A Game of Inches

It’s a game of inches… – Vince Lombardi (maybe)

In the process of becoming the most successful coach in the history of the NFL, Vince Lombardi uttered perhaps the most famous commentary on the game of football.  Or at least I think he did – there are plenty of people willing to attribute those famous inches to him second hand, and yet I’ve been unable to find a reliable first hand source.  In any case, whoever said it was right.  I was dramatically reminded of this by a play I saw three weeks ago while watching the Broncos-Raiders game.

Denver has the ball and it’s 2nd down and 4 yards to go on the Broncos 41 yard line with the score tied 7-7.  The play is going to be a run, and everyone knows it. Continue reading

Different Types of Speculators

I am continually amazed at the number of different types of speculators that exist in the financial markets.  While many professions encourage specialization, I can’t think of any others that take it to the same degree.  Even medicine, with its 50-100 specializations (depending on how you count) can’t come close.

From the perspective of educating traders, specialization presents a real challenge. Continue reading

Trade the S&P Tickle Me Elmo Style Part 2


This is a continuation of Part 1 – start there if you haven’t read it.

Last time we worked out how one might go about speculating in Tickle Me Elmos in 1996, and I made the claim that the same logic can be used to trade the S&P in shortage situations today.  If you’ll recall, the basic plan was as follows:

  1. Identify a good to speculate in based on sufficient TAM and a shortage of the good, which manifests as increasing price and gross margin.
  2. Determine a “will-buy” price for that good which takes into account the shortage, leaves you sufficient margin, and leaves a reasonable chance someone will sell to you.  Make it be known you will buy the good at that price.
  3. Wait for someone to take you up on your offer.  If someone does…
  4. Sell the good at full post-shortage prices on the open market. Continue reading

Trade the S&P Tickle Me Elmo Style Part 1

It’s Black Friday in the US which is the start of the traditional Christmas shopping season.  To get us in the shopping spirit I figured we could all use a Dikensian visit from the Ghost of Black Fridays Past.  The ghost that happens to be pulling the late shift this year is from 1996 which turns out to be a pretty interesting year, Black Friday wise,  for two reasons: eBay and Tickle Me Elmo. Continue reading

Container – an Excellent Board Game

One of my favorite hobbies is playing board and card games.  There’s something I find very entertaining about studying an arbitrary set of game rules and understanding how to play the game well.  It’s an intellectual exercise not dissimilar from trading.  You might think, then, that there would be a lot of good economics or trading based board games out there.  But in my experience there aren’t.  Now, I should be specific about what I think constitutes a good game:

  • Fairness and functionality.  If the game isn’t fair to all players or doesn’t function right or you can’t figure out the rules then that’s no good.
  • Emergent behavior.  I think good games behave in ways that aren’t obvious from just reading the rules.  A good example would be knock gin – the rules say that you can end the game with un-melded cards by “knocking” for fewer points.  What’s not clear from the rules is that this allows defensive cards to be held to prevent your opponent from making melds.  Sophisticated play emerges from a simple rule.  That’s good.
  • Strategic depth.  Good games have layers of strategic depth akin to the layers of an onion.  Learn one level of strategy, start playing against better opponents, and the next level presents itself.  In the very best games, this extends all the way to the highest levels of play and beyond – the best 5 players at any given form of poker are far better than the next 5, for example.

I’m happy to report that by accident I stumbled into an economics/trading game that is in fact a good game: Container. Continue reading

The Surprising Effect of Small Edges

Imagine you have a trading method which trades the GLOBEX west Texas crude oil contract (ticker:CL).  This is a futures contract that represents 1000 barrels of crude oil.  At current oil prices, the contract has a value of about $100,000.  Price for CL is specified in dollars per barrel, and the tick is one cent per barrel, or $10 for the contract.  Now, let’s say this method has very simple trade management – once a trade is entered, a stop loss order is placed 10 ticks away from the entry price, and a limit order to exit is placed 10 ticks the other direction.  These orders are set up as a “one cancels all” or OCA group, meaning that if one of the two exit orders executes, the other is canceled.

This is a very simple type of trade setup, and is common for very short term trades.  In this example once you enter a trade (assume a 1 contract position) you should get one of two resuls:

  1. You win $100 minus fees
  2. You lose $100 plus fees + slippage

Fees in this example are simply your transaction fees.  Slippage is the cost associated with stop orders executing at a price worse than the trigger price, which they can do since they trigger market orders.  For now, let’s assume that the round trip transaction fees for 1 contract of CL are $4 (my broker charges $4.01 for some strange reason) and that slippage is zero.  The slippage assumption is unrealistic and I’ll address it in a subsequent post, but for now I want to get at a different aspect of the situation.  I want to know:

How often do you have to place your trade in the right direction in order to make good money here? Continue reading

Is the Problem Technical, Psychological or Luck?

There’s a commonly bandied about statistic that something like 90% of active retail speculators lose money in a given year.  Incidentally, in this case “retail” means “private trading through a conventional retail broker like E*Trade” and has nothing to do with a retail store.

This statistic is taken from two places.  The first source is a congressional investigation into day trading that resulted in the SEC imposing the pattern day trader rule in 2001.  The second source is records from a number of brokers who have had their accounts exposed by bankruptcy.  The number varies slightly by source, but overall 90% is about right.  The smallest I’ve ever seen it was about 50% losers from a arbitrage-oriented foreign exchange broker.  These are sobering numbers. Continue reading

Bulls, Bears and the Permanent Versions Thereof

Today’s post is about market bias.  Market bias is a trader’s opinion about the long term direction of the market.  If you’ve been learning what this blog is trying to teach, you first question should be “which market?” because there are many.  While it’s possible to hold a bias about any of them, the most interesting market are the “risk on” markets which are those that are positively correlated to the economy – stocks and commodities mostly.

Biases are traditionally expresses via two terms – “bull” and “bear”.  A bull thinks the market will go up.  A bear thinks it will go down.  The origin of the terms are lost to history but the most plausible explanation I’ve heard relates to the fighting tendencies of the two animals – bulls thrust upwards with their horns, bears claw downward.  What is certain is that the metaphor has stuck, going so far as to create a cottage industry selling tacky bull and bear statues for traders’ offices. Continue reading

Baseball, Bonds, Math and the Power of Language

First off, don’t worry.  I didn’t title this post in an attempt to capture traffic from some obscure long-tail Google search term.  What I want to do is share my views as to how math relates to the financial markets and what separates good math from bad.  The ideas I want to share first came to my attention via, and were I think best expressed by, a baseball writer.  So we’re headed on a little detour into the math of baseball. Continue reading