Barbara Dixon: Donchian Student Wisdom

Barbara Dixon, a student of famed trend follower Richard Donchian, wrote twenty years ago in Commodities magazine:

Donchian is one of the most respected technicians on Wall Street – especially in commodities. He began his career on 1930 and says he became hooked on markets when read Edwin LeFevre’s fictionalized biography of Jesse Livermore, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator. His interest in technical analysis arose after he suffered some losses following the 1929 crash. This led to his discovery that only the chartists made sense and money. Donchian wrote his first market letter in 1930 at the age of 25, and Shearson’s present ‘Trend Timing’ commodity letter originated in 1960 when Donchian joined Hayden Stone. These letters have served as primers for countless commodity traders. The ‘Twenty Trading Guides’ make a fine supplement to the letters and will probably survive and prove valid for the next 44 years as well.

General Guides

1. Beware of acting immediately on widespread public opinion. Even if correct, if will usually delay the move.
2. From a period of dullness and inactivity, watch for and prepare to follow a move in the direction in which volume increases.
3. LIMIT LOSSES, ride profits – irrespective of all other rules.
4. Light commitments are advisable when a market position is not certain. Clearly defined moves are signaled frequently enough to make life interesting, and concentration on these moves to the virtual exclusion of others will prevent unprofitable ‘whipsawing.’
5. Seldom take a position in the direction of an immediately preceding three-day move. Wait for one-day reversal.
6. Judicious use of stop orders is valuable aid to profitable trading. Stops may be used to protect profits, to limit losses and to take positions from certain formations such as triangular foci. Stop orders are apt to be more valuable and less treacherous if used in proper relation to the chart formation.
7. In a market in which upswings are likely to equal or exceed downswings, a heavier position should be taken for the upswings for percentage reasons – a decline from 50 to 25 will net only 50% profit, whereas an advance from 25 to 50 will net 100%.
8. In taking a position, price orders are allowable. In closing a position, use ‘market’ orders.
9. Buy strong acting, strong background commodities and sell weak ones, subject to all other rules.
10. Moves in which rails (now the Transportation Index) lead or participate strongly are usually worth following more than moves in which rails lag.
11. A study of the capitalization of a company, the degree of activity of an issue (a varying factor), and whether an issue is a lethargic truck horse like Consolidated Edison or Exxon or a spirited, volatile race horse like Teledyne (NYSE) or Resorts International (American) is fully as important as a study of statistical reports. (Volatile stocks are 1978 counterparts of two issues mentioned in 1934, Aluminum Co. of America, then on the Curb, and Case Threshing Machine, now J.I. Case, a part of Tenneco.)

The Author