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Reminiscences of a Stock Operator Paperback – May 11, 1994
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Stock investing is a relatively recent phenomenon and the inventory of true classics is somewhat slim. When asked, people in the know will always list books by Benjamin Graham, Burton G. Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street, and Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits and Other Writings by Philip A. Fisher. You'll know you're getting really good advice if they also mention Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefèvre.
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is the thinly disguised biography of Jesse Livermore, a remarkable character who first started speculating in New England bucket shops at the turn of the century. Livermore, who was banned from these shady operations because of his winning ways, soon moved to Wall Street where he made and lost his fortune several times over. What makes this book so valuable are the observations that Lefèvre records about investing, speculating, and the nature of the market itself. For example:
"It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I've known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine--that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon."
If you've ever spent weekends and nights puzzling over whether to buy, sell, or hold a position in whatever investment--be it stock, bonds, or pork bellies, you'll be glad that you read this book. Reminiscences of a Stock Operator is full of lessons that are as relevant today as they were in 1923 when the book was first published. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards
“…whilst stock market tomes have come and gone this remains popular and in print 80 years on…” (GQ Magazine November 2003)
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2- "It takes a man a long time to learn all the lessons of all his mistakes. They say there are two sides to everything. But there is only one side to the stock market; and it is not the bull side or the bear side, but the right side. It took me longer to get that general principle fixed firmly in my mind than it did most of the more technical phases of the game of Stock speculation."
3- "If the unusual never happened there would be no difference in people and then there wouldn't be any fun in life. The game would become merely a matter of addition and subtraction. It would make of us a race of bookkeepers with with plodding minds. It's the guessing that develops a man's brain power. Just consider what you have to do to guess right."
4- "There is nothing like losing all you have in the world for teaching you what not to do. And when you know what not to do in order not to lose money, you begin to learn what to do in order to win. Did you get that ? You begin to learn!"
5- "After spending many years m Wall Street and after making and losing millions of dollars I want to tell you this: It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It always was my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight! It is no trick at all to be right on the market. You always find lots of early bulls in bull markets and early bears in bear markets. I've known many men who were right at exactly the right time, and began buying or selling stocks when prices were at the very level which should show the greatest profit. And their experience invariably matched mine--that is, they made no real money out of it. Men who can both be right and sit tight are uncommon. I . I found it one of the hardest things to learn. But it is only after a stock operator has firmly grasped this that he can make big money. It is literally true that millions come easier to a trader after he knows how to trade than hundreds did in the days of his ignorance."
6- "The reason is that a man may see straight and clearly and yet become impatient or doubtful when the market takes its time about doing as he figured it must do. That is why so many men in Wall Street, who are not at all in the sucker class, not even in the third grade, nevertheless lose money. The market does not beat them. They beat themselves, because though they have brains they cannot sit tight."
7- "Even as a lad I always got my own meanings out of such facts as I observed. It is the only way in which the meaning reaches me. I cannot get out of facts what somebody tells me to get. They are my facts, don't you see? If I believe something you can be sure it is because I simply must."
8- "A stock speculator sometimes makes mistakes and knows that he is making them. And after he makes them he will ask himself why he made them; and after thinking over it cold-bloodedly a long time after the pain of punishment is over he may learn how he came to make them, and when, and at what particular point of his trade; but not why. And then he simply calls himself names and lets it go at that. Of course, if a man is both wise and lucky, he will not make the same mistake twice. But he will make any one of the ten thousand brothers or cousins of the original. The Mistake family is so large that there is always one of them around when you want to see what you can do in the fool-play line."
9- "The weaknesses that all men are prone to are fatal to success in speculation--usually those very weaknesses that make him likable to his fellows or that he himself particularly guards against in those other ventures of his where they are not nearly so dangerous as when he is trading in stocks or commodities. The speculator's chief enemies are always boring from within. It is inseparable from human nature to hope and to fear. In speculation when the market goes against you you hope that every day will be the last day--and you lose more than you should had you not listened to hope--to the same ally that is so potent a success-bringer to empire builders and pioneers, big and little. And when the market goes your way you become fearful that the next day will take away your profit, and you get out--too soon. Fear keeps you from making as much^money as you ought to. The successful trader has to fight these two deep-seated instincts. He has to reverse what you might call his natural impulses. Instead of hoping he must fear; instead of fearing he must hope. He must fear that his loss may develop into a much bigger loss, and hope that his profit may become a big profit. It is absolutely wrong to gamble in stocks the way the average man does."
10- "The professional concerns himself with doing the right thing rather than with making money, knowing that the profit takes care of itself if the other things are attended to. A trader gets to play the game as the professional billiard player does--that is, he looks far ahead instead of considering the particular shot before him. It gets to be an instinct to play for position."
11- "A trader, in addition to studying basic conditions, remembering market precedents and keeping in mind the psychology of the outside public as well as the limitations of his brokers, must also know himself and provide against his own weaknesses. There is no need to feel anger over being human."
12- "A bear tip is distinct, positive advice to sell short. But the inverted tip that is, the explanation that does not explain--serves merely to keep you from wisely selling short. The natural tendency when a stock breaks badly is to sell it. There is a reason--an unknown reason but a good reason; therefore get out. But it is not wise to get out when the break is the result of a raid by an operator, because the moment he stops the price must rebound. Inverted tips!"
13- "The belief in miracles that all men cherish is born of immoderate indulgence in hope. There are people who go on hope sprees periodically and we all know the chronic hope drunkard that is held up before us as an exemplary optimist. Tip-takers are all they really are."
14- "I have found that experience is apt to be steady dividend payer in this game and that observation gives you the best tips of all. The behaviour of a certain stock is all you need at times. You observe it. Then experience shows you how to profit by variations from the usual, that is, from the probable."
15- "The manipulator to-day has no more need to consider what they did and how they did it than a cadet at West Point need study archery as practiced by the ancients in order to increase his working knowledge of ballistics. On the other hand there is profit in studying the human factors--the ease with which human beings believe what it pleases them to believe; and how they allow themselves-- or by the dollar-cost of the average man's carelessness. Fear and hope remain the same; therefore the study of the psychology of speculators is as valuable as it ever was. Weapons change, but strategy remains strategy, on the New York Stock Exchange as on the battlefield."
16- "Speculation in stocks will never disappear. It isn't desirable that it should. It cannot be checked by warnings as to its dangers. You cannot prevent people from guessing wrong no matter how able or how experienced they may be. Carefully laid plans will miscarry because the unexpected and even the unexpectable will happen. Disaster may come from a convulsion of nature or from the weather, from your own greed or from some man's vanity; from fear or from uncontrolled hope. But apart from what one might call his natural foes, a speculator in stocks has to contend with certain practices or abuses that are indefensible morally as well as commercially."
17- "But today, a '"an is trading in everything; almost every industry in the world is represented. It requires more time and more work to keep posted and to that extent stock speculation has become much more difficult for those who operate intelligently."
The book reads like an autobiography, but it is not. The book was written by Edwin LeFevre about Mr. Livermore. The book has the tone of the life of a gambler (which Wall Street may be-Warren Buffett reportedly lost a $1B in value in his IBM stock today) and if you find gambling distasteful, you may want to avoid this book.
The book intrigued me with its description of some of the denizens of Wall Street of a 100 or more years ago. There were fundamental investors, which Mr. Livermore did not regard highly. There were the charlatans and shysters who sought to profit from the get-rich-quick proclivities of other players in Wall Street. There seems to have even been some who sought to develop mathematical formulas to aid their investing (think today's algorithms). There were even fellow stock market operators who enlisted Mr. Livermore's help and then complained when he didn't leave himself open to their attempts to profit by the aid that he was providing them. I found it fascinating that 100 years had passed and much had not changed.
If you have an interest in Wall Street, mass psychology, men's baser instincts, and staying alive in a financial jungle, I recommend the book. I believe that it will reward your time.
While there is much to learn from Livermore's investing rules, his life is more like a Shakespearean tragedy. He was obsessed with stock trading and speculation, to the point of addiction. With great personal discipline, he mastered the art of taking big risk for a gigantic reward. However, his personal life was a mess that led to his downfall and suicide. His personal life was in many ways the exact opposite of his stock trading life: no rules, no discipline, no insight, and lavish living with no limits. Overall a very sad story.
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Especially in regards to the Mindset one should first have.