Investments

Selecting Rules for Investing and Trading

May 27, 2009



There are three important differences between investing and trading. Overlooking them can lead to confusion. A beginning trader, for example, may use the terms interchangeably and misapply their rules with mixed and unrepeatable results. Investing and trading become more effective when their differences are clearly recognized. An investor's goal is to take long term ownership of an instrument with a high level of confidence that it will continually increase in value. A trader buys and sells to capitalize on short term relative changes in value with a somewhat lower level of confidence. Goals, time frame and levels of confidence can be used to outline two completely different sets of rules. This will not be an exhaustive discussion of those rules but is intended to highlight some important practical implications of their differences. Long term investing is discussed first followed by short term trading.
My mentor, Dr. Stephen Cooper, defines long term investing as buying and holding an instrument for 5 years or more. The reason for this seemingly narrow definition is that when one invests long term, the idea is to "buy and hold" or "buy and forget". In order to do this, it is necessary to take the emotions of greed and fear out of the equation. Mutual funds are favored because of they are professionally managed and they naturally diversify your investment over dozens or even hundreds of stocks. This does not mean just any mutual fund and it does not mean that one has to stay with the same mutual fund for the entire time. But it does imply that one stays within the investment class.
First, the fund in question should have at least a 5 or 10 year track record of proven annual gains. You should feel confident that the investment is reasonably safe. You are not continually watching the markets to take advantage of or to avoid short term ups and downs. You have a plan.

Second, performance of the instrument in question should be measured in terms of a well defined benchmark. One such benchmark is the S?

If one just invests in the S?

The fact that 10.9% is average market performance for the past 10 years is all the more remarkable when one considers that the average bank deposit yield is less than 2%, 10 year Treasury yields are about 4.2% and 30 year Treasury yields are only 4.8%. Corporate bond yields approximate those of the S?

To help you calibrate the safety and liquidity question, the long bond holders are comparing bond yields they now receive with next year's anticipated stock yields. Consider that next year's anticipated S?

Now that you've allocated 90% of your funds to long term investing, that leaves you about 10% for trading. Short to intermediate term trading is an area that most of us are more familiar with, probably due to its popularity. Yet it is significantly more complex and only about 12% of traders are successful. The time frame for trading is less than 5 years and is more typically from a couple of minutes to a couple of years. The typical probability of being right on the direction of a trade approaches an average high of about 70% when an appropriate trading system is used to less than about 30% without a trading system.

Even at the low end of the spectrum, you can avoid getting wiped out by managing the size of your trades to less than about 4% of your trading portfolio and limiting each loss to no more than 25% of any given trade while letting your winners run until they decrease by no more than 25% from their peak. These percentages can be increased after there is evidence that the probability of choosing the correct direction of a trade has improved.

Intermediate term trading is based more on fundamental analysis which attempts to assign a value to a company's stock based on its history of earnings, assets, cash flow, sales and any number of objective measures in relation to its current stock price. It may also include projections of future earnings based on news of business agreements and changing market conditions. Some refer to this as value investing. In any case, the objective is to buy a company's stock at bargain prices and wait for the market to realize its value and bid up the price before selling. When the stock is fairly priced, the instrument is sold unless one sees continuing growth in the value of the stock, in which case he moves it over into the investment category.

Since trading depends on the changing perceived value of a stock, your trading time frame should be chosen based on how well you are able detach yourself from the emotions of greed and fear. The better one can remove emotions from trading, the shorter the time frame he can successfully trade. On the other hand, when you feel surges of emotion before, during or immediately after a trade, it's time to step back and consider choosing your trades more carefully and trading less frequently. One's ability to remove emotions from trading takes a great deal of practice.

This is not just a moral statement. An entire universe of what's called technical analysis is based on the aggregate emotional behavior of traders and forms the basis of short term trading. Technical analysis is a study of price and volume patterns of a stock over time. Pure technicians, as they are called, claim that all pertinent news and valuations are imbedded into a stock's technical behavior. A long list of technical indicators has evolved to describe the emotional behavior of the stock market. Most technical indicators are based on moving averages over a predefined time period. Indicator time periods should be adjusted to fit the trading time frame. The subject is far too large to do it justice in less than several volumes of print. The lower level of confidence involved in trading is the reason for the large number of indicators used.

While long term investors may use only a single long term moving average with confidence to track steadily increasing value, traders use multiple indicators to deal with shorter time frames of oscillating value and higher risk. To improve your results and make them more repeatable, consider your expectations of changing value, your time frame and your level of confidence in predicting the outcome. Then you will know which set of rules to apply.

James Andrews publishes the Wiser Trader Stocks and Options Newsletter. Information on selected stock market trading systems, including those of Dr Stephen Cooper, can be found at http://www.wisertrader.com.

c 2004 Permission is granted to reproduce this article, as long as, this paragraph is included intact.

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