“A stock operator has to fight a lot of expensive enemies within himself.”
– Jesse Livermore
Jesse Livermore was a pioneer in the trading world. He was one of the very first trend traders, rule based discretionary traders, and traders of pure price action. He was a trail blazer. It was not his methodology that was his undoing, it was other short comings. After reading books about the life of this trading legend along with his own, here are my eight observations that I believe was his ultimate undoing.
- Letting losers run: Many times he did not cut his losses. “I did precisely the wrong thing. The cotton showed me a loss and I kept it. The wheat showed me a profit and I sold it out. Of all the speculative blunders there are few greater than trying to average a losing game. Always sell what shows you a loss and keep what shows you a profit.” – Jesse Livermore
- Over Trading: “What beat me was not having brains enough to stick to my own game – that is, to play the market only when I was satisfied that precedents favored my play.” – Jesse Livermore
- Following tips: “Gradually, as I began to accept his facts and figures, I began to fear I had been basing my previous position on misinformation. Of course I could not feel that way and not cover. And once I had covered because Thomas made me think I was wrong, I simply had to go long. It is the way my mind works.” “It cost me millions to learn that another dangerous enemy to a trader is his susceptibility to the urgings of a magnetic personality when plausibly expressed by a brilliant mind.” – Jesse Livermore
- Risk of ruin: From the quantity of his account blow ups and personal bankruptcies it appears that he did not understand the mathematical risk of ruin based on winning percentage and the loss of capital per trade.
- Position sizing: The sheer size of his astounding wins at key times shows that he did not really have a position sizing model to limit his exposure to risk, he was likely all in with leverage on his biggest wins. Which results in inevitable account blow ups.
- Discipline: In his writings he seems to always hint that he had trouble following his own rules and advice and lost money when he didn’t follow his own plan.
- Lavish lifestyle: Livermore spent money lavishly on his lifestyle with mansions, vacations, and the best things money could buy. He had no number that allowed him to ever really retire and enjoy his wealth. He continued to trade with full size and aggressively through his career.
- Mental risk of ruin: In the end, for whatever reason he ended his life. The stress and strain of trading far too big a position sizes, his spending problem living so lavishly putting pressure on his finances, and his personal love life probably took its toll.