The Trader’s Emergency Survival Plan

(Note: This was originally posted on September 30th, 2011).

As soon as the market opened today the streams and chat rooms blew up with reports that various platforms were down, and unavailable to place trades.  Frantic statements like, “I can’t close my positions out”, “my screen is frozen”, and “I am losing thousands right now” were flying right and left.

The first thing you need to be aware of when trading on-line is that when there are technical problems like this YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.

The agreements you sign when you open a brokerage account specifically state that the broker dealer is not responsible for technical issues related to platform functionality,  connection problems with the exchange, or data feeds.  This applies to their own technical issues as well as any technical issue of their vendors.

Sure, if you call customer service and complain loud enough, you may get some free trades or a toaster, but they are not going to refund you the five grand you lost because you could not close your position out.

The second thing you need to know is that technical problems will happen at exactly the worst moment.

For example, brokers often roll new code or system upgrades overnight, and although they test the best they can to make sure everything is stable, sometimes an issue will not show up until the rush of opening orders hits their servers.  If you think about it, it is kind of a self-fulfilling action.

Imagine there is some terrible terrorist attack overnight, and everybody and their brother panics and decides to sell their positions as soon as the market opens.  A massive wave of sell orders hits your broker’s site, crashing it.  Those same sell orders are driving the market down, causing more people to sell and sending the market into a free fall.  This is the time you need to get out of your position most, but you can’t.  Believe me, it sucks.

But broker issues are not the only things that can cut off your ability to trade.  If you want to do the most you can to try and prevent that from happening, then I suggest you do the follow;


In our modern world, especially if you live in major urban centers, we rarely give a thought to losing power, however it still happens.  Just a couple of weeks ago, a major part of Sand Diego County lost power for a number of hours.  No matter if it is a line worker who hits the wrong switch or a fuse blowing out in your house or office, there is always a risk of an unexpected power outage.

Go to Best Buy or Amazon and get yourself a UPS battery backup unit.  You don’t need the one that will power your whole house; you just need one that can give you 15-30 minutes of battery backup.  Once you get it, make sure you plug your CPU, your internet modem, your wireless router, and at least one monitor into the battery backup plugs.  This will enable you to stay up and running and give you enough time to flatten out a position or at least put a stop order in if you lose power.


Even with no broker issues and full power, your internet connection can go down, leaving you at the mercy of the markets.  If you have access to a fiber optic service like Verizon’s FIO’s you should seriously look at signing up.  It is extremely fast and has almost zero downtime.  But no matter what type of internet access you have, you should definitely have redundancy in the form of a separate provider.

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish; just pay the extra fifty bucks a month to have a backup connection.  Even if you never need to use it, it is great piece of mind to know that if your DSL goes out; you can just switch CAT 5 cables and have your cable internet kick right back in.  (It should go without saying that you should have the CAT 5 cable to your alternate service clipped to the back of your router or computer for a quick switchover).


With the ease of use of online trading, there is no reason that you should have all your trading funds with one broker.  Split your funds up 50/50 or 30/70 into your primary broker, and your secondary broker.  Now unless there is a complete failure of the exchange systems, something which is almost unheard of (and if it happens you are screwed either way), you have a backup way to flatten a position.

Say you are long 500 shares of XYZ and you lose access with your broker’s platform.  If they market starts to tank, you can go onto your secondary brokerage account and sell 500 shares of XYZ short, effectively making you flat on the position, which you can unwind when things return back to normal.  Sure you will pay a couple extra commissions, but what does that matter if it saved you hundreds or thousands.

Bonus Tip

If you even happen to fat finger a trade or by either your fault or a technical glitch in the trading software, over buy or sell a position, CLOSE IT OUT IMMEDIATELY.  If you are a trader, you need to be able to analyze a situation and take fast, non-emotional actions, and this is a perfect example of that.  No matter what someone tells you, the exchange has the ultimate power to break a trade, and remember, you are not their client, your broker is.

How long will it take you to pick up the phone, get through to your broker’s customer service department, have them contact their order desk, and then the exchange?  Do you want an open oversized position out there for all that time, possibly going against you hard, only to find out that the trade stands?

Trust me, kill the trade immediately, then call your broker’s customer support line and explain the situation.  If you are a good customer, and the loss is not too big, you have a decent chance of them scratching it for you or at least giving you some free trades to compensate.


3 Ways The Exchanges Screw With Your Stop Orders.


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There are number of topics that come up on a regular basis on the streams, but one of the most prevalent is “how the markets are rigged.”  Well I can tell you with 100% certainty, they are rigged.  Plain and simple, the markets, specifically the exchanges, are totally geared towards screwing the retail investor.

The key though is not to go on some quixotic attempt to change things, but to educated yourself as to how it is rigged, and then use that knowledge to your advantage.  So in that spirit, let me fill you in on the three most common ways you can get screwed when using stop market orders.

1.  Triggering stops without a trade –  For example, XYZ is currently trading at $20.50, and you have a stop market order in to sell at $20.00.  Price approaches your stop and it gets triggered and you are filled at $20.05.  But when you look at your chart, you see that the lowest price got was $20.04.  So how was your stop triggered?

When you put a stop order in, what you are doing is placing a market order, which for lack of a better word, is in a “suspended” state.  It is not active until the price hits your stop, or trigger price.  Once that is hit, your market order is then live, and acts like any other market order.

But what you might not know is that there does NOT actually have to be a trade at your stop price in order to trigger the market order.  Only a QUOTE needs to be shown at your stop price in order to trigger your market order.

2.  Reprioritizing your order –  When there are two stop orders at the same price sitting on an exchange, the priority goes to the one that was placed first.  So if XYZ is trading at $20.50, and there are two stop market orders at $20.00, if price comes down and triggers those stops, the one that was placed first will get filled before the other one.

However, this all changes if there are stop limit orders at that price.  Stop limit orders at the same price as a stop market order will get priority to be filled even if it was placed AFTER the stop market order.  In fact, stop limit orders BELOW the price of stop market order can still get priority.

The “philosophy” behind this exchange rule is that by placing a stop market order, you are accepting the possibility of getting filled “where the market is trading”.  But with a stop limit order, you are only willing to accept a fill at a specific price or better.  If price is falling fast and triggers a $20.00 stop market order and continues to $19.98 before filling that order, a stop limit at $19.98 will get filled first.  And if there is no more liquidity at that price and it drops to $19.96 before filling the market order, limit orders at $19.96 will get priority over it.

As you can see, in a fast market, especially in a less liquid issue, your stop market order can drop significantly without getting filled, while stop limit orders are getting filled along the way.

3.  Midday stop hunting –  Often during the middle of the day I will see stops get run, usually below obvious support levels, only to see price reverse immediately and begin climbing.  This is possible because of the tendency for liquidity to dry up during the middle of the day, meaning that much less volume is needed for move a stock.

I hear complaints all the time where people lament their stops being run, and then usually adding “and this stock trades seven million shares a day”, the implication being that the stock is too liquid to manipulate.  But what they don’t realize is that the vast majority of volume takes place in the first and last 30 minutes of the trading day.  Often 50% or more of the day’s total volume takes place during these periods.  That leaves 5.5 hours of relatively light volume, where price can more easily be directed towards pockets of stops.

There is a common theme running through all three of these issues.  Can you guess what it is?  The exchanges run on volume, the more the better for them.  And in each of the three scenarios above, the framework is designed to create as much volume as possible.

Price can’t trade low enough to trigger a transaction, so instead they can just throw a quote out and get the same effect.

Falling price may bypass a limit order and thus not trigger a trade, so they make sure they have the best chance create a transaction by prioritizing the limit order, as they can fill the market order after it and in a wider price range.

Low volume periods during the day allow easier price manipulation and the ability to “clear out” areas where stops congregate.

I have some ideas as how to help negate these disadvantages, but I would love to hear some of your solutions.  Send them to me and I will amend this story with some of the better ones.

UPDATE: Reader’s comments below


@StockTickr writes…

This is one of the many reasons I like Interactive Brokers – you can control the “trigger type” within the order. See the “Trigger Method” section on this page:


As a day trader I don’t use hard stops at all for this very reason….

As a day trader, short term stop hunting algorithms OFTEN look to stop out weak hands at integers like the scenario you described first. Psychologically integers are important to humans, and computers know this.

BigJ writes….

The only alternative I know of is at my brokerage, TD Ameritrade. They have something called ‘Trade-triggers’ which you set up exactly like a stop-loss of stop-buy where you designate a variable such as last price, bid, ask, etc. along with a trigger or activation price. Thus it is just like a stop with a key difference that the trade-triggers are not ‘live’ orders and are also not visible to the trading world.

@HotPh.dStripper adds…..

bclund you are so hot.  Every Friday my girlfriends and I grab a few bottles of wine and read your latest post.  How can someone so smart and insightful be SO DAMM sexy.  We want you to join us next Friday, so we can “run your stops”….!

@MITmassuse chimes in…..

Forget Ph.d Stripper, becuase I can make you feel sooooo good.  Explain weighted moving averages to me and I am all yours.

@RikersAlumni says….

Loved your post with the “naked men in pit of honey“.  Coming to see you soon.  I think we can have a lot of fun….

31 Things I Have Learned In My Life (So Far).

My Grandfather lived a healthy and full life up until he died at the age of eighty-eight.  One night he went out to his favorite Chinese restaurant and had a great meal with my Grandmother and a group of friends.  The next morning he sat up in bed, said “Oh”, and died of an abdominal aneurism.  I think eighty-eight is a reasonable age to live to, and since I am turning forty-four tomorrow, I suppose I am right at “mid-life”.

In honor of that I have come up with a list of thirty-one things I have learned in life so far:

    • You don’t have to agree with someone’s politics to appreciate and respect their craft:  See Larry David, Rage Against The Machine, and Anthony Bourdain.
    • Shorting makes a profit faster, but is much, much harder to do.
    • Even the most stress filled day can be made better by sitting on the beach and watching the sun set.

      I tell my kids to listen for the “tsssssss!” when it hits the water.
    • My father told me “count your true friends on one hand”.  I believe that, but I have learned that having a wide group of good acquaintances will broaden your life.
    • Having children is the best thing that ever happened to me.  Each time I look at them it feels like Christmas, my birthday, and winning the lottery all rolled into one.  And that happens again and again throughout each and every day.
    • Serving black tar heroin as an appetizer at a dinner party is actually considered a faux pas.
    • California punk rock was as good if not better than its New York and UK counterparts.  See Fear, Circle Jerks, X, Black Flag, The Weirdos,  The Dickies, and the Dead Kennedys.
    • The combination of good Scotch, fine cigars, and plush leather chairs is the best recipe for great conversation among a group of friends.  It is a ritual from a forgotten era that is sorely needed in these times of information overload.
    • Freddy “ReRun” Berry could really dance.
    • The word “negative” is the most beautiful in the English language when it relates to the results of a CAT scan.
    • Extremism on either side of the political spectrum is toxic.  I.E. Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh are BOTH idiots.
    • A marriage is a journey, not a destination.  The moment you stop working at it, it begins to die.
    • Just because you had a dream where you were lying in a pit of naked men covered in honey, it doesn’t mean you are gay.
    • Real estate agents are snake oil salesmen (at best).
    • I spent way too much time drinking in bars in my twenties, but probably would be not be any better at speaking Spanish or playing the drums now if I hadn’t.

This is as good as I get!

  • Doctors are really bad poker players.
  • Trading stocks profitably over the long term may be one of the most difficult things anyone can do.
  • I read both volumes of Sir Ian Kershaw’s definitive 2100+ page biography on Adolf Hitler, and what I learned is that he was a pretty bad guy.

    Hitler BAD! Reading GOOD!
  • The Sex Pistols and The Clash are good, but The Damned are the best punk band you never heard of.
  • Vietnamese food is some of the most delicious on Earth.  If you haven’t had a bowl of pho, you don’t know what you are missing.
  • In fact, more people have been killed in the name of secularism than in the name of religion.  See Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, et al.
  • Redheads are either REALLY hot or REALLY ugly.

    Ginger and Carrot Top. Nuff said!
  • Lenny Bruce, Van Halen, and Seinfeld are overrated.  Bill Hicks, Stone Temple Pilots, and Arrested Development are underrated.
  • If the girl you are in love with at work says she has to stay late to take inventory with the tanned stock boy who surfs…..the surfer dude is banging her.
  • Having a good sense of humor is one of the healthiest things you can have in life.  And Schadenfreude is one of the most toxic.
  • Even though I have seen each a hundred times, if I accidentally come across Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, Scarface, Apocalypse Now, Carlito’s Way, or either of the first two Godfather’s while flipping channels, I am done for the next 2-3 hours.
  • Che Guevara is not a romantic hero.  He’s a fucking murderer.
  • When you are a young man, no matter what they say, thinking about “baseball” does not help.
  • The best two days of a business partnership are the first and the last.
  • Don’t trust someone who doesn’t like music.
  • The only thing in my life that I can truly say I am good at, is being a father, and I am proud of that.


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How To Bring A Loved One Back From The Dead.

When the person you love most in life dies, it doesn’t hurt.  The word “hurt” implies that you can feel something, but the truth is, all you really feel is numb.

I had a year and a half to prepare for the death of my father, starting with a phone call to my homeroom class.  This was 1985, long before cell phones, and I was a senior in high school.  Our classroom had a wall mounted rotary phone in it, but it could only be used for communicating between the classroom and the administration building.   When it rang my teacher picked it up, listened intently, and then hung up.  “You need to go up to the front office, there is a phone call for you”, he said somberly.

When I arrived there and picked up the phone it was my mother on the line.  She began to give me the “facts” in her WASPy style, a style of which I have much too often heard come out of my own mouth in the ensuing years.  It’s done in a measured concern type of tone that tries to convey the message, “yes, we have a situation here, but let’s take it step by step and not get ahead of ourselves.”  I stuck with her until the part about a “brain tumor” came up.  Everything after that was a blank.

During a presentation at his office, my father had frozen on a word.  He could not get it out of his mouth.  Then he had a seizure and fell to the floor.  After being rushed to the hospital, he was given a cat scan where they found the source of the problem, one those pesky cancerous tumors had decided it would call his brain home.  The next year and a half had many moments of sorrow and pain, and surprisingly, some of joy as well.  But still, nothing in those eighteen months could prepare me enough for the day we lowered his casket into the ground.

In the twenty-five plus years since, I have thought about my father often.  He was without a doubt the greatest person I have ever known.  At the time of his death I loved him more than I had loved anyone else in my life, and only with the birth of my children have I loved someone more.  I always say he was like me, but without the “asshole” part, because he had all my good traits and none of my flaws.

I had long since come to accept the fact that he would not be there with me for the important and special events in my life.  Yet the only thing that I could never come to peace with was that he would never get to meet my children–or they him.  Then I had something amazing happen to me, something I never would have expected, and something I never would have believed.  I had a dream.

Once I was at a party, and there was a lady with a decent size group of people standing around her.  As I listened in to the conversation, I figured out that she did dream interpretation.  She was being peppered with all sorts of questions from enthusiastic and hopeful people, wanting to find out the hidden message in their dreams.  Questions about unicorns, and rainbows, and swimming with dolphins.  It was a regular new age conclave.  I walked right in the middle of it and said to her with a straight face, “I had a dream I was in a pit of naked men, covered in honey.  What do you think that means?”

Suffice to say, that is how I generally feel about dream interpretation.  But this dream I had was such a powerful dream.  A dream where you can hear, and smell, and feel the people in it.  You know, like that dream you had about the girl who sat in front of you in social studies, but never gave you the time of day.  A “sheet changing” dream.

Man, my dreams are never this cool.

In this dream I was at home with my wife.  My daughter was playing in the yard.  With her grandfather. My father.  There he was, albeit somewhat older, doing his patented “I’ve got your nose” gag, and making her squeal with laughter.  I watched from inside the house, as my wife went about making dinner.  It did not strike me as unusual, that my father was alive and well, and playing with his two year-old granddaughter.  I just felt a sense of calm, of peace, and of all things being right with the world.  Then in an instant it changed.

My daughter suddenly turned and ran into the street.  A sense of fear and dread that only a parent can understand ran through my core.  I saw cars at the end of the street coming her way.  I saw the joy of my life ending.  I saw my reason for living gone.  Almost instantly my father ran for her.  I followed out from the house, but he had a head start and was closer.  She ran down the street and though he tried, he could not catch up with her.  I pushed my legs furiously, seeing that the cars were closing in and my time running out.  I passed up my father, and came within a few feet of her.  I made a mad lunge forward, stretching out as far as I could, and scooped her up into my arms, and to safety.

I awoke to a stillness in my room that clashed with the frenzy of my dream, and at first I was disoriented. Slowly I began the process of coming back to reality, where you remind yourself that “it was only” a dream.  Then suddenly, something inside of me made me stop.  Something made me want to not only hold that dream, but to make it real.  For the first and only time in my life I chose the Orwellian concept of “doublethink”, where you not only choose to believe something untrue is true, but forget your choice to do it, and it becomes reality.  I chose to believe that my father had visited and played with my daughter because the feelings associated with it were as real and as valid as anything else I have felt in my life.

I also chose to understand that my father chasing after my daughter, and I passing him up and bringing her to safety was a metaphor.  That the days where I would watch my father at his workbench, slowly and steadily bringing to life some project that my young mind couldn’t conceive of, were, despite how much I longed for them linger, gone forever.  I had gone from being the admirer to the admired, from the protected to the protector.  A message telling me that I had passed from just being a son, and now was a father in my own right.

That dream helped me to understand that my children could “meet” my father every day, through me, from the parts of me that were from him.  It is years later and I now have a two year old son.  As I watch him play, and learn, and grow, I look forward to the day my father comes to visit him as well.