I recall a discussion I had around 5 years ago with a semi-sucker.
This particular semi-sucker had misunderstood a trading book. He believed it should be possible using money management techniques to beat the casino at roulette. Provided he could cut his losses (by leaving the casino when he was losing) and let his profits run (by continuing to play when he was winning) he was “bound to make money.”
Now, I know this gambling strategy sounds superficially similar to Livermore’s strategy of quickly closing losing trades and allowing winning trades to run: but there’s one crucial difference. Livermore’s strategy – through his tape reading and trend following – had positive mathematical expectation. *
The suckers who play roulette in casinos do so under the handicap of negative expectation. It’s the casino owners who enjoy positive expectation – why else would they be in the business? The direction of money flow is from a casino’s customers to its owners.
Money management can’t turn a game with negative expectation into one you can win – it can only keep you playing longer. All that our semi-sucker friend could hope to achieve was more nights at the casino. Eventually, the casino would take all of his money.
The same outcome awaits the sucker who begins trading when his mathematical expectation is negative. Unless he is lucky, money will flow from him to people who have better trading strategies than he does. If he wins through good luck, the more often he plays, the likelier it is that his luck will run out.
The good news is that some markets are more forgiving than others. Given the long-term uptrend of the major stock indices, it’s often possible to turn a profit on long stock trades, even if you have poorer than average trading skills. Your profit will, of course, be lower than if you had simply put your money into an index-fund. And, with below average skills/knowledge/strategy, you’re more likely to end up with a big loss than a small profit – especially if you trade frequently.
* Mathematical Expectation: Your chances are 50/50 when you bet on the toss of a fair coin. If the coin is loaded, however, and it landed heads more often than tails, then betting on heads has positive expectation and betting on tails has negative expectation.