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Way of the Turtle: The Secret Methods that Turned Ordinary People into Legendary Traders

Way of the Turtle: The Secret Methods that Turned Ordinary People into Legendary Traders

by Curtis Faith

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“We're going to raise traders just like they raise turtles in Singapore.”

So trading guru Richard Dennis reportedly said to his long-time friend William Eckhardt nearly 25 years ago. What started as a bet about whether great traders were born or made became a legendary trading experiment that, until now, has never been told in its entirety.



“We're going to raise traders just like they raise turtles in Singapore.”

So trading guru Richard Dennis reportedly said to his long-time friend William Eckhardt nearly 25 years ago. What started as a bet about whether great traders were born or made became a legendary trading experiment that, until now, has never been told in its entirety.

Way of the Turtle reveals, for the first time, the reasons for the success of the secretive trading system used by the group known as the “Turtles.” Top-earning
Turtle Curtis Faith lays bare the entire experiment, explaining how it was possible for Dennis and Eckhardt to recruit 23 ordinary people from all walks of life and train them to be extraordinary traders in just two weeks.

Only nineteen years old at the time-the youngest Turtle by far-Faith traded the largest account, making more than $30 million in just over four years. He takes you behind the scenes of the Turtle selection process and behind closed doors where the Turtles learned the lucrative trading strategies that enabled them to earn an average return of over 80 percent per year and profits of more than $100 million. You'll discover

  • How the Turtles made money-the principles that guided their trading and the step-by-step methods they followed
  • Why, even though they used the same approach, some Turtles were more successful than others
  • How to look beyond the rules as the Turtles implemented them to find core strategies that work for any tradable market
  • How to apply the Turtle Way to your own trades-and in your own life
  • Ways to diversify your trading and limit your exposure to risk

Offering his unique perspective on the experience, Faith explains why the Turtle Way works in modern markets, and shares hard-earned wisdom on taking risks, choosing your own path, and learning from your mistakes.

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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Curtis M. Faith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-148664-4




High risk, high reward: It takes balls of steel to play this game. —Told to a friend before starting the Turtle program

People often wonder what it is that makes someone a trader rather than an investor. The distinction is often unclear because the actions of many people who call themselves investors are actually those of traders.

Investors are people who buy things for the long haul with the idea that over a considerable period—many years—their investments will appreciate in value. They buy things: actual stuff. Warren Buffett is an investor. He buys companies. He doesn't buy stock. He buys what the stock represents: the company itself, with its management team, products, and market presence. He doesn't care that the stock market may not reflect the "correct" price for his companies. In fact, he relies on that to make his money. He buys companies when they are worth much more to him than the price at which the stock market values them and sells companies when they are worth much less to him than the price at which the stock market values them. He makes a lot of money doing this because he's very good at it.

Traders do not buy physical things such as companies; they do not buy grains, gold, or silver. They buy stocks, futures contracts, and options. They do not care much about the quality of the management team, the outlook for oil consumption in the frigid Northeast, or global coffee production. Traders care about price; essentially they buy and sell risk.

In his informative and engaging book Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, Peter Bernstein discusses how markets developed to allow the transfer of risk from one party to another. This is indeed the reason financial markets were created and a function they continue to serve.

In today's modern markets, companies can buy forward or futures contracts for currencies that will insulate their business from the effects of fluctuations in currency prices on their foreign suppliers. Companies also can buy contracts to protect themselves from future increases in the price of raw materials such as oil, copper, and aluminum.

The act of buying or selling futures contracts to offset business risks caused by price changes in raw materials or fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates is known as hedging. Proper hedging can make an enormous difference for companies that are sensitive to the costs of raw goods such as oil. The airline industry, for example, is very sensitive to the cost of aviation fuel, which is tied to the price of oil. When the price of oil rises, profits drop unless ticket prices are raised. Raising ticket prices may lower sales of tickets and thus profits. Keeping ticket prices the same will lower profits as costs rise because of oil price increases.

The solution is to hedge in the oil markets. Southwest Airlines had been doing that for years, and when oil prices rose from $25 per barrel to more than $60, its costs did not increase substantially. In fact, it was so well hedged that even years after prices started to go up, it was getting 85 percent of its oil at $26 per barrel.

It is no coincidence that Southwest Airlines has been one of the most profitable airlines over the last several years. Southwest's executives realized that their business was to fly people from place to place, not to worry about the price of oil. They used the financial markets to insulate their bottom line from the effects of oil price fluctuations. They were smart.

Who sells futures contracts to companies like Southwest that want to hedge their business risk? Traders do.

Traders Trade Risk

Traders deal in risk. There are many types of risk, and for each type of risk there is a corresponding type of trader. For the purposes of this book, we divide all those smaller risk categories into two major groups: liquidity risk and price risk.

Many traders—perhaps most of them—are very short-term operators who trade in what is known as liquidity risk. This refers to the risk that a trader will not be able to buy or sell: There is no buyer when you want to sell an asset or no seller when you want to buy an asset. Most people are familiar with the term liquidity as it applies to finance in the context of the term liquid assets. Liquid assets are assets that can be turned into cash readily and quickly. Cash in the bank is extremely liquid, stock in a widely traded company is relatively liquid, and a piece of land is illiquid.

Suppose that you want to buy stock XYZ and that XYZ last traded at $28.50. If you look for a price quote for XYZ, you will see two prices: the bid and the ask. For this example, let's say you get a quote on XYZ as $28.50 bid and $28.55 ask. This quote indicates that if you wanted to buy, you would have to pay $28.55, but if you wanted to sell, you would get only $28.50 for your XYZ stock. The difference between these two prices is known as the spread. Traders who trade liquidity risk often are referred to as scalpers or market makers. They make their money off the spread.

A variant of this kind of trading is called arbitrage. This entails trading the liquidity of one market for the liquidity of another. Arbitrage traders may buy crude oil in London and sell crude oil in New York, or they may buy a basket of stocks and sell index futures that represent a similar basket of stocks.

Price risk refers to the possibility that prices will move significantly up or down. A farmer would be concerned about rising oil prices because the cost of fertilizer and fuel for tractors would increase. Farmers also worry that prices for their produce (wheat, corn, soybeans, etc.) may drop so low that they will not make a profit when they sell their crops. Airline management is concerned that the cost of oil may rise and interest rates may go up, raising airplane financing costs.

Hedgers focus on getting rid of price risk by transferring the risk to traders who deal in price risk. Traders who jump on price risk are known as speculators or position traders. Speculators make money by buying and then selling later if the price goes up or by selling first and then buying back later when the price goes down—what is known as going short.

Traders, Speculators, and Scalpers—Oh, My

Markets are groups of traders that interact to buy and sell. Some of the traders are short-term scalpers who are only trying to make the tiny spread between bid and ask over and over again; others are speculators who are trying to profit from changes in prices; yet others are companies trying to hedge their risks. Each category is rife with experienced traders who know their jobs well, along with novices. Let's examine a set of trades to illustrate how different traders operate.

ACME Corporation is trying to hedge the risk of rising costs at its British research laboratory by buying 10 contracts of British pounds on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). ACME is at risk because the British pound has been rising and costs at the research laboratory are paid in British pounds. A rise in the exchange rate between the British pound and the dollar will increase the costs for its research facility. Hedging that risk by purchasing 10 British pound contracts will protect it from a rise in the exchange rate because the profits on the futures contracts will offset the increased costs that result from the change in the exchange rate that occurs when the British pound rises against the dollar. ACME buys the contracts for $1.8452 from a Chicago floor trader, Sam, who trades as a scalper.

The actual transaction is executed by ACME's broker, MAN Financial, which has employees on the floor. Some of those employees are phone clerks at a bank of desks that surround the trading floor, and others are traders in the British pound trading pits who execute trades for MAN. Runners take the orders from the phone desk to the trader in the pits, where that trader executes the trade with Sam. For large orders or during fast markets, the trader representing MAN on the floor may use hand signals to receive buy and sell orders from MAN's phone clerks.

Futures contracts are defined by the exchange on which they are traded in a document known as a contract specification. These documents define the quantity, the type of goods, and in some cases the quality of a particular commodity. In the past, the size of a contract was based on the quantity that would fit into a single railroad car: 5,000 bushels for grains, 112,000 pounds for sugar, 1,000 barrels for oil, and so on. For this reason, contracts sometimes are referred to as cars.

Trading takes place in units of a single contract: You cannot buy or sell less than one contract. The exchange's contract specification also defines the minimum price fluctuation. This is referred to in the industry as a tick or minimum tick.

A contract for British pounds is defined by the CME to be 62,500 British pounds, and the minimum tick is a hundredth of a cent, or $0.0001. Thus, each tick of price movement is worth $6.25. This means that Sam stands to make $62.50 for every tick in the spread because he sold 10 contracts. Since the spread at the time he sold the contracts to ACME was two ticks wide at $1.8450 bid and $1.8452 ask, Sam will try to buy 10 contracts at the other side of the spread at $1.8450 immediately. If he buys successfully at $1.8450, this will represent a profit of two ticks, or just over $100. Sam buys his 10 contracts from a large speculator, Mr. Ice, who is trying to accumulate a position betting on the price going down; this is known as a short position. Mr. Ice may hold those contracts for 10 days or 10 months, depending on how the market moves after this purchase.

So, there are three types of traders involved in this transaction:

The hedger: ACME Corporation's trader in the hedging department, who wants to eliminate the price risk of currency fluctuation and hedges by offsetting that risk in the market

The scalper: Sam, the floor trader, who trades liquidity risk and quickly trades with the hedger, hoping to earn the spread

The speculator: Mr. Ice, who ultimately assumes the original "price risk" that ACME is trying to eliminate and is betting that the price will go down over the next few days or weeks

Panic in the Pits

Let's change the scenario slightly to illustrate the mechanisms behind price movement. Imagine that before Sam is able to unload his 10 contract short position by purchasing them back, a broker who works for Calyon Financial starts buying up contracts at the $1.8452 ask price. That broker purchases so many contracts that all the floor traders start to get nervous.

Although some of the floor traders may have long positions, many of them already may be short 10, 20, or even 100 contracts; this means that they will lose money if the price goes up. Since Calyon represents many large speculators and hedge funds, its buying activity is particularly worrisome. "How many more contracts is Calyon trying to buy?" the floor scalpers ask. "Who is behind the order?" "Is this just a small part of a much larger order?"

If you were a floor trader who already had sold 20 contracts short, you might be getting nervous. Suppose Calyon was trying to buy 500 or 1,000 contracts. That might bring the price up as high as $1.8460 or $1.8470. You definitely would not want to sell any more contracts at $1.8452. You might be willing to sell some at $1.8453 or $1.8455, but maybe you would be looking to get out of your contracts by buying them back at $1.8452 or perhaps even at a small loss at $1.8453 or $1.8454 instead of the $1.8450 you originally were looking for.

In a case like this, the bid-ask spread might widen to $1.8450 bid and $1.8455 ask. Or the bid and the ask might both move up, reaching $1.8452 bid and $1.8455 ask, as the scalpers who had been selling short at $1.8452 started trying to get rid of their position at the same price.

What changed? Why did the price move up? Price movement is a function of the collective perception of buyers and sellers in a market: those who are scalping to make a few ticks many times each day, those who are speculating for small moves during the day, those who are speculating for large moves over the course of weeks or months, and those who are hedging their business risks.

When the collective perception changes, the price moves. If, for whatever reason, sellers no longer are willing to sell at the current price but demand a higher price and buyers are willing to pay that higher price, the price moves up. If, for whatever reason, buyers no longer are willing to pay the current price but only a lower price and there are sellers who are willing to sell at that lower price, the price goes down.

The collective perception can take on a life of its own. If enough floor traders are caught with short positions when a large buy order comes in, panic can ensue. A large buyer might drive the price up sufficiently to trigger other buy orders that have been placed in the markets, causing even more price movement. For this reason, experienced scalpers will get out of their short positions quickly and scalp only on the buying side when prices start moving up.

Using the example described above, a floor trader who is not quick enough might rapidly find himself with a 10-, 20-, or even 50-tick loss per contract. If he holds 50 contracts with a 50-tick loss, this represents a loss of $15,625 (50 × 50 × $6.25), more money than he may have made that entire week or month. At some point the psychological pain of watching so much money disappear may be so great that the floor scalper panics and buys at whatever price the market offers. In a fast market this may take only 1 or 2 minutes; in a slower market it may take 10 or 15.

One can see that the experienced trader not only buys out of her short position early, she buys a few more contracts to profit further as the price moves up. When a less experienced trader panics and starts buying, an opportunity is presented to an experienced trader to again sell and exit his recently acquired long position to make another profit.

The next chapter delves into the psychological biases that create differences in outlook and behavior between an inexperienced and probably losing trader and his more successful and experienced counterpart. It also discusses the different types of trading styles and market states that favor each of those styles. Later chapters show how Rich's training turned very inexperienced traders into profitable ones in only a few weeks time.



Human emotion is both the source of opportunity in trading and the greatest challenge. Master it and you will succeed. Ignore it at your peril.

To trade well you need to understand the human mind. Markets are comprised of individuals, all with hopes, fears and foibles. As a trader you are seeking out opportunities that arise from these human emotions. Fortunately, some very smart people—behavioral finance pioneers—have identified the ways that human emotion affects one's decision-making process. The field of behavioral finance—brought to popular attention in Robert Shiller's fascinating book, now in its Second Edition, titled Irrational Exuberance and greater details of which were published by Hersh Shefrin in his classic Beyond Greed and Fear—helps traders and investors understand the reasons why markets operate the way they do.

Just what does make prices go up and down? (Price movements can turn an otherwise stoic individual into a blubbering pile of misery.) Behavioral finance is able to explain market phenomena and price action by focusing on the cognitive and psychological factors that affect buying and selling decisions. The approach has shown that people are prone to making systematic errors in circumstances of uncertainty. Under duress, people make poor assessments of risk and event probabilities. What could be more stressful than winning or losing money? Behavioral finance has proved that when it comes to such scenarios, people rarely make completely rational decisions. Successful traders understand this tendency and benefit from it. They know that someone else's errors in judgment are opportunities, and good traders understand how those errors manifest themselves in market price action: The Turtles knew this.

Emotional Rescue

For many years economic and financial theory was based on the rational actor theory, which stated that individuals act rationally and consider all available information in the decision-making process. Traders have always known that this notion is pure bunk. Winning traders make money by exploiting the consistently irrational behavior patterns of other traders. Academic researchers have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence demonstrating that most individuals do not act rationally. Dozens of categories of irrational behavior and repeated errors in judgment have been documented in academic studies. Traders find it very puzzling that anyone ever thought otherwise.

The Turtle Way works and continues to work because it is based on the market movements that result from the systematic and repeated irrationality that is embedded in every person.

How many times have you felt these emotions while trading?

Hope: I sure hope this goes up right after I buy it.

Fear: I can't take another loss; I'll sit this one out.

Greed: I'm making so much money, I'm going to double my position.

Despair: This trading system doesn't work; I keep losing money.

With the Turtle Way, market actions are identified that indicate opportunities arising from these consistent human traits. This chapter examines specific examples of how human emotion and irrational thinking create repetitive market patterns that signal moneymaking opportunities.

Excerpted from WAY OF THE TURTLE by CURTIS M. FAITH. Copyright © 2007 by Curtis M. Faith. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Curtis M. Faith was the most successful of the Turtles, earning more than $30 million for Richard Dennis while trading as a Turtle. He is one of the industry's leading pioneers of mechanical trading systems and software. Faith is currently head of research and development for Trading Blox, LLC, a company that specializes in software for trading system analysis and development. He also runs an Internet forum for mechanical system traders at tradingblox.com/forum.

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