A dangerous misconception many DIY Investors have is that our job day-to-day is to “make money”. Obviously, that is the outcome we are hoping to achieve, but it is not what we actually do. Remember, we have no control over the direction of the market or of our holdings at any point in time.
No, our primary job is to manage risk. Day in, day out this is what we are actually doing. The stock market can provide life changing monetary rewards, but with those rewards come enormous risks. The only way to safely gain exposure to the rewards of trading is to strictly define and manage the risk you are taking.
There are two primary ways we do this:
- Position size – I touched on this in my trading manual, but basically we NEVER want to go “all in” on any single trade. We need diversification.
- Stop-losses – This is the price at which we would admit that the trade setup is no longer valid and would therefore sell. This level should be identified BEFORE we enter any trade.
Our position sizing tool combines these concepts. I encourage you to play around with it so you can get a good handle on how much you are risking on any given trade.
There is, however, another often overlooked component of risk management that is perhaps even MORE important than the ones above: patience.
By this I mean having the discipline to allow marginal or higher risk trade ideas go without you while patiently waiting for the BEST, low risk, high probability setups.
Warren Buffett has a famous quote that’s relevant: “The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don’t have to swing at everything — you can wait for your pitch.”
The fact is, every time we enter a trade we are putting our money at risk. Therefore, we should always take a moment beforehand to ask ourselves, “is the perceived reward worth the risk?” Be picky. Be patient. I promise you, it will pay off.
This concept comes to mind when looking at a chart of the S&P 500. The market has just run 15% higher in about two months. It’s just below a declining trend line that connects the closing highs from last July and November.
If the current rate of ascent continues, we could be looking at new all-time highs in just a few weeks! However, what is most likely to happen? Personally, I think that after such a big run and at an important trend line, it’s more likely that the market will pull back in this area. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should get short. The market doesn’t HAVE to pull back. And if it does, keep in mind that it would actually be bullish for the market to put in a definitive higher low before breaking the macro pattern of lower highs and lower lows.
The bottom line is we have a short term bullish market still within a larger bearish look. These mixed messages are about to come to a head so I believe the best course of action right now is patience. It makes no sense to increase exposure to risk in the face of this uncertainty by taking big bets here. Let’s continue to manage our open positions and patiently observe market action in this pivotal area. There will be plenty of time to pounce when the outlook becomes clearer.