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Investing Discipline is Total Bulls-t
As an investor, how do you know if you are disciplined or stubborn?
If you go broke you are stubborn.
But if you survive and make money you are disciplined.
That’s laughably stupid if you think about it for longer than a minute.
Yet every single day you are bombarded with the conventional pablum that all you need to do is be “disciplined”, buy an index fund and keep buying more on a regular basis and 30 years later you will be rich. The underlying assumption is that the upward drift in stocks will continue infinitely. But the future is almost never just a slightly different version of the past.
Today, America is quickly losing economic power to China. It is destroying the only competitive advantage it has by banning immigrant labor which is responsible for almost all the intellectual contribution to the country’s economy. And it’s getting old. Everywhere you look the United States is a country of fat, old people in wheelchairs sucking up all the available tax dollars of Social Security and Medicare benefits, while the young struggle to live two to a room as they attempt to pay off their student loan obligations from which they can only escape through death.
So yes -- there is every possibility that the American Empire is following the path of Rome and that the wonderful 200 year plus run of progress and innovation that translated into a ever rising upward drift of equity prices could come to an end. And of course now that we find ourselves at the apex of equity valuation, not one person is thinking about the end of Pax Americana, just like the Romans submerged in their orgy of sex and violence of the Colosseum couldn’t possibly imagine that their way of life would be smashed to smithereens by hordes of primitive barbarians.
But I am getting too dark and frankly a bit off point. I have no idea when the US growth party will end, but it sure feels like it could be soon. More importantly, if it does end there will be literally nothing you can do to help yourself if you follow the conventional investing wisdom of the day. Discipline will lead to ruin as you just keep buying an ever falling asset.
The laughably false distinction between discipline and stubbornness (there is no way to judge which is which until you get the final result) was made very vivid this week by the tragic travails of David Einhorn -- a one time a hedge fund God, a Master of the Universe, the King of Value and the present day owner of Greenlight Capital who is suffering the humiliation of seeing his fund lose 20% this year. Again. Einhorn, who for the past ten years has been busy losing all the money that he made in the ten years prior, wrote a letter to his investors noting that, “Right now the market is telling us we are wrong, wrong, wrong about nearly everything….And yet, looking forward from today we think this portfolio makes a lot of sense… We have been accused of being stubborn, but one person’s stubbornness is another person’s discipline.”
To which the inimitable Matt Levine of Bloomberg, the best writer in finance today, responded, ”Yes! Correct! Let me make that a bit more explicit: If you have a plan, and you do the plan, and it makes money, people are like “good job being disciplined in sticking to your brilliant plan.” If you have a plan, and you do the plan, and it loses money, people are like “bad job being stubborn in sticking to your dumb plan.”
I mean! This is wrong! In fact, people regularly distinguish stubbornness from discipline, and evaluate the quality of your plan, without reference to current results; they care about the process by which the plan was arrived at and the quality of your reasoning and the convincingness of your explanation of how the plan will make money in the future. It is not incoherent to say “my strategy is good, and I am right to stick with it, even though so far it has lost money.” It is just kind of funny. And of course, in the long run, how would you distinguish stubbornness from discipline other than by results?”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have wait until you lose 75% of your money -- whether you are a buy and hold Mom and Pop investor or hedge fund titan to find out if you are “disciplined” or “stubborn”. If you day trade and if you do it right (not correct, but right, meaning that you slice risk into teeny, tiny pieces by making lots of small trades, you will never put yourself into such a no-win situation. You will have near instant feedback on whether you are correct or not and more importantly you will have much greater control over your drawdown. My pal Robbie Booker showed me an account today where he made 12% return while drawing down just 3%. The best part is that he did it by trading 1000 unit size on a 10,000 dollar account.
That’s right he traded 1/10th leverage and STILL beat the S&P! But that’s not unusual. I have seen many traders in my chat room achieve 20% returns with 3% drawdowns all because they traded small and controlled risk on every trade.
That’s the beauty of day trading. The discipline is in the size and in the stop. You don’t need to come up with excuses. You don’t need to wait years to be proven right or wrong. Your results are there every day and you have much better control of your financial destiny.