A high-profile internet celebrity is leading a legion of day-traders with his antics. He recently said, “I’m the captain now,” and referred to Warren Buffett as an idiot. Yesterday on CNBC, he said he had generated returns of 400% after “catching on” to trading. Day traders have moved from gambling on sports to trading in bankrupt companies like Hertz and Chesapeake Energy. Should you follow this Pied Piper?
Day trading is complicated. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. It’s my understanding that “the captain” is worth more than $115 million, and he is trading with about $3 million, or 2.6% of his net worth, so he can afford to lose 100% of his capital. He can afford to swim in the deep end of the pool without fear. Several years ago, a client was investing in trust deeds by lending money to people who couldn’t borrow from traditional resources like banks or credit unions. He was a multi-millionaire, and he could afford to lose a few thousand dollars if his borrowers defaulted on their loans. A relative of his wanted to follow his investment strategy, but she couldn’t afford to lose any money. Her net worth was in the low thousands, so if she lost a portion of her assets, it would be catastrophic.
Despite the worst economic data since the Great Depression, day traders are partying like it’s 1999. They appear to be making a killing by trading stocks and ETFs like Hertz, American Airlines, Luckin Coffee, and the JETS ETF. Their portal of choice is Robinhood, where traders can execute their orders sans commissions.
Here are a few tips if you want to start day trading.
- Have a plan. Work on your entry and exit points. Know what you’re going to do before you start trading. Identify a few stocks and get to know their trading patterns – as best you can.
- Only invest with money you can afford to lose. If you can lose 100% of your trading capital, and still support yourself and your family, then give it a shot. Limit your speculative trading to 3% to 5% of your investment capital.
- Only trade in your taxable investment account so you can write off your losses. Do not day trade in your retirement accounts.
- Do not borrow money to trade. Avoid margin. Leverage is your friend when stocks rise; it is the enemy when they fall. Your account can go negative if you employ too much margin – meaning if you borrow money and you lose it all, you may owe your brokerage account money because of your deficit.
- Take your gains. If you’re successful, ring the register to lock in your profits. Yes, you should let your winners run, but if you’re trading in bankrupt securities and you make 20%, 50%, 100%, or more, take your profits off the table.
- Cut your losses. If you’re losing money, cut your losses and sell your stocks so you can live to see another day. Try to limit your downside to 7% to 10% per trade.
- Inform your spouse, loved one, or significant other that you’re about to embark on a trading journey. Let them know you will be speculating with a portion of their treasure. It’s better to inform them from the beginning that you may lose significant amounts of money. In this case, it is better to ask for permission than it is to beg for forgiveness.
In 1999, the NASDAQ soared 85%; by October 2002, it fell 77%, and it would take seventeen years for the index to reclaim its previous high. The severity of the drop and the prolonged drifting in the market wiped out a generation of day traders. As one speculator said, “I never did make any money out of that,” he admits. “I’m just not able to make it work. It’s harder than it looks.”
Captain Phillips is a movie about a small group of Somali pirates who hijack the Maersk Alabama. When the lead pirate makes his way to the bridge, he looks Captain Phillips in the eye and says, “I’m the captain now.” As the movie ends, “the captain” was arrested by the US Navy, and the Seal snipers eliminated his associates. It didn’t work out for the pirates because they bit off more than they could chew, and they didn’t have a plan.
I’m sure there are successful day traders, but they almost certainly do it for a living, it’s their 9 to 5 job. And, if they have figured out day trading, they’re probably living on a private island somewhere in the pacific.
“In the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” ~ Benjamin Graham
June 16, 2020
Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets.
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 https://www.thewealthadvisor.com/article/warren-buffett-idiot-says-investor-who-claims-daytrading-easiest-game-ive-ever-played, The Wealth Advisor, June 10, 2020
 https://money.cnn.com/2000/08/09/investing/q_daytradewhere/, August 9, 2000