The Psychology Of Speculation – The Disconcerting Effect Of Sudden Losses And Gains

by Olivier on December 2, 2010

Time for another classic trading book excerpt.  The subject is similar to the one in yesterday’s post. It is about limiting losses and ultimately becoming a better trader if you are willing to embark on that never ending journey to better understand yourself. James L. Fraser from Fraser Publishing clearly understood that. The introduction he wrote clearly shows his deep understanding of human psychology, trading and speculation. Human behavior never changes. That’s why I am a huge fan of old classics. Buy those books. Read them. Apply the wisdom imparted.

Henry Howard Harper: ‘The Psychology of Speculation – The Human Element in Stock Market Transactions’

First privately printed by the author in 1926 and only found in secondhand stores at rare intervals this classic deserves a more wide spread audience. Harper’s human behavior material gives us insights into the handicapping prejudices that ruin our stock market theories and sound resolutions. Especially in our computer oriented age does the average investor seem incapable of calm reasoning , with the result that he often does precisely the opposite of what he had intended doing.

Moreover, Harper’s easy writing style clearly shows you how the correct ideas of theory are turned into the wrong formulas of practice, and how tickeritis, though mentally intoxicating, leads on to poverty. In a contrary way, we seldom see the favorite caprice of the stock market which is to violate precedent, and do the thing least expected of it. You had better believe it for there are no certainties in this investment world, and where you have no certainties, you should begin by understanding yourself.

James L. Fraser

The Disconcerting Effect of Sudden Losses and Gains, page 17 – 19

There are but few things more unbalancing to the mind than the act of suddenly winning or losing large sums of money. A few years ago at Monte Carlo I was in company with a friend, a well known man of affairs who while there played at roulette nearly every day, merely as pastime. He was of mature age, naturally methodical, conservative, temperate and cool-headed. He made it an unalterable rule to limit his losses to $200 at any one sitting, and on losing his amount he always stopped playing. His bets were usually limited to two dollars on the numbers, and never doubled except for one turn of the wheel when his number won. He generally played three numbers at a time; never more than four. For ten consecutive sittings luck was against him and each time he had lost his stake of $200. I saw him get up and leave the room, apparently in a state of disgust. An hour or so later I discovered him at a roulette table in another room stacking his chips in piles on a dozen or more numbers. Now and again when he exceeded the limit the watchful croupier reduced his bets and pushed a few disks back to him. In addition to betting on the numbers he was staking a thousand franc note on one of the three columns, another thousand on the colors, and a like amount on the center dozen. In one run he lost seventeen consecutive bets on red, of a thousand franc each. His eyes were bloodshot, his fingers twitched, and plainly he was under the strain of great agitation. He continued to play for three hours or so, when all of a sudden he got up, stood for a moment looking dazedly about, then left the table. He afterwards told me that he lost twenty thousand dollars; and that he hadn’t the slightest recollection of anything that happened during the play, nor did he realize the amount he was betting. In this connection, it is a fact not generally known, that many rich men sing printed cards of instructions to the proprietor of a certain well known gambling club in the South, directing him to stop their play and refuse them further credit beyond a certain specified sum on any one day or evening of play, and refusing to become responsible beyond that amount. If men who trade in the stock market were to impose like restrictions upon their transactions the losses would in many cases be greatly minimized.

Expect the worst. – Sun Tzu


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