Three Things I learned from a Superstar Hedge Fund Trader

Boris Schlossberg

Last night I hosted a webinar with Turney Duff, the New York Times bestselling author of The Buyside and former trader for Galleon, Argus and Jim Cramer’s old hedge fund. Turney is a natural raconteur and he told many wild stories of the gogo 90’s and 00’s in hedge fund business when young men and women of Wall Street felt like they owned the world.

Turney had access to the very center of power on Wall Street and was witness to all of the insider games that went on in the markets. But last nights conversation did not dwell on the women-drugs-money excess of the era. Instead we talked shop for an hour and a half and his insights into what makes a successful trader were fascinating. So I thought this week and next I’d share his ideas with you.

1. There is NO ONE STRATEGY for success.

One of Turney greatest skills is his ability to improvise and adapt. His greatly appreciates the fact that financial markets are always changing. In fact change is the only constant in the markets. Markets change not only in style (going from trending to choppy and vice versa) but in structure as well (from human voice trading, to computerized entry, to robot to robot trading). He readily conceded that some of his fast news trades would now not work in a market when robots beat you to the punch. So to be successful today, a trader needs to have a longer horizon and compete on analysis rather speed.

2. Never let your Profit and Loss Statement Determine Your Trading

This is such a common mistake that many of us are not even aware that we are making it. How often do you find yourself selling your position just because its profitable and “you made enough” or holding on to a loser “until it gets back to even”. By doing this we let the account equity drive our entry and exit orders. The end result is that all of us wind up cutting our winners short and letting the loser bleed. Indeed every study of retail trading accounts shows this pattern repeats over and over. According to Turney, the only question you need to ask yourself is “IS THIS POSITION A BUY OR A SELL RIGHT NOW?” If you did not have this trade on – what would you do? If the answer is opposite of what you are doing then make the change.

3. You are not trading stocks, you are not trading currencies, you are not trading options – you are trading INFORMATION

When you are speculating you are engaged in the art of trading information. We tend to objectify our trades and because as human beings we need to relate to something concrete we will often find ourselves attached to a position because we “believe” in the particular stock or currency pair. In reality they are just abstract symbols. It is very important to realize that when we trade we are simply speculating about the value of the information to the marketplace. That’s all. If the information isn’t valuable, our trade won’t work. That is why it is not worth it to obsesses or get emotional about any specific trading idea in your account. Its just a bet on information and no matter how much you cheer or curse it – it really doesn’t care. The trade will do what the trade will do.

Next week I discuss why Turney thinks you should cheer and celebrate all your losses and how anyone can find strong trading ideas without resorting to insider info.

The video of the webinar can be found here