Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
Things will never be the same
That's just the way it is
...Some things will never change
2pac - Changes
In modern life, our focus is often on change. We quickly assess something as either Good changes or bad changes.
Change is also the lifeblood of the financial markets which would, of course, be pretty dull if everything remained static and prices never moved.
However, the opposite is true in these days of computerised and algorithmic trading.
Prices are rarely static and fluctuate throughout the trading day, which blends seamlessly into the next business day across the working week, which may eventually extend into the weekend as well, but I digress.
As much as our lives are driven by or focused on changes, they are underpinned by many constants, things that don’t change over time no matter how much the world and our everyday lives do.
One of the constants today is information, inside thirty years, the internet and world wide web have become an integral part of our lives. To the extent that we can overload ourselves with information on almost any subject imaginable in seconds.
However, there is a big difference between having that information at our fingertips and understanding a subject or topic thoroughly, and it's very easy to conflate one with the other.
You can feel like an expert when in fact you may have missed the point entirely. Reading between the lines is often what's most important, and we need to recognise that we don't know as much we think we do and be comfortable with reconciling ourselves to that.
In trading, even in the information age, we can only ever hope to see a fraction of the big picture. The only comfort is it's exactly the same for almost everybody else.
If you think you really can understand the exact reason the market has gone up or down, think again. The financial media will say the market went up or down for the same reason. Could they ever admin something like: “There’s no story we could slap on this for why the market went up today. It just did”. No.
Greed and fear
Another constant in trading is the role of Greed and Fear these are the two primary drivers of investor behaviour, particularly when we are looking at that in aggregate.
That is, when we consider the trading crowd. The crowd has always been with us, journalist Charles Mackay wrote about them in his 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
In the book, Mackay looked back to events in 1720, the South Sea bubble, and the Dutch Tulip mania of 1637, to highlight just how crowd behaviour, driven initially by greed and subsequently by fear, leads to the creation and bursting of investment/trading bubbles. If those bubbles become big enough then they can not only affect the markets but also the real economy too.
Speculation is as old as the hills and financial crises are nothing new. In fact, in modern times they have become cyclical, occurring around once every 10 years or so, for example, we had the 1987 crash, the Russian default and Asian currency crisis of 1998 and the subsequent dot com crash. That was followed in turn by the Credit Crunch and Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8 and more recently the COVID crash.
A decade is enough time for a new generation of traders to enter a market and each new generation believes that “this time it’s different” a phrase which is often described as being the four most dangerous words in trading.
Traders make the same mistakes and fall foul of the same biases and behaviour as their forebears did. It’s just that now there are scientific labels for it (we do love to put a label on something).
If you read trading books like the Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre (first published in 1923) you instantly recognise patterns of behaviour regularly seen among market participants today.
Too much risk
One of those behaviors is taking too much risk or over-trading, relative to your capital base. That's often brought about because markets move in one direction for an extended period. People climb on board the trend, and the longer it goes on the more they believe it won't end and the greedier they get.
They don't deliberately mean to do this but one of the characteristics of bubble behaviour, because that's what this is, is the participants inability to tell that they are in a bubble. The narrative simply changes. When you’re inside the bubble you will cut off contact with or ignore those on the outside looking in or who have a different viewpoint or opinion.
Market aphorisms or sayings are grounded in the truth and experience of history they may sound quaint, but they are there to teach us a lesson, and none more so than
“It's only when the tide goes out that you see who’s swimming naked”
In this case, the tide going out is the market changing direction and those swimming naked are the overleveraged and overlong bulls in the bubble. Markets crash because the trading crowd wakes up to the existence of the bubble simultaneously, and everyone heads for the exit at the same time, as greed turns into fear.
A good trader knows not to outstay their welcome, and that it is always better to leave the party before the end.
We’re not saying that markets don’t change and evolve over time and that a strategy you use will work forever, but the same fundamental principles like we’ve tried to highlight such as greed and fear never will. Some things will never change.