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Das Handelssignal vom Mars - und warum es gewinnt

Back in the late 1960s I was a young commodity broker at E.
F. Hutton and Company. Our office was a brand new high-tech
office (for its time) which was considered the "flagship
office" for E. F. Hutton. In this office about thirty
brokers and as many clients shared one very large boardroom
and there were no private offices. The brokers had elegant
and expensive desks and the clients had a comfortable
seating area in the front of the office where they could
hang out and watch the tapes and monitor our state of the
art commodity "clacker board".

Sitting at my desk near the front of the boardroom I could
read my Wall Street Journal and keep track of the commodity
markets without looking at the board. By just listening to
the rhythm and tempo of the mechanical clicks as the prices
changed I could easily tell when anything important was
going on because the tempo of the clicks would increase
noticeably.

Just in front of my desk were a half dozen comfortable sofas
facing a high mahogany paneled wall with the tapes and the
"clacker board". A gallery of traders, mostly retired "old
timers" who were trading real commodities like grains and
pork bellies, lounged around on the sofas plotting their
charts and talking about life and the markets. They
typically arrived early to get a good seat in their usual
spot and then spent the day trading, exchanging commentaries
and offering unsolicited advice to one another on any
subject. For the most part they were a very sociable group
who would take coffee breaks together and greeted each other
on a first name basis. These traders enjoyed the elegant
atmosphere and treated our well-appointed boardroom as their
private men's club. (Were you aware that women were not
allowed to trade commodities back in those days? My how
times have changed!)

However, one of these "old timers" kept to himself and was
not interested in becoming a member of the friendly and
often boisterous social circle. He usually sat quietly by
himself intently watching the price changes on the commodity
board and holding an old glass Coca-Cola bottle up near his
ear. The vintage shaped Coke bottle had been emptied many
years before and now contained only a 12-inch tube of bent
and broken radio antennae which extended awkwardly out of
the top of the bottle.

Keep in mind that in the 1960s no one had yet heard of cell
phones so the purpose of this Coke bottle was a real mystery
to everyone. When the trader would talk to the bottle from
time to time all the heads would turn and the traders nearby
would try to listen to the conversation. But the trader
spoke very softly and no one was able to eavesdrop on his
conversations with the bottle.

The traders knew that the fellow with the coke bottle was a
client of mine and eventually a representative of the group
came to me and explained that they were extremely puzzled
about this guy and his Coke bottle and asked me if I knew
what was going on. I didn't know the purpose or meaning of
the Coke bottle but I was as curious as anyone was and I
promised I would find out. The next time the client came
back to my desk I promptly placed his order and then
politely asked him about the Coke bottle.

With a serious expression and no embarrassment he explained
to me that the Coke bottle was an inter-planetary
communication device that had been given to him by aliens.
He said that the aliens were very interested in our
commodity markets and they often gave him trading advice
from their various observation points on other planets. He
said that he had just had a message from Mars and they were
buying soybeans so he had also purchased soybeans. After
revealing his unique trading methodology he returned to his
seat and resumed his whispered conversations with the Coke
bottle.

As soon as I revealed my discovery of the meaning of the
Coke bottle to the other traders, all attention was
immediately focused on the Coke bottle trader and the
soybean market. The soybean market proceeded to go the
wrong way and the trade from Mars was eventually closed out
at a loss. The other traders were had no sympathy and were
quick to begin ridiculing the the trader and poke fun at his
beliefs. The next trade however turned out to be a big
winner and the Coke bottle trader went from sofa to sofa
telling his story and pointing to the clacker board while
waiving his Coke bottle and bragging about the profitability
of his most recent message from outer space. Because he was
making money now his previous critics had to endure his
bragging about his success on the current winning trade.

As time went on and a few winning and losing trades later a
clear pattern of behavior began to emerge. The Coke bottle
trader was ridiculed unmercifully on his losing trades but
was able to get his revenge and the last laugh during the
winning trades. This trader might have been a little bit
crazy but he wasn't stupid. He soon learned that his only
defense against ridicule was to hold on to winning trades as
long as possible and to quickly get out of his losses. As
long as he was sitting on his sofa with a winning trade no
one could tell him he was crazy and make cruel jokes about
his messages from Mars. In fact while he was winning he was
quick to wander around the room and ridicule the methods of
the other traders who were not making as much money as he
was. He displayed the profits in his trading account as
hard evidence of the validity of his methods and offered
copies of his statements as irrefutable proof that he was
getting valuable advice from his alien contacts. Who could
argue when his advice from other planets was obviously
working?

As a young broker this experience and the first hand
observation of the Coke bottle trader who suddenly became
profitable gave me my first important lesson about the
importance of exits. I knew the entry signals had nothing
at all to do with his success. His batting average was not
any better than that of any other trader. However, this
crazy old trader seemed to be able to make money
consistently while other traders with more "sanity" and more
valid entry methods were losing. Before long I was able to
recognize that this man had become a successful trader
simply by his efforts to avoid ridicule. He knew that he
was vulnerable during his losing trades so he closed them
out very promptly. His winning trades became his shield
against the ridicule of the other traders and he kept his
winners much longer than before his unorthodox methods were
revealed.

In the many years since this experience I have encountered
many claims of success for entry methods that probably have
even less validity than the Coke bottle messages. I have
learned to look only briefly at the entries of winning
traders and to examine their exit strategies very carefully.
I am very fortunate that more than thirty years ago I
learned from the Coke bottle trader that success in trading
depends on our exits and not our entries.


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