Avoiding The Suicide Trade At All Costs

Last week at my family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner Uncle Richard was missing from the table.  I am sure he would have been there if he could have been but he was dead, having wrapped his car around a light pole earlier this year.

Richard was my father’s younger cousin and even as a little kid I knew he was somewhat of an odd guy, as evidenced by that fact that he actually insisted that people call him “Dick” instead of Richard.

At my high school graduation ceremony he offered me, all of seventeen years old at the time, a celebratory “bump.”  Hiiiiii-fuckin-yooo…..!!!  Fortunately I always subscribed to the Willie & Lester philosophy of “say ‘nope’ to dope, and ‘ugh’ to drugs” and took a pass.

Back in the 70’s he was married to a later day flower child who although hot in that “I-don’t-shave-my-armpits-but-am-into-free-love” type of way, was a vegetarian extremist.  She would always show up at holiday dinners with “nut roll”, and make her kids eat it instead of turkey or ham, or even stuffing if God forbid there was any sausage in it.

Despite his quirkiness, to an outsider his life had pretty much played out by the book.  Star football player in high school, into the military for a couple of years, college degree, and then a steady job with a solid East Coast company.

Later in life his mother had left him a good inheritance, so financially he was set.  He was re-married, had two grown kids, and a couple of grandchildren.  His life was “dialed in”.

But a closer examination revealed a guy who had demons to fight.  There was a reckless streak to him that constantly put at risk all the things he had worked so hard for in his life.

The pattern was always the same.  His life would go for years at a time without incident and then out of the blue he’d inject a massive dose of bad judgment into it and nearly go off the rails.

Once after a night of partying with his friends he pulled his BMW over by the side of the road to “take a rest.”  Two weeks later he awoke from his coma.

His car had gone up in flames so completely that it melted all four tires to the ground.  He suffered burns over a good portion of his body, only minimized by the fact that the owner of the house which he parked his car in front of saw the flames and doused him with his garden hose as he was rolling on the ground with his clothes on fire.

His story was that he had lit up a cigar and then dropped it on the floor mat, which started the fire.  However the police report made mention of an “accelerant” of some kind and there was speculation, in hushed tones of course, that it was actually some sort of botched Viking style funeral pyre attempt.

I shit you not; this is a photo of the car the next morning in the local paper.

I didn’t know why he did the things he did and to tell the truth, I didn’t really care.  I know that may seem callous but it’s the truth.  He was twenty-five years my senior and a “holiday relative” at best, whom I saw maybe once a year.  When I did see him our entire conversation would go like this….

“Hey buddy…how are you doing?

“Pretty good, what have you been up to?”

“Oh you know, the usual, how about you?”

“Same old, same old.”

“Yeah, I can relate.  I am going to grab a drink, let’s catch up later……”

Of course we never would catch up later because we didn’t care enough about each other to do so.

The party line in the family is that he lost control of his Porsche around a tight turn, but the real story is that after leaving his favorite watering hole he decided to race a guy in a Ferrari. It is up for debate as to whether these incidents throughout his life were really covert suicide attempts or not, but this last bad decision achieved the same result no matter what the intent.

Despite my ambivalence about Uncle Dick, watching his antics from a far during my formative years taught me a couple of very important rules for life in general and they have always served me well, but it took me a long time to realize that they all also translate perfectly into trading.

Rule #1: There is no amount of good work that can’t be undone by one bad decision.

You’ve had a good day trading?  A good week?  A good quarter?  Maybe even a good year trading….doesn’t matter, one bad decision and you can give it all back.

Rule #2: There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time and work needed in order to create and the amount needed to destroy.

Do you spend hours and hours each day looking at charts, talking with traders, running scans, reading all the SEC documents you can get your hands on just to get an edge in your trading? One split second “gut” trade and it is all for naught.

Rule #3:  Sometimes your worst decision will be your last decision.

If you make a decision that is bad enough in trading such as ignoring your stops, adding to a losing trade, or over-leveraging your account, not unlike my uncle, it won’t matter what your real intent is, the outcome will be a “suicide trade.”

Trading in the abstract can be about many things; control, ego, risk, stimulation, “mommy issues”, etc., but at the end of the day, your success at it is measured by dollars.  If you have more of them when you finish than you had when you started, you are a success.  The rub is that as long as you are still trading, you are never finished, and all three rules remain in play.

This last rule of course is the most critical one.  Over the years (in trading) I have violated Rules #1 and #2 on numerous occasions.  I have experienced seeing my hard work/profits go away in one stupid, almost instantaneous decision, and then swear that I will never do it again, but I have never violated Rule #3.

I know it is out there though, waiting for me like one of those yellow barrels in “Jaws”. Circling around, sometimes going under to pretend it’s no longer a threat, but always stalking me, waiting for that one momentary lapse of discipline and judgment to jump on me when my back is turned.

Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper, Roy Schneider as Chief Brody, and Robert Shaw as Bernie Madoff.

Chris Rock once said that when he had his first daughter he instantaneously knew that from that moment on he only had one purpose in life.  Not to make money.  Not to be a success.  Not to win an Academy Award, but to keep her off the pole at any cost.  If you are a trader it’s the same thing, your one purpose in your trading it to avoid the suicide trade at any cost.

Maybe you think that it is insensitive and superficial to compare the actual loss of life to blowing up a trading account?  Well I am not talking about a 22-year-old college student blowing up his 5K account at Charles Schwab.  I can name five people I personally know that were well into their 40’s and blew up their accounts up and lost major parts of their lives like their spouses, their children, or their homes, and are now suffocating under a mountain of debt (credit card cash advances can fund a trading account.  Hiyoooo…!).  One of them lost ALL OF THOSE THINGS in a three-month period.

And if you throw in the “Madoff’s” of the world, it’s easy to see that the damage the suicide trade can cause can be as bad as the actual loss of life.

By the way, as ambivalent as I may have been about my uncle, I am not a complete A-hole and would never cause unnecessary suffering to his widow or children. None of them have the remotest idea that I write a blog, let alone read it (but Bernie’s wife does, so “fuck you Ruth!”).

Why Can Never Buy A Profitable Trading System

Back in 1986 Eddie Murphy was the hottest standup comic around and a group of friends and I decided to go see him live.  There was a palpable buzz going through the crowd that night that built into a climax as the house lights went down and Eddie burst out into the spotlight, leather suit and all.  He was full of energy, pacing back and forth along the edge of the stage like a stalking tiger, and then diving headfirst into his routine….

Hello Orange County, how is everybody doing tonight? (Wild applause).  Hey I’m sorry I was late getting out here, but I was watching a porno backstage.  It was wild, there was this guy sucking his own dick.  I mean is that crazy or what?  Man if I could do that I would never leave the house.  People would be walking down the street saying “Hey, what ever happened to that Eddie Murphy guy?”

My friends and I roared with laughter but then just as quickly, being the insecure teenage boys we were, cautiously measured each other’s reaction to be sure that laughing at an auto-fellatio joke didn’t make us “gay.”

The guy that Eddie referenced in his story was none other than the legendary “Hedgehog” himself, Ron Jeremy. Ladies if you don’t know who he is, Google him, and guys if you don’t know who he is….well then you are just lying.

   Who would have thought that this fashion choice would go out of style?

I was reminded of this incident while walking through the exhibit hall at the Trader’s Expo in Las Vegas.

The Trader’s Expo is a convention where companies that are part of the “business of trading” display their products and services to thousands of eager retail traders. For the most part I have no problem with these companies and what they do. They include;

Brokerages:  Until the time when retail traders can trade directly on the exchange’s servers (read: never) these are a necessary evil.

Data Vendors: Where would we be if we could not create charts and scans in order to find our next trade candidates?

Educational Courses:  Not as bad as you might think, and can actually be helpful if they focus on a risk oriented methodology.

Mentor Programs:  This is where it gets a bit douchey for me, but I can’t totally blow them off as I know traders who have benefited from them greatly.

Trading Services:  Nothing wrong with experienced traders running a service to give subscribers market insight and highlight potential trade setups.  I use a few of them myself.

Speakers and Authors:  As long as they themselves trade or have extensive experience trading then their presentations/books can be a wealth of good info.

No, the thing I have a fucking problem with are the companies and individuals that try to sell trading “systems”.  These snake oil salesmen have been around since the first exchange opened, tying to lure in new and unsuspecting traders with their promise of  a “sure thing”, and were actually prophesized by Nostradamus in one of his lesser know quatrains;

_______

From the Great Lucifer a false key to the merchant’s game shall come to be known

A “sistema” that consumes much gold & silver yet from which none ever emerges

Laying waste to the flocks of sheep who come to feed at its teat

And the red birds from a saint town shall take the ten plus one series in seven

_______

Well I am here, as a consequence of the “donkey” incident, to fulfill my court-ordered community service obligation and warn you to never buy one of these systems, as they are all complete bullshit.

So how do you know if someone is trying to peddle you a system?  Sometimes it as easy as looking at the person doing the selling, as the clip below illustrates.

Oh, karate kicks & saying “Kachingo” is how to make money in the market

Other times the venue in which it is being sold can give you a clue.  Legitimate companies advertise in media that is focused towards traders, so if you are up late one night watching reruns of The Golden Girls, and you see an ad telling you how you can “trade for a living”, you should probably drop the credit card and back away from your computer.

But perhaps the best indicator is if the product being sold professes to take all the discretion out of the trading process, automatically telling you where to buy and where to sell (implicitly making a profit in the process).

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by the likes of Goldman Sachs to develop algo, HFT, and quant trading systems, and they are constantly being modified as the conditions in the markets change.  The code in these systems is highly guarded and there have even been court battles when programmers have left one firm to go to another, as to what information they are allowed to disclose.

What this all boils down to is that as a retail trader, you will NEVER have the ability to purchase a viable trading system.  The costs to make one are too high, the need to modify it too intense, but more so than that, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that goes back to the Eddie Murphy bit.

If you really had a trading system that automatically made you money, would you share the secret with the world by selling it, or would you just sit in a room all day long, doing the “Ron Jeremy”, and  auto-pleasuring yourself in the form of coining money?

Nostradamus – Mystic, visionary, scientist, & one bad-ass E-mini scalper.

Take my advice and use the “IKEA rule” when considering any trading related product purchases.  The IKEA rule is based upon the 75/25 ratio, meaning 25% of the stuff they sell is decent quality, you just have to get through the 75% of the stuff they sell that is crap in order to find it.

Look for the products that are “tools” for successful trading and then use them to create a methodology that fits your style and personality.  It is not as easy as just buying a system, but it will serve you better and improve your chances of being a successful trader in the long run.

The 5 Monster Trades Of My Life

Recently someone wrote this comment on my blog…

“….how can you even write about trading, since you admit that you blew up on a trade.  You’re not a real trader, you’re a douchebag!”

A couple things came to mind when I read this.  First off, I resent being called a douchebag. I am really more of an asshole than a douchebag.  Secondly, doesn’t my grandmother have better things to do with her time?

The question of what a “real trader” is and if I deserve that title is probably a blog post of its own, but it did get me to thinking about what it means to do a “trade”.

The mechanics of a trade involve the buying and selling of  a commodity, but the process of making a trade is a much broader concept, one that transcends the markets.  I don’t mean this in some mystical, shamanic, Val Kilmer in Thunderheart type of way, but in the way in which for traders, the decision-making process in the markets mirrors that of life.  The way we weigh risk and reward, time our entries and exits, battle our fear, our greed, our ego, and ultimately live with the consequences be they good or bad.

With that in mind I have five “trades” that standout in my life.

1.  “The Perfect Entry”

My father worked for one company, Campbell Soup, for over 20 years.  If my mother had her way, after high school I would have gone to a good but reasonably priced four-year college, then just as I was being handed my diploma a pneumatic tube would have sucked me up and inserted me directly into a cubicle at a Fortune 500 company.  My closet would have been stocked with an anti-Jobs wardrobe of blue suits, white shirts, and black wing tips.  In at nine, out at five, lather, rinse, repeat for 40 years until a gold watch was hucked at me as I was shown the door.

The post high school graduation period is critical in a young man’s life.  There is a lot of pressure to enter into a choice that will often determine the direction of the rest of your life, and I was feeling that pressure in spades.  Worse yet it felt as if the window to make that decision was closing.

I knew in my bones that college was not for me, so instead I took a side job that I had after school and made it into a full-time business.  This entry into entrepreneurship allowed me to be my own boss and rise or fall on my own merits, instead of punching a clock and kissing ass to try to rise up the corporate ladder.

2. “Cutting My Losses”

My first serious relationship was with a beautiful Peruvian girl named Maria whom I fell head over heals for.  It was a passionate and volatile relationship that is often common with young lovers.  My first hint that there might be problems going forward came up one night when were out having dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

After the waitress took our order and left the table Maria said to me, “I can’t believe the way you were looking at her.”  “What are you talking about,” I said, honestly puzzled.  “Oh my God you looked at her like you wanted to jump all over her”.  Being the sarcastic asshole I was (okay, I am), I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “yeah, in fact when you go to the restroom I am going to ask her for a date.” Fortunately I have good reflexes and the salsa bowl hit the wall behind me.

I loved her as much as I could have loved someone at that time and early on I thought there was a future for us.  But if Kim Kardashian has taught us anything, it is that love can take unexpected turns and often goes bad.

A year into our relationship I found myself going to weekly counseling sessions to try and work through the myriad of issues that made us incompatible.  Then one night as we were waiting to go into our session it hit me harder than when Spade cracked Farley with that 2×4 in Tommy Boy….

“If we are only dating and are already in counselling, where the fuck is this relationship going to go from here?”

I hit the eject button right there,  joined my friends at a local bar, and “got it in” as fast as I could. Unfortunately the brewzooka wasn’t yet invented.

My shoulder doesn’t hurt very much, but my face does. Right here. Not here or here so much, but right here.

3. “Rolling A Position Forward”

I had one mantra that I repeated to every girl I went out with, “I am never getting married, but if I do, I am NEVER having kids.”  Boy what a catch I must have seemed like huh?

After dating my current wife for almost six years, our relationship was getting to the point where it was time to “fish or cut bait”.  She comes from a large Catholic family and having children was a concept embedded deep in her DNA.  Of course that didn’t faze me and I figured I would just lay it on the line; the wonderful me or kids.  I was making her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

I conferred with a good friend of mine just to make sure I had my position down pat.  I had her pretend she was my future wife, throwing everything she could at me to try to change my mind, but I held fast.

I decided to have “the talk” at an international food court near my office.  It was my favored spot to break bad news to my girlfriends as it was crowded with office workers during lunch making the likelihood of an ugly scene less likely, and the Italian joint had a great calzone.

We sat down and I told her straight out that I loved her and wanted to marry her, but under no circumstances would I be having children.  She didn’t bat an eye and simply responded to me in a calm straightforward way and said, “Well, then I guess this is the end for us, because I want to have kids.”

Staring right back at her, and having prepared for this moment I said, “Well babe, if that’s the case…..then……well, uh……I guess I am okay with having kids too.”

I am not a religious guy but every night just to be sure I say a prayer to God, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Jimmy Page, Shiva, Vishnu, Mark Zukerberg/Satan, and that guy who keeps predicting the Armageddon, and thank them for letting me put my ego aside, allowing me to move my position from a losing one to a winning one.

                                      Eerily similar to how fast I folded.

4. “Learning Not To Chase”

In Southern California where I grew up, when a baby is born they give it a bottle and a subscription to the local MLS service.  For as long as I could remember it was a simple concept, all you had to do was buy a house and it went up in value.

I watched as prices got to new highs in 2002 and continued to steadily move up over the next two years.  By 2004 the home buying mania was in full swing and my wife and I considered taking the plunge, but we could not agree on what we wanted and decided to “wait.”  By the time I sold my business in 2005 you literally could not turn around without someone you know buying a new house.  I went to cocktail parties where people would talk about the five or six properties that they were in the process of flipping.

The pressure to buy a house was incredible and having a decent slug of cash in the bank I was tempted.  My wife wanted a place of our own to raise a family, my friends homes were increasing in value  by 3% to 5% monthly, and everybody was getting rich in the real estate market.  I decided to do it.

I checked the interest rates and talked to my friend who owned a mortgage broker and was assured that I would have no problem qualifying for the house of my dreams.  Before going down to his office to start the paperwork, I was driving through a nearby housing track, trying to keep my eyes on the pulse of the now parabolic market when I came across a newly listed property.

I pulled the car over and grabbed one of the spec sheets hanging from the yard sign.  It was a 40 year-old house with five bedrooms, 2500 hundred square feet, in a decent but not particularly remarkable neighborhood.  The listing price was $1,495,000!

I knew at that moment that  the market had gotten away from me and I cancelled my appointment.  The next year was even harder to stand by and watch as price went to never before imagined heights, but in the end my discipline in not chasing kept me from a financial catastrophe that so many others did not avoid.  I am still renting.

5. “The Perfect Exit”

After twenty years, the business that had given me that initial inspiration and defined me for so long had become my personal hell on earth.  I could no longer deal with employees, customers, and sixteen hour, six-day weeks.  More than that I had long ago realized that there was nothing even remotely related to my business that I was passionate about.  The money was good and I could have continued on in my semi-catatonic state for five or maybe ten more years, but I knew it would be no good for me or the people around me.

My wife and I were talking about having kids, a thought which terrified me, not because of my long ago discarded “no kid policy”, but because it left me with two equally scary choices. Leave the only real job I had ever known, and take the financial risk that went with that decision, or be an absentee parent who when I did show up was tired, irritable, and not ever really “there.”  Something had to give.

I remember the day I made the decision to sell my company like it was yesterday. Unannounced an inspector from the Southern California Air Quality Management District walked into my office.  He informed me that some of the air quality readings in the area showed high levels of metallic substances.  He was spot checking businesses and mine was in his sights.  Apparently it did not matter to him that we warehoused furniture, art, and accessories for interior design firms.

As I walked him through our warehouse showing him all the furniture, art, and accessories, he kept asking increasingly more annoying questions.  Did we use any metallic substances? Did we have any open flames?  Was there any high-powered industrial machinery in use?

“Jesus fucking Christ, we store furniture, and art, and accessories you idiot, how many times do I have to say it”, I said to myself.  Then a thought came to me.  I asked him to walk out to the front of my building with me.

Our building was at the end of a short cul-de-sac, not even then length of a football field.  I looked at him, pointed to the beginning of the street, and asked him, “have you checked out the foundry down there on the corner.  You know, the one with flat beds full of aluminum being fed into the furnaces that runs 24/7?”  When he responded that he hadn’t, I literally pushed him into the street.  I went in to my office and called a broker whom had cold called me six months earlier and one year later my business was sold.

Life happens in real-time and I have always approached it with that trader’s spirit, even if  I wasn’t consciously aware of it at all times.  I’ve had some good outcomes and some bad ones.  These were five of the good ones.