 2015 research report issued by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation called “Non-Traditional Costs of Financial Fraud.” In case anyone doubts this is a big deal, the Stanford Financial Fraud Research Center estimates $50 billion is lost to financial fraud every year.

Data for the report was collected through an online survey administered in August 2014. Six hundred self-reported fraud victims 25 years of age or older responded to the survey:


These indicate far-reaching adverse events suffered as a result of financial fraud.

The report also asked about more “traditional” costs of a financial crime:

The report suggests psychological and financial distress may be experienced for a long time after the crime has been committed. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone upon reading it. For those who don’t read/hear about it, though, I feel we have much to do with regard to raising awareness of financial fraud.

I’ve learned a saying in my studies of finance and trading: “if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” To this end, a little bit of critical analysis can go a long way for prevention.

Product Reviews: Who Can You Believe?

When it comes to product reviews, reasonable doubt should have us all wondering who we can believe and when.

The following online comment has has stuck in my mind since 2012:

     > Most of the book reviews on Amazon are just a marketing
     > ploy to sell books – through high ratings as well as
     > high number of people who find those reviews helpful.
     > And when there is not a favorable review, the same
     > marketing machine tries to discredit the review by
     > showing that most did not find the review helpful.

Most books and products I see online have many more 5-star (best) ratings than 1-star (worst) ratings. Many of those people have allegedly received the book for free with a request to provide a review. Providing something gratis is a great marketing tool. The recipient often feels grateful and at some level wants to repay the benefactor. One way to do this is to write a positive review.

Shills go a long way to destroying credibility for many. A shill is someone involved with covert advertising who attempts to spread buzz by personally endorsing a product in public forums with the pretense of sincerity. Unbeknownst to the audience, shills are actually paid for their promotional services. Online, shills look very similar to genuine reviewers and sometimes the difference is not detectable at all. Occasionally shills will have one and only one post on the website. While this is a hint that the account may have been created just to promote a product, the casual reader cannot know for sure.

At the other end of the spectrum are negative reviews, which I tend to believe more than the positive ones. It seems to take more effort to sample a product and be detailed about specific flaws then it does to simply say “great product! Everyone should try it.”

In the end, faking a negative review is probably just as easy as faking a positive one. If you paid attention to the 2016 POTUS election then the reason for doing so is plain to see. Someone working for one company can easily make a competitor look bad by posting a slew of negative reviews for the competitor’s products.

In the end, who can you trust? While this question entered my consciousness from internet experience, it’s probably an issue as old as advertising itself. The only advice I can offer is “don’t believe everything you see.” Apply critical thinking to ensure some things make sense before making a decision that really counts.

Critical Analysis and Positivity

Karen Firestone, CEO of Aureus Asset Management, had some interesting words on positivity for a July 2016 interview in the AAII Journal:

     > Everyone likes to be positive. It’s much more
     > fun to be positive than negative, although
     > we are all fascinated by the catastrophes of
     > others.
     >
     > If you’re an analyst on Wall Street and it’s
     > your job to follow… the retail industry…
     > You’re very rarely going to be negative about
     > those companies, because you know the
     > management and you know how they built their
     > business. You also have invested a lot of your
     > own time and energy in creating that very, very
     > elaborate model of the company. You want your
     > firm to invest in your ideas. It makes you feel
     > more important, rather than saying, “Oh, I’ve
     > done all of this work, but now don’t buy it.”
     >
     > It’s the job of the portfolio manager or the
     > individual investor to say, “Well, I don’t
     > know, maybe it isn’t such a great idea.
     > Perhaps they’re overly optimistic.”
     >
     > We think it’s very important to be skeptical
     > of the enthusiasm from corporate executives
     > who have a vested interest in being positive.
     > We all hear about great ideas constantly on the
     > news, from colleagues and from friends. I think
     > it’s critical to be skeptical all the time.

I pretty much feel these words should be put on high for all to read in the financial industry or otherwise!

I strive to be positive in my own life each and every day. I do positive affirmations and I spend time visualizing positive outcomes. I think positively for others and I attempt to send positive vibes their way.

On the other hand, I often see people using an abundance of optimism in an effort to cover up mistakes, shortcomings, disadvantages, or weaknesses. I feel advertising, marketing, and politics are notorious for this. We can be distracted from red flags by getting us to focus elsewhere. We can get caught up in the wonderful hopes, dreams, and fantasy to the exclusion of factual reality.

Firestone may have said it best where she mentioned “vested interest.” Critical thinking means always being cognizant of why people might be saying what they do. If they have something to gain then perhaps a second opinion is advised for confirmation. This simple formula goes a long way to avoid falling prey to hollow promises, chicanery, and the charlatans who make an occasional appearance on the financial scene in efforts to steal hard-earned money from innocent people.

My first post of 2016 discussed fraud. Perhaps it’s fitting that the last post does the same.

Best Wishes for a safe/healthy New Year and a happy 2017!

Beware Fraudulent Claims

A trading Meetup recently announced a new online meeting in a way that, I feel, was heading down the fraudulent path.

This was not the actual commission of fraud. No funds were raised through the website and nobody, to my knowledge, lost anything. Based on outside appearances, I simply think this had the appearance of something shady.

The meeting announcement read:

     > Fellow trader S [name removed] will share some of his
     > Futures trades/strategies. S says, “make around 20
     > points a day/contract and no losing day ever.” He’ll
     > share some real examples with you.

S’s personal introduction read:

     > [website address omitted]. Professional futures
     > trader specialize in s&p and oil. Trade using
     > proprietary algorithms.

I went to the website (omitted above) and found I could subscribe for $300/month to get ES futures trades.

On the Meetup website I posted this:

     > I was going to RSVP yes until I read “…and no
     > losing day ever.” Show me a system guaranteed
     > not to lose money and simply by holding up a
     > mirror I’ll show you a system that won’t make
     > any money, either.

The Meetup organizer responded by inviting me to attend the webinar. He said my response is even more reason to join in and he told me to “have fun.”

I told him how I felt:

     > I love to laugh and I do it plenty… but on
     > behalf of the thousands who have been defrauded
     > by financial charlatans over the years, in this
     > instance I am not amused. You’re featuring a
     > presentation by “fellow trader” S who is
     > affiliated with a premium website and there’s
     > a claim about no losing days. The SEC doesn’t
     > take kindly to guarantees and hollow promises
     > like that. Honestly, [as the Organizer of this group]
     > you should have told him to muzzle it before you
     > ever put that quote up on the page. Part of becoming
     > a more experienced trader is learning about fraud
     > and the myriad of ways “support personnel” in this
     > space who provide premium “tools” and “services”
     > are all too often just looking to separate traders
     > from our money. A claim like “no losses” raises
     > multiple red flags about S. I’d be better off going
     > to a timeshare webinar because then I might at
     > least get some sort of free vacation!

I pulled no punches.

I consider claims like these bad news because they have the appearance of truth and all too often succeed in tricking the uninformed into surrendering capital. Any strategy has risk and will produce losing trades. No experienced, honest trader would tell you otherwise. To even mention “no losing” anything is therefore, in my view, meaningless (if based on a small historical sample size) and/or fraudulent (if commenting on future performance).

Fraudsters can be very persuasive with a variety of techniques and sometimes impeccable charisma. Beginners may not identify the deception. Even someone with advanced experience may not identify the deception if s/he is not suspecting that anything wrong might be taking place. This is where “impeccable charisma” aids with the establishment of rapport even before the pitch is given.

The Organizer responded to my last comment by suggesting I apologize to S and by deleting my comment from the site. I find such censorship to be suspect, too. I have seen people in premium “trading rooms” question conflicting details and be subsequently muted or banned from the room altogether. Some of these may be deceptive conspiracies at work.