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My Year as a Perma-Bear or How to Deal With Trading Biases

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What is a trading bias? Kurt Vonnegut wrote it once that opinions are strange things, everyone has one, but no one gives a damn about the others’. This is similar with trading biases; every trader has a view (usually a strong one) about the direction of the market, but the market doesn’t care about it one bit. So your trading bias is something personal; a thing that you have to deal with, for better or worse.

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Also, there is a neat little thing that behavioral finance calls confirmation bias. This is the tendency of people to filter the information they run into in a way that they only process the “facts” that confirm their beliefs while ignoring anything that would question the “truth”. If you combine this bias with trading, you will get a real financial weapon of mass destruction.

Wait, so I should have No Opinion??

First things first, I have to establish that having a trading bias is not a bad thing; in fact, the right bias could be the cornerstone of a very successful trading period that could last for years and years. Of course, this means being bullish in a bull market or being bearish in a declining market. Having a bullish bias towards stocks since 2009 or towards Bitcoin since 2015 has been definitely a lucrative thing.

With the right strategy, you can minimize losses, or even trade with a profit in a headwind as well, but the desirable state is to have a bias that is in line with the underlying trend, while being conscious about it, and always trying to avoid the trap of confirmation bias.

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When a Trading Bias gets Dangerous

Problems arise when your trading bias isn’t aligning with the direction of the market. In practice, this is not the worst thing, though, and for an experienced trader this situation is quite easy to handle.  That said, as one of my most painful trading mistakes proves, even being right doesn’t mean that you will end up with gains.

The harder part is when you have been right for a while, but the market starts to change. Changing your bias is very hard, especially when you are already conditioned that your approach is successful. This is why major turning points are so rough on traders. The good thing is that with proper money management and a good trading routine, you will notice that something is fishy before any major damage is done to your portfolio.

Managing your Biases

Routine, in general, is a good remedy against emotional mistakes and it provides great ways of identifying and dealing with your trading biases. How? It’s simple; your trading routines should reveal that your view of the market is wrong while also automatically reducing your exposure and activity level. I will show you that in practice but now let’s look at a real life example first.

My Personal Story

As I wrote in my post on overconfidence and risk management, I was heavily bearish on stocks in 2008, and even though I managed to destroy my profits once, I ended that year in the green thanks to that. The next year marked the end of the financial crisis, at least regarding US stocks, with the major indices all bottoming out in March.

Valuation metrics showed reasonable readings at that time, several technical measures were turning constructive, and the financial leaders finally went all in— basically announcing that the banks don’t have to comply with market valuation, and they will be saved no matter what.

That said, there were only a few analysts or investors screaming buy, buy, buy and I was also skeptical. Sure enough, I entered investment positions based on valuation, but I could have imagined that another year of decline was ahead of us with 20% more downside in the indices.

Waiting for the Elusive Re-Test

The S&P 500 after the end of the bear market in 2009

One hard year of biased trading against the trend

Long story short, throughout 2009 and up to mid-2010 I was trading stocks with a bearish bias, with a vision of a final re-test of the 2009 lows in my head, which (as we know now) never came. Confirmation bias reared up its ugly head as well; I was frustrated with bullish commentaries, and searched more and more for bearish news outlets and gurus. I wasn’t losing money, but my results were much worse than I felt they should have been.

On the flip side, I started working as a proprietary day-trader from the end of 2009 (while also managing my own savings), and the risk-management and planning techniques I learned there helped me in realizing that something is not right. One of the best methods I used was to cut back on trading in a losing streak and increase activity after a winning streak. This made me take a step back after a series of losing trades and without a position, it’s much easier to see clearly.

I also started using a trading journal and analyzing my trades more thoroughly. Those revealed that my problem was rooted in confirmation bias. Reading back the journal made it clear that I was looking for excuses to short, or to exit longs early (due to the upcoming re-test of course). Basically, I became a “Perma-Bear” for a short period, which is a very sad state in a bull market.

It would be an overstatement to say that after changing my approach it was only smooth sailing for me – there are plenty of other trading blunders to share… so stay tuned- but I became much more conscious about my biases, and much more open in my trading practices after this experience.

How to Change Biases?

For me the best way to remain flexible proved to be to try to trade in both directions all the time. Of course, I put emphasis (and commit more capital) on longs when I think that the asset is going up and vice versa, but I always try to place trades in the other direction as well.

This way there will be a clear indication that the trend is changing, as my counter-trend positions will start working while my primary trades will start failing. This method can be done without actually trading, by using a second, demo account to place the counter-trend trades if you are not comfortable with this somewhat scyzoprhenic mindset. You might say that a good trader will know when the trend changes, and you will be right in some cases, but believe me, this simple method will save you from a lot of headaches in your trading career.

Also, it is imperative to keep an open mind about your view on the assets that you trade and invest in. Always try to question your belief, and always make yourself read different opinions than your own. Confirmation bias is a nasty thing— it’s part of the self-defense mechanism of your unconscious, meaning that you have to fight it consciously.

The Takeaway and Some Timely Notes

About the current markets, if you have been reading my posts you might have already noticed, at least, some of my biases. I have a bullish view about gold, cryptocurrencies, and the Yen, while having a bearish bias towards US stocks and China and a less pronounced negative bias towards Europe, Japan, and other risk-assets.

These views are always subject to change, especially in the short-run, and I am placing trades against these biases, at least hypothetical ones, all the time. Also, my view changed on gold and not long ago, as they started behaving differently. I am also a bit suspicious about the coins following the latest incredible surge, although I wouldn’t short them with real money in this phase.

My point is that yes I have biases, but I treat them objectively not emotionally, and I won’t get offended if someone says that stocks will double in the next two years, or that gold will fall to 500. First, stranger things happened before in financial markets and, most importantly, I know that I won’t be stuck in my views if Mr. Market proves me otherwise.

So let’s sum this up:

  • Having a strong opinion about a market is good, but not knowing about the fact is bad
  • Always question the “obvious” truth and be aware of confirmation bias
  • Keep a trading journal and take the time to read it back regularly
  • Take a step back and reduce exposure after a losing streak
  • Be flexible in trading (especially short-term trading) and always try to think both as a bull and a bear

What do you think? What’s your experience with biases? Do you feel offended if someone says bad things about your favorite investment? Please share your opinion in the comments!

Great, and conscious, investing for all!

Featured image from Shutterstock

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. maleshkov

    June 2, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    Great article. After my last huge mistake I am now in a long position again and fortunately the market most probably will compensate me very soon, but this is the last time I get biased and emotional about certain coins. I still haven’t learned to be a bear, but this has to happen next week. Last week I saw how easy is to lose a profit in two days, which has been accumulated for 2 months. Thanks

  2. embersburnbrightly

    June 2, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you for this article. The suggestions you have provided as a result of your own experiences will be quite helpful for those of us who are new to investing and trading. I have one question that has really started to become prominent for me as a new investor (with a current preference for long-term investing) that may tie into this, if you have any insights on this, please: For someone who is interested in long-term investing across a number of cryptocurrency types, what is a significance sign to watch for which would indicate that a particular coin or other investment is beginning a permanent downward trend, which would then indicate it is time to get out of that Investment? In other words, is there a classic sort of warning sign/pattern which indicates that a permanent downward trend is forming rather than just a temporary correction? It appears that corrections or temporary downturns can sometimes last quite some time, prior to an investment suddenly taking off again in value. How does one reasonably differentiate between a potential prolonged correction or downturn, versus a sign of a permanent decrease in value for an investment? That may not be a simple question to answer, but any recommendations/insights are appreciated; thank you in advance!

    • Mate Cser

      June 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Great question, thanks! I will have a full post on this, but volume patterns, the depth of the correction, and the way the coin trades near support are great tells. For now, I think that the fundamental story is intact, and if you choose the winners well, the trend will be with you for a prolonged period. I will let you know when the detailed post is ready!

      • embersburnbrightly

        June 2, 2017 at 5:27 pm

        Beautiful! Thank you for the very prompt reply, and I look forward to the full post on this subject!

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Searching for the Meaning of Life in Dubai

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Last week I traveled to Dubai with a group of people in Wilhelmsen, where I work as a Digital Trainee, for our third module in Design Thinking with Pracademy. We are a group of 24 people which Wilhelmsen considers to be Leadership Potentials. We are fortunate to be a part of this year’s company program, and we have all learned so much about ourselves. In this post, I will try to communicate what we learned during last week’s module. Be aware that this is a four months program, and it’s hard to get the feeling of it by just reading about it. But I hope I can share some of the knowledge that I acquired and get you more interested in improving your own life.

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Find your passion and go all in!

Most motivators and teachers say that you need to find your passion, make work a hobby that you enjoy every single day. I have even caught myself saying that over and over again (on Hacked). However, as I learned during the sessions in Dubai, more than 80% of us do not know what their passion is. I started to wonder if I knew what my passion is. And I’m still insecure about that. I do know that I want to contribute to the world, I want to help and serve people. I want to create things that I know other people will love; I want to leave a footprint on this earth.

I often have this mind experiment where I picture myself as 80 years old with bad health in my nursing home. Do I think that I managed to get the most out of life? Am I satisfied with all the things I achieved? Or do I have regrets and feel remorseful? The goal for every person on this earth is to be satisfied with your life when you’re near the end. I guess most people aren’t in reality. And that’s a big shame. Some people might regret that they worked too much, had too little fun, too few good experiences with their loved ones, too few memorable memories.

I pray that I will be happy with my life and what I accomplished.

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How to find your passion

If you do not know what your true passion is, there’s still hope for you. You can spend years trying to find your ultimate passion. Think of what makes you happy, what you enjoy or care for. My strong passion for creating things started in my childhood. I always drew new inventions on a piece of paper and started small kid businesses. I played music; I was a drummer in a nu-metal band, I started to sing and rap and create songs. I painted and used my creative skills to visualize my thoughts. I traveled during holidays and experienced new cultures, new food. Oh, I love good food. I love cooking a great meal for family and friends.

I could probably achieved anything that I had/have passion for. I could have been a:

  • Cook
  • Artist
  • Painter
  • Drummer
  • Entrepreneur

I chose to become an entrepreneur mostly due to financial possibilities. As being financially independent was and is very high on my priority list. But that does not mean that I wouldn’t have a meaningful life being an artist with less money on my hands.

Economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman researched happiness and money in 2009 where the focus was on US standards, and it’s population:

So, where does the $75,000 come into play? Researchers found that lower income did not cause sadness itself but made people feel more ground down by the problems they already had. The study found, for example, that among divorced people, about 51% who made less than $1,000 a month reported feeling sad or stressed the previous day, while only 24% of those earning more than $3,000 a month reported similar feelings. Among people with asthma, 41% of low earners reported feeling unhappy, compared with about 22% of the wealthier group. Having money clearly takes the sting out of adversities.

At $75,000, that effect disappears. For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money. The study doesn’t say why $75,000 is the benchmark, but “it does seem to me a plausible number at which people would think money is not an issue,” says Deaton. At that level, people probably have enough expendable cash to do things that make them feel good, like going out with friends. (The federal poverty level for a family of four, by the way, is $22,050.)

So if you live in the US, a goal for financial freedom could be $75 000 or $100 000 as income per year. If you make more than that, you won’t necessarily become happier just because of the money.

However, if you make too much money and you are in an in-group where your peers make much less than you do, you can be in a situation where jealousy and envy will affect your life. And that is not a good feeling at all. I believe that the people in the middle of the scale live the happiest lives. There have been numerous cases where people that won in the lotteries have ended their lives due to envy and jealousy from their friends and family. Where they thought winning a lot of money would make them happier, while it only magnified their problems.

Empathy

In Design Thinking, empathy is a crucial part of the process. The ability to feel compassion for other human beings. To understand their problems, feelings, and emotions and to share their pain, grief, happiness or sadness. I know for a fact that I could be much more empathic and that is something I will improve. See the video below that shows what empathy is:

We saw this video in Dubai, which almost made me cry (we were in a particular mood..):

There’s so much going on in that video. Mo Cheeks felt empathy with the girl singing the national anthem, and he could feel compassion since he had a daughter at that age.

Things change when you get a child, for me that has a daughter who is seven months, I can relate to the video above. You might not.

What characterizes a great leader?

We did a session where everyone in the room in Dubai explained what a great leader is for them. The list included:

  • Good listener
  • Empathic
  • Understanding
  • Good motivator
  • + more

Most of the points we as leadership potentials defined as a great leader had nothing to do with “IQ.” Most of them had everything to do with “EQ,” emotional intelligence. It is mindblowing that we do not learn more about emotional intelligence during school, and that all businesses focus on “IQ” when hiring, not “EQ.” I believe that is skewed and is important to reflect upon.

Mindfulness

We also learned how to be more mindful. They encouraged us to use 30 minutes to sit quietly, close our eyes, focusing on the now. Breathing slowly and try to get as calm as possible. There’s scientific research on how mindfulness can help you become more happier, healthier and more successful:

And then one of the many guides on mindfulness:

Communication

We did a session where we were paired up to use mindfulness to listen and repeat. A was given 6 minutes to talk about a challenge at work, B was given 3 minutes to repeat what he/she heard, A was then given 2 minutes to clarify what B might have misinterpreted, B was then finally given 2 minutes to repeat what A clarified. This was a session that made me realize how easy it is to misinterpret. This can be used in every aspect of your life. It is so easy to misunderstand what a person is saying or meaning, so try to ask a question after a discussion: “Did I understand you right, that you want…” or “Could you please clarify what you meant by…”.

Writing

A professor of culture and psychology from South Korea gave us a session on writing. How writing in a notebook can help you learn better and understand what was communicated. From now on, I’ll always bring a notebook in meetings and write with my hand. Then I’ll add the written information to my computer later on.

Emotions

We often say: “I am angry.” That is a big mistake. We are not angry, but we do feel anger. So whenever you “are angry, sad, or irritated,” say in your head that you are “feeling angry, because..” and you will be able to control your emotions in a much more sufficient manner. Do not let the feeling itself take over who you are. You are not your feelings, you simply feel them and they will pass.

And Finally, you have the Siberian Railroad: SBNRR: Stop, Breathe, Notice, React, Respond.

 

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How I Made It: Multimillion Dollar Cash Flow

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Please excuse the image. It’s not a picture of me nor my car. I own a BMW 318 2009 model with a car seat in the back for our seven months old daughter. It’s been some time since I last published a post on Hacked.com. I want to let you know that I’m going to be more active in the coming months. I’ve just had too many things on my plate, from my Digital Trainee job at Wilhelmsen to Hacked.com, CryptoCoinsNews, MoneyMakers, and family. I want to explain how I’ve managed to create a company with a multimillion-dollar cashflow. Remember, I’ve spent more than nine years on reaching my current level. I’ve had multiple failures, I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I’ve also made a lot of money and recognition.

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When I was 16 years old, I started my first company which I registered on my mom. I called it for “Limitless Juggernaut, ” and it was a clothing line that I started to sell in Tønsberg (a small city in Norway). I managed to get my clothes in one shop in Tønsberg, but it did not catch on. I think I sold five to ten pieces and ended up with a loss of $5000. I worked as a phone seller to make the money I spent on my micro startup. In 2008, when I was 18, I started a phone import business where I imported phones from China and sold it on Norway’s “ebay.” I managed to make $3500 in profit each month while attending high school. There was a guy in Oslo, the capital of Norway, that wanted to get into the phone businesses with me. I was young and naive; I put too much trust in a stranger that ended up hustling me. He gained control of my stock, and I transferred some money to him, then I never heard back. I decided to shut the business down.

In 2009 I started studying Entrepreneurship and Business at a college in Oslo. That’s when I founded MyGoodAct which was one of the first crowdfunding platforms for social causes. During four years the platform raised more than 1.5 million USD to different social causes. I managed to sign up the most significant NGOs in Norway, but the main issue was to establish a positive cash flow for the startup. Even though we won awards, was funded by some larger companies and organizations, we never really got the traction we needed. I decided to shut MyGoodAct down in 2015.

In 2013, when I was working part-time for an NGO, I discovered Bitcoin (Cyprus chaos was blowing up the Bitcoin price and made it to the news). I fell in love with the digital currency, mostly due to its deflationary functions. I was sick of the fundamentals of our economy, with fraction banking and the private FED. At that time, there were few news sites for Bitcoin, so I started CryptoCoinsNews. I started writing two to three articles per day, posted stories on bitcointalk.org and Reddit. After a couple of months, the site had 100 to 300 visitors per day, and I managed to secure one advertiser that paid one bitcoin per month for the top banner. After that, I had some funds to pay other writers with, so I started to recruit writers. The site grew, I got more advertisers that paid a fixed fee per banner on a monthly basis. Today, CCN is one of the largest bitcoin news sources in the world. Last month, I bought CCN.COM for 150 000 USD, and we are doing a complete redesign of the site and hiring more full-time writers. I want to make CCN the world leader in cryptocurrency news, just like Marketwatch.com is for stocks.

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I bought Hacked.com in 2014 for $50 000. I saw the domain on Flippa.com, and I had profits from my previous bitcoin investments. I had no plan for the domain; I just thought it was the coolest domain I’ve ever seen available. I was up 24 hours bidding on the frigging domain while watching The 100 on Netflix. The other bidder I was bidding against only increased the price with 50 to 100 USD at the end of each auction period, which made the auction extend with another hour. I became so tired and angry at that tactic, so I contacted the seller and told him that I’d exit the auction if we do not end this soon. I was ready to bump it up with $5 000 or even $10 000 just to be done with it. The seller added a buy now price at $50 000, and I was able to purchase it before the other bidder.

We started Hacked.com as a technology news site, at one point, we had a trending story on Reddit that made it to the front page of Reddit.com. It generated almost a million visitors during one day; our servers could not handle the traffic. However, even with one million visitors, we only made $2000 in ad revenue from Adsense. And, you need to keep pumping out extraordinary articles to keep such a momentum. The prices for such articles could be anywhere from $50 to $500. I did not have the funds to keep funding writers and attract better talent, as the site always operated with a loss. After one year, I decided to put Hacked.com on pause.

In 2015 I started Tailored Message that was a news app for youth in Norway, with gamification and a shop. The idea was to make a clone of “Instagram/Reddit” for news and blogs and let the users earn points based on ads in the app that they could spend on products in our in-app store. We launched the app in April 2016, and we got more than 20 000 downloads, just in Norway, and made it to the top 3 most downloaded apps. I spent almost 100 000 USD on the startup, and in the summer of 2016, we secured 200 000 USD in funding including a marketing deal with one of Norway’s largest media companies worth 300 000 USD. I moved into the media company and hired a salesperson. Unfortunately, the marketing deal that was signed by their director was never followed through. I spent almost six months implement the marketing deal that we already had agreed on. The media company always had excuses for why they could not implement it, and we changed the marketing deal two times without any success. The investors I had became worried, and in the winter of 2016, I decided to shut it down, pay the investors back with what was left, and try to focus on something else. I went to a lawyer in Oslo, and he told me that we could sue the media company for our losses, but that it would cost $30 000 and could take a year or two. I was upset, but I did not want to have a lawsuit to define my next year. I backed out.

What I learned from this experience, which was a very tough period in my life (as I hate to disappoint people that put their trust in me), is that you should never depend on a single deal you make with any company. Especially large companies. In large companies, you have so many different opinions, so many shitheads, so many useless persons that only think about themselves and their KPIs. If you are working with large companies, you need backup solutions. I think the best way to run a startup is to be independent, and just gun for it on your own. Fuck the large companies; they are too slow for a startup.

Well, that’s funny. But I was hired in January 2017 by Wilhelmsen, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, as a Digital Trainee. I had lost most of my cash holdings due to Tailored Message, and I needed something more stable to focus on. My wife was pregnant, and we expected our child in April 2017. I’ve never worked fulltime in a large corporation before, and I thought it would be a great experience to learn how it works. Right now I’m working on a 3D print project where Wilhelmsen wants to 3D print ship parts to the maritime industry, which has been and is an amazing project. I have a leading role there, and I’m learning many new things.

I’m a person that need multiple projects to be satisfied. So after working hours at Wilhelmsen, I pivoted Hacked.com into becoming the service you see today, based on subscriptions. I hired a couple of people, and we started small. After a couple of months, we had a positive cash flow, and I could hire more people to take over some of the time-consuming tasks. And now, Hacked.com is probably the largest paid cryptocurrency community in the world. My initial idea with Hacked.com was to educate people in how they can become more independent of the 9-5 job reality most are living in. This is something that I want to focus more on in the coming years. I also want to host conferences and meetups in 2018. I think we can make something great out of Hacked.com and be supportive of each other.

Right now, both CCN and Hacked.com is generating more money than I would ever dream of. It’s now a multimillion-dollar cash flow business. And I think it’s safe to say that I’ve already reached my long-term goal. Of course, we have large expenses, but the profit is still positive and enables me to invest more in the ventures and improve them.

I’m still working as a Digital Trainee at Wilhelmsen, and please understand that I’ve been working nonstop now for the past two years, I’ve never had one full day off. Sometimes I’ve had to work nights because of DDoS attacks, server problems or similar. I’ve employed more people to take some of the daily tasks I’ve had. I’m also focusing on spending more time with my wife and daughter, as I’ve been absent for an extended period. Money, cash flow, and business is not everything, family, friends, and experiences are what you will remember when you are 80 years old. Remember to enjoy your life.

However, I’m still not satisfied. That’s the way I am as a person. Damaged. Entrepreneurial. I continuously want to improve, want to launch better services, give more people the services that they appreciate. Help people reach their full potential. I think there are some good opportunities in the shipping industry, and I may be able to do something fascinating with Wilhelmsen in the coming years.

Focus on what you love to do, and never look back. Don’t let a shitty job bring you down.

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My first experience with Robot Trading: Up $5 000 in Two Weeks

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Since I’m pressed on time with multiple obligations (job, familiy, hacked.com, CCN, MoneyMakers) I decided for a couple of weeks ago to look into robot trading. I wanted to find one or multiple robots to do the trading for me. I ended up with downloading MetaTrader 5 and buying two different robots from their marketplace. I started with 16 000 USD on the trading account, and after two weeks the robots have made me $5 000.

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That’s a whopping 31% increase within 2 weeks…!

My robots usually trade during the night, and I’ve decided to completely trust them. The 16 000 USD is a sum I’m more than happy to lose if I can learn anything from dealing with trading robots.

When that is said, MetaTrader’s interface really “SUCKS”. It’s so bad, I can’t understand why MetaTrader is considered the best trading terminal for robots. Maybe that’s a good business idea for someone out there? Disrupt MetaTrader.

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So, which robots do I use?

I do not want to disclose that just yet, I need to test my robots rigorously before I can recommend any of them. And if this is a money making machine, we can laugh all the way to the bank.

Have a good weekend.

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