No Way Covel! Yes, Way!

I saw this:

This actually would be my one and only criticism of Covel. He makes it sound like ANYBODY can successfully create and follow a mechanical system and make money like clockwork. IMO most people are not cut out for it…The amount of discipline required is zen-like.

First, putting aside ‘trend following’, and just considering any worthwhile endeavor, people CAN & DO make anything happen in life. The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated both make a strong case against this position. Second, my book The Complete TurtleTrader is an even better response to the “everyone can’t do it” line. The story of how an actor, a musician, a drug dealer, blackjack players — novices — made millions is inspirational. I am the first one to say that the Turtle story almost seems like fiction, but it’s not.

55 thoughts on “No Way Covel! Yes, Way!

  1. As is required of success in any business, you need to have a passion for trading. It is certainly difficult but then the skills required are not that they cannot be mastered. It requires one to do his homework viz. in understanding your risk profile, your backtesting, your position sizing, etc.. Many systems have losing periods and it is in this time that many are tested. Trend Following works – it also requires as Ed Seykota puts it brilliantly to be in the now and a system to guide you in the ever evolving moment of now. You need to be able to cut your losses too – something where you Fred (subconscious mind) is in perfect communication with your conscious mind. Difficult but not zen like. Practise can get you there

  2. It also requires that you not be perfect. Many people want to be right all the time – you need to realise that you cannot & you will not be right. All one can do is to try to increase the odds in your favour. You cannot expect to hit a home run every time.

  3. Hi Michael, While I am almost always on the same page with you, here I have to disagree!

    In the case of trading, you have by definition a “Zero Sum Game”. To say that everyone can “make it” in trading is like saying that four guys can get together to play poker with $1,000 each in their pocket, and all leave with $2,000 at the end of the night. Thus, while we can all theoretically learn to be good car mechanics (since fixing my car make your car work less well) we can’t all be good traders.

    While I am a firm believer in Trend Following trading methodologies, the fact that they are psychologically difficult to follow and that most investors DO NOT follow them is exactly why they work (and hopefully will continue to do so).

  4. Armando, trend following is “psychologically difficult” compared to what? Everyone has the opportunity to be a trend follower, but of course not everyone will do it. Just like many people regardless of the endeavor don’t follow through. I simply take exception to the notion that trend following should be isolated as being “hard”. Everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it!

  5. Michael, By “psychologically difficult”, I am referring to the fact that a good trader must often fight his own instincts, and that good periods are often followed by periods of poor returns. This requires a certain amount of mental fortitude. I don’t think you can get around the fact that trading is a competitive activity, and that we are all playing against each other.

    This is very different from say a dentist who, if he knows what he is doing, will almost always get the same positive results in his work. In addition, the fact you may be a good dentist doesn’t affect my ability to be a good dentist.

    However, I get your point from the standpoint that there are no special requirements to be a trader, as you correctly mention in your original post, the Turtles came from all different backgrounds. There is very little that disqualifies a person from becoming a trader (although as you mention, everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it!).

  6. I may be wrong here, but weren’t the turtles pre-screened by Dennis and Eckhardt? I don’t recall the exact numbers and procedure, but I believe they had to fill out questionnaires and go through interviews that were basically testing their capability to trade unemotionally, stick with a system without randomly overruling it, taking each and every trade, going through a drawdown without panicking, not listen to fundamental news/talking heads/CNBC etc. — I’d say a person with such pre-qualifications will do much better in trend following that the average Joe (who will panic and do everything wrong in the drawdowns). Are these qualifications character traits? Maybe even genetic? Or can they be taught? Interesting topic.

  7. Peter, I wrote a book on this subject that explains the Turtles, their upbringing and their process: “The Complete TurtleTrader”.

  8. Some issues: Not all Turtles were pre-screened. Also, the selection process was not based off having only right or wrong answers. The diversity of the selected group is fact.

  9. Armando, could you explain to me why you think the stock market is a zero sum game? Also I would like to know why you think that people who trade against the trend actually help the trend.

  10. In my opinion, the best way to trade is to develop your system for trading and follow the rules without exception. You need to detach your emotions from your trading activities. This means that you need to develop a keen sense of self awareness and always evaluate your thinking so you know where you stand mentally at all times. I believe that the average person can learn to trade and win if they are willing to accept the responsibility and do the work necessary to achieve the results. You need to take a stand with yourself. Learning to trade needs to be taken head on. You can’t whine and complain that it’s hard. The winners don’t!

  11. I don’t know if the “stock market” is a zero sum game, but the futures markets certainly are. Since the contracts expire, every single gain must be exactly offset by a loss come expiration.

    The good news is that there are participants in the futures markets that don’t care if they win or lose. These people are called hedgers, and obviously they must pay someone to shoulder the risk they’d rather not carry. The people who agree to carry the risk are speculators (and trend-followers, I believe, are the purest form), and they must be paid to do so. The bad news is that, like any other business, the more people you have providing a service, the less one can charge. Therefore, the more people who pile into trend-following (or proper speculation) the less the returns will be for the industry as a whole. However, as mentioned by others, being a good speculator is not an easy task, and those who practice it diligently should always be rewarded.

  12. Ken, As Cy explains the futures markets are a true zero sum game (as are options). Stocks are not exactly a zero sum game, but the same logic applies. Over long periods of time stocks return is about equal to nominal GDP growth. Let’s say that works out to about 7% a year (it has varied over the years).

    If we subtract say 2% for the cut that Wall Street usually takes while adding little if any value, we as traders/investors are left to fight over an average return of 5% per year. If you are going to consistently make more than 5% per year, you must do so at someone other person’s expense.

  13. Ok, so Armando you are admitting that stocks overall are not a zero sum game up to a certain point. But after that point (5%) it is a zero sum game? So if I just buy high growth stocks, stocks that grow say 20 or 30% a year then my gains are coming out of someone else’s pockets? Tell me, who are these people? Who loses by me buying high growth stocks? Who am I taking money from?

    And I would still like an answer to my bigger question, I want to know why you think that trendfollowing works because most people don’t do it.

  14. For example, if a market is moving up then trendfollowers are long that market, they are buying. The non-trendfollowers are selling or shorting into that market. So if you say that non-trendfollowing is the reason that trendfollowing works then you are implying that selling and shorting is the reason a market goes higher. Clearly you can see how that makes no sense right?

  15. Ken,

    Let’s imagine you own an oil field. You can extract oil for $50 a barrel. You can currently sell it for $80. You’re happy with this situation. Let’s also say you have some older, dryer wells that you can extract from at $90 a barrel. Obviously, it wouldn’t make any sense to run those older wells now. But let’s say the price of crude goes to $100. Now you can run those wells and collect $10 a barrel, which you consider acceptable. The only problem is that these wells take some time to get running (let’s say two months). What you’re afraid of is that the wells start running at $90 pbl, but now the price has dropped back to $80 (or less). Under these circumstances, you’re running your wells for a loss, and you’ve wasted time and money getting these things operational in the first place. So, as a wise oilman, you go to the futures market to hedge your price exposure; you sell futures all along the curve. Now, if the price goes up or down, you don’t care because you’re making an acceptable profit.

    This is all fine and well, but the catch is that you’re asking the market to provide you a service; namely, absorbing your price risk. The market won’t do that for free. Therefore, over the long run, you’ll lose more in the futures markets than you extract. You’re ok with this, however, because you’re constantly protected against price risk. It’s really no different than buying insurance: you pay a premium to protect yourself from disaster.

    Regardless of the commodity, people like this will always be entering the market. As prices go higher, it makes sense for more and more capacity to come online, and it also makes sense for producers to try to hedge. These are the people, for the most part, trend-followers are trading with. (Here comes the important part) Without this group of people, who are clearly not trend-following in nature, trend-following would either be impossible or far, far less profitable. If the hedgers simply decided, collectively, that they are no longer going to hedge, the game would be over. It would be no different than Americans collectively deciding they are no longer going to buy life insurance. State Farm and Allstate (etc.) would be out of business pretty quickly. The good news is that commodity producers will always have risk to hedge, and therefore trend-followers should always get paid in the long run.

  16. This was exactly my point too when I argued that writing about TF is more easier than actually building and trading a system that is works on the Trend Following concept.

    For all his faults, Buffet has shown the rational way about how he identifies stocks. As a technical trader, I may or may not accept it, but fact is that his selection criteria can be followed by others too.

    In comparison, while this site provides names and references of a lot of trend followers, none of them provide a detail way about what their trading strategy is.

    Being a Trend Follower cum System Developer myself, that is not very surprising since building systems is not a piece of cake and no one (including me) would like to provide the logic behind the success of a strategy other than in the broadest terms possible.

    The reason is simply because building a working system (as opposed to a Hypothetical system) takes a great deal of effort and money. Hence, not many are willing to share their logic which I believe is perfectly logical.

  17. Prashanth writes:

    For all his faults, Buffet has shown the rational way about how he identifies stocks. As a technical trader, I may or may not accept it, but fact is that his selection criteria can be followed by others too. In comparison, while this site provides names and references of a lot of trend followers, none of them provide a detail way about what their trading strategy is.

    Come on! Baloney! Buffett has got more angles going, more derivatives going on, and more bailouts going on than we can count. He might be a great money maker no doubt, but the legend of stock picking as his success is BS! If he was not bailed last fall — he was out of business.

  18. cy, the market only sees two things, buying pressure and selling pressure. It does not know, nor does it care what the source of that pressure is (speculators, hedgers, etc), nor does it care what the motivations of the people behind that pressure are. It does not care that the hedgers don’t care if they win or lose.

    I disagree that if the hedgers were removed then trendfollowing would be impossible or far less profitable. I think the opposite is true. It would then be more like the stock market, fewer hedgers, more traders, speculators, investors, far more dynamic. And we all know trendfollowing works well in the stock market.

    So again, I would like anyone to tell me how selling or shorting (for whatever reason) an unptrending market helps that market go higher.

  19. Quote: Ken says “… stocks overall are not a zero sum game up to a certain point. But after that point (5%) it is a zero sum game?”

    Quote: Armando Alizo Says “This is very different from say a dentist who, if he knows what he is doing, will almost always get the same positive results in his work. In addition, the fact you may be a good dentist doesn’t affect my ability to be a good dentist.”

    The markets are a Zero-Sum game for anyone who is seeking “above average” returns.

    If you’re not interested in out-performance, and playing a “winner take all” game, you can always index.

    “Average” positive performance is always attainable via Trend Following.

    Personally, I don’t think middle-of-the-pack results are worth the effort. But for some it may be just what the doctor ordered.

    In general, you’re confusing “out-performance” with “average-performance”.

    “The big money in booms is always made first by the public on paper. And it remains on paper.” -Jesse Livermore, Reminisces of a Stock Operator

  20. Without training and practice realize the fact one is just another player in the market trying turn paper into profits. That awareness is massively lacking.

  21. “The markets are a Zero-Sum game for anyone who is seeking “above average” returns”

    I disagree. The stock market is not a zero sum game even if you want above average gains. This sounds a whole lot like efficient market thinking to me. Let’s take Google stock for example. It has far above average gains. It has a market cap of $175billion. So tell me, if the shareholders are sitting on a net gain of $175billion, then zero sum says someone must have lost $175billion right? So tell me, what person or groups has lost $175billion on Google stock?

  22. The flaw in both trender and Armando’s thinking is that they are assuming that all stocks have equal weighting in an index. They don’t. Most indexes are market cap weighted. If an index is up 5% it doesn’t mean the average stock in that index was up 5%. If GDP grows 7% it doesn’t mean the average company in the economy grew 7%. It means the largest companies that dominate those indexes or economies grew at that rate. The smaller, more numerous companies could have grown at twice that rate and it would barely budge the average. So even an argument using a twisted definition of “zero sum” falls flat.

  23. In an ideal world, over long periods where more money flows in than out, where companies create value, it is “theoretically” possible for all market participants to profit.

    But only for a time. While the above is worth noting as an aside, this caveat is not all that critical to the bigger point as nearly everyone in the last couple of years has learned ‘we do not live in an idealized or theoretical world’.

    Markets and economies can turn on a dime for no apparent reason. Billions of market cap can evaporate within a short time period. And usually, there are some systematic trend-followers and traders like John Paulson prepared to take advantage of the carnage.

    No matter what kind of strategy or system you follow, you must be able to identify ‘good bets,’ i.e. potentially mispriced situations, with a reasonable degree of consistency and accuracy. Those who are on the opposite end of such transactions are usually the losers.

    If you care about out-performance even the stock market is a Zero-Sum game. The desirable side of the bell curve has a limited number of seats with out-sized returns.

    Everybody cannot win. If one is seeking trading and investing out-performance, it seems reasonable to me to move forward under the framework of zero-sum. That’s not to say markets are efficient. You’re just recognizing the actual fact that for the most part trading is a losers game. Then you begin to learn, you’re emotionally stoked to control and manage risk.

    My favourite quote ones again:

    “The big money in booms is always made first by the public on paper. And it remains on paper.” -Jesse Livermore, Reminisces of a Stock Operator

  24. I don’t know how ANYONE concludes out of the blue that trend following is more difficult than any other worthwhile endeavor. Second, there are some posts here that ignore completely the research in the “talent” books mentioned. Some folks need to read those before going dogmatic!

  25. I am familiar with Myers Briggs — very. It doesn’t absolve anyone of the research in the “talent” books. The Myers Briggs does not permanently slot you or I to anything. It measures preferences, not ability or potential achievement.

  26. Overall, it seems that quite a few people disagree with the notion of the Turtles. Quite a few people want to fall back on the “natural” talent argument. Sorry, that is a crutch IMHO.

  27. “It measures preferences, not ability or potential achievement.”

    It certainly does indicate potential achievement. If that’s not the case, then it would mean that one individual has the same potential of becoming a concert pianist as they would a top notch engineer, high school science teacher, or CEO. It doesn’t matter how much education and experience they get to gain ability. If they aren’t fundamentally wired for the task they aren’t going to achieve at the same level as the person that is. Anybody can learn to play the piano. But only a few people within a couple of MBTIs are every going to have the potential to become concert pianists. There will of course be a few rare exceptions. This point is really one of the primary values of MBTI in corporate settings.

    Anybody can indeed do anything if they put their mind to it. But given two people with the same training, experience and desire to succeed, the person who has the MBTI type that best suits the task at hand will most likely outperform a person that does not have the MBTI suited for the task every time.

    I read Schwager’s Market Wizard book that has open ended interview questions so I can get a pretty good idea of the trader’s MBTIs. The majority of those traders fall into just a few MBTIs. That’s not coincidental.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but here is the way I look at the turtle experiment from an MBTI perspective. I would imagine that many of the original turtles represented quite a few different MBTIs, perhaps 6 to 8, but I’m guessing here. And given the controlled environment they were in, most were able to trade successfully if they followed the rules. Those that broke the rules got kicked out. This tells me that they probably weren’t the rule-following MBTIs to start out with. But once the program was over and they no longer had the structure, everybody fell back into their own preferences of doing things. For those that had the right MBTIs, it was little or no change and they are the ones that went on to be successful traders and entrepreneurs. The ones that failed to succeed didn’t have the MBTIs conducive to succeed on their own.

  28. “It certainly does indicate potential achievement.”

    No, it doesn’t. The MBTI sorts for type; it does not indicate the strength of ability. It is an instrument where you self-select your “preferences”. I am qualified to administer it.

    Need to read the talent books I mention. The evidence is not with you here. Preferences are one thing, achievement is another. Just because you might have a Jung preference does not mean in any way, shape or form that you are limited to certain achievements.

  29. I’m still in disagreement with you Michael. My problem with your statement is that then it is pure coincidence that top traders mostly fall into a few MBTIs, concert pianists fall into a few MBTIs, top engineers fall into one type, etc. If what you said was true, then you would find the top performers in any particular field spread over most MBTIs and that’s just not the case.

    I’m not an MBTI admin but I’ve used the system extensively for the past 15 years to effectively identify and fix dysfunctional teams and departments in major corporations, as well as help a number of people shift careers, my own career included.

    I will take a look at the talent books. But the reason I’m a believer in MBTI and skeptical of a lot other systems is because MBTI has stood the test of time, 50 years or so, when other systems have come and gone.

  30. The MBTI does not measure achievement or ability. The talent books are not ‘systems’, they are simply the research as to why people are successful. People are successful because by and large they practice deliberately, not because of so-called innate gifts, talents or preferences. I will never buy the notion that people are limited due to some innate trait or preference.

  31. “If you care about out-performance even the stock market is a Zero-Sum game. The desirable side of the bell curve has a limited number of seats with out-sized returns”

    I disagree. First of all the bell curve only represents what usually happens, not what could or can happen. And furthermore, the trading bell curve shows that the number of seats actually increases the farther out you go, the “fat tails”. The vast majority of people could outperform the market if they adopted trendfollowing techniques. If they did this, they would be led to stocks with the strongest trends. Those stocks tend to be the smaller and mid cap stocks. The smaller and mid cap stocks are not well represented in an index by definition. The index really only represents the performance of the largest cap stocks in that index. So yes, the majority of people can outperform the market if they use the proper techniques.

  32. I agree that perfect practice makes perfect. Somebody with all the skills in world that is lazy simply won’t achieve.

    Alright Michael, let me try this one on you since it gets to the practical nuts and bolts of MBTIs… I spent 7 years studying engineering and picked up 3 degrees. I graduated 3rd in my ungrad class. My master’s degree was sponsored by NASA, and I had two offers from other organizations to pay for a PhD that I turned down. Pretty good, huh? Then I went on to develop real-time flight simulators for the next 15 years. My business partner who was a genius did some pretty cutting edge stuff over the years and I’d say we were within the top 10-15% of our field.

    On MBTIs, my business partner was the ideally suited engineering while I’m three dimensions off. After 15 years, my business partner was just reaching his stride and I was totally burned out and starting to fall behind. I’m a true X on the information gathering function while my partner was a strong intuitive. It was becoming much more difficult for me to intuit the increasing difficulty things compared with my partner who would do it without a lot of effort because that’s the way he’s wired. He is also a strong perceiver and I am a strong judger so while seeing out of box (flexible rules) was easy for my business partner, it was difficult for me. The extra time, energy, and effort I was spending trying to force myself into being an NP was time that an NP could spend doing creative things naturally. Given the same amount of effort spent, he was simply more efficient. What was drudgery for me was exhilarating to my colleague. And when something becomes drudgery, you aren’t going to have the desire to work hard at it and so I doubt many could ever reach the top of a profession that takes perhaps 30 years to master. I’m not sure it would be possible for emotional reasons. Are you really going to see value in your life doing something you hate to do?

    I changed careers to one that suits my MBTI and I was surprised how easy it was for me to move to the top of my profession compared to my previous one. Same hard work and practice as before but much better results. And from my perch, I see A LOT of other people trying to do what I do as good as I do it and the ones that are banging their heads against the wall and working harder than I do aren’t achieving the same results for what I believe are the wrong MBTIs. They spend a lot more time practicing and working hard and they can’t produce what I do. Its more a difference of skill set than my own hard work.

  33. Correlation doesn’t equal causation! You keep bringing it back to MBTI, but I bet a deep analysis will show your success and direction was a result of practice, effort, & coaching, not innate anything. Using MBTI, as you are, is just another way to say nature beats nurture.

  34. Anybody who was down 25%, 35%, or 40% on their trendfollowing system will tell you that practice doesn’t help much. The urge to make mistakes in extreme situations can become overwhelming. It is very hard to trust your own models, even though they may have worked in the past. One always thinks “what if this time is different”.

    I don’t disagree with Michael in that trading a trendfollowing system is not any harder or needs more discipline than running a successful business. But then again, I don’t believe every average Joe is destined to run a business successfully.

  35. >> Correlation doesn’t equal causation!

    Believe me, I know. I’m well aware of false correlations. I’ve had theoretical stats in grad school and did quite a bit of real stats analysis for 15 years.

    When you went through your MBTI training, did you ever see the big career affinity matrix that was done at one of the major universities? That’s that one I keep referring to that has “happy & successful” careers in each of the 16 blocks. The methods used to develop that matrix have been validated several times over.

    The coaching part happened when I went through a MBTI-based career development course where they recommended the career shift pointing out the issues I articulated above.

    As far as nature vs nature, I don’t categorically believe that nurture trumps nature. I do agree that nurture beats nature but only until you get near the top of any profession where if all things are equal, nature beats nurture for the reasons I stated above.

    OK – nuf sed on my part. You picked a lively topic this time. You get the last word since you own the place.

  36. Quote: Ken says – “And furthermore, the trading bell curve shows that the number of seats actually increases the farther out you go, the “fat tails”.”

    You live in an imaginary world. Michael has some interesting free resources on his site you might consider reviewing to get acquainted with the nature of fat-tails.

  37. The point is that “fat tails” exist, and those that want to exploit it can and do. They don’t sit around and make excuses like “oh its zero sum, im taking money from others, trading is a losers game, blah blah blah”.

  38. Are some of you guys actually on the same side, but arguing a semantic point that has lost me too! 🙂

  39. “there’s only a few seats at the table”…whine. I just showed you how the majority of market participants can beat the market. Can you refute that?

  40. I have read this site and it appears promising. The only question I have is do you use this system yourself? And if so, why are you selling such a good thing…better to keep it secret, no?

  41. The existence of fat-tails is not and was never in question. The opportunity for most market participants to handsomely beat the market was not and is not in question. In actual life in the long run and on the whole, while the vast majority of people lose money or break even at best in the markets, some betting professionals consistently win.

    With that in mind, my original assertion is: 1. The markets are a Zero-Sum game for anyone who is seeking “above average” returns. 2. the desirable side of the bell curve with out-sized returns has a limited number of seats.

    We all live and function within conditioned limits and constraints of the same human social system. We’re not entirely independent and free but responsive to the system within which we function. Most of us suffer from illusions of grandeur that we’re better than or smarter than everyone else. When in truth chances are we’re just like everyone else – we’re just average. Hard to accept emotionally but true in real life.

    A professional is intimately in touch with his own limits and the limits of others. In the discovery of one’s limits one begins to learn, become independent and to go beyond them.

    Out-performance is simply a matter of discovering ones limits through constant practice, training, and discipline and eventually going beyond them. We’re all born blank slate – Tabula Rasa – it’s up to each of us what we choose to inscribe on that space.

    Your(Ken)following statement is silly and fundamentally off the mark: … “And furthermore, the trading bell curve shows that the number of seats actually increases the farther out you go, the “fat tails”.

    Sorry to break it to you but such an ideal world does not exit. It does not describe reality.

  42. “fat tails” is not a non-existant ideal world, it is reality! It’s proof that the markets are not random, it’s the fundamental underpinnings of trendfollowing.
    Nothing silly about it. There’s plenty of seats at that end of the curve, people have to decide to just go take them.

  43. I have read this site and it appears promising. The only question I have is do you use this system yourself? And if so, why are you selling such a good thing…better to keep it secret, no?

  44. Mark, not passing the buck, but take a look at my 2 books first. Good insights into my thinking. Yes, I trade my own account.

  45. Everybody cannot win. – trender

    In the stock market, over the long run, if they stick with it and use the proper techniques then yes, everybody can win and outperform.

  46. You’re not alone. Some very smart people confuse frequency and magnitude. In the real world, mathematically, there maybe an inverse relationship between frequency and magnitude.

    Nobody exists in a vacuum. Theoretically, and very unlikely, if “everybody” wins the game seizes. Few people are willing to work on themselves or think independently. So, if you’re courageous enough to discover and face your own limits and go beyond them you win BIG! Trend Following is simple but you have to work hard on yourself, on your own psychology and your system.

    “Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.” -George Bernard Shaw

  47. “Some” are winning, can win, and may win. Most everyone else does not realize that ALL limits are self imposed and so they exist in some kind of unconscious stupor. Even in the Turtle experiment “all” did not win. Even Michael makes that clear.

  48. You’re confusing “time”. Yes, at any given point in time there will be winners, there will be losers. But if all those people stay in the game and trade properly then over time they will improve and get better. Even the losers will start to beat the averages if they do it right over the long run. At the same time there are new people entering into the system and the process starts over. So yes, everybody can win over the long run in the stock market if they just stick with it.

  49. Check answer #29.

    The long-term never comes. There are only current commitments that hopefully turn into long-term held positions.

    Minus what could happen and should happen, HERE and NOW some traders win and most traders lose. Why do you suppose risk-control is such a critical issue?

    In any case, good trading to you.

  50. That’s all I wanted to know — do you use your own program. I have been looking for something like this after reading about Dan Zanger’s amazing run — but I have no idea how to go about it. This seems like a structured, disciplined approach that is needed to avoid disaster…and much more detailed than anything Richard Sands or […] offer.

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