October 18, 2021
Leave Your Ego At The Door
Vanity: The Devil's Favorite Sin
By Andrew Hecht
- The quest to buy at the low- Ego leads us to state the market is wrong
- Looking to sell at the “high”- A recipe for disaster
- Following trends requires no ego at all
- Suppressing emotions is harder than you think
- Never listen to that voice on your shoulder- It leads you to make mistakes
Al Pacino played John Milton in the 1997 film the Devil’s Advocate. Milton ran a hugely successful law firm as a front. The fictional character was really the devil. The final line of the movie is, “Vanity is definitely my favorite sin.”
Vanity is excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own abilities, appearance, or achievements. There is a fine line between vanity and ego. Ego is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Vanity may be the devil’s favorite sin, but ego can be a trader or investor’s worst nightmare. Ego gets in the way of rational, logical, and reasonable conclusions because fear and greed can tug on our egos and cause us to make mistakes that are sins when growing our nest eggs.
The quest to buy at the low- Ego leads us to state the market is wrong
Human nature is a powerful force, but it deludes us to believe our gut instincts. When the price of an asset falls to a level where an investor or trader believes is a logical, reasonable, and rational low, they perceive the price as a bargain.
After an initial purchase, if the price continues to fall, our emotions cause a dangerous impulse. The little voice in our heads declares that the market is wrong.
The market price is never the wrong price. It is the level where buyers and sellers meet in a transparent environment, the marketplace. All of the fundamental analysis in the world can go out of the window when sellers overwhelm buyers. A perfect example occurred on April 20, 2020, in the crude oil futures arena. Who wouldn’t want to buy crude oil at zero? After all, what is the risk? Well, there turned out to be plenty of risk for those who purchased the nearby NYMEX crude oil futures on April 20, 2020, at zero, negative $10, negative $20, and even negative $30. Those with long positions on the expiring contract who could not store the energy commodity learned an expensive lesson.
As the chart shows, a purchase of the expiring futures contract at zero looked more than ugly at negative $40.32 per barrel, the April 20, 2020 low.
The oil example is dramatic. However, it is a reminder that the quest to buy the low in any market has everything to do with ego and little to do with making a profit.
Looking to sell at the “high”- A recipe for disaster
It is easier for most investors and traders to rationalize a long position as they assess the total risk from the current price level to zero. Oil was an exception to that assumption.
Meanwhile, shorting an asset has the same ego dynamics. Bull and bear markets can take prices to levels on the up and downside that defy logic, reason, and rational analysis. There are many instances where prices rise to levels that make no sense. The lumber market in May 2021 is the perfect example.
The annual chart of the illiquid lumber futures market shows the wood price never traded over the 1993 $493.50 per 1,000 board feet level before 2017. After falling to a low of $251.50 in early 2020 as the global pandemic gripped markets across all asset classes, the price took off on the upside. At $660 in August 2020, it reached a new record high. At $1,000 in September 2020, the price was irrational, and it more than halved in value, reaching a low of just over $490 in October 2020. In May 2021, the price exploded to $1711.20 per 1,000 board feet before collapsing.
Lumber is a dramatic example, but it reflects the potential for the ego to trigger impulses that lead traders and investors to financial ruin. Selling short at $1000 the second time up and ignoring the power of the trend was disastrous. Just because a market price rises to a high, does not mean it cannot go higher a lot higher.
Following trends requires no ego at all
Following trends requires a special skill, which is no skill at all. Following trends allows us to go with the flow, ignore expert advice, the news, and any other exogenous forces. The only tool necessary is a simple chart that displays the path of least resistance of the price. And, it does not matter what the asset is; it can be a stock, a commodity, a currency, a bond, or any other product with liquidity that allows for effective execution of buy and sell orders.
Following trends allow the markets to work for us instead of us slaving for the market. The process is entirely objective, while fundamental analysis is completely subjective. So many variables determine the path of least resistance of market prices, making it impossible to legislate for all potential outcomes. Experts may make a compelling case for buying or selling an asset, but they do not have a monopoly on the truth or offer any guaranty.
James Surowiecki wrote The Wisdom of Crowds in 2004, arguing that the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. A price chart is the roadmap of the crowd’s wisdom.
Suppressing emotions is harder than you think
Tucking away your ego takes practice. Understanding that ego triggers the emotions that lead to pushing the buy or sell button is the first step.
Many investors wind up selling the lows and buying the highs in wild markets because they allow fear and greed to guide their behavior. Wild markets are the exception, not the norm. Training yourself to manage your ego objectively will reduce the odds of allowing it to destroy you when the you know what hits the fan in markets.
Eliminating ego from all investment and trading decisions starts with ignoring the news, experts, and any inputs other than the herd behavior in markets.
Since prices rise or fall to levels that many believe are not sustainable, following trends allows you to take advantage of their mistakes. Make a conscious decision that you will end the quest to pick a high or low in any market is a great place to start. Successful trend following will cause you to be long at the high and short at the low, but that is OK. It will also allow you to take the most significant percentage from a market move when trends emerge.
Moreover, following trends is an automatic exercise that reduces stress.
Never listen to that voice on your shoulder- It leads you to make mistakes
Eliminate any thoughts about picking lows or highs. When I first began trading in the early 1980s, a colleague in London offered sage advice, saying, “Andy, when you look to pick a bottom, all you will wind up with is a dirty finger.”
Ignore those voices in your head that appeal to your ego, trigger fear and greed, and lead you down a losing path. Never forget that your view has no relevance whatsoever. Vanity is definitely the devil’s favorite sin. Ego and vanity are dangerous. Follow those trends. Approach markets with a clear risk-reward plan where the rewards are equal to or greater than the capital at risk. Understand that you will be wrong all the time, but the market will never be wrong.
The most successful traders do not make money on all of their trades or investment positions. Many will tell you that losers far outnumber winners. However, success depends on catching that wave or substantial trend that yields the most significant profits.
Leave your ego at the door; it is your worst enemy, while the trend or the market’s wisdom is your only friend in the pursuit of profits.
Trading advice given in this communication, if any, is based on information taken from trades and statistical services and other sources that we believe are reliable. The author does not guarantee that such information is accurate or complete and it should not be relied upon as such. Trading advice reflects the author’s good faith judgment at a specific time and is subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that the advice the author provides will result in profitable trades. There is risk of loss in all futures and options trading. Any investment involves substantial risks, including, but not limited to, pricing volatility, inadequate liquidity, and the potential complete loss of principal. This article does not in any way constitute an offer or solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any investment, security, or commodity discussed herein, or any security in any jurisdiction in which such an offer would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction.