on December 2, 2007
The first impression one gets from The Complete Turtle Trader is quite favorable. It is an attractive format, and a pretty easy read, though well written and detailed. The primary text is about 200 pages, which I got through in a single afternoon (though I do read faster than most). And the price tag is extremely reasonable for a hardcover trading book, much lower than what you often see.
This book definitely continues along the path of the trend trading subject of Covel's earlier book, Trend Following, but does so through the story of the famous Turtles. Readers of Jack Schwager's book, Market Wizards, and it's follow-up, The New Market Wizards, will be familiar with the Turtles. They are the result of a nature vs. nurture running debate between famous futures trader Richard Dennis (a Market Wizard) and his partner William Eckhardt (profiled in The New Market Wizards).
The Turtle program was an effort to determine whether traders can be created, developed through training as opposed to having some innate talent for it. This topic has been the subject of debates in trading circles for probably as long as there has been traders. To a certain degree, the classic movie Trading Places, which was released very near the time of the first Turtle program, has at it's core the same theme.
In The Complete Turtle Trader, as the subtitle suggests, Covel tells the story of the Turtles from the selection process which brought together two very diverse groups of people in 1983 and 1984 all the way through to where they are today. It includes a discussion of their training program, their performance, and of course the ideas underlying the system they employed, one based on trend following. The explanation of the latter is pretty direct - definitely enough to give the reader a really good idea of the way the Turtles were taught to trade, which they did very successfully. Figures to that end are provided throughout the text and in supporting appendices. The author also includes comments on how individual traders can apply the Turtle techniques and philosophy themself.
For someone like myself, who first heard about the Turtles through Schwager's writings, this book was a really interesting back-filling of the story. When Schwager was putting his books together, the Turtles and their instructors were very tight-lipped about the details of the experience. In this book, Covel has been able to flesh things out, not just in a kind of history text sort of exposition, but one which includes a great many comments and annecdotes from the participants. It is a tale which really explores the whole perspective of life as a Turtle.
The story Covel lays out offers a great many insights. Obviously, the first one is that learning how to trade, and to make big returns, is possible. Probably the most interesting part of the narrative, though, (in terms of the story, anyway) is what happened to the Turtles after they left the program. It will come as no surprise that the diversity of their backgrounds and personalities has been reflected in the diversity of what they have done over the intervening years. I was particularly enthralled by the discussion of the adjustments they had to make to be successful as big-time money managers, something their mentor Dennis was never quite able to do.
Overall I consider The Complete Turtle Trader a very enjoyable and worthwhile read. It has a lot of elements, and of course trading strategy. I actually found reinforcement of many of my own trading ideas as I was reading, seeing them in a different light. That's not something which happens much after twenty years of trading and reading books and articles on the subject. Of course not everyone is going to find the fullness of the theory or application behind Turtle trading suitable to them, but it is always worth making an effort to learn from those who have achieved success before us, and that's an opportunity this book provides.
In The Complete TurtleTraders, author Michael W. Covel tells the riveting account of a group of investors who were led by one remarkable man, Richard Dennis (with the help of his partner, William Eckhardt). Dennis was somewhat of an iconoclast, not brought up through the ranks of Fortune 500 company grooming programs, figuring out his own methods for making money.
Dennis was a successful investor who believed that investing
principles could be taught to anyone. His partner, William Eckhardt, disagreed, tending to believe that the talent was inborn. Their differing views formed the basis for a bet between the two men and led to one of the more remarkable experiments in investing history.
Basically, Dennis agreed to find a diverse group of individuals, give each recruit $1 million dollars, put them through two weeks of intensive training, teach them specific investing principles and methods and see how well they'd do after that. To add to the challenge, Dennis and his partner (who agreed to help teach the recruits) hired people from all walks of life.
Exactly how diverse was the group? Well, there was a security guard, a restaurant manger, an unemployed student, a bartender, kitchen cook, teacher and even a prison worker. Covel describes in detail how Dennis
interviewed and selected each recruit, nicknaming them "The Turtles". He also chronicles their 14 days of intensive training. It wasn't easy but the potential rewards were great.
While the account of the Turtles' experiences is reason enough to buy this book, I want to stress that it is more than the story of that remarkable group of individuals. It is also the profile of Richard Dennis, his background and his own conflicting feelings as the experiment
concluded and a second generation of Turtles came along. At times, it is hard to wonder if the Turtles succeeded too well, leading to mixed feelings in Richard Dennis as some of them surpassed him.
Covel also updates readers about some of the Turtles today. The book is so full of investing principles, guidelines and rules that I don't know how anyone with an interest in learning more about investing, trading or finances could pass this one up!
"The Complete Turtle Trader" details the story of an experiment to determine if traders were born, not made (or vice-versa), as well as provide a basic foundation in pattern trading. Fundamental analysis (eg. Warren Buffett) is seen as pointless - value is already reflected in an item's price. Instead, trading is based on mob psychology, and is clearly not income-averaging either.
System I: A four-week price break-out was a signal for market entry, and a two-week breakout in the opposite direction a signal for exit. System I was also combined with "filters" to reduce the number of entries. System II instead used an eleven-week breakout to enter, and a four-week signal to exit. There were also a few add-on rules to cover markets that increased over a sustained period of time.
Traders typically used 2% of their funds for each "bet," and were also warned to avoid correlation within their portfolios (increased overall risk). Another risk-limiting rule was to limit themselves to 4-5 "units" of 2% for any one market.
The experiment demonstrated that most anyone could be taught to be a successful traders, and most made considerable profit for both themselves and their funders.
The "bad news" about "The Complete Turtle Trader" is that most of the book is taken up with minute and largely irrelevant details of initial trader selection, personality differences, etc.
I read "The Way of the Turtle," before I read this book, and I've also studied the Turtle trading structure through other resources. Hands-down, this is the most well-researched, comprehensive account of the Turtles, from the origins of the idea, through the selection process of the participants, the mechanical aspects of the trading system and the final results. Michael Covel interviewed just about every person who was willing to talk from this secretive group, and then went beyond the interviews to cross-check information through other sources. The book is meticulously footnoted and cross-referenced, yet written in a lucid style that makes it difficult to put down. While some might argue that the definitive book on Turtle Trading should be written by one of the participants in the experiment, I came to appreciate the author's objectivity in finding out what actually happened by investigating many perspectives from the participants and those on the outside looking in. You won't be disappointed with this book.
In 1983, Richard Dennis and William Eckhardt set out to settle the nature-vs-nurture debate insofar as it applied to commodities trading. One of the most successful and iconic traders of the early 1980s, Richard Dennis believed that the skills required to trade profitably could be taught. William Eckhardt, his partner at C&D Commodities, thought a trader's success relied on innate ability. They placed an advertisement in financial periodicals seeking trainees for the position of Commodities Futures Trader, no experience required. From over a thousand applicants, they chose eight, provided 2 weeks training in Dennis' trend-following technical trading system, gave them each an account of $1 million, and set them loose to trade. They were called the Turtles.
"The Complete Turtle Trader" is a history of the Turtle Trader experiment and its legacy. Author Michael Covel gives us some background on Richard Dennis, an eccentric, famously liberal man who started out trading by proxy on the Merc as a teenager. He then takes us through the Turtles selection process, including the questionnaire that prospective Turtles were asked to complete. For those interested in their trading system, there is a chapter on "The Philosophy" and one explaining "The Rules". This is a basic trend-following system: Buy/sell when it makes a new high/low over a designated period. Set stops at 2 times average daily volatility. Pyramid your winners. For every 10% drawdown, cut size by 20%.
The story really became interesting to me in chapters 6-8, which talk about the dynamics between the traders and the realities of the Turtle program for its 4-year duration. Inequities in allocation of money, blatant favoritism, rivalry between the first crop of Turtles and the second, and doubts that the system's assessment of risk was correct all contributed to strife among the Turtles. I can't say I was surprised by how much discretionary trading was involved. As is often the case, the experiment may say more about the experimenters than about the guinea pigs. Richard Dennis terminated the Turtle program in 1988, after he experienced heavy losses in other funds. Covel concludes the book with several chapters on how the Turtles have fared since.
I enjoy books on trading history, so I was pleased to learn about the inner workings of this odd experiment. But I want to be clear that this not a system that anyone could trade now. There are fewer opportunities in trend-following now than in the 1980s, and the methodology has evolved for those who do it. As for the alleged purpose of the "experiment", it seems more likely that Dennis simply wanted a staff to trade his system while he did other things. Michael Covel believes that it proved that nurture trumps nature for traders. But since the Turtles were hand-picked for specific intellectual and emotional traits, it's hardly surprising that they succeeded under tutelage for a few years. That said, anyone with a reasonable proficiency in math and the ability to follow instructions could learn that system. "The Complete Turtle Trader" helpfully provides performance data on how some of the Turtles have done since then. Readers will draw their own conclusions about what it all means.
on October 27, 2007
Covel's book is an excellent, in depth look into the personalities of Dennis, Eckhardt and the "Turtles" they trained and mentored. We get a great view into the humanity of the organization that started large scale systematic trading in a time when most traders were addicted to fundamentals ( some things haven't changed in that regard).
The emotional highs and lows, the risks, the luck, and the losses are methodically organized and documented. History was written as it happened on the trading floor. In short, its a clear, concise read and is a new addition to Covel's first book, Trend following.
on November 29, 2007
"Are great traders born or can they be taught?"
This is a question that countless thousands of hours have been squandered pondering. Thanks to Michael W. Covel it is now rendered moot. Great traders can be taught. And having learned the lessons, they can pass the secrets on to others.
Richard J. Dennis, a trading impresario of the Chicago pits in the '70s and '80s, believed anyone with the right training could do it. To prove his point, he and his partner recruited, trained and backed his apprentices with $1 million dollars a piece.
"We are going to grow traders just like they grow turtles in Singapore," Dennis said after seeing a breeding farm there.
In the beginning the Turtles had little in common, other than smarts and the ability to recognize and seize an opportunity. By the time the experiment was over, they had made their employer more than $100 million.
Covel does a masterful job explaining the system. The rules are simple. The discipline and preparation required to implement them is not. They are detailed in two short chapters.
I have never read a "beat the market book." I am too much of a cynic. This book is different. Covel breathes life into the Turtles. His narrative describes their triumphs, frustrations, jealousies and doubts these trading masters experienced. It paints a vivid picture of the trading life and the system that made them so successful.
on October 20, 2009
Simply put, Covel wants to sell you (and everybody else) very expensive "Turtle trading secrets" on his websites. Unfortunately, that motivation seems to have colored the information he presented (or _didn't_ present, as the case may be).
Example: at the back of the book is a list of websites where the reader can presumably get more information about the Turtles. Eleven websites are listed; three are his own, and if you go to them you will see him hawking Turtle-like trading methodologies for $1300+. The problem (for me, at least) is that he failed to list the website of an actual former Turtle (Russell Sands) who is doing the exact same thing. The difference between Sands and Covel is that Sands was an actual Turtle; Covel is just an opportunist who heard about the story and has been trying to cash in on it ever since. Sands does get mentioned a couple of times in the book, but not nearly to the extent that one might think, given his history.
Covel also doesn't pass on the opportunity to take a couple of cheap shots at people with whom he disagreed (or didn't appreciate his agenda); he went so far as to compare one person to a bantam rooster, clucking about in the yard. He also comments on an online flame-war he got in with another former Turtle. It came across as very juvenile.
In the end, I gave it two stars because it did provide some interesting history on the project. The issue (and it's a big one) is that I finished the book and wondered what else he left out because it didn't further his agenda. It's unfortunate that "the definitive source" on this story (that's how he describes his book) isn't really a piece of journalism, but a well-crafted sales pitch for products/knowledge that he had absolutely nothing to do with developing.
Thankfully, I bought the book used, so Covel didn't get any of my money.
EDIT TO ADD:
If you want to see the kind of person the author is, take a look at the comments of just about any negative reviews that he gets (including this one).
This book tells the story of a great experiment by a legendary trader. That trader was Richard Dennis, an unlikely champion of the trading floor. Unlike the typical trader, Dennis didn't come from a connected or privileged background. He grew up on the south side of Chicago, an area noted for crime and poverty.
Yet, by age 25, Richard Dennis managed to earn $1 million in the market. By age 37, he'd made $200 million. Where did the ability to do that come from? Was it genetic? He and his partner, William Eckhardt, debated on this question. Eckhardt said it was genetic, Dennis maintained it could be learned.
That debate led to the experiment that this book is about. The experiment involved recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, teaching them the system Dennis used, giving them funds to invest, and seeing what would happen. The name "Turtles" came about during a trip to Singapore. Richard Dennis was visiting a turtle farm and remarked, "We are going to grow traders just like they grow turtles in Singapore."
Though the Turtle experiment took place in the early 1980s, the story hasn't really been told until now. It's an interesting story in its own right: successful trader teaches other trades how to make millions. But Covel's exhaustive research and the resulting richness of detail take it to a level or two beyond that.
The Complete Turtle Trader contains fourteen chapters. Here is a synopsis:
Chapters One and Two give you the background required to understand why the experiment was so important. Chapter Three talks about who the first Turtles were, and why those particular people were hired. Chapters Four, Five, and Six explain the trading method that the Turtles used. Chapter Seven reveals some deviations in the experiment--for example, some Turtles were given far more funding than others. And in Chapter Eight, the whole thing comes to an end.
What happens after the experiment? This is where Chapter Nine picks up the story. The Turtles strike out on their own, something which is a bit complicated for a variety of reasons Covel explains. Dennis' ending of the experiment was a huge mistake for all involved, but especially for himself. So, in Chapter Ten he gets back into trading per his system. But in Chapter Eleven we see the Turtles weren't sitting around waiting for Richard Dennis to return to "the game." When he does return, he has to compete with the people he trained.
Curtis Faith, who had received exceptionally "special" treatment from Dennis as a Turtle and who was a media darling because the editors didn't look at the whole story, failed after he was on his own. Why he failed is quite interesting, and Covel provides the background on that in Chapter Twelve. Chapter Thirteen provides a look at second generation Turtles. The final chapter ties everything together and provides some thought-provoking insights.
The five Appendices provide a wealth of additional information that would have slowed the narrative down but is still worth reading in its own right. The first Appendix, for example, tells us where the Turtles are now.
The Complete Turtle Trader is well-researched, well-written, and hard to put down once you start reading it.
on December 7, 2007
I loved this book. I couldn't put it down when I had time to read it this week. Unfortunately I've been busy all week and took more time than usual to read a book I intended to review on Amazon. It took me 5 or so sittings to get through this fact filled, informative, and well-written book. Included herein there is much coverage of how commodity traders can successfully buy stocks, futures contracts, and options while primarily caring about price and risk. They buy and sell risk basically.
This book is about technical trading (Richard Dennis style), not fundamental trading (Warren Buffet style). It provides an account of the TurtleTraders' experiences while under the wing of Richard Dennis in the early to mid 1980's. They were doing their thing while I was sitting in an upper level college finance course as the sole accounting major present arguing with a full finance professor about how playing the stock market was nothing more than gambling. I wish I had had Richard Dennis or one of his "turtles" in class to help me win the argument.
This book also provides a profile of sorts on Richard Dennis, and information on what some of the "turtles" are doing today. One of the "turtles" we hear about in the book was Curtis Faith. And he has his own book out on the TurtleTraders called "Way of the Turtle" (ISBN: 00714864X). I haven't read it, but I have peaked at the Amazon reviews for it. Sounds like the instant book being reviewed is better to start with. But that you might put the instant book in some perspective if you read Faith's book later. Just a thought.
You will learn from reading this book that by systematizing your approach to buying and selling stocks, futures contracts, and options based on price and price trends is the way to be successful. You will learn that you will have to build your own system that you are comfortable with and are expert at implementing. You will learn the basics behind the system the "turtles" used back in the 1980s. And that system has no doubt been customized and is successful for many today in 2007. And will be successful in future years.
Don't get this book if you want a cheat sheet on how to win at the stock market. Get this book to help you create your own cheat sheet. Anybody who knocks this book or the Curtis Faith book is being unfair. They obviously wanted something handed to them on a silver platter. Such a book simply does not exist. 5 stars!