Friday, April 30, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Solution-Focused Change

One of the key themes running through the TraderFeed blog, as well as the books that I've written on trading psychology, is that effective change comes from building on positive patterns of thoughts and behavior. We can think of these as "solution patterns", as opposed to the "problem patterns" that typically become the focus of coaching and counseling efforts.

The essence of the solution-focused approach is that we can often find the answers to our problems by looking at instances in which those problems are not occurring. For instance, if a trader who is troubled by a problem of overtrading exercises good restraint on a particular day, we would try to find out how he accomplished that. We would examine his preparation for the market day, his efforts to guide his decision-making with rules, his thought process while positions were on, etc. Out of this examination, we can figure out what he did right: what works for him. By crystallizing those positive actions into solution patterns, we can do more of what works and begin to build new, positive habit patterns.

The value of the solution focused method is that it does not impose answers from the outside: it builds upon the existing strengths of the trader. The key idea is that, in some ways, at some times, we trade well: we do not fall into problem patterns and instead enact the skills that define who we are when we are at our best. This requires a major mind shift for many traders: they are so focused on their problem patterns that they never note their strengths. And if they aren't aware of what they are doing right and how they're doing it, how can they hope to build on those competencies?

This is why it is valuable, in keeping trading journals, to identify clearly what you are doing well as well as what you need to improve. By turning positive trading behaviors into forward-looking goals, we build on strengths and move ourselves closer to our ideals.

For more on solution-focused methods, check out The Daily Trading Coach and the posts on Focusing on Trading Solutions and this post (and its links) on Becoming Solution Focused.

End of the Week Readings

* What distinguishes successful traders;

* Investors not pricing in risks in muni market;

* ECB may face dilemma re: raising rates;

* Strategies for hedging inflation risk;

* Making the case for transparency in financial reform;

* More Americans counting on Social Security for their retirement incomes;

* Sentiment is dangerously bullish.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Good Trade: One Good Trading Book by Mike Bellafiore of SMB Trading

Kudos to Mike Bellafiore, one of the principals at SMB Trading, for his forthcoming book One Good Trade. I recall when Mike first talked with me about writing about a book covering the proprietary ("prop") trading world. I thought it was a fantastic idea. Prop trading firms have traditionally been quite secretive about what they do and how they do it. Mike has lifted that lid, offering a variety of lessons that new and experienced traders can benefit from.

One Good Trade is filled with anecdotes of real traders facing real challenges in learning and mastering markets. Mike covers the fundamentals of trading success, from discipline and hard work to keeping daily work plans and mastering basic trading plays. He also explains how traders are hired at prop firms and the mistakes that lead many of those traders to fail.

Intraday traders will benefit from the hands-on trading material that describes selecting stocks "in play" and reading the tape to gauge when supply and demand come out of balance. The latter portion of the book covers what traders need to do to sustain their development, including training innovations that SMB has pioneered.

The book is written in an engaging way and, hands down, is the best inside look at intraday prop trading that I have encountered. I've had the pleasure of working with Mike and partners Steve Spencer and Gilbert Mendez and can attest to their commitment to training traders. Some of the work they are doing in video-based training is, in my opinion, state of the art. But best of all, One Good Trade offers uncommon trading wisdom. From Mike:

"There is nothing to 'get' as a trader. What works one month may not the next. Trading set ups you crush one year may be extinct the next. As prop traders our job is to recognize present patterns and exploit them. But we also must have the humility to accept that these patterns might change at any moment. And when they do we must find new patterns. We must adapt."

One Good Trade is one good resource for adapting to markets.

Note of disclosure: No one at Wiley or SMB requested this review or knew what I was going to write in advance. I do not accept reimbursement for the reviews I write. According to the Wiley website, One Good Trade is scheduled for release in August, 2010.

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Changing Our Problem Patterns With Brief Therapy Methods

One of the key themes running through the TraderFeed blog, as well as my books on trading psychology, is that changes in our behavior, thought, and emotion can be effected by relatively brief, targeted change methods.

All of our behavior--from our ways of thinking to our typical modes of responding to situations--is patterned. The sum of our patterns is what gives us our personalities. Many of our patterns begin as coping responses to challenges that we face early in life. For instance, if I find myself repeatedly hurt by others, I may learn to maintain a high degree of privacy and guardedness. Keeping to myself, I can't get hurt.

Such patterns may be adaptive for the situations that we are in, but they become maladaptive once we enter different environments. Thus, the withdrawal that worked when growing up now becomes a liability in forming new, romantic relationships. By then, however, the pattern has been overlearned; it has been internalized as part of the self. As a result, I can find myself repeating patterns that bring unwanted consequences. Worse still, I can be unaware that I'm repeating those patterns.

The process of changing our patterns of thought, behavior, and feeling begins with becoming aware of our repetitive patterns and the consequences of those patterns. While such awareness will not, in itself, change us, it is a necessary step: once we clearly recognize what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how it is hurting us, we can step back and try to do things differently. If I see that I am hiding behind a wall of guardedness in relationships because of previous problems in relationships--and if I clearly perceive how that is holding me back from cultivating new, meaningful relationships--then I can try, little by little, to take down that wall. Many times, that breaking of the wall (the changing of our patterns) starts in the relationship with a therapist.

When problem patterns do not overwhelm a person's life and prevent them from functioning in the world--and especially when those problems have been relatively recent and situational, not chronic and pervasive--it is usually the case that short-term, highly active and focused approaches to change can be effective in generating and sustaining change. These approaches fall under the category of brief therapy. Illustrations of how people can change problem patterns through such short-term approaches can be found in my Psychology of Trading book. A description of specific techniques drawn from the brief therapy literature, including behavioral, cognitive restructuring, and psychodynamic approaches, can be found in the Daily Trading Coach book. A more thorough coverage of brief therapy methods and research can be found in my co-edited volume on the topic.

Very often, repetitive patterns in behavior and relationships interfere with trading. At a simple level, they can interfere with our concentration and market focus. More broadly, however, those patterns have a subtle, destructive way of playing themselves out in our trading. The person who felt unappreciated by parents now takes on too much risk in markets to become successful and attract the desired admiration; the trader who experienced painful losses as a child now freezes up when markets move against him; the person who rebelled against authority and control in his early years now finds himself breaking his own trading rules.

When problems from your personal life are interfering with your trading, it is always the right strategy to stop trading and pour yourself into resolving those problems. This does not have to be with a trading coach: any competent psychologist schooled in brief therapy methods can help you understand your patterns, interrupt those, and replace them with more constructive ways of dealing with the world.

Then you can return to trading as a free person with full focus, ready to acquire and utilize a lifetime of skills.

For more on the topic of brief therapy, check out this post and its links on therapy for the mentally well. See also this post on coaching traders in real time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Catching Up on Midweek Reading

* Using visualization to create change;

* The importance of our attributions;

* Stock market insights from Herb Greenberg;

* Looking for M tops in the broad indexes;

* Prospects for a second half slowdown and more fine reading;

* Leveraged loans on the rise;

* Fed trapped by "extended period" language;

* Trying to slow a red hot economy in Brazil;

* The case for Greek default;

* Companies with strong growth during the recession.

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Trading as a Performance Activity

Prior Posts in This Series: Introduction to Trading Psychology

There are three meta-themes that have dominated the TraderFeed blog and my three books on trading psychology. The first is that trading is a performance activity; the second is that personal and professional development is a function of building on strengths, not just addressing weaknesses; the third is that markets exhibit state shifts and repetitive patterns that mirror those we observe in ourselves. This series of posts will elaborate on the three themes; this post will focus on the performance aspects of trading.

What accounts for trading success? Is it having setups and trading systems that are better than those of others? Is it having an iron self-discipline? Is it a function of personality or inborn talent?

There are many possible explanations for why people succeed in markets. The idea of trading as a performance discipline is that the process of mastering markets is similar to the process of mastering any performance domain, such as athletics or public speaking. We begin with certain talents such as the abilities to process information quickly and synthesize large amounts of data, the capacity to sustain attention, and personality traits that enable us to keep a relatively steady mindset in the face of uncertainty.

These talents, and the interests that develop early in life, help guide us toward activities that we find to be rewarding and fulfilling. As we pour ourselves into those activities, we develop skills that are specific to the performance field. Such skill development is often facilitated by work with coaches and teachers, who structure practice sessions that hone particular skills. Such deliberate practice is what turns talent into actual performance, as we progress from being novices to developing competence and eventually expertise.

This developmental course is typically a lengthy one and involves numerous setbacks as well as milestones. What sustains the growth process is a very strong interest in the performance field and a learning process that nurtures continued motivation and a sense of growing mastery. Talent and interest will not turn into expertise if they are not channeled into ongoing learning, review of performance, and efforts at improvement.

This is why traders require training--like a physician or Olympic athlete--not just education. This is also why simulated trading, the practice of specific trading skills prior to risking capital, is an essential step on the way toward learning to manage real money and handle real risk. It is the deep, intensive exposure to markets over time that enables traders to internalize the market's recurring patterns and develop a feel for trading.

Many traders fail to reach a high level of development because they change what they're doing--run from one approach to another--long before they could ever build and internalize core trading skills. Many others fall short of their potential because their development is relatively unstructured, with vague goals and few concerted efforts to learn from experience.

Think of how an Olympic athlete develops from childhood to the point of elite competition and think of how they train for an Olympic event: that will provide a useful template for how traders can reach similar elite levels of performance. Psychology is necessary for elite performance; it is not sufficient.

Much more detail on these themes can be found in my trading performance book. See also the posts on Constancy of Purpose, Devotion to Development, Resilience, Enhancement of Perception, and Multiplier Effects. Also relevant is Finding Your Niche in Life and Trading.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Competent Traders Need Most

I've written quite a few posts to attempt to guide beginning traders. But what if you're a trader who has reached the stage of competence? Now you can consistently cover costs and sustain modest profits. How do you get to the next stage of expertise, where you can make a solid living from your trading?

What many competent traders do is try to magnify their modest profits by trading more instead of by trading larger. Because they have modest account sizes, they cannot size their trades significantly, so they try to put on more trades. Such overtrading takes them out of their niches of competence and leads them to lose money.

Those traders don't recognize that they may already have the skills to become excellent traders. After all, a trader who can make $200/day trading 5 lots in the ES futures could be making $2000 a day trading 50 lots, not a bad six figure income. Given the liquidity of the market, the trades that work with 5 lots by and large will work with 50 lots. It's just a matter of growing into that size. The actual trading doesn't have to change significantly.

Probably, this issue occurs in other areas of business. The successful local restaurant might have all the makings of a powerhouse chain of eateries, but without access to capital and a managerial talent pool, that growth never happens.

That is why access to capital is key for the competent trader: either capital one has saved up or that one can access through trading for deep-pocketed firms.

The second thing that competent traders need is access to expert traders. A beginning trader, like a Little League ball player, can benefit from coaching from a more experienced person. It doesn't take an expert to coach a rookie. But once athletes becomes college stars, they require hands-on mentoring from coaches and mentors with expertise. It is not too unusual to see self-made competent golf players, traders, or singers. It's rare to see expertise develop in relative isolation.

That is because expert coaches and mentors help to mold and accelerate learning curves, to make the most of a person's talent. If you've reached a stage of competence, it is vital to use online resources, personal networking, and/or access to trading firms to learn from pros. Look at the history of great achievers in business, the arts, sciences, and sports: even the self-made greats stood on the shoulders of giants.


Decision Point and the Value of Market Overview

As I wind down the blog, I want to offer a shout out to the excellent Decision Point site, which has served for a long time as a valuable information source for me. I find it to be the best single source for tracking sector behavior in the stock market, as well as key market indicators. A review of the charts each week provides an excellent overview of how the market is trading.

One valuable aspect of such chart review is that it enables traders to synthesize information into broad market themes. It also helps traders identify when markets are in trending or range bound mode and whether they are gaining or losing strength/weakness.

At this juncture, those charts are telling us of a bull market that has been transitioning from mounting a wall of worry to riding a path of euphoria. New 52-week highs have continued to grow among NYSE common stocks (top chart), thanks in part to very significant relative strength among small-cap stocks ($SML; middle chart). Indeed, with a steadily rising advance-decline line, $SML is not so far away from its all time highs.

Such strength has emboldened traders. The 10-day moving average of the CBOE equity put-call ratio has been moving steadily lower (bottom chart; note the inverse scaling), as traders become increasingly bullish in the face of rising prices. As a rule, bull markets end with divergences and waning strength; so far, the charts I follow on Decision Point have not been displaying those kinds of cracks in the market foundation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What New Traders Need to Learn

Kudos to John Forman, who has assembled an edited volume specific to the questions most asked by developing traders. A variety of experienced traders and market bloggers have participated in the volume, offering a mix of viewpoints. It is often quite difficult for new traders to obtain impartial guidance in starting their careers, so such resources are quite valuable. The topics for the questions range from trading mechanics and trading psychology to market analysis and trading careers. Good stuff!

In general, I would highlight three areas of learning that I would want to have if I were looking to start out as a trader today:

1) Macroeconomics - I would want to have a grasp of intermarket relationships and how monetary policy affects interest rates, currencies, and economic growth. This information may not determine the trade over the next half-hour, but it does govern the market's longer time frame picture and help determine market trends. A lack of understanding of macroeconomics and intermarket relationships has been a major reason many short-term traders have lost money fighting the market over the last few months.

2) A Trading Theory - A trader needs a framework for thinking about price movement and making sense out of the steady stream of price changes across markets. I'm not sure that it matters greatly whether traders subscribe to one theory or another, but I am certain that having an explanatory framework is better than not having one. Personally, I have found Market Profile theory to be an especially useful way of conceptualizing market action across time frames. Other people find Elliott Wave theory or any of a variety of technical analysis frameworks to be useful.

3) Observation - Hands down, the smartest thing I ever did when learning how to trade was to watch markets for a long time before trying to trade them. I collected charts of intraday action and, each day, looked for the best trading opportunities. Over time, I started to see repetitive patterns among those opportunities and those became important to my subsequent trading. Watching not only price, but volume, sector behavior, intermarket action, and such measures as NYSE TICK help you recognize the dynamics of breakouts, reversals, and trends.

Knowing what I know today, if I were starting out as a trader or advising a beginning trader, I would advocate at least a full year of learning, observation, and practice trading before putting money at risk. I strongly believe that a major reason new traders don't succeed is that they fail to put in the necessary time to learn markets and acquire skills.


Minding Our Selves: How Body Becomes Soul

In the past, I've written about how life experiences serve as mirrors: they reflect to us something of who we are, which we then internalize as part of our identities. This is particularly true of relationships: we continually experience ourselves through the people in our lives: in a very real sense, who we allow into our lives helps shape who we become.

We also have relationships with our bodies, in a sense. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals about their state: whether we are tense or relaxed, energetic or fatigued, fit or falling apart. A common problem with sedentary occupations such as trading (and a common problem as people become older) is that they stop taking care of their bodies and focus on more "practical" things, like making money, raising children, and keeping up a home.

Over time, a divergence develops: the mind is trying to stay sharp and the person is trying to stay focused, energetic, and motivated, and the body is sending a completely contrary set of signals. It is very difficult to stay at the top of one's game if the other side in our mind/body relationship is sending frequent signals of exhaustion or deconditioning.

I see this often among traders--and too often in myself: neglecting the body and then not having enough fuel in the tank to sustain a crucial piece of motivation or optimism that could lead to that good career decision, that extra effort that gets noticed, or that one good trade after a couple of losers.

If our bodies are mirrors to our selves, what experience of your self are you living with and internalizing each day? A promising strategy for working on the mind might just be minding the body.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Readings to Kick Off the New Week

* The thought process behind trading success;

* I'm proud to have had some small impact upon the excellent Market Rewind site; many thanks to Jeff for his post;

* Much thanks to MarketSci for quant insights and this kind post;

* A look at market sentiment and lots more fine reading;

* Nice source for market buzz;

* Interesting view: the bull market caused the financial crisis;

* China to keep easy monetary policy;

* Bond markets not anticipating inflation;

* Anticipating continued ease from the Fed;

* Stocks not quite so cheap after their bull run.

The Four-Leaf Clover Principle

This morning, I went for a jog in the forest preserve park down the street from our home. Winding down the run, I cut through a section of the park and noticed to my surprise that, after the recent rain, clover covered the ground.

I have quite a few childhood memories of clover. As a grade-school age kid, I had a daily paper route and delivered newspapers from house to house. I used to watch the ground when I walked to see if I could find any four-leafed clover. If I found any, my mother pronounced it a lucky omen. She preserved the clover by pressing it in a heavy book and keeping it safe in a clear wrapper. I recall opening our family picture album and having a few pressed clover fall out. Maybe my mom thought that would bring luck to the family.

Those memories returned to me during the jog and I began to scour the ground for a four-leaf clover. I thought that would be a nice reconnection to my past; maybe it would be lucky, too.

There were no four-leafed clover in the first patch of ground that I examined. Nor the second, third, or fourth. Disappointed, I raised my head and began walking home.

On the way, the thought soon struck me that you can never really look for four-leafed clover. I never actually found one by looking for it; rather, I would be walking along and one would suddenly jump out at me. It was being primed to see one, but not *trying* to see it, that would lead to the discovery.

Most things are like that in life, I realized. You can't *make* things happen. You can't make people like you, you can't make stocks move your way, and you can't make yourself successful. When you press to make things happen, you're no longer properly primed to see opportunity when it presents itself. You're so busy looking for the clover that you miss the patch that lies several steps ahead.

How many times do we press to get in a trade, when it's just sitting back, seeing the trend, and finding a good place to participate that makes us the real money? How often do we try to make a public speech turn out perfectly or try to get to sleep, only to have the trying interfere with what comes naturally?

What makes the four-leafed clover lucky is that it presents itself to us; we cannot make it appear. It's true of all life's four-leafed clover: they appear when we're ready to see them.

I smiled as I made my way home. I realized that there were a couple of areas in my life where I had been pressing to make things happen. What I needed to do was stand back, do the right things, and position for the best possible outcomes. All we can do in life is walk through lots of clover fields and keep our eyes open. Eventually the four-leafed opportunities will present themselves.

As I walked just beyond the picnic tables, a few steps before I reached Greene Rd. to return home, a large four-leafed clover stood out on the ground. I held back a tear as I carefully plucked it and brought it home. I pressed it in a book and put it in an airtight clear wrap.

Somewhere, Mom was smiling. And I was feeling lucky: my blog topic for the morning was set.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oil Price in Euros: Yet Another Economic Challenge for Europe

Here I used a pair of ETFs: the oil ETF USO and the euro ETF FXE to estimate the movement in the price of oil denominated in euros.

Because of the weakness in the euro and the firmness of oil prices, we see that oil has moved up about 50% since the bear lows in March of 2009. With the recent drop in the euro and rise in oil prices, we see that the price of oil in euros has been moving steadily higher thus far in 2010.

With many European economies being energy importers, not producers, such a rise in oil prices can only provide headwinds to economic growth in the eurozone.

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Introduction to Trading Psychology

This post will begin a review of the key ideas from my three trading psychology books and the roughly 3700 blog posts on this site. Wherever possible, I will link to posts and resources pertinent to each topic for ready reference.

But first an introduction to trading psychology. The relevance of psychology for trading is based upon two important realities:

1) Trading is a performance activity, much like athletics or performing arts. Psychological variables influence both the acquisition of skills in any performance field and the application of those skills. While there is much more to performance than mindset alone--talents, skills, and interests must align--the wrong mindset can greatly hamper performance;

2) The human mind does not process information efficiently or effectively under conditions of risk and uncertainty. To simply "trade what you see" is a recipe for falling prey to a variety of cognitive and emotional biases. The trader's psychological development is crucial to learning how to properly gauge risk and reward when performance pressures mount.

Trading psychology is not something that is simply appended to trading practice: it is an integral part of functioning as a trader and is acquired in the process of learning how to trade. It is through the trader's developmental process that he or she learns how to manage risk, how to temper overconfidence and fear, and how to sustain positive motivation.

Indeed, a proper training curriculum for a new trader is one which helps the trader and the trading develop over time. A great deal of psychological learning comes from making the classic mistakes that bedevil all new traders: making impulsive decisions, allowing fear to overtake opportunity, overtrading, allowing losing trades to run and capping winners, and the like. If you can make those mistakes--and learn from them--long before you put the lion's share of your capital at risk, you will have an opportunity to grow into the trader you're capable of becoming.

Sometimes the best therapy for your trading is to get into therapy yourself. The markets are an expensive place to be working out your issues about success/failure, competency/adequacy, and need for approval/esteem. Many people take their repetitive patterns from family and romantic relationships and enact them in trading. When that is the case, psychological development needs to precede trading development: resolving those issues is the best way to approach markets with a clear and open mind.

Eventually, you will be able to take your psychological development to the next level of trading: you will recognize when others are making the mistakes you used to make. You will see markets acting on fear and greed and you'll be able to take the other side of those reactive trades. You'll observe when market sentiment is tilted one way and price can no longer sustain its trend. Developing yourself psychologically doesn't mean that you'll be free of emotion; it means that you will become increasingly competent at using your feelings as useful trading information.


The Psychology of Trading is a good introduction to the topic of how life's challenges play themselves out in the trading world.

Enhancing Trader Performance is a good introduction to the learning curves of traders and the process of developing competence and expertise.

The Daily Trading Coach is a good compendium of self-help ideas and techniques for traders looking to coach themselves toward better performance.

Friday, April 23, 2010

ETF Pairs as Sentiment Gauges: HYG and LQD

In recent posts, I have focused on several ETF pairs as sentiment gauges for the broad stock market. Those include:

Above, we see a different ETF pair that tracks the relative performance of high yield credit (HYG) vs. investment grade credit (LQD). The idea is that, when investors expect stable and positive economic conditions, they will display their risk appetite by pursuing higher yield. When investors expect unstable and poor economic conditions, they will tend to be risk averse and seek the relative safety of high quality credit over high yielding issues.

As the chart above illustrates, throughout the bull market, we've seen high yield debt outperform investment grade issues. While the pace of that outperformance has waned recently--we have not made fresh 2010 highs since January--we've not seen any underperformance of HYG that would lead us to worry about an increase in perceived default risk.

Midday Briefing for April 24th: Firm Energy Shares

Energy is an important market sector, as it reflects not only demand for energy-related companies, but also for energy as a commodity. If traders and investors are expecting global growth, that should show up in terms of greater industrial activity and increased demand for oil and other fuels.

Note the upside breakout among energy stocks (XLE; above) today, reflecting firmness in crude oil prices. Should we get runaway growth in the current low interest rate environment, one would expect that to eventually show up in the prices of raw materials and energy--and the companies in those sectors.

New Highs and Lows in the Stock Market: What They're Telling Us

Here we can see the steady march higher of the S&P 500 Index (SPY; blue line) during the bull market, plotted against the number of stocks across the NYSE, ASE, and NASDAQ that have made 65-day new highs minus new lows. What we see is that dips in the 65-day highs minus lows have occurred at successively higher price points, a hallmark of a bull market. We also see that the 65-day highs minus lows have stayed persistently above zero since the important February bottom.

In evaluating market cycles, we generally want to look for momentum peaks--points at which the largest number of stocks make their new highs--and lows. As Terry Laundry has stressed, there is a proportionality between the time it takes markets to make momentum highs and cycle lows and the time it takes a subsequent bull cycle to make a fresh peak. With the momentum high in early September and the cycle low in early February, that formulation suggests that this bull phase could last into the summer.

Interestingly, that is consistent with today's market analysis by SentimenTrader, who investigated historical periods of persistent upside momentum and found that those rarely turn tail quickly. That view also meshes with the analysis of Market Tells, which finds intermediate-term bullish action tends to follow strength in their version of the S&P Oscillator.

All that is not to say that we won't have our share of short-term market pullbacks between now and then. It does suggest, however, that automatically assuming that an overbought market will reverse in the near term can be hazardous to your wealth. As long as more stocks are making 20- and 65-day highs than lows and the advance-decline line is making fresh bull highs, those pullbacks will tend to provide opportunity for investors to buy into a strengthening economy that continues to enjoy low interest rates and little inflation.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thanks to Readers: Lessons From The Blog

Dear Readers,

I am absolutely humbled by the large number of heartfelt responses to my recent blog post announcing that I will be winding down the blog. I've experienced many gratifying moments in my career, but few can compare with today. To be able to be a part of so many people's personal and professional development is a real honor.

In response to a question that many readers raised, yes, I will do everything I can to keep the blog up and archive "best of" posts. If, as expected, I do join a trading firm on a full-time basis, it is likely that my contract will prevent me from doing new writing. There is just too much room for conflict of interest if the firm is sharing its positions with me and then I'm writing about markets for the trading public.

Similarly, if I'm developing coaching innovations for the firm, they don't necessarily want me sharing those with others, including competitors.

So, for a while, I will take a break from writing. For many of the same reasons, I will need to take a break from trading.

I look back on the opportunities that have come from the blog--the books and book sales, the coaching opportunities, the valuable contacts and colleagues--and the return on the investment of my time has been immense. It's been phenomenally rewarding personally and emotionally, but it's also contributed to many hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. All without subscriptions. All without advertising.

And that's the thought I want to leave you with: If you put yourself out there, share your best ideas, reach out to people, and give more than anyone ever could expect you to give, you'll attract the right kinds of people--and the right kinds of opportunity. If you have passion and you have talent, make yourself visible: the best people will find their way to you and everyone will benefit.

Thanks again for your kind and warm support--



Winding Down the TraderFeed Blog

I've been blessed with many colleagues and friends through the TraderFeed blog; it has been a most gratifying experience sharing ideas about psychology and markets over the years. With nearly 3700 posts on topics ranging from short-term trading techniques to behavioral finance and self-help methods for problems affecting traders, the blog has become the largest compendium of trading psychology-related material on the Web.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my continued writing of the blog will need to wind down in coming weeks due to a major career change. My future coaching involvement with traders will preclude me from writing: much of what I'll be doing will need to be proprietary. When the i's are dotted and the t's crossed, I'll announce that change in coaching involvement more specifically.

The reason for the career change is pretty simple: If I as a coach am not pushing myself to grow and develop, then my efforts to help others evolve are fraudulent. I cannot offer others more than I can achieve myself. To take myself to the next level as a psychologist, I need to pursue challenges that will bring the best out in me.

Remember this: Your growth always lies on the other side of your discomfort. Whether it's in the weight room or in career decisions, you'll never develop yourself by staying in your comfort zone. People don't become old when they reach a certain birthday; they become old when they decide to live life without crossing that line of discomfort.

So, as the blog wraps up, what topics would you like for me to tackle? I'll happily take suggestions as comments to this post. I may not be able to get to all topics in the days ahead, but I'll make a sincere effort. As always, thanks for your understanding and support.



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fresh Wednesday Readings

* How to overcome stubborn streaks in trading;

* What to do about negative patterns of self-talk;

* A V-shaped recovery and many more good midweek readings;

* More on EEM:SPY as a sentiment indicator;

* Nice after hours trade for those who stay late;

* Daytrading for sports!

* US equity market vs. global bourses and other good reading;

* IMF calls for different policies in China and Japan;

* No inflation in the foreseeable future;

* Overview of the economy: housing and jobs lag.

Midday Briefing for April 21st: Small Cap Strength

While we've seen selling in the large cap S&P 500 Index today, small caps are holding near their bull highs and we actually have a few more stocks rising on the day than declining. Sector performance is mixed, with weakness among financial and health care stocks and relative strength among the industrial and consumer discretionary shares.

Quick Look at Commodities

Commodities (DBC, above) have traded higher through the bull market, but have lagged stocks since January thus far. I am watching commodities closely, as a breakout to new highs could have implications for raw materials and energy stocks, inflation concerns, and the broad economy.

Morning Briefing for April 21st: Watching the Range Trade

8:58 AM CT - Note the relative strength among bank and homebuilder shares, but only a little more than 500 advancing stocks than decliners so far. Health care and materials shares relatively weak; watching closely to see if this is simply sector reallocation or if the rally in banks can lift the broad market.

We're trading toward the top of a broad multiday range; handicapping whether we can attract fresh buying at the highs vs. fall back into the range will set up the best trades for today. I'll be watching the intraday advance-decline line and new 20-day highs/lows carefully during the day for clues as to the likelihood of sustaining a breakout: with a little over 1300 new 20-day highs on Tuesday, we're seeing some thinning of participation on this most recent leg up in stocks. Note also that we're falling short of recent highs overseas, in EEM and EFA.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Few Things That I Believe: Observations From The Doc

* We are in a cyclical bull market within a secular bear market. The secular bear market began in 2000 and, like secular bear markets before this one (1929-1949; 1966-1982), this one could last for 15 years or so. Even after secular bear markets have put in price lows (1932, 1974), we've typically seen years of weakness and bottoming action until stocks become an unloved asset class. The March, 2009 may have been a price low for stocks, but we've got a way to go before stocks are a shunned investment.

* All that being said, we *are* in a cyclical bull market and only recently have we begun to see the kind of bullish sentiment extremes that might accompany a topping process. This bull market has lasted a little more than a year. Most bull markets last longer than that. I'm not convinced we'll roll over until there are stronger hints of a move away from low interest rates. The inability of traders and investors to recognize the difference between cyclical market moves and secular ones has created much pain for bulls and bears alike.

* I find it hard to believe that the Fed will have the political cover to raise interest rates until we see hard signs of inflation. That means that commodities might have to rally hard before we see the bull market in stocks roll over. If we're not overheating, I'm can't imagine the Fed raising rates in a high unemployment environment. So we stick with monetary ease until we overheat.

* A rise in long Treasury rates (decline in bond prices) will be a good tell for inflationary expectations and anticipation of overheating. As long as rates stay tame, it's hard for me to imagine stocks going to hell.

* I'm open to the possibility that all the above might be wrong and that the next driver of stock prices will be monetary tightening and a hard landing among emerging market economies. If the emerging nations stop serving as the engine of global economic growth, that's when we could see a second economic slowdown. I'm not convinced that the China miracle won't end up looking like the Japan miracle.

* I don't know how we emerge from burdensome debt other than to transition from being a consumption-driven economy to being an export-driven one. Over the long haul, growth-by-export will support a weak U.S. dollar, though any near term economic slowdown led by emerging markets would likely see a flight to the dollar.

* It is hard for me to imagine a transition away from a consumer-driven economy without deflationary pressures coming from household deleveraging, weakness in commercial real estate, and pressure on local/state governments and local/regional financial institutions. The panicky flight to high yield debt (junk bonds, muni debt) could end badly if we get a second bout of deflation.

* If I have to bet on the future, I'll bet on countries with favorable demographics, favorable balance sheets, favorable rates of taxation, and freer markets. Free markets are messy and far from perfect, but they are ultimately self-correcting; centralized ones are not.

Midday Briefing for April 20th: Broad Range

We are trading in a broad multiday range in the ES futures (above), defined by yesterday's lows around 1180 and the bull highs around 1210 from 4/15. Sector performance is mixed: consumer discretionary and energy shares are at their bull highs, whereas health care stocks, consumer staples, materials, and financial issues lag. We're also seeing 10-year rates, gold, and oil well off their bull peaks. In all, this is looking like a period of distribution, sector rotation, and consolidation following a strong and persistent bull run.

ETF Pairs as Sentiment Gauges: IWM and SPY

Recent posts have looked at EEM vs. SPY and XLY vs. XLP as sentiment gauges for the broad stock market. Above we see yet another ETF pair, IWM vs. SPY, as a gauge of speculative sentiment among traders and investors.

The underlying logic is much the same as EEM vs. SPY: traders will be drawn to the smaller, more entrepreneurial, growth-oriented companies when they anticipate economic expansion and will gravitate toward the larger, safer issues when they expect economic weakness.

As we can see above, the small and midcap stocks that are part of IWM have been outperforming the large cap SPY issues, recently moving to relative strength highs. That strength can also be seen in the advance/decline line specific to NYSE common stocks: the broad list of smaller cap issues has been moving the line to bull highs lately.

It is interesting to juxtapose the bullish speculative sentiment of IWM vs. SPY with the more tempered outlook given by EEM vs. SPY. Within the universe of U.S. stocks, we see risk-taking sentiment among traders; that same sentiment is not extending itself globally. Indeed, if we look at large cap stocks across Europe, the Far East, and Australasia (EFA), we can see that those overseas bourses as a whole have not sustained bull highs thus far in 2010.

As long as there is broad participation in upward movement in the U.S., I don't expect any major market correction. Should we begin to see small caps underperform their larger cap counterparts and overseas markets--especially in emerging economies--underperforming the U.S., I would become far more defensive.

Monday, April 19, 2010

ETF Pairs as Sentiment Gauges: EEM and SPY

I recently took at look at ETF pairs--consumer discretionary and consumer staples issues--as sentiment gauges for the broad stock market. Above we see another ETF pair: emerging market stocks (EEM) vs. U.S. large caps (SPY) as another gauge of speculative sentiment in the stock market.

EEM represents trader and investor interest in the fastest growing economies in the world. While these display high potential appreciation, they are also quite vulnerable to downturns in global economic strength. SPY represents a universe of shares with lower growth potential, but also higher stability.

When traders and investors anticipate strong global economic growth, they will tend to favor more speculative, growth-oriented regions of the world. That will show up as EEM outperforming SPY. When traders are more risk averse and anticipating global slowdown, they will tend to seek the relative safety of large cap stocks in the world's largest economy. That will show up as SPY outperforming EEM.

What we've seen lately (above) is that, despite very rapid economic growth in Asia and South America, EEM has stopped outperforming SPY. Early in the bull market, we saw EEM dramatically outperform SPY. Since the fourth quarter of 2009, however, that outperformance has stopped.

This leads me to believe that traders and investors are anticipating a monetary tightening cycle among emerging market central banks, restraining growth potential. To the degree that economies in the U.S. and Europe are looking to exports to emerging market economies to fuel their own growth, we could see some headwinds going forward. I will be watching this theme closely, as it could lead to a more challenging environment for all stock markets as the year progresses.

Midday Briefing for April 19th: Continued Risk Aversion

Although major indexes have traded below Friday's lows thus far today, we're seeing bank stocks ($BKX, above) holding above those lows. We're also seeing relative strength from the most risk-averse stock sectors: health care and consumer staples shares. Meanwhile, oil and gold have been trading lower, Treasury yields are below Friday's levels, and USD is up vs. euro and Aussie dollar. All in all, we're seeing continued risk-sensitivity in the wake of concerns re: allegations of fraud at major banks.

Morning Observations From the Doc

* As we can see, financial stocks (XLF) broke out to bull market highs in March, only to pull back sharply on very expanded volume on Friday. The catalyst, of course, was the GS news and subsequent selling of bank stocks. Much discussion has focused on whether this will lead us to a sustained correction after a remarkably consistent run up. Less commented upon is the fact that SPY volume more than doubled on Friday from its recent average levels and the daily price range did the same. The GS news has pulled in more institutional participants who, to that point, had found no reason to sell a market that showed rising earnings in a low interest rate, accomodative monetary environment. It's as much a potential shift in volatility regimes as in directional trade;

* Overheard from one savvy trader: "What are the good financial stocks that are getting punished along with the banks?" Sometimes asking the right questions is half the battle. Figuring out how to express the answer to the question is a big part of the other half;

* From a recent email I sent to a sharp trader buddy: "Algos cannot change whether stocks go from point A to point B, but they do influence the path. The more path dependent the trader, the more vulnerable he is."

* I was looking at real estate in the northeast this weekend. No question that activity has picked up. Particularly vulnerable, however, was the luxury condo market: plenty of developments sitting only partially filled, with price declines failing to bring people in. And that's one of the better real estate environments. Miami has over 14,000 housing units for sale, over 8000 of which are condos. To cover costs, condo owners/developers have to rent their units out and that gives little incentive for buyers to step up and risk owning property in failing developments. And how about tenants who bought early and now face a glutted market should they need to sell? Just too much tail risk for buyers, and that has to impact the trajectory of the housing recovery at the high end.

* "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Sir Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bulls Continue to Dominate: A Survey of Stock Market Sentiment

After Friday's decline, the CBOE equity put/call ratio moved toward levels that have been normal for the bull market, but hardly showed bearishness. Indeed, we can see the extreme bullish sentiment that accompanied the market's recent run up.

Meanwhile, the AAII poll of trader sentiment shows bears at 30%, the lowest reading since the first quarter of 2008. According to the Investor's Intelligence survey, 51% of participants are bullish, 19% bearish. Readings of less than 20% have tended to occur at intermediate-term market tops; the last such reading occurred early in January.

More Coaching Insights for Traders

As a follow up to the recent coaching insights for traders, here's a second round of thoughts and observations:

* Pull out your largest trades--and your most active trading days-- in the past three months and assess the P/L just for those. That will tell you quite a bit about how you are dealing with risk and reward;

* Pull out your top ten winning and bottom ten losing trades over the past three months and compare their P/L. That will tell you quite a bit about your trading discipline;

* If you are much more unhappy when you lose than happy when you win, a 50% win ratio will feel like losing over time, even if you're making money;

* If you are always looking for the next trade, you will ultimately overtrade;

* If you are confident in your ability to make money, you will not fear missing market moves;

* If you are a consistent trend follower or a consistent countertrend trader, you will not consistently make money;

* Dissect your best trades and you will find out who you are as a trader;

* You won't always make money, but you should always expect to trade well;

* You can't control markets, but you can always control when you bet and how much you bet;

* If an athlete spent as much time working on his game as you do on your trading, would the athlete make a living as a professional?

* Great traders work on themselves after a winning streak;

* Confidence when losing, humility when winning: a formula for long-term success in markets.


Sunday News, Views, and Review

* How is personality related to trading success?

* How to turn stress into positive emotion;

* Gauging three states in markets: uptrending, downtrending, mean reverting;

* Rising Federal spending posing economic challenges;

* Fed insider's perspective on the shortcomings of proposed financial reform;

* Marriage can be good for your health;

* Investors returning to hedge funds;

* Reverberations of allegations of fraud at GS; more on the GS transactions;

* And now allegations against MER;

* Concerns resurface in Dubai;

* Economic repercussions of Iceland's volcanic eruption;

* Preview of economic numbers coming out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Updated Look at Stock Market Strength

Even after Friday's broad decline, we can see that over 80% of shares remain above their 50-day moving averages, per the top chart offered by Barchart. As the advance-decline line specific to NYSE common stocks from Decision Point shows (bottom chart), we remain in an uptrend after the Friday drop. Indeed, we had over 400 new 52-week highs among NYSE stocks on Wednesday and Thursday, the highest levels registered during the bull market. All of this suggests to me that we may have seen a momentum peak in stocks and could expect some continuation of Friday's pullback, but that it would not be surprising to see further price peaks following that correction.

Where to Trade: Finding a Trading Career

Props to SMB Trading for their excellent post on finding a new trading home. Time and again, I've found that long-term success in markets is not just a function of who the trader is and the strategies they trade, but also their trading environment. Being around successful traders can help you become a successful trader; having the right tools can help you do the job well. As Steve mentions in his post, the right technology is crucial; proper resources to assess and monitor risk can make all the difference in one's eventual distribution of returns.

My experience supports Steve's observation: In the present environment, many traders are losing their jobs, many proprietary trading firms are consolidating. This is especially true among discretionary, "point and click" traders and firms. The combination of low volatility and intense competition from very efficient, well researched algorithmic intraday programs has made it difficult to survive in the intraday trading environment. I am seeing people who have made money consistently in the past now struggling...and I am seeing that on a firm-wide level as well.

But what hurts many traders and firms as much as the low volatility and intense competition for the next tick is the absence of a facilitative trading environment. Whether it's the environment of an individual, independent trader or the environment at ABC Chop Shop, rarely is the environment set up for ongoing learning and development. If Firm A hires analysts and produces fresh trading ideas each day, then brings traders together each morning to generate further ideas, and then provides mentorship opportunities to learn from each trading day and Firm B provides little more than a trading box, screen, and order management platform to traders, which firm is more likely to thrive in good times and survive in tough ones?

When developers create their algorithmic trading programs, they intensively examine what works and what doesn't work. They monitor how those programs are performing in real time and have procedures in place to determine the proper degree of risk to allocate to those programs. They trade multiple programs, so that they always have income streams when any single strategy is underperforming.

Individual traders? It's rare to find ones who sustain the process of keeping a substantive journal from day to day. If there's an entry in a journal, it reads something like, "I lost money again today. I need to be more patient with my trades and get out of losers quickly."

C'mon. Who is going to win in such a scenario? The well-researched and continually tuned computer program or the frustrated trader who doesn't take the time to translate a good intention into a concrete plan for action?

But it's like growing up in a dysfunctional home or without a home at all: It's difficult to generate the right kind of environment for yourself when you've never experienced one. This is a particular challenge for independent traders. If you've never been part of a high performance environment, it is difficult to weave one from whole cloth.

I give a great deal of credit to some of the efforts to generate online trading rooms that illustrate actual trading in real time: they not only provide a needed layer of mentoring, but also build a community--a trading environment--among their subscribers. IOAMT comes to mind here, but there are others; do your diligence in researching and pursuing these. Through the online medium, there's no reason why traders cannot create high performance, learning environments.

But I'm overlooking the best part of Steve's post, just as SMB missed it in titling that post. For the best and brightest, it's not just a matter of finding a new trading home, but rather creating one. Some of the people I like best are those that grew up in suboptimal home environments and used those to create new, positive ones for themselves and their children. Traders can do the same: by teaming up with the right partners, you can generate the environments that can take you to the next level of performance.

And have a helluva lot of fun in the process.

Environment matters. Few people will challenge themselves to stay outside their comfort zones. An environment that stimulates you, challenges you, and backs you up can be every bit as important as the markets and setups you trade.


Friday, April 16, 2010

A Picture of Risk Asset Selling

The futures heat map from FinViz shows how the GS-related selling kicked off a general divestment of risk assets, with stocks, metals, and energy lower, bonds down, JPY and USD higher and EUR and AUD lower.

Catching these broad themes can be very helpful in identifying when selling is part of a broader risk-aversion and when it represents a simple correction in a single market.

Midday Briefing for April 16th: Following Up a Sell-Off

Note how we saw a significant uptick in volume and volatility on the downside breakout that followed the GS news. We traded below support at 1185 on very weak NYSE TICK only to move back above that level. We're now building volume and accepting value between 1185 and 1190. How the day shapes up--as a trend day down or as the start of a range market defined by the bull highs and today's lows--will hinge upon how we trade relative to that volume bulge.

Dr. Brett's Coaching Insights for Traders - Volume One

* If you're not seeing the market well, step back and reassess your views. If you're not trading well, step back and reassess yourself. The capacity to flexibly engage markets and disengage from them is an important component of career longevity.

* If you're frustrated, figure out which needs of yours aren't being met and set yourself up for situations that meet some of those needs. The markets can't always meet your needs; make sure you have a life. It is very expensive to act out those unmet needs in markets.

* Knowing your past patterns won't, in itself, prevent you from repeating them, but not knowing them will almost surely guarantee that you'll fall into old traps. The first step in change is catching yourself in the act of repeating an unwanted pattern.

* What percentage of your trades are accompanied by very strong conviction, where everything comes together, makes sense, and you see markets well? Why are you trading when you lack that conviction?

* How, specifically, has your trading evolved in the last year? Real evolution comes from adding to strengths, not just reducing mistakes.

* What tangible evidence do you have in your P/L that you're evolving? If you're not consistent in implementing a change, that change hasn't truly become part of you. Making changes is easy; sustaining them is the key to success.

* If you want to do differently, think differently. If you want to think differently, perceive differently. If you want to perceive differently, shift the physical and emotional state that you are in. All change starts with a personal gear shift. Stay in the same life gear and you will get the same life results.

* Life goals start with today's goals. Life achievement starts with today's accomplishments.

* There are times, however fleeting, in which you are close to your ideals. Hang onto those and figure out how they occurred: there is a positive pattern worth capturing.

* Many people will be there when you're down. A true friend will share your dreams and accomplishments. Those that are there for you when you're down and not for your achievements are not friends. Ever.

* Change is a race against inertia: as with rockets, it takes a certain thrust to overcome the pull of gravity. Without thrust and fuel in the tank, we inevitably return to earth.

* If you have a hero in life, there, somewhere, is a hero within. Success and fulfillment comes from being that hero inside.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Macro Perspectives and More

* The role of social cognition in trading;

* What you trade is less important than how you manage the trade;

* Record optimism among retail options traders;

* More sovereign credit concerns;

* A look at income distribution and implications in the U.S. and China;

* Markets calling the bluff of the EU;

* Growth in China, but inflation slowing;

* Is China overheating?

Reflections of Economic Strength: Chart Review

Here's a quick chart review reflecting the recent market strength that has followed from strong economic performance in the U.S. and Asia.

Emerging market stocks (EEM; top chart) have broken to a fresh bull high; shares across Europe, the Far East, and Australasia (EFA; second chart from top) are challenging their bull highs.

We're also challenging highs in 10-year Treasury rates ($TNX; second chart from bottom) and in the oil ETF (USO; bottom chart).

Meanwhile, we saw a meaningful expansion of stocks making fresh highs on Wednesday and new highs in the advance-decline lines for the major averages. As noted by the excellent Quantifiable Edges service, the CBOE equity put-call ratio hit its lowest level since 2004. The bull strength is not going unnoticed by traders, and that is changing a wall of worry into a fear of missing the market movement.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Midweek Reading and Perspectives

* Creating change with brief therapy techniques;

* Nice overview of outlook for currencies;

* Finding opportunity by trading stocks in play;

* Prospects for monetary tightening in Asia;

* Stocks in Asia continue higher;

* Not much economic optimism among small businesses;

* Continued economic risks for Greece;

* No expectations for a change in Fed language.

A Brief Trading Self-Assessment

* How many of your trades today (or this week) had an explicitly defined risk and reward?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) did you execute according to the defined risk and reward?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) were based upon clear market patterns and a clear identification of how the market was trading?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) were placed out of fear of missing a move? Out of frustration following a loss? Out of boredom in a slow market?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) would you place again if you had the same circumstances?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) came from advance planning and preparation?

* How many of your trades today (or this week) were sized properly, given your level of confidence in your ideas and your desired risk management?

* What did you learn today (or this week), and how will you put that learning to work tomorrow (or next week)?

* How did you feel about your trading at the end of the day (or week)? Proud? Disgusted? Regretful? Satisfied?

* What can you do tomorrow (or next week) to feel proud of and satisfied with your trading?