When newly acquired information conflicts with preexisting understandings, people often experience mental discomfort – a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitions, in psychology, represents attitudes, emotions, beliefs, or values; and cognitive dissonance is a state of imbalance that occurs when contradictory cognitions intersect.

 

 

This term encompasses the response that arises as people struggle to harmonize cognitions and thereby relieve their mental discomfort. For example, a trader might take a long position in s stock thinking that the trend is up, however when a new cognition that favours a downtrend is introduced, representing an imbalance, cognitive dissonance then occurs in an attempt to relieve the discomfort with the notion that perhaps the trader did not make the right decision.

People will go to great lengths to convince themselves that the decision they made was the right one, to avoid the mental discomfort associated with their wrong decision.

Psychologists hence conclude that people often perform far-reaching rationalizations in order to synchronise their cognitions and maintain psychological stability. There are actually two kinds of cognitive dissonance bias – (i) selective perception, where people only register information that appears to affirm a chosen course, and (ii) selective decision making, where people rationalise actions in order to stick to an original course.

The dangers are obvious. Traders who are not bias-free cannot read the markets objectively, and will not be able to adapt fast enough to changing market conditions. Selective decision making could also lead to a resistance to cutting losses, and coming up with various excuses to avoid admitting their initial entry was indeed erroneous.

What is the best solution for this?

The key to overcoming this is to immediately admit that a faulty cognition has occurred, address feelings of unease and take appropriate rational action. If you think you have made a bad trading decision, analyse the decision; if the fears prove correct, confront the problem head-on and rectify the problem.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the day the night.
– Polonius to Laertes, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

One aspect of market analysis is statistical analysis, which is using statistics to find correlations and patterns, where opportunities of skewed probabilities may lurk, giving you an edge over the market in the long run. For investors, this lets you know the best month to start building your portfolio, or to rebalance/adjust your portfolio allocation.

Market Seasonality and Patterns - When is the Best Month to Buy?

Market Seasonality and Patterns – When is the Best Month to Buy?

Seasonality is a characteristic of a time series in which the data experiences regular and predictable changes which recur every calendar year. Any predictable change or pattern in a time series that recurs or repeats over a one-year period can be said to be seasonal.

This is different from cyclical effects, as seasonal cycles are contained within one calendar year, while cyclical effects (such as boosted sales due to low unemployment rates) can span time periods shorter or longer than one calendar year.

For the Singapore stock market, I have done a seasonality study, showing which months are more bullish and bearish. Contrary to popular belief, October is actually a rather bullish month. Every month has its unique characteristics, which skews the probability. As a trader,anything that tilts the probability in our favour is considered an edge.

Here are the results of my research:

Some key points to note: the best months for being LONG are April, November and December, while the best months for being SHORT are June, August and September.

There are many other patterns (some less obvious) which could have a significant impact on the stock market. Although your trading decisions should not be based solely on these, they can act as a powerful confirming indicator, or help you adjust your position-aggressiveness.

There is a general misconception that chart-reading and technical analysis are only for short-term traders, but this is not true. Investors who learn to read charts and adopt long-term trend-following techniques can achieve superior returns to a pure buy-and-hold investor with the added benefit of taking on less risk.

 

Superior Long-term Investing: How to Catch the BIG Swings

Superior Long-term Investing: How to Catch the BIG Swings

 

Why the traditional buy-and-hold strategy fails

A buy-and-hold strategy only works in a prolonged bull market, or if you are fortunate enough to buy in at the start of a short bull market. As long as people keep buying a particular stock, the stock price will continue to rise, thus buy-and-hold enthusiasts will sit through minor corrections or occasional bad news, because these small events do not affect the strong fundamentals of the company.

However, when the economy turns bad, and the stock market plunges, all stock prices will plunge together. A stock with stronger fundamentals may plunge to a lesser degree, but losing less money is not the same as making money.  In a prolonged bear market, the stock beomes cheaper and more under-valued as prices fall. Many investors go on a buying spree until they run out of capital, and become locked-in, waiting for prices to “revert to true value” while the market continues to fall. It could take years for them to breakeven, let alone profit.

In such scenarios, does it make sense to hold onto long-term investments for the next few years as losses accumulate, or to add more positions since stocks are now “cheaper”? Is there a better way to avoid this pain? This brings us to the new idea of trend-following investing.

Case Study of Buy-and-hold vs. Trend-following Investing

Let us examine the chart below. This is a weekly chart of the Straits Times Index, showing the period from 2003 to 2008. This is a hypothetical case study showing 2 investors – investor A and investor B.

 

Case Study of "Buy-and-hold" vs. "Trend-following"

Case Study of “Buy-and-hold” vs. “Trend-following”

 

Both investors managed to buy near the start of the bull market, near 2003. Investor A is die-hard Warren Buffett fan, adopting a pure buy-and-hold mentality, believing that “a good company is one that can be held forever.” Note that the Straits Times Index is made up of the 30 strongest blue-chips. Investor B is an investor who uses charts to time the big market trends, willing to take profits based on charts and turn short when the charts give a clear signal.

After 5 years, investor A finds that he has made a measly 10% return, having given back most of his profits while holding on though the decline. I did not include dividends here,because investor B would also have got those dividends, for the sake of fair comparison. Investor B, having locked in a 200% return (this is not picking the top, notice that he did not sell at the exact top), goes short and makes another 50% on the decline,raking in a grand total of 200%.

Since our goal in the market is to make money, it makes sense to adopt the approach that gives us the maximum returns within our time horizon and within our risk appetite. This means acquiring skills that give us an edge over the markets.

“I believe there are no good stocks or bad stocks; there are only money-making stocks.” – Jesse Livermore. Do you agree that for any stock, regardless of its fundamentals or value, if you buy and sell at the right time, you can make money from it?

It is easy to see why retail traders find indicators appealing because of their ease of use and clear-cut signals. In fact, many new traders think they know all about trading because they have learnt a few basic indicators that generate simplistic buy/sell signals. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it shuts them off from learning real trading skills like price action and behavioral analysis.

 

 

What are indicators and how are they derived?

There are only five pieces of information we can get from charts: the open, high, low, close and volume. A skilled trader can interpret this in terms of market behaviour of psychology instead of processing it as a bunch of numbers. Indicators, on the other hand, attempt to use shortcut calculations to give meaning to these numbers. As a result, they can never be faster than reading the actual raw data. Manipulating data may also mask its information quality and granularity, causing you to miss out essential essential details.

Do professionals use them?

The answer is minimally. If you go to any bank/fund or professional trading arcade, and observe the traders who trade there, you will notice that their charts are mostly blank. This is not coincidence, because such a chart setup is optimised for reading price action, with as little distractions as possible. If you don’t believe me, go check it out yourself. As said by the famous Leonardo Da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The dangers of using indicators without real trading skills

Many traders, especially beginners, are drawn to indicators, hoping that an indicator will show them when to enter a trade. what they don’t realise it that the vast majority of indicators are based on simple price action. Oscillators tend to make traders look for reversals and divergences, and when the market is trending strongly (best chances to make money), they will be repeatly entering counter-trend and losing money. By the time they come to accept that the market is trending, it will be too late to get a good entry to recoup their losses. Instead, if you were simply looking at a blank chart, it would be obvious when a market is trending, and would not be tempted by indicators to keep looking for reversals.

Common heuristics such as “buy when this line crosses this line” or “sell when this is in the overbought region” are some overly simplistic ways of using indicators. Trading in this manner does not give you any understanding about the market. It does not answer the “why” question, such as why this line crossing that line generates a buy signal. Quite often, one may also get conflicting signals from different indicators, and without an understanding of price action, one has no way of resolving the conflict.

Are indicators really needed for your decision-making?

Some pundits recommend a combination of time frames, indicators, wave counting, and Fibonacci retracements and extensions, but when it comes time to place the trade, they will only do it if there is a good price action setup. Also, when they see a good price action setup, they start looking for indicators that show divergences or different time frames for moving average tests or wave counts or Fibonacci setups to confirm what is in front of them.

In reality, they are price action traders who are trading exclusively off price action but don’t feel comfortable admitting it. They are complicating their trading to the point that they certainly are missing many, many trades because their over-analysis takes too much time, and they are forced to wait for the next setup. The logic just isn’t there for making the simple so complicated.

So… Should I be using indicators at all?

The best solution for the retail investor would be to first master a firm foundation of price action and behavioral analysis, and subsequently, should he choose to use indicators, should remember that as their name suggests, they are not “entry/exit signallers”, but merely “indicators”.

Therefore, it is a matter of how you use indicators, and one should always keep in mind that indicators are there to aid you in reading the price action, and not act as a substitute for it. You can think of indicators as the training wheels of a bicycle – you will want to remove them once you learn how to ride properly.

Trading always involves uncertainty, and trying to find comfort in the certainty of indicators will lead to constant indecision, second-guessing and parameters-tweaking.