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9 Surprising Things Legendary Trader Jesse Livermore Said About Timing

9 Surprising Things Legendary Trader Jesse Livermore Said About Timing

JOSHUA BROWNTHE REFORMED BROKER AUG. 11, 2013, 1:11 PM 5,001 7

There are those who would convince you that it is somehow smart or in your best interest to be manically switching your investments around, back and forth, long and short, on a daily basis. To pay attention to this kind of overstimulation is the height of madness, even for professional traders. The most storied and important trader who ever lived, Jesse Livermore, would be tuning these daily buy and sell calls out were he alive and operating today. Because while he was a trader, he was not of the mindset that there was always some kind of action to be taking. Jesse Livermore’s legacy is a bit of a double-edged sword… On the one hand, he was the first to codify the ancient language of supply and demand that is every bit as relevant 100 years later as it was when he first relayed it to biographer Edwin Lefèvre. Livermore himself sums it up thusly: “I learned early that there is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again. I’ve never forgotten that.”

On the other hand, Livermore’s undoing came at precisely the moments in which he ignored his own advice. After repeated admonitions about tipsters, for example, Jesse allowed a tip on cotton to lead to a massive loss which grew even larger as he sat on it – violating yet another of his own cardinal rules.

And of course, other than for a few moments of temporary triumph in the trading pits and bucket shops of the era, Jesse Livermore was not a happy man. “Things haven’t gone well with me,” he informed one of his many wives by handwritten note, before putting a bullet through his own head in the cloakroom of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

But he did leave behind a wealth of knowledge about the art of speculation. His exploits (and cautionary tales of woe) have educated, influenced and inspired every generation of trader since Reminiscences was first published in 1923.

In my opinion, some of the most useful bits of knowledge we get from the book concern Jesse’s discussion of timeframes and patience. Many traders, particularly rookies, approach the game with the idea that they’re supposed to be constantly doing something – in and out, with a trembling finger poised to click the mouse again and again.  Consequently, they get on the treadmill of booking wins and losses without ever really moving the needle. They end up with tons of brokerage commissions and taxes to show for their efforts, but not much else.

Being a trader doesn’t mean one must always be executing a trade, just as being a house painter doesn’t mean that every surface needs an endless series of coats.

Many rookies are surprised to learn that Livermore, the idol of so many great traders, advocated a lower maintenance, higher patience approach as he matured. In his early days, Livermore was dependent on the short-term funding and scalping activity of the bucket shops. Once he graduated and had his own capital, he was able to lengthen position holding times and could even afford to do nothing for extended periods.

Here are nine surprising things Jesse Livermore said regarding excessive trading:

1. “Money is made by sitting, not trading.”

2. “It takes time to make money.”

3. “It was never my thinking that made the big money for me, it always was sitting.”

4. “Nobody can catch all the fluctuations.”

5. “The desire for constant action irrespective of underlying conditions is responsible for many losses in Wall Street even among the professionals, who feel that they must take home some money everyday, as though they were working for regular wages.”

6. “Buy right, sit tight.”

7. “Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon.”

8. “Don’t give me timing, give me time.”

and finally, the most important thing:

9. “There is a time for all things, but I didn’t know it. And that is precisely what beats so many men in Wall Street who are very far from being in the main sucker class. There is the plain fool, who does the wrong thing at all times everywhere, but there is the Wall Street fool, who thinks he must trade all the time. Not many can always have adequate reasons for buying and selling stocks daily – or sufficient knowledge to make his play an intelligent play.”

Jesse was a trader but he knew the value of staying with positions and sometimes not trading at all. Once he began to follow tips from others or trade when he should have abstained, all of his progress had come undone, and with it, his sanity.

We are fortunate to be able to learn from his mistakes and to sidestep the errors that eventually cost him everything.

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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