A fascinating aspect of trading is how history seems to repeat itself. Although globalization and technology have transformed traditional floor trading, the underlying emotions of fear and greed continue to drive price action. Trading remains largely a human endeavor and as long as humans run financial markets, booms, busts and panics will continue.
My favorite trading axiom is “This time it’s different.” It is often used during market bubbles by perma-bulls who let greed get ahead of rational thinking. There is even a whole book about it, describing how in specific markets through history people convinced themselves that the normal levels of valuation no longer applied. The U.S. housing bubble that popped in 2007-2008 is a perfect example. Those who said and believed housing prices “never go down” essentially thought the housing boom really was different. We all know how that turned out.
Markets, trading methodologies and products may change, but timeless investing advice does not. That’s why my favorite trading book remains Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre with Jessie Livermore—it is chocked full of great advice for any investor. First appearing as a series of articles in the Sunday Evening Post during the 1920s, the book is largely a biographical account of Livermore’s professional life. He is remembered as one of the world’s greatest traders who won and lost tremendous fortunes before tragically taking his own life in 1940.
Although Jessie’s life ended too early, his words of wisdom live on for discovery. The book is filled with obscure references and colorful characters long forgotten by the general public, but the key themes of the text remain as relevant as ever. Therefore, I’ve pulled out my favorite quotes, below, though I highly recommend reading the entire text.
There is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again.
The desire for constant action irrespective of underlying conditions is responsible for many losses in Wall Street even among professionals.
I never lose my temper over the stock market. I never argue the tape. Getting sore at the market doesn’t get you anywhere.
They say you can never go poor taking profits. No, you don’t. But neither do you grow rich taking a four-point profit in a bull market. Where I should have made twenty thousand I made two thousand. That was what my conservatism did for me.
Remember that stocks are never too high for you to begin buying or too low to begin selling.
A man may see straight and clearly and yet become impatient or doubtful when the market takes its time about doing as he figured it must do. That is why so many men in Wall Street…nevertheless lose money. The market does not beat them. They beat themselves, because though they have brains they cannot sit tight.
After spending many years in Wall Street and after making and losing millions of dollars I want to tell you this: It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was the sitting. Got that? My sitting tight!
Losing money is the least of my troubles. A loss never bothers me after I take it…But being wrong—not taking the loss—that is what does the damage to the pocketbook and to the soul.
Prices, like everything else, move along the line of least resistance. They will do whatever comes easiest.
The speculator’s chief enemies are always boring from within. It is inseparable from human nature to hope and to fear. In speculation when the market goes against you hope that every day will be the last day—and you lose more than you should had you not listened to hope—the same ally that is so potent a success-bringer to empire builders and pioneers, big and little. And when the market goes your way you become fearful that the next day will take away your profit, and you get out—too soon. Fear keeps you from making as much money as you ought to. The successful trader has to fight these two deep-seated instincts…Instead of hoping he must fear; instead of fearing he must hope.