Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know thousands of market participants. Some are long-term investors others are scalping pennies per trade on thousands of shares while others manage millions of other people’s money. The interesting theme I picked up on with nearly every one of them is that they each experienced panic and uncertainty at certain times in the market. Oftentimes, this panic stems from the inability to make sense of the market, to gain control of market participation. Thoughts such as whether too much capital is at work or perhaps not enough or even whether or not to be in the market at all seemed to consume them.
This ambivalence can consume and debilitate even the best market participants. The uncertainty or self-doubt about market participation is common yet finding a solution is not. The greater the level of uncertainty felt the higher the odds are that risk is being misperceived. Here are some questions that I’ve asked to assess whether risk was real or perceived:
- What are your reactions, both physical and emotional, to a losing trade? A winning trade?
- Have you rationalized recent losses?
- Has your out-of-market homework/research fallen behind?
- Do you monitor your positions by dollars or percentages?
- Have you ever not taken a trade that made sense simply because you were burned before?
- Has the number of indicators you use to enter/manage/exit a position increased/decreased lately?
- Do you know the Beta of your portfolio?
- What would others say about you when asked about your risk management?
In a sense, managing risk involves managing the emotional side of trading so that the focus can be on the cognitive side of trading. As an example, if I’m concerned with the direction of the market because my traditional analysis methods are giving unclear signals then it probably doesn’t make much sense for me to participate. My biases will impact the data, whether it’s of a technical or fundamental nature, and lead to poor decisions. If I’m unable to clearly define what sectors are leading and which are lagging and, more importantly, why they are moving in the direction they are, then my risk is skewed. It’s times like these that large losses can accrue as objectivity is clouded by subjectivity.
I’ve always used sleep as a gauge to help me know if I’m in-line with real risk. If I’m able to sleep at night and wake up excited to participate in the market, then I know that the odds are good I’m managing my risk. If I’m unable to get a good night’s sleep and lay awake wondering about positions I have on the odds are good that my risk management is off. Yea, I’m pretty simple.