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Speculari

The film director Oliver Stone believes that speculation is evil. That’s interesting. He has written some fantastic scripts. He has directed Oscar-winning films. Nevertheless, to say that speculation is “the mother of all evil” is disingenuous. When Stone sets forward to make a new film, he’s speculating that you will spend your money and watch his film. There is nothing wrong with that. That’s life. That’s a good thing.

Speculation in markets is essential too. Think about what drives a market. It is millions of people speculating to make money. One of the most successful trend following traders knows deep down how important speculation is to finding opportunity:

“Speculari, the Latin root of the verb “to speculate” has the literal meaning to observe. To be successful this observation must, of necessity, be detached and unemotive and thus where great social and moral issues are at stake, it is perhaps not surprising that distrust and hostility among the general population can arise particularly when the speculator profits at a time of general discontent. Yet this detached observation is clearly in the spirit of the natural scientist and the act of speculating for money is in the spirit of the empirical scientist’s restless yearning to add to empirical knowledge and put theories to the test.”

Regardless of whether you win or lose, you are speculating—trying to get ahead. Every time you get into a car, you are speculating. If you go to the Apple store to buy an iPhone you are speculating the phone is more valuable than your dollars. Additionally, you are speculating the iPhone will work. When you turn on a show you are speculating that it is worth more than something else. All of these activities don’t always work out, and that is the nature of speculation. All speculators are not winners.

So why is it bad to take advantage of an opportunity that you recognize? It’s not.

Speculate this: Do you consider yourself an investor or a trader? Investors put their money into investments hoping value will increase over time. Typically, they have no plan if it goes down. They usually hold on, praying value will reverse and go back up. Investors typically succeed in bull markets and lose in bear markets. They usually have no coherent response when the losing starts. They often hang tight and continue to lose even more.

Traders are different. They have a defined strategy to put money to work for a single goal: profit. Wise trend traders do not care what they buy or sell as long as they end up with more money in the long run. Bottom line, winning traders don’t invest, they trade. It is a massive distinction.

Consider timeless qualities essential to speculation:

1. Self-reliance: A man must think for himself and must follow his own convictions. Self-trust is the foundation of successful effort.

2. Judgment: That equipoise, that nice adjustment of the faculties of one to the other, which is called good judgment–essential to the speculator.

3. Courage: That is, confidence to act on the decisions of the mind. In speculation, there is value in the dictum: Be bold, still be bold; always be bold.

4. Prudence: The power of measuring the danger, together with a certain alertness and watchfulness, is very important. There should be a balance of prudence and courage; prudence in contemplation, courage in execution.

5. Pliability: The ability to change an opinion, the power of revision. He who observes and observes again is always formidable.

I don’t care whether you ever trade, but those precepts should be the first life lessons taught to grade school kids.

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information, wouldn’t you agree?”
–Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Blowing Bubbles Leaves Great Market Opportunity

“People are shortsighted, overconfident in so-called predictive skills, and irrationally prone to buying insurance on cheap home appliances. In short, they exhibit tendencies not unlike your not so swift brother-in-law.”

“The human brain responds to high-stakes trading just as it does to the lure of sex. And the riskier trades get, the more the brain craves them.”

“Social conformity drives human beings. Even if the group is wrong, people go along.”

Sounds about right, right? Consider the question: Does raw human emotion dictate financial decisions, or are we rational calculators of our self-interest?

The idea that we behave irrationally when it comes to money may not seem radical, but it challenges the dominant University of Chicago economic philosophy that has framed business and government for fifty years. Their campus has given rise to more Nobel Prize winners in economics than any other institution. Nearly all share the common assumption:

When it comes to money, we are highly rational.

One of the foremost champions of that view is Gary Becker:

“The most powerful theory we have, and I think it’s the most powerful theory in the social sciences, is economics as a theory of rational behavior at an individual level, and that’s the theory we rely on.”

Other academics are not on board for obvious reasons:

“The 2008 crash really matters because much of the behavior that led up to the crash is unexplained by the discipline of economics.”

More Chicago academics ignore the 2008 crash:

“I’m sorry, that’s such an empty argument. That’s just an insult, a pointless insult.”

Eugene Fama, the father of so-called efficient markets, smirked:

“I don’t see this as a failure of economics, but we need a whipping boy, and economists have always been whipping boys, so they’re used to it. It’s fine.”

Those economists defend their view no matter what. People and markets are rational? Small children now know that is not true. However, university professors have convinced themselves human beings only use robotlike logic. On the other hand, Jeremy Grantham has made money for 40 years by finding price bubbles and betting against them:

“We’ve found 27 bubbles. It’s euphoria causing the price to go up and realism causing it to fall back, and then, eventually, unrealistic panic, as it begins to feed on itself, and the lemmings head in the opposite direction.”

One academic does see it like Grantham. Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith devised an experimental market in which investors could create a financial “bubble.” Far from learning from their experience after creating a bubble, investors would go on to create yet another bubble. This time, the bubble occurred earlier than the prior experiment and was not as pronounced as the first. When investors were asked why they allowed themselves to create a second bubble, the most common response was they thought they could get out before the top this time. Smith’s research showed that the only reliable method of removing bubbles is to use players who are experienced twice over. We apparently only learn after two blowups!

Give Rod Serling credit for figuring it all out back in 1960, and give him more credit for burying it so elusively in an episode of The Twilight Zone:

Alien visitor #1: Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers… throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then just sit back and watch the pattern.

Alien visitor #2: And this pattern is always the same?

Alien visitor #1: With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find and it’s… themselves. All we need to do is sit back… and watch.

Popular delusions are a foundation of trend following profit.

“100-year floods actually happen far more frequently. Since 1929 there have been 18 market crashes.”

Show Me the Trend Following Money

Some say, “There’s no romance in trend following.” It’s a matter of perspective. The romance is found in returns. Money… the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Performance data examples that follow could be the foundation of every college finance class. When you show up on the first day, instead of your teacher handing you a syllabus and telling you to buy certain books, you are handed one piece of paper that simply shows the performance histories of professional trend following traders for the last 50 years.

The entire semester could be built around that study alone. But first, to judge systematic trend following performance, you need a baseline. The S&P 500 is the barometer for making money in the markets. Comparing to it is wholly appropriate (even though some might carp).

Who are some of the top-performing trend following traders over the last 30 years? How much have they made? Consider the wealth generation:

• Bruce Kovner is worth more than $4.1 billion.
• John W. Henry is worth $840 million.
• Bill Dunn made $80 million in 2008.
• Michael Marcus turned an initial $30,000 into $80 million.
• David Harding is now worth more than $690 million.
• Ed Seykota turned $5,000 into $15 million over 12 years.
• Kenneth Tropin made $120 million in 2008.
• Larry Hite has made millions upon millions over 30 years.
• Louis Bacon is worth $1.7 billion.
• Paul Tudor Jones is worth $3 billion.
• Transtrend, a trend-trading fund, has produced hundreds of millions, if not billions, in profit.
• Trend following trader Man Group trades $68.6 billion in assets.

Big numbers like those cause some irrational agitation. One person wrote me: “I am sorry but that performance is nothing amazing. I would say it’s OK, but not great.”

Don’t hate, congratulate! That critic’s thinking is not very bright. Passive aggressive you could say.

Better yet, consider compounding some of these numbers. For example, if you could make 50 percent a year, you could compound an initial $20,000 account to more than $616,000 in just seven years. Is 50 percent unrealistic? Of course it is. However, do the math again using 25 percent.

Think about this: Since October 1997, one trend following trader has produced annualized returns higher than 21 percent. To put that in context, if you bought Vincent van Gogh’s Irises in 1947, you paid $80,000. The next time it changed hands, in 1987, it was sold for $53.9 million. That seems like a huge increase in value, but mathematically it shows a compound average annual growth rate of 17.7 percent, which is less than the annualized returns of my example trend trader. One of the first Wall Street books I ever read was Jim Rogers’ Investment Biker. Rogers brought much passion and common sense to the table. Nearly 14 years later, in early 2008, my travels took me to see him at his home in Singapore for my documentary film. Rogers, who is not a technical trend following trader, but who has made a fortune trading trends, put the importance of compounding at the top of his list:

“One of the biggest mistakes most investors make is believing that they’ve always got to be doing something. The trick to investing is not to lose money. The losses will kill you. They ruin your compounding rate; and compounding is the magic of investing.”

Why is trend following money making not common knowledge for so many? The journey to find that answer is not a straight line.

Wall Street Jargon Is Designed to Confuse You

Here are some of Wall Street’s favorite catch phrases defined. I am defining these because Wall Street suits use them to sell. Do not let the jargon engulf you:

CTA: CTA stands for commodity trading advisor. It is a government term used to classify regulated fund managers who primarily trade futures markets. Almost all successful CTAs trade as trend following traders. CTAs are the other quants the media never seems to cover accurately.

Managed Futures: This is a term that describes regulated fund managers who use futures to trade for clients. It is an awful term because it fixates on the instrument (futures), not the strategy. Here’s the dirty little secret:

Almost all successful managed futures trading firms use a trend following strategy. The term is often used interchangeably with CTA. Noted radio host and author Dave Ramsey recently had this to say about managed futures:

“The term managed futures is virtually an oxymoron…with managed futures you’re basically betting on the future price of a commodity. What’s the price of gold, or oil, or wheat going to be somewhere down the road? You’re guessing as to what the future will bring, and managing a group of those guesses. What a joke!”

If you share Dave Ramsey’s view and understanding, I recommend a full frontal lobotomy as your best wealthbuilding plan.

High Frequency Trading: High frequency trading is the latest term to describe arbitrage— at whatever time frame. It is about getting an advantage through speed and access. Most people are not going to enter the world of high frequency trading (or be Goldman Sachs). It’s a nonissue for your trading success.

Global Macro or Systematic Global Macro: Global macro is another term used to describe trend following traders, but indirectly. They do not say managed futures, and they do not say hedge fund, so it is global macro. It might make wealthy investors in Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia feel more secure. The strategy is still trend following.

Hedge Fund: Think unregulated mutual fund that can trade in all markets up and down. Most hedge funds have terrible strategy: They are long only on leveraged stocks. That’s it. Not as sexy as the press makes it. Of course, it all depends, and some hedge funds do make a killing. Usually, they are of the systematic trend following variety. Long Only: Long only means you make one bet. You bet that the market will always go up.

Buy and Hold: Buy and hold (hope) is the same as long only.

Index Investing: You buy the S&P 500 Index and whatever it does is the return you get.

Value Investing: Attempts to use fundamentals to uncover undervalued stocks. The belief is you are buying cheap or low (terms that can mean anything to anyone). When that doesn’t work out, you call the government and ask for a bailout.

Quant: You use formulas and rules, not daily discretion or fundamentals to make trading decisions. That said, unless quant is defined with precision you can never know what it means exactly. Trend following is a form of quant trading.

Repeatable Alpha: Alpha is return generated from trading skill. If you buy and hold the S&P 500 Index, and if it makes a positive return, that’s not alpha. That return is beta for there was no skill involved. Repeatable alpha is simply the nice academic way of saying profit from skill. Trend following’s argument as the only repeatable alpha is tough to counter.

Beta: The return you get for accepting the average. There is no skill involved. Think about a monkey aimlessly throwing darts against the wall— it’s that level of skill.

Long: You buy a stock or futures contract.

Short (verb): The ability to profit from a decline in price of a stock or futures contract.

S&P 500: Is widely regarded as the best single gauge of large cap U.S. equities. The index was first published in 1957 and includes 500 leading companies.

Moving Average: A moving average series can be calculated for any time series, but is most often applied to market prices. Moving averages are used to smooth out short-term fluctuations, thus highlighting potentially longerterm trends.

Average True Range: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_True_ Range (look this one up if you don’t know it!).

Investing Expectations from Michael Covel

Trend following is for those kindred spirits who grasp there is no secret to trading but rather just knowledge you have not yet discovered. It is for anyone who wants to make the most money possible—without going broke or going overboard on risk. It is for investors and traders small and large, young and old, female and male—worldwide.

My words are not a set of magic rules for becoming a wealthy trend following trader with no work on your end. To achieve the pot of gold, you will need more than that. However, to explain all the details you will need, you must know what you are up against.

The well-constructed fortress of government, media, and Wall Street, all designed to bleed you dry, is “The Wall” (think Roger Waters). None of those players want you to comprehend or act on the contents of this book. If you do get it, those groups lose power and money. They do not want to lose anything. Their grip on you is stranglehold tight. Getting rich is a fight; make no mistake about it.

Consider:

“Panics do not destroy capital— they merely reveal the extent to which it has previously been destroyed by its betrayal in hopelessly unproductive works.” –John Mills

The Trend Following Ignition Switch

Trading for exceptional returns may not appear realistic in the schizophrenic cacophony:

“What is the right approach for investors faced with an unusually uncertain economic outlook and volatile markets?”

“Big concerns over job insecurity, consumer and corporate spending, and housing prices.”

“Should you buy gold?”

“Where are markets headed?”

“Oil shock, dollar drop, Japanese earthquake, elections!”

That’s white noise.

Yes, sure, of course, you may have more options, but an explosion of naiveté has muddied the waters. Ignorance and confusion reign supreme. The idiot box is no longer just the bedroom flat screen. It is every PC, Mac, iPhone, and iPad. People absorb TMZ and Drudge via an intravenous drip. We are in a voyeuristic world where living vicariously through someone or something is accepted without hesitation and, in fact, encouraged.

With brain synapses bombarded nonstop, it is no surprise that this has brought attention spans down to just a few seconds—about the same as a goldfish. However, an incessant barrage of information across every known connected device will not punch your ticket to financial freedom. Retirement plans that have elderly dining on cat food, buying gold because you are scared, canning food, and setting up a crisis garden are not solutions. If that’s your direction, this book is a tough love punch to your gut. Brutal honesty about what it takes to get ahead with your money is coming in these pages like a hard rain. There is no reason to continue on the hamster wheel. You simply need a winning philosophy and strategy, backed by proven positive results that you can execute. Push the pause button.

In the film Contact, Jodie Foster plays a character called Ellie, a scientist who cannot figure out an alien signal from the deep reaches of outer space until she finds the key—the “primer.” Finally she receives help from a Carl Sagan-like benefactor named S. R. Hadden:

Hadden: The powers that be have been very busy lately, falling over each other to position themselves for the game of the millennium to decipher the alien signal. Maybe I can help deal you back in.

Ellie: I didn’t realize that I was out.

Hadden: Oh, maybe not out, but certainly being handed your hat. I have had a long time to make enemies Doctor…and I wish to make a small contribution. A final gesture of goodwill to the people of this planet….

Ellie: You’ve found the primer!

Hadden: Clever girl.

Today, John W. Henry is the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. He also now owns the famed Liverpool Football Club in Britain. Red Sox price: $700 million. Liverpool: $476 million. He is not broke. How did he make that fortune?

Trading in a very rigid, rules-defined, way. In 1995, Henry, a former farmer from Arkansas who began his trading career humbly hedging his crops, made speculative trading history. His trading strategies essentially won the money lost by rogue trader Nick Leeson of Barings Bank (often referred to as the “Queen’s bank”). Leeson bet wildly and lost $1.3 billion. The Queen’s bank collapsed. Leeson was the Time cover boy. Media ate up the bank’s implosion and coverage was nonstop. Leeson was the known loser. Henry was the then-unknown winner.

Henry won practicing a form of trading called systematic trend following. His big win was never revealed (see my first book, Trend Following). Some tight insiders knew, but with detective-like probing, I outed Henry’s win. Just like S. R. Hadden, the primer to Henry’s moneymaking system was deep in my mind and gut.

But money success is much more than some event in the long ago dotcom era. It is about an ongoing profit system that reaps spoils when markets crash and fear cascades—as in 2008. It’s also about finding big trends to ride even when there is no panic or crisis. Trend following, however, is not theoretical or academic wonk talk. There are decades of substantial performance proof.

Big money making starts with trends, or waves. Anyone who makes significant money rides waves. And guess what? No one can predict the next big one. The only certainty is that when the big wave comes, trend followers will surf the new beaches.

That simple-sounding ideology is instrumental for financial flexibility, as trend followers trade that same philosophy in all markets. You can storm into any moving market, be it an obscure currency or a stock in wild emerging markets. Trend following is agnostic to both the market and direction. It is a James Bond “007 license” to pursue whatever market is flowing up or down.

Now, decades after outsmarting the Queen’s bank, John W. Henry and his trend trading peers still operate in an essentially secretive underground society, a financial parallel world. Henry’s accomplishments are astounding, but many of his trend-trading peers have also killed it. Traders such as David Harding, Ken Tropin, Louis Bacon, and Bruce Kovner have become billionaires trading unpredictable trends. And don’t forget the TurtleTraders.

Additionally, mysterious firms not built around individual names, are also making trend-chasing fortunes. Sunrise Capital, Transtrend, BlueCrest, Altis Partners, Aspect Capital, and Man Investments just to name a few, are some of today’s top traders, pulling billions in profits out of the markets—quietly and effectively. While seemingly everyone else is mainlined into the matrix for a daily fix of mutual funds, news, and government, trend traders keep on keeping on. But this is not about hero worship; it’s about learning from winners.

John W. Henry was recently asked how he did that—meaning make the money. He quipped, “I didn’t do that. Mathematical formulas did that. It’s made through trend following.” The interviewer noted that the U.S. dollar was down and asked if he bet against it. Henry replied with a smile, “Right, very good.” The interviewer said, “I don’t get that.” Henry with a touch of sarcasm added, “Neither will your readers.”

If you are thinking that I have inserted a conspiracy theory, X-Files, or Area 51 edge to trend following, smart thinking. Trend traders are dialed in and average investors are lost? Indeed. Many investors today hide their money under mattresses. Everything that used to be safe is now risky. Real estate has cratered. Stocks are up one day, and down the next. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are just fear mongers. And let’s not forget about salesmen hawking gold as a hedge against the end times.

Don’t fret! There is good news. Trend following is real hope. It is the primer that unlocks the path of trend trading.

Trend following is a new vantage. The style is different. Sadly, many still see making money wrong. They make wildly inaccurate assumptions about what constitutes a winning trader:

• Do they possess a unique talent?
• A special inborn gene or divine gift?
• The innate talent of a child prodigy?
• Inside knowledge?
• Ability to predict markets?
• Degrees in finance or an MBA?
• Huge starting capital?

One answer: No.

Why do we not know that? Instant gratification is our Achilles’ heel. Multitask this and that. Kardashians. Now. Faster. Easier. Patience is a four-letter word.

How does the latest iPad help you to make money trading the markets? How does attending a Code Pink or Tea Party rally help? How does connected 24/7 help you? Your favorite blog, fancy broker tools…all will do what? How does electing your favorite politician help you to make money?

Let’s be honest. It’s all about you. It’s you, your friends, and your family against the world.

Trend following is for people who want above and beyond an average. It’s about getting wealthy and thriving. Now, faster, and easier doesn’t work for market prosperity. That’s not strategy. Trend following traders don’t play that way, and neither should you.

Ten years ago, Jason Fried of 37signals.com was hired as my first pro web site designer. He has since moved on to ventures far exceeding simple web site design, so it was very random that his book Rework inspired me. His big question made me think:

“Taking a stand always stands out. Who do you want to take a shot at?”

A valid question. My answer: Wall Street, the government, and media for starters.

Let go of them.

That is a breath of fresh air in an era of constant depression and recession talk, nonstop predictions, clueless economists, and Federal Reserve Ponzi schemes. Trend following is for those who know deep down that there is a real way to make money in the markets, but just do not know how yet. However, you will be surprised that the secret is hiding in plain sight. There was a great story on author Seth Godin’s web site. He had a college professor who worked as an engineering consultant. There was a 40- story office tower in Boston with a serious problem—an unsightly dark smudge was coming through the drywall. The multimillion-dollar fix would be to rip out all the drywall. Godin’s former professor was hired in a lastditch effort. He said, “I think I can fix it, but it will cost you $45,000.” The owners instantly agreed. The professor wrote down the name of a common hardware store chemical. “Here,” he said and sent a $45,000 bill. It was a bargain.

I’ve had a one-of-a-kind educational journey. My books Trend Following and The Complete TurtleTrader have sold more than 250,000 copies (no bragging, just for reference). My documentary film Broke outlined the Great Recession from a trend following perspective. Look, you might argue against my words, but arguing against my passion and research will be exhausting. Trust me, but verify every word herein. Accept nothing without questioning why. Find holes in the arguments, and when you can’t, send me a thank you card. You want confidence and inspiration? It’s here.

Michael Covel TurtleTrader Audiobook

This is the true story of novices trained to be millionaires. It is Michael Covel’s second bestseller. It is the only narrative account of trader Richard Dennis and his student traders nicknamed the ‘Turtles’. It is the definitive book on the subject and has been translated into German, Japanese, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Korean and Russian.

Background:

Richard Dennis made a fortune on Wall Street by investing according to a few simple rules. Convinced that great trading was a skill that could be taught to anyone, he made a bet with his partner and ran a classified ad in the Wall Street Journal looking for novices to train. His recruits, later known as the Turtles, had anything but traditional Wall Street backgrounds; they included a professional blackjack player, a pianist, and a fantasy game designer. By the time the experiment ended, Dennis had made a hundred million dollars from his Turtles and created one killer Wall Street legend. In The Complete TurtleTrader, Michael W. Covel tells their riveting story with the first ever on-the-record interviews with individual Turtles. He shows how Dennis’s rules worked—and can still work today—for any investor with the desire and commitment to learn from one of the greatest investing stories of all time.

The audiobook for the bestselling book The Complete TurtleTrader includes a special interview with original Turtle Jerry Parker. You can listen here.

Jerry Parker:

Jerry Parker
Jerry Parker

The Book:

TurtleTrader by Michael Covel
TurtleTrader by Michael Covel