Discretionary traders…

Don’t talk about your open positions

In browsing around the web I often encounter discussions of the merits of a particular trade and opinions about the direction of a market. I know that the traders who voice these opinions have good intentions and much of the discussions could be helpful to the person receiving the information.  However the provider of the opinion must be very careful that he doesn’t start believing too strongly in his position because he has made the mistake of going public with it.

This is an important psychological issue that I seldom see discussed. Taking losses is always difficult and the reluctance to promptly acknowledge that we are on the wrong side of the market is probably the single most costly error a trader can make. Even under the best of conditions we hate to take losses. Publicly advocating a particular trade or the direction of a market just makes being wrong all the more painful and harder to accept. If we make it a policy to go around advocating the merits of our trades it will only make it harder to recognize when we are wrong.

Many years ago when I was a young futures broker at E. F. Hutton and Company, the firm decided that it would be a good idea to send our commodity research analysts on the road whenever they came up with a well researched idea that appeared to have great potential. Let’s assume for a minute that our sugar analyst has decided that sugar is going to make a big move to the upside over the next six months. After publishing his research he would be sent from city to city where he would speak at meetings for brokers and clients suggesting why everyone should be buying sugar. At first the analyst road shows seemed like a great idea. The clients received the benefit of hearing about a well-researched idea straight from the analyst himself and also had the opportunity to ask questions and engage the analyst in a discussion of the details of the sugar market. The clients enjoyed the meetings and a lot of new commodity business was generated as a result.

However, it turns out that the objectivity of the analysts was completely lost after the story had been told and the bullish scenario presented a dozen times or more. The analyst felt obligated to the firm and to the clients. The firm had spent a lot of money to send the analyst on the road and to host these meeting all over the country. As a result of the meetings the clients now knew the analysts by name and his personal and professional reputation was clearly on the line. This analyst was now committed and he was going to be bullish on sugar regardless of what happened in the market or what new information came to light. From the point of the tours onward the analyst would only look for information to support his opinion. To ever admit that he was wrong would be such public humiliation that the analyst would tend to ignore any contrary information and would stick to his original position through thick and thin. We eventually learned that the talented Hutton research analysts did a much better job when they were free to change their minds as new facts were revealed without the pressure and responsibility generated by their repeated espousing of a particular position on a specific trade.

Discretionary traders should learn from this example and avoid discussing their open positions or their opinion about the direction of a market. It will only distort their objectivity and make it harder to take a loss promptly when that is the best course of action. Losses that only we know about are tough enough but losses that everyone knows about become much harder to stomach and we tend to postpone our exits in hope that the market will eventually turn around and prove us right. Remember that the best discretionary traders are usually very neutral about their positions and tend to take their guidance from the price action and the flow of new information. Its OK to listen to others talk about their positions but don’t make it a habit of discussing your open trades. It will only cost you money, especially if you repeat your opinions often enough that you might actually start believing what you are saying.

Fortunately, systematic traders seldom get married to a position. They enjoy the luxury of being able to blame the system if a trade doesn’t work out. Since there is little personal attachment to any trade, the psychological problems of systematic trader are much different than those of discretionary traders. But even systematic traders have their share of psychological problems.
Reprinted with permission by Chuck LeBeau at