Friday, December 01, 2023

Where I See Opportunity: In The Market And In Ourselves

Note:  This post is a summary of the webinar I held with traders this past Monday.

I've been involved in trading the U.S. stock market since 1977.  My professional work with traders began in 2003 and continues to this day.  So I've seen my share of markets, and I've seen quite a bit in terms of what goes into trading success.

What I find noteworthy in recent markets is the degree to which more and more money is being put to work, seeking relatively short-term advantages in the marketplace.  Quite a few of the hedge funds and money management firms around the world have greatly increased their assets under management.  They have also expanded operations across markets and across geographic regions.  When I started my performance coaching, it was common that funds specialized in specific strategies and consisted of solo portfolio managers, sometimes aided by assistants.  Now, we find many funds trading multiple strategies ("multistrat") with large teams.  This means that each team acts as a miniature fund, building diversified portfolios.  Back in the day, my work was largely limited to traders in NY and London; now it's truly global.

At the same time that trading organizations have exploded, their tolerance of risk has gone down.  Back in the day, a manager could lose up to 20% in a year before being stopped out.  Now it's not unusual for that number to be 5-10%.  What happens in practice is that risk managers don't want to see their teams stopped out, so they reduce risk taking well before the downside limits are threatened.  Once a trader goes down a few percent, their allowable risk is often cut.  So, for instance, if my capital is cut in half when I go down 5%, I now have to make 10% on the new capital base just to break even.  That is daunting, so--in reality--no one wants to go down more than a very few percent. 

Over the years, I've seen the same dynamic among day traders and proprietary trading firms that largely engage in short-term trading.  They do not typically have large capital bases and thus need to manage risk tightly.  Historically, they've made their money by leveraging capital, further ensuring that risk had to be carefully managed.  As day trading has grown, especially since the period of the "meme stocks", we find more and more participants chasing moves, but with limited capacity for loss     

The net impact of these developments is that we have very crowded markets jumping in on moves and needing to bail out when the moves don't work out.  If a trend seems to be under way, there is a lot of "chasing" of the perceived opportunity, and when the trend reverses, there can be equally significant abandonment of the positions.  On balance, this has created choppier markets.  To the degree that this choppiness is a function of more and more capital managed more and more tightly, I expect this choppiness to continue.

So where does the spirituality of trading fit into all this?

My research has found that, at turning points in the market, we see clear shifts in the breadth of market moves, as well as changes in relative strength.  This occurred in late October, when heavy selling brought us over 1900 fresh one-month lows and over 1600 three-month lows among NYSE stocks.  For the next few days, we moved still lower--by about 2%--and yet fewer stocks registered new lows.  Indeed, we began to see relative strength emerging in a few sectors of the market.  That led to a burst of buying (and short covering!) and, by November 2nd, we suddenly had new highs outnumbering new lows.  This created a momentum move that now has taken us to new highs in a few parts of the market.  

(Interestingly, as we've moved higher the last few days, breadth has stalled out and we're seeing shifts in relative strength among sectors.  I'm watching the market closely for the possibility of reversal).

With the crowding of market participants and limits on allowable losses, the two trades that set up most clearly are momentum moves (the crowd chases a move) and reversal moves (there is initial bailing out of previously popular ideas).  The breadth and relative strength measures that I track daily--for the market as a whole and sector by sector--can be found on; and  Backtesting of momentum and reversal moves can be found via and  Creating a database of market and sector breadth has been invaluable in detecting when there is momentum and when moves are stalling. 

As I stressed in the online book, Radical Renewal, our greatest trading problems occur when our egos take control of our market activity.  We impose *our* views on markets, and we trade--not because of distinctive opportunity--but because we *need* to be active and make money.  Once our egos are in control of what we do, we become poor listeners to what markets are actually doing.  As a psychologist, if I am filled with my own preoccupations while I'm speaking with a client in therapy, the odds are good I won't be very helpful to that person.  I need to listen to them and act based on deep understanding.  So it is with markets.

What I refer to as the spirituality of trading is putting ego aside and training ourselves to be sensitive listeners.  If we can master that in markets, it will be great training for our personal and work relationships.  The right trading makes us better as people.  The goal is to trade selectively, from the soul--not reactively, from the ego.

Thanks for your interest--


Further Reading:

Best Practices of Successful Traders