Any trader that’s worth his salt will tell you that he thinks differently about the markets than most. This is where he gets his edge against the competition. In other words, good traders tend to be contrarian thinkers. Although anyone can say they’re a contrarian, going against the prevailing herd mentality is not easy, in fact, in can be quite difficult. This can be directly attributed to the fact that human beings have an inherent herding tendency that is tough to overcome. Examples of this behavior can be seen in the notion that nobody likes to be the party pooper, or rock the boat and cause waves. It’s easier to go with the flow. In trading however, going with the plurality is not always the best course of action.
This leads us to the stark reality that the vast majority of people who attempt trading fail. If this is indeed the case, wouldn’t it make sense that fading (trade in the opposite direction) these traders would be profitable? Well, it’s not quite that simple. There are times when the herd actually does make money; it’s when they become an angry mob that contrarians must be ready to take a different stand. In trading, understanding the difference is key to being profitable.
When I got my first job as a broker back in the summer of nineteen eighty seven, I was fortunate enough to be around a very talented trader who taught me a great deal about contrarian thinking. He would tell me things like, “The market’s main job is to inflict the most amount of pain on the most people.” At first, I thought, wow, this guy sure is cynical, and frankly, I didn’t believe him. Later though, as I gained more experience, I began to understand exactly what he meant. This became really evident as I witnessed it first hand when the market would go into states of panic selling. Since 99% of investors are long-only, these periods would be very painful for the majority, and as the market reached its capitulation (give up) phase only the strong were left standing since most had to sell just to extinguish their pain. A contrarian should be able to spot this on a price chart and buy from these frightened sellers.
Fast forward to the present, the market has been very strong as of late, and no one really knows how long this rally can last. At this time, it’s anyone’s guess, as the Russell 2000, and Dow Industrials are at all-time highs. One would think that because the market is at elevated prices a contrarian would be looking to short the market. This is not necessarily accurate. From a contrarian viewpoint an interesting phenomenon has been occurring. Every time the market has even the slightest pullback, everyone jumps on the “big -correction -coming” band wagon. I know this because I see it in the sentiment readings that I follow. These show that traders start loading up on put options and inverse funds at every instance when the markets shows any sign of weakness. What’s also noteworthy is the amount of skepticism about the durability and quality of the rally. This leads me to believe that there are many investors that are under-invested, and at some point will have to chase this market as they feel that they’re missing out.
In my experience, markets top when the last holdouts begrudgingly join the party and the shorts finally give up. At the time of this writing, I’m not seeing this. If we stay patient however , and look at the market objectively, the market will show us when it has topped. It is at this point, that shorting may work better. Incidentally, since futures trading is a zero-sum game being on the winning side of a trade quite often means you’re going against the short-term consensus.
Until next time, I hope everyone has a great trading week.