Where Are the Customer’s Yachts?

One of the reasons so few people actually trade their own accounts successfully has to do with the wonderment principle. The wonderment principle is simple. It happens the moment you think that your high priced broker in the $2000 suit actually knows more than you do. The moment you raise other people up and endow them with above average trading ability is the moment you are acting on wonderment principle. The wonderment principle guarantees that you will lose money because, instead of empowering yourself to learn about trading and then make your own decisions, you give the power of handling your own hard earned money to somebody else.

Considering how important money and having more of it is to most people, it?s interesting how pervasive the wonderment principle is. Its strength comes from people?s tendency to be lazy and to have low self esteem. Most people couldn’t conceive of offering their children over to someone else to raise 100% of the time, or their home over to someone else to design and decorate from top to bottom, or their purchase of a car to a mechanic. But when the wonderment principle kicks in, they are content to allow an expert to tell them what to do with their money.

An Excerpt from Fred Schwed’s Classic

Where Are the Customer’s Yachts?, Or, a Good Hard Look at Wall Street (Wiley Investment Classics) by Fred Schwed (originally published in 1940):

If you are a customer receiving margin calls there are a number of things you can do, but none of them is good. Probably the best thing to do is to use the Natural-Instinctive method. This consists of picking up a telephone and telling the broker to go climb up a rope, or do anything else with a rope that his fancy dictates, but you won’t send him any more money. This has some definite advantages, not the least of them being that it helps relieve the feelings. The broker will sell you out and will then mail you some odd change that is left over. Since this amount is too small to put back in the bank, you will probably do something really useful with it like putting linoleum on the kitchen floor. If the stocks that were sold out immediately start booming upwards again you can meet that difficulty by ceasing to read the financial page. The second method is to get hold of some more money (Lord knows how but you always can), and send it in. This is known as the Finger-in-the-Dike method. It is a curious and terrible thing, but for some reason it is easier for a man to raise a thousand dollars for a margin call than it is for him to raise the price of supper if he is starving. This method often works, but it is also the method used by suicides. The third method is surprisingly popular. This is the Head-in-the Sand method and is used by those many customers who have in them a strong dash of ostrich. As soon as they read in the paper that their stocks are down, they arrange not to hear about it officially. They refuse to answer telephones or accept telegrams, and in some cases actually make for the Maine woods. Just what they hope to gain by this procedure is problematic. What always happens is that the brokers sell them out as they do with those using method number one. However, the sell-out may come a little later, which means that instead of some small change remaining for the customer, the customer owes the broker the small change. Sometimes, long afterwards, the ostrich type of customer sues the broker in court, claiming that he never received proper notice of the margin call. If at that time the customer was deeply enough hidden in the Maine woods he probably didn’t get proper notice, at that. The customer can do all right in the lower courts, before a jury, because the only thing the average jury comprehends entirely in these cases is that they don’t like brokers. But if any real amount of money is involved, the broker appeals the verdict, and a higher court, without a jury, tosses the customer out. I once knew a professor of English literature who used to receive margin call telegrams which were sent collect. Not only would he put up the required margin but he would pay for the telegrams as well. While I have in general no useful advice on what to do about margin calls, I definitely feel that you ought not to pay telegram charges on them.

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