As retail traders we share a bond and a camaraderie about the markets. We are not trading together, but we are not trading against each other. That is not the dynamic between the locals in the trading pit. It is survival of the fittest, where the act of “trading” exists in its purest form. If you don’t know how to navigate the waters, you will be blown out in short order, which is the subject of today’s guest post by Jeff Watson.
Jeff is a veteran of the pits and has forgotten more about trading that most of us retail guys have ever known. His blog masteroftheuniverse goes into extended periods of hibernation (like now) because Jeff is an active trader and that is his priority. However you can probe the archives of his blog to find trading wisdom that is as relevant today as it ever was. This post originally appeared on his blog and he has been kind enough to let me re-post it here.
About 20 years ago, the wheat market was trading in a 3-5 cent range for the day. We were standing around in the pit picking off the orders, and when the orders were slow coming in, we would play around with the bids and offers, trying to pick each others pockets.
When the market was illiquid, locals would try to move the market by bidding it up or offering it down, and we could move it around a few cents pretty easily with little resistance. However most guys had a vested interest in not getting the reputation for “spearing,” which is the act of hitting the bid when someone is trying to bid the market up.
A person who practiced spearing was usually a newbie, who would try to make a quick 1/4 cent, or $12.50. This would sometimes piss us off, as a bunch of spearing could hold a market back for the short-term, believe it or not.
There was a new local who leased a seat and had never traded more than one or two contracts at a time, who would always spear you if he had a chance. By spearing, he was taking short-term gains, not looking at the big picture, and avoiding the big moves because nobody would give him more than one or two contracts. Since he never traded more than 10,000 bushels (or 2 contracts) at a whack, he wasn’t a presence, but a fringe player.
However, he had an overpowering ego, was loud and obnoxious, and thought he was a big shot because he had a badge….and was well capitalized. The only time I saw him really trade was when I was offering March wheat at 6.80. I was a quarter cent above the market and was offering it to keep a spread in line. The other players knew that I had size, and didn’t want to go through me, and no one hit my offer.
We were all looking at the Chicago market, when it suddenly traded up a cent (a minute before, I had flashed my clerk and bought a large amount of WH [March Wheat] to cover a position there, and that uptick was my trade), and I offered more March wheat at 6.80. The kid hit my offer, saying “Take it.” I asked him how much he wanted, and he said, “All you got!” I said, “Sold 3,000,000 bushels (600 contracts).”
He sputtered, and said he couldn’t take that much, but I told him that he owned it already, and wrote the trade on my card. He started to protest, but the pit committee guy, and time and sales ruled that it was a good trade.
You never saw the color drain out of someone’s face as quickly as it did from his. The rest of the pit smelled blood and the other locals started offering the market down, then a couple of hedging companies started selling. The kid stood paralyzed, realizing that he had screwed up his short career in one stroke of ego.
He couldn’t get out of the market, didn’t have the talent to trade his way out of his predicament, and had no friends to help him out. Later, I found out that his clearing firm had to cover his trade and they ended up giving me the cold shoulder for a couple of days.
That day, at the close, I covered my whole 3,000,000 bushels about 2.4-4 cents lower, which was a great day for me. As for the kid, he never traded again in the pit. We used to see him sitting in the balcony for a few weeks, watching the action, haunting us for a while, then he disappeared completely. I wonder whatever happened to him.
One’s ego can cause ruination if left unchecked, like the kid in the above story. Ego and emotion can be the worst enemy of a trader. Trying to impress others by cavalierly putting on a size trade that’s 100 times bigger than you’ve ever done is a quick way to the poorhouse. Not thinking clearly 100% of the time while in the markets will cause you to bleed money to those who are thinking clearly 100% of the time.