5 Market Insights from Marty Schwartz

Marty Schwartz is an independent trader, who was a legend in the 1980s. He was featured in the first Market Wizards book. Here’s Jack Schwager’s description of Schwartz:

In nine of the ten four-month trading championships he entered (typically with a starting stake of $400,000), he made more money than all the other contestants combined. His average return in these nine contests was 210 percent—nonannualized! (In the one remaining four-month contest he witnessed a near breakeven result.) In his single entry in a one-year contest, he scored a 781 percent return.

5 notable quotes from Schwager’s interview with Schwartz:

  1. I always take my losses quickly. That is probably the key to my success. You can always put the trade back on, but if you go flat, you see things differently. The pressure you feel when you are in a position that is not working puts you in a catatonic state.

  2. Learn to take losses. The most important thing in making money is not letting your losses get out of hand. Also, don’t increase your position size until you have doubled or tripled your capital. Most people make the mistake of increasing their bets as soon as they start making money. That is a quick way to get wiped out.

  3. Most people would rather lose money than admit they’re wrong. What is the ultimate rationalization of a trader in a losing position? “I’ll get out when I’m even.” Why is getting out even so important? Because it protects the ego. I became a winning trader when I was able to say, “To hell with my ego, making money is more important.”

  4. I always check my charts and the moving averages prior to taking a position. Is the price above or below the moving average? That works better than any tool I have. I try not to go against the moving averages; it is self-destructive. (in his book Pit Bull, Schwartz says that he is using a 10-period exponential moving average).

  5. What was your experience during the week of the October 19, 1987 stock crash?

    I came in long. I have thought about it, and I would do the same thing again. Why? Because on October 16, the market fell 108 points, which, at the time, was the biggest one-day point decline in the history of the stock exchange. It looked climatic to me, and I thought that was a buying opportunity. The only problem was that it was a Friday. Usually a down Friday is followed by a down Monday.

    The high in the S&P on Monday was 269. I liquidated my long position at 267.5. I was real proud of that because it is very hard to pull the trigger on a loser. I just dumped everything. I think I was long 40 contracts coming into that day, and I lost $315,000.

    One of the most suicidal things you can do in trading is to keep adding to a losing position. Had I done that, I could have lost $5 million that day. It was painful, and I was bleeding, but I honored my risk points and bit the bullet.

    I thought about going short, but I said to myself, “Now is not the time to worry about making money; it is the time to worry about keeping what you have made.” Whenever there is a really tough period, I try to play defense, defense, defense. I believe in protecting what you have.

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    Source: Schwager, Jack D. (2012-01-09). Market Wizards: Interviews with Top Traders. Wiley. Kindle Edition.

    Related reading: Size Matters

10 Notable Quotes from the Book “Hedge Fund Market Wizards”

  1. All markets look liquid during the bubble (massive uptrend), but it’s the liquidity after the bubble ends that matters.

  2. Markets tend to overdiscount the uncertainty related to identified risks. Conversely, markets tend to underdiscount risks that have not yet been expressly identified. Whenever the market is pointing at something and saying this is a risk to be concerned about, in my experience, most of the time, the risk ends up being not as bad as the market anticipated.

  3. Traders focus almost entirely on where to enter a trade. In reality, the entry size is often more important than the entry price because if the size is too large, a trader will be more likely to exit a good trade on a meaningless adverse price move. The larger the position, the greater the danger that trading decisions will be driven by fear rather than by judgment and experience.

  4. Virtually all traders experience periods when they are out of sync with the markets. When you are in a losing streak, you can’t turn the situation around by trying harder. When trading is going badly, Clark’s advice is to get out of everything and take a holiday. Liquidating positions will allow you to regain objectivity.

  5. Staring at the screen all day is counterproductive. He believes that watching every tick will lead to both selling good positions prematurely and overtrading. He advises traders to find something else (preferably productive) to occupy part of their time to avoid the pitfalls of watching the market too closely.

  6. When markets are trending up strongly, and there is bad news, the bad news counts for nothing. But if there is a break that reminds people what it is like to lose money in equities, then suddenly the buying is not mindless anymore. People start looking at the fundamentals, and in this case, I knew the fundamentals were very ugly indeed.

  7. If you don’t understand why you are in a trade, you won’t understand when it is the right time to sell, which means you will only sell when the price action scares you. Most of the time when price action scares you, it is a buying opportunity, not a sell indicator.

  8. Normally, I let winners run and cut losers. In 2009, however, as a result of the posttraumatic effects of going through the September 2008 to February 2009 period—talking to clients who are going out of business and seeing 50 percent of your fund redeemed is all very wearing—I got into the habit of snatching quick 10 to 15 percent profits in individual positions. Most of these positions then went up another 35 to 40 percent. I consider my pattern of taking quick profits in 2009 a dreadful error that I think came about because I had lost a degree of confidence due to experiencing my first down year in 2008.

  9. As an equity trader, I learned the short-selling lessons relatively early. There is no high for a concept stock. It is always better to be long before they have already moved a lot than to try to figure out where to go short.

  10. Now that you have switched from net long to net short, what would get you long again? – Buying. If all of a sudden stocks stopped going down on bad news that would be a positive sign.

Source: Schwager, Jack D. (2012-04-25). Hedge Fund Market Wizards. John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

Peter Lynch on Picking Bottoms – If they don’t scare you out, they will wear you out

Bottom fishing is a popular investor pastime, but it’s usually the fisherman who gets hooked. Trying to catch the bottom on a falling stock is like trying to catch a falling knife. It’s normally a good idea to wait until the knife hits the ground and sticks, then vibrates for a while and settles down before you try to grab it. Grabbing a rapidly falling stock results in painful surprises, because inevitably you grab it in the wrong place. If you get interested in buying a turnaround, it ought to be for a more sensible reason than the stock’s gone down so far it looks like up to you. Maybe you realize that business is picking up, and you check the balance sheet and you see that the company has $ 11 per share in cash and the stock is selling for $ 14. But even so, you aren’t going to be able to pick the bottom on the price. What usually happens is that a stock sort of vibrates itself out before it starts up again. Generally this process takes two or three years, but sometimes even longer.

How many times have you heard people say this? Maybe you’ve said it yourself. You come across some stock that sells for $ 3 a share, and already you’re thinking, “It’s a lot safer than buying a $ 50 stock.” I put in twenty years in the business before it finally dawned on me that whether a stock costs $ 50 a share or $ 1 a share, if it goes to zero you still lose everything. If it goes to 50 cents a share, the results are slightly different. The investor who bought in at $ 50 a share loses 99 percent of his investment, and the investor who bought in at $ 3 loses 83 percent, but what’s the consolation in that?

The point is that a lousy cheap stock is just as risky as a lousy expensive stock if it goes down. If you’d invested $ 1,000 in a $ 43 stock or a $ 3 stock and each fell to zero, you’d have lost exactly the same amount. No matter where you buy in, the ultimate downside of picking the wrong stock is always the identical 100 percent.

Sometimes it’s always darkest before the dawn, but then again, other times it’s always darkest before pitch black.

Source:

Lynch, Peter; Rothchild, John (2012-02-28). One Up On Wall Street. Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

18 Insights from ‘The New Market Wizards’ Book

1. I don’t think you can consistently be a winning trader if you’re banking on being right more than 50 percent of the time. You have to figure out how to make money being right only 20 to 30 percent of the time.

2. I basically learned that you must get out of your losses immediately. It’s not merely a matter of how much you can afford to risk on a given trade, but you also have to consider how many potential future winners you might miss because of the effect of the larger loss on your mental attitude and trading size.

3. The problem, in a nutshell, is that human nature does not operate to maximize gain but rather to maximize the chance of a gain. The desire to maximize the number of winning trades (or minimize the number of losing trades) works against the trader. The success rate of trades is the least important performance statistic and may even be inversely related to performance.

4. Don’t worry about what the markets are going to do, worry about what you are going to do in response to the markets.

5. There are certain lessons that you absolutely have to learn to be a successful trader. One of those lessons is that you can’t win if you’re trading at a leverage size that makes you fearful of the market. If I hadn’t learned that concept then, I would have at some later point when I was trading more money, and the lesson would have been far more expensive.

6. You could be right on a market and still end up losing if you use excessive leverage.

7. I never use valuation to time the market. I use liquidity considerations and technical analysis for timing. Valuation only tells me how far the market can go once a catalyst enters the picture to change the market direction. The catalyst is liquidity, and hopefully, my technical analysis will pick it up.

8. I’ve learned many things from him, but perhaps the most significant is that it’s not whether you’re right or wrong that’s important, but how much money you make when you’re right and how much you lose when you’re wrong. The few times that Soros has ever criticized me was when I was really right on a market and didn’t maximize the opportunity.

9. Soros is also the best loss taker I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t care whether he wins or loses on a trade. If a trade doesn’t work, he’s confident enough about his ability to win on other trades that he can easily walk away from the position. There are a lot of shoes on the shelf; wear only the ones that fit. If you’re extremely confident, taking a loss doesn’t bother you.

10. One basic market truth (or, perhaps more accurately, one basic truth about human nature) is that you can’t win if you have to win. Druckenmiller’s plunge into T-bill futures in a desperate attempt to save his firm from financial ruin provides a classic example. Even though he bought T-bill futures within one week of their all-time low (you can’t pick a trade much better than that), he lost all his money. The very need to win poisoned the trade— in this instance, through grossly excessive leverage and a lack of planning. The market is a stern master that seldom tolerates the carelessness associated with trades born of desperation.

11. Many of the best growth stocks have high multiples and are psychologically difficult to buy. If the brokers weren’t turned off by the high P/ Es, their clients were. Also, I realized that many brokers weren’t portfolio managers but were primarily sales oriented.

12. That experience taught me that it’s not that easy to buy back a good stock once you’ve sold it. It reinforced the idea that there’s great advantage and comfort to being a long-term investor.

13. I want to make sure I get off the horse if it starts heading in the wrong direction. Most people believe high turnover is risky, but I think just the opposite. High turnover reduces risk when it’s the result of taking a series of small losses in order to avoid larger losses. I don’t hold on to stocks with deteriorating fundamentals or price patterns. For me, this kind of turnover makes sense. It reduces risk; it doesn’t increase it.

14. There’s a saying, “You can’t make a harvest in the wintertime.” That was the situation initially. It was wintertime for small cap, high growth stocks. The market just wasn’t interested. Once this general attitude changed, the market focused on the company’s excellent earnings, and the stock took off.

15. I won’t buy a stock when it’s dropping even if I like the fundamentals. I have to see some stability in the price action before I buy the stock. Conversely, I might also use a stock’s chart to trigger the sale of a current holding. Again, the charts are a very unemotional way to view a stock’s behavior and potential.

16. I would much rather invest in a stock that’s increasing in price and take the risk that it may begin to decline than invest in a stock that’s already in a decline and try to guess when it will turn around.

17. Another example in which Driehaus’s ability to do what is uncomfortable enhances his profitability is his willingness to buy a stock on extreme strength following a significant bullish news item. In such situations, most investors will wait for a reaction that never comes, or at the very least will place a price limit on their buy order. Driehaus realizes that if the news is sufficiently significant, the only way to buy the stock is to buy the stock. Any more cautious approach is likely to result in missing the move. In similar fashion, Driehaus is also willing to immediately liquidate a holding, even on a sharp one-day decline, if he feels a negative news item has changed the outlook for the stock. The rule is: Do what is right, not what is comfortable.

18. Another important point to emphasize is that a small percentage of huge winners account for the bulk of Driehaus’s superior performance. You don’t have to be right the majority of the time, but you do have to take advantage of the situations when you are right. Achieving this dictate requires two essential elements: taking larger positions when one has a high degree of confidence (e.g., Home Shopping Network was Driehaus’s largest position ever) and holding such positions long enough to realize most of the potential. The latter condition means avoiding the temptation to take profits after a stock has doubled or even tripled, if the fundamental and technical conditions still point to continued higher prices.

Source: Schwager, Jack D. (2009-10-13). The New Market Wizards: Conversations with America’s Top Traders – HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.

The Art of Taking Profits

“Timing the sale is more difficult than timing the purchase because stocks reach their bear market lows simultaneously, but their bull market highs are attained independently. Following the stock averages and selling when the primary trend turns down is often unsatisfactory, since numerous stocks reach their peaks prior to the peaks in the averages. The price and volume trend for each stock must be studied independently and action taken accordingly.”

Source: Superperformance Stocks by Richard Love