Sunday, July 11, 2010

The TraderFeed Home Page: Trading and Market Psychology Resources

Welcome to the TraderFeed blog. TraderFeed began in December, 2005 as a project to help me think aloud about trading and market psychology, market patterns, and the short-term trading of financial markets. Over the subsequent four+ years, the blog grew into the largest single archive of trading psychology material on the Web, with over 3700 posts.

In anticipation of my joining a hedge fund on a full-time basis, I have stopped posting new material to TraderFeed, but have retained the blog as an archive. Below are links that will help readers navigate through the many posts.

Many thanks to readers for their interest and support. I hope the links below will help developing traders make the most of their market ventures.

Brett Steenbarger

** A great place to get started with the main ideas of the TraderFeed blog is this post and its links.

** For more depth on these themes, here are the three books I've written:

The Psychology of Trading - Examines psychological patterns and their impact on trading

Enhancing Trader Performance - How traders can accelerate their learning curves

The Daily Trading Coach - A set of 101 lessons to help traders coach themselves to success

** Best posts of TraderFeed for 2010: Volume One, Volume Two

** Best posts of TraderFeed for 2009: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four

** Best posts of TraderFeed for 2008: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four

** Best posts of TraderFeed for 2007: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four

** Best posts of TraderFeed for 2006: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three

** Posts archived by theme are also available on the Trading Coach blog

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trading and Poker: Reaching the Next Level of Success

Well, that's another way poker might be like trading: It's easy to participate, difficult to sustain success. Many just play for the thrills of winning and losing; relatively few systematically learn from experience and build skills over time.

One reason online poker is particularly promising is that players can play so many hands at one time. This allows for the possibility of accelerated learning; the online poker participant can gain years of live tournament experience in a matter of weeks. But this is only possible if the experience is structured in such a way as to generate frequent, timely feedback and goal-focused efforts at improvement.

Imagine a training program for traders in which there is daily observation of leading traders making decisions, frequent interaction with those traders to understand what they are doing and why, and supervision of students' trading decisions by those traders. It would be like having world-class poker champions sitting behind your shoulder as you play, offering immediate observations and coaching. Expertise development that normally might require many years of effort could now occur in a fraction of that time.

That is the vision.

The key is recognizing that it is the structure--and not just the content--of a learning experience that accounts for its success. Most learning efforts fail because there are too few cycles of performance-feedback-goal setting-corrective effort per unit of time and no clear curricular progression guiding the content of those cycles.

Interested in reading more about enhanced learning and developing elite trading skills? Here are a few sources worth checking out:

* Enhancing Trader Performance - This is the book that I wrote to capture the progression of successful traders from novice status to competence to expertise.

* The Talent Code - Dan Coyle's book nicely draws upon research to show that elite levels of performance are as much a function of training as inborn ability.

* Talent is Overrated - Excellent book by Geoff Colvin that documents how the structure of practice is a major contributor to successful performance.

The core concept is that, whether you are a poker player, trader, or something else, you can become much better at what you do by creating more and better learning cycles. For the real champions, nothing less will suffice.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Best of TraderFeed 2010 - Volume Two: Trading and Market Psychology

Here is the second and final installment of TraderFeed's Best of 2010 posts. You can find the first group of best posts here. The links below cover March - May, 2010.

* Suggestions for Your Trading Journal

* Why I Am A Trader

* Lessons From Blues Man

* Questions for Your Trading Business

* Strategy and Tactics in Trading; see also Grand Strategy and Tactics

* What to Look for in a Range Day

* Identifying Breakout Moves

* Best Practices for Traders

* Overcoming Trading Bias

* Failed Breakouts and Patterns to Trade

* Overcoming Large Trading Losses

* Exiting the Performance Roller Coaster

* When Trading Becomes an Addictive Problem

* Accessing Inner Expertise

* Listening to the Market's Communications

* Keys to Daytrading Success

* The Value of Keeping Score

* The Importance of Goal Setting

* Hidden Volatility Assumptions in Our Trading

* Calculating Price Targets; See also Defining Effective Targets and Alternative Targets

* The Perils of Impotent Goals

* Productivity in Life and Trading

* Considerations in Selecting a Trading Coach

* Core Competencies of Successful Traders

* Stress, Burnout, and Renewal in Trading

* How to Grow Your Trading Size

* Creating Change With Imagery, Visualization, and Anchoring

* Keeping Your Eyes on Ideals

* The Role of Vicarious Trauma in Shaping Identity

* Assessing Your Trading

* Coaching Insights for Traders; also see More Insights for Traders

* The Four-Leaf Clover Principle

* How Body Becomes Soul

* What New Traders Most Need; see also What Competent Traders Most Need

* Trading and Self-Development: Links to Core Ideas in Trading Psychology

Friday, May 07, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Trading and Self Development

This is the final post in the series summarizing core themes running through the TraderFeed blog. The other posts in the series are:

We develop as people by recognizing and modifying patterns in thought and behavior that limit our ability to act upon our ideals and reach desired goals. We also develop by recognizing and building upon those patterns that define who we are at our best. Self-development is thus a continuous quest for self-mastery: replacing randomness with intent, so that we are living life by design, not default.

Markets, too, trace out patterns at various time frames. Our development as traders hinges upon our ability to recognize those early and act upon them decisively, thoughtfully maximizing reward relative to risk. The skills we need for self-development, at a psychological level, are very similar to those required for our development as discretionary traders. Ultimately, we are trying to replace trading patterns that are outside of our control--and ones that are more poorly informed--with ways of processing and acting upon information that consistently draw upon our strengths.

People are neither wholly determined and conditioned by their environments, nor fully free, self-determined agents. Our peculiar makeup psychologically is that we have partially free wills: at times we are masters of our fates; at times, we are reactive and robotic, lost in routine and habit. Our evolution, personally and as a species, is defined by expanding free will: over time, if we are developing as people and traders, we become more intentional, more self-determined. Our lives are based more on values than needs; our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors reflect where we are going, not trapped in where we have been.

The value of trading, properly conceived and exercised, is that it can become a vehicle for self-development. If not properly conceived and executed, trading can become an addictive and destructive activity. Good trading is trading that is self-determined, self-enhancing, and rewarding in terms of personal and financial development; bad trading reinforces and repeats the negative patterns that hold us back in life.

It is rare to find activities that reward you financially for your growth and development as a human being. That is one of the great appeals of trading.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Reading Market Psychology Through Intermarket Themes

One of the most fundamental indications of market sentiment on a day to day basis (and over time) is the degree to which traders favor riskier assets over safer ones. If traders are anticipating economic weakness, they will tend to place their money into the more stable currencies and stock markets of developed nations, and they will tend to retreat to the relative safety of high quality debt (Treasuries, AAA rated corporate bonds). If traders are anticipating economic strength, they will tend to place their money into the faster growth regions of the world (developing nations' stock markets and currencies) and will seek out the higher yields of lower quality debt. In an expanding world, traders expect demand for commodities to rise and will be buyers of oil and metals; in a world of anticipated economic contraction, commodities become relatively unloved assets.

Market psychology also plays out in traders' preferences for particular sectors within the stock market. If they anticipate economic expansion, they will want to own growth oriented sectors: small cap issues, tech stocks, and consumer discretionary shares. If they are betting on economic contraction, safer large cap stocks become attractive, as do sectors that can sustain demand during hard times: health care, utilities, and consumer staples stocks.

In the shifting patterns of relative strength and weakness, we can infer market psychology. We tend to forget the denominators when we look at stock prices: everything is valued in dollars. By changing the denominators, we can see what is relatively strong and weak: a great deal of perspective comes from shifting denominators.

When we integrate sector and intermarket themes with the earlier mentioned shifts in volume and sentiment, we can develop a rich understanding of how traders and investors are feeling and where they are placing their bets. This is valuable information for shorter and longer time frame traders alike.

Good resources for assessing intermarket and sector themes can be found on the FinViz and Barchart websites, including their heatmaps.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Reading Market Psychology With Volume and Price

An important theme throughout the TraderFeed blog is that reading the psychology of markets is a core trading skill. Markets, like people, behave in patterns. Those patterns shift over time, with shifts accompanied by markers that accompany changes in state: changes in direction and changes in volatility.

The first important state marker to be able to read is volume. Volume tells us *who* is in the marketplace. Volume also correlates highly with volatility. When volume jumps, it tells us that institutional participants have become more active. When volume dries up, it tells us that the market is dominated by market makers: the liquidity providers. Is a news item or price movement to a new level significant? Volume will typically provide us with an answer: events are significant if they can attract the participation of large traders. It is their revaluation of assets that creates market trends.

What is most important about volume is relative volume: the degree to which current volume diverges from recent volume. If we want to know if the volume from 11 AM to 12 Noon is high or low, we should compare it to the median volume posted during that hour. If we want to know if today's volume is high or low, we should compare it to the most recent median volume. Because relative volume is so closely connected to volatility, reading volume and its shifts provides important clues as to how far markets can go for or against us. That is useful information in setting stop loss points and profit targets.

Equally important, the astute trader wants to see the total volume that transacts at each price over the course of a trading day or week. The range at which the lion's share of volume has transacted defines a market's value area. Many trade ideas--at short and longer time frames--can be formulated by handicapping the odds that a market will return to a value area (if higher or lower prices cannot attract volume) or that a market will accept prices higher or lower than value (if those prices attract volume). The former situation defines a range market in equilibrium; the latter defines a trending market. In the former market, traders make money by fading strength and weakness; in the latter, they make money by going with market direction.

It is the oscillation of price between range and trending modes across a variety of time frames that defines the market's complexity, as market participants reveal their sentiment: either accepting value or redefining it.

The astute trader can also read the psychology of markets by seeing whether volume is dominantly transacted at the market's bid price (suggesting that sellers are willing to take lower prices to get out of their trades) or at the market's offer (suggesting that buyers are willing to pay up for higher prices to get into trades). This measure of sentiment, which is effectively gauged by the Market Delta tools, can be tracked over time to see if buyers or sellers are becoming more or less aggressive.

We can also track market sentiment to see if more transactions across the broad stock market universe are occurring on upticks vs. downticks. When buyers are more aggressive, we will see more transactions occurring on upticks; when sellers are more aggressive, we will see more transactions occurring on downticks. This measure of sentiment, captured in the NYSE TICK, can be tracked over time to reveal whether sentiment in the market is waxing or waning.

When we read these shifts in sentiment over time and combine them with a reading of shifts in relative volume, we can determine whether the largest market participants are becoming more or less bullish. That will tell us if volatility (volume) is expanding with direction (sentiment) and whether moves to new price levels are likely to result in market trends.

Much of the skill of reading these shifts is placing market dynamics at a shorter time frame within the context of the longer time frame. What is a trending market at the short time frame may be a movement within a range at the longer time frame. A breakout at the short time frame may be trend continuation at the longer time frame. Context rules. A great deal of developing a feel for markets is a recognition of the patterns that occur as market participation (volume) and market sentiment (direction) shift, with longer time frames exercising impact over shorter ones.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Identifying Historical Patterns in Markets

One of the core themes that runs through the TraderFeed blog is the importance of identifying historical trading patterns in the markets. I owe an appreciation of this theme to the influence of Victor Niederhoffer, whose blog and books have added greatly to the market literature.

The key idea is that, as a trader, you want to think about markets like a scientist. You make observations, you formulate theories about what is happening in markets, you express those theories as hypotheses, and you test those hypotheses with specific trades that you place. Over time, your trading experience either validates your market understanding or contradicts it, supporting or leading to modification of your basic theories.

We know that historical observations of market patterns can help generate successful mechanical trading systems. Less well appreciated is that those observations can generate hypotheses for discretionary traders. Knowing, for example, that in 17 of 20 recent occurrences where the market has made an X day low it has ended up Y% higher in the next X days does not, in itself, necessitate that you take that trade. It does, however, help you frame a trade idea if you perceive that we are in a correction within a bull market (your underlying theory).

Should the historical patterns hold, you might gain confidence in your assessment of the market's strength and trend. Should the pattern not hold, you now have concrete evidence that the market is not living up to its historical script. That could suggest that the market trend is turning: some unique factors may be at work in generating recent returns. As a scientist, you are benefiting from hypotheses that are disconfirmed as well as those that are confirmed: losing trades that were placed with a positive expectancy may be providing unique market information.

When traders identify multiple historical patterns that are independent but that point to the same anticipated market outcomes, that can provide an added measure of conviction to trades: those are strong hypotheses.

Among resources for identifying historical market patterns are the excellent Quantifiable Edges, Market Tells, Market Rewind, SentimenTrader, MarketSci, Vix and More, and CSS Analytics sites. If you check out the blogrolls for those sites, you'll see many more good resources.

If you have an interest in testing historical patterns, do investigate the resources at the excellent
Vertical Solutions site. And if you're a do-it-yourself type, the Trading Coach book has a chapter devoted to using Excel to identify historical market patterns.

For more on this theme, check out the posts on Trade Like a Scientist: Parts One, Two, and Three.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Market Structure and Adapting to Market Change

A key idea running through the TraderFeed blog as well as my books on trading psychology is that markets play out the same patterns as people: they exhibit particular states, provide markers for when they are shifting those states, and change their behavior when transitioning to new states. (See The Psychology of Trading for a detailed presentation of states and state shifts).

The states exhibited by markets are range modes (periods in which value is established in a relatively narrow band of prices and price does not move far from this value area) and trending modes (periods in which value is established at successively higher or lower price levels until fresh supply or demand from longer time frame participants enters the market and creates a range equilibrium). Every market state can be described as a joint function of directional tendency and volatility. Thus we can have volatile and non-volatile range markets, and we can have volatile and non-volatile trending markets.

Because markets change states at multiple time frames, the time series of price changes in markets is non-stationary. That means that the mean price change (direction) and standard deviation of price changes (volatility) in one period can vary significantly from those in the next period. If we think of price movement as generated by a process, then non-stationarity means that there is not a single, unchanging process generating all price changes. Markets, like people, display "multiple personalities": they behave differently when occupying different states.

Many of the market patterns described by technical analysts, including breakouts, double tops and bottoms, etc., represent transitions from one state to another. Some of the best profit opportunities occur in markets when traders behave like psychologists: reading patterns and transitions and timing actions accordingly.

A major reason that traders do not succeed is that they fail to read market structure--the states that markets are in--and thus are not sensitive to the shifts in structure that mark transitions between trending and non-trending modes. This leaves traders placing stop loss points and profit targets at levels that do not reflect the market's most recent levels of directionality and volatility.

Skilled, experienced traders learn to sense shifts in market states and thus recognize when trends are slowing down and turning into periods of consolidation; when range markets are heating up and ready to break out. When new participants enter the market and influence the pace of state change, as in the case of algorithmic trading occurring at short time frames, this can disrupt the implicit learning and pattern recognition of even those skilled traders, necessitating new periods of observation and internalization of patterns.

Failure to restrain risk during such periods of structural change in markets is a major reason why traders who made money consistently during one market epoch fail to sustain success during later periods. The challenge of trading is not only to learn market patterns, but also to adapt to new patterns as the drivers of price change (the themes dominating markets, the participants active in markets) shift over time.

For more on the topic of market structure, see the posts (including links) on Strategies and Tactics in Trading, Calculating Price Targets, and Three Basic Trade Setups.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Implicit Learning and Somatic Markers

Perhaps the most common psychological change that traders need to make is the ability to quiet their minds and focus their concentration. Many of the problems described by traders, from emotional frustration to negative self-talk, distract traders from their best trading practices and plans.

One of my earliest observations as a psychologist working with traders was how common it was for experienced traders to go through periods in which they traded like rookies. How could that be?

The literature review that I conducted to write the Trading Performance book led me to an interesting conclusion: the skills that are central to trading involve frequent exposure to subtle patterns in the shift of supply and demand. Over time, these patterns are internalized, so that experienced traders develop a "feel" for markets. This is known as implicit learning (see the Performance book for a full description): the trader recognizes the pattern, but cannot necessarily verbalize it.

There are many patterns in life that we sense, but cannot fully place into words. My favorite example is the young child who creates grammatical sentences when she talks, but cannot tell you the rules of grammar she is using. Similarly, I can sense clearly when a person is talking in a very sincere or insincere manner, but cannot necessarily tell you all the subtle cues--the changes in vocal inflection, the nuances of facial expression--that lead me to that conclusion. As for the experienced trader, for the seasoned psychologist, it's a gut thing: the result of thousands of exposures to patterns that recur, but rarely the same way twice.

Once the concentration of the psychologist or trader is broken, the access to those subtle gut hunches is lost. In that situation, the experienced professional loses contact with years of experience and, indeed, becomes a rookie. Caught in frustration, worries about profitability, or distracted by family turmoil, the trader is no longer attentive to somatic markers, the felt cues that tell us that a pattern is present.

This is why, in the Trading Coach book, I highlighted exposure methods as particularly promising for traders. Those methods train us to stay calm and focused, even as we are mentally rehearsing (or actually undergoing) stressful situations that typically trigger our problem patterns. It isn't that we need to remove emotion from trading--our feelings provide our best somatic markers. Rather, we need to ensure that self-relevant emotional turmoil does not overwhelm the intuitions that are present when we are focused on markets.

All this having been said, I would estimate that 80+% of traders fail because they have never developed implicit learning in the first place--not because their gut hunches are swamped by distracting thoughts and feelings. Trading is indeed a performance activity and it takes many concentrated months of exposure to patterns to make them our own. Placing money at risk before cultivating that implicit learning is no different from entering a battlefield without military training. You'll be so busy looking for setups that you'll never realize that you're the one being set up.

For more on the topic of implicit learning, check out the posts on Implicit Learning and the Unattached Mind, Implicit Learning and Single-Trial Learning, Building Market Intuition, Intuition and Trading Decisions, and Somatic Markers and Trading. Cognitive and behavioral exercises to aid trading performance can be found in the Trader Performance book, along with a detailed account of implicit learning.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Using Twitter for Reader Updates

As noted a little while ago, I am in the process of winding down the TraderFeed blog. My continued thanks to supportive readers; I do intend to keep the blog up as an archive for future reference. In addition, before winding down altogether I'll be finishing my series of posts on "core ideas in trading psychology" and will assemble a "best of" set of links for 2010 (along with the links from prior years).

One enjoyable aspect of the blog has been linking to mainstream media stories and posts from other blogs that shed light on markets and trading. Going forward, I will use Twitter to link to particularly insightful material; you can follow the Twitter stream here. My new work will prevent me from directly commenting on markets--there's just too much room for perceived breach of confidentiality given that I'll have access to all trading at the firm--but I will look forward to highlighting good resources when I find them.

Unfortunately, for the same reasons of confidentiality, I will not be able to respond to market- or coaching-related emails going forward.

Thanks for your interest and understanding--


Core Ideas in Trading Psychology: Creating Change Through Mirrors and Corrective Emotional Experiences

When people find themselves locked into repetitive patterns of thought, feeling, and/or behavior that interfere with their lives, how do they escape? As all too many dieters are aware, we can know our problems and want to change them, but sustaining change can still be challenging.

A core idea in the Psychology of Trading book is that we tend to operate within a relatively narrow bandwidth of consciousness. If we imagine our possible states of mind and body as arrayed along a radio dial, we are generally stuck with a few presets on that dial. Life events can shift us from one state to another without our awareness, triggering patterns of thought and behavior specific to that state. That is how we can be wholly determined to quit smoking in one frame of mind, only to lapse into a smoke when we are bored or after we eat and drink.

The most effective techniques utilized by psychologists are those that enable people to become aware of those state shifts and reprogram the triggers unique to particular states. If, for instance, frustration in reaching my goals tends to trigger negative patterns of self-talk for me and those lead me to withdraw and feel depressed, I can use visualization and real life experience to place myself in frustrating situations and rehearse alternative modes of self-talk and behavior. With sufficient repetition, we internalize those new modes and reprogram our radio dials.

It is not simply the act of talking with a therapist that creates change: it is the act of doing things differently and generating new experiences that eventually become part of our selves. Alexander and French referred to these as "corrective emotional experiences". They recognized that insight into problems, in itself, is not enough: change is accelerated and cemented through powerful emotional experience. Ironically, we know that powerful emotional experience can generate sudden, substantial life changes when it comes in the form of psychological trauma. Less acknowledged is that positive, powerful emotional experience can also catalyze major shifts in our life course.

From this vantage point, then, we can see that the problem of being stuck on the radio dial really boils down to having too few powerful and constructive life experiences. Every relationship, every activity, every day at work potentially provides us with new ways of experiencing our selves. Every aspect of our environment becomes a mirror, reflecting to us who we are. Trading is one of those mirrors: it can reflect experiences of mastery and pride of accomplishment or frustration and failure. Romantic relationships are another mirror; who we are with helps shape our experience of our selves.

To create change, therefore, we must become architects of our own experience. That means carefully creating our life mirrors, particularly selecting mirrors that take us out of our comfort zones on the radio dial to generate fresh experiences of the self. If we stay in life routines, we will live out the same routines in life; change cannot occur. Implemented properly, trading journals are not only tools for reflecting on our performance; they provide blueprints for our life's architecture.

For more on psychological techniques for achieving corrective emotional experiences, see the Daily Trading Coach book; for more on the role of mirroring in trading development, see Enhancing Trader Performance. Posts relevant to creating life mirrors include The Devon Principle, my Theory of Romantic Relationships, and How to Change Yourself.

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.