Curtis Faith-- WallStreet Journal Review

Discussion in 'Educational Resources' started by marketsurfer, May 21, 2007.


    The Tortoise and the Harried Trader

    The mind of a trader is always an interesting thing to explore. The traders who excel often talk about the "simplicity" of their strategies. To these market wizards, a stock chart takes on a Mozart-like quality, singing sweet, clear melodies; or it resembles a chess problem in the mind of a master, all complexity reduced to one perfect move. In this way of looking at things, trading has a savant-like aspect beyond the range of mere mortals.

    Curtis Faith isn't so sure. As he recounts in "The Way of the Turtle," he was part of a kind of social experiment meant to test the claim. Back in the early 1980s, two legendary Chicago traders, Richard Dennis and Bill Eckhardt, began arguing over whether traders are, so to speak, made or born. Mr. Dennis offered to bet the doubtful Mr. Eckhardt that he could train anyone to be a successful trader. While at a turtle farm in Singapore, the two men shook hands on the wager. Mr. Dennis reportedly blurted out: "We're going to raise traders like they raise turtles in Singapore."

    Thus, in fall 1983, "The Turtles" came into being. Mr. Dennis put ads in major newspapers offering to train willing applicants. More than 1,000 people applied. Mr. Dennis culled the group down to 40, all of whom he interviewed. He then chose 13 to be his original turtles. Mr. Faith, 19, was among them. A college dropout and computer programmer, he had never traded before in his life. But he had two things going for him: He was smart, and he seemed able to manage the emotions and psychological intensities that fill the trader's day. After two weeks of training, most turtles received $1 million to manage. Mr. Faith received the most: $2 million.

    The turtles became secretive legends in the marketplace. Most racked up good returns, some spectacular ones; others failed. Mr. Faith himself did very well. Eventually he moved on to other entrepreneurial venues, but the trading bug never left him. More than two decades later, he still practices the traders' art (if that is what it is). He is head of research and development for Trading Box LLC, a company that specializes in software for trading-system analysis and development.

    Did Mr. Dennis win his bet? Most observers believe he did, but Mr. Faith calls it a draw. The selection process ensured that the turtles had extraordinary virtues before training even began. And the results were too mixed to be definitive. What strategies did the turtles use? Mr. Dennis imposed strict secrecy rules, so a good amount of time has had to pass before the ways of the turtle could be shared.


    By Curtis M. Faith
    (McGraw Hill, 286 pages, $27.95)And now they can -- although the revelations aren't all that momentous. Mr. Faith outlines various turtle strategies based on, among other things, moving averages and trend following. He writes in classic trader-speak about entry points, exit points and breakouts. He offers a fair bit of math, including Donchian Trend analysis and Monte Carlo simulations. For the novice, such passages will read like hieroglyphics.

    Traders too often talk about their systems as if they were close to foolproof. But the reality is quite different. Mr. Faith understands this tragic fact, which may be one reason that he gives so much emphasis to the psychology of trading. How much risk can a trader take? Is a day's reversal in a long-trend strategy the time to exit or merely the pause that refreshes?

    Early in his turtle life, Mr. Faith began playing a long breakout in heating-oil prices. As prices reversed, heading downward, Mr. Faith's turtle compatriots, until then following a similar strategy, bailed out. Mr. Faith held firm, puzzled that people who received the same training would react so differently to a market shift. In the end, Mr. Faith was correct -- the market moved again in his favor -- and he captured big gains before exiting his position. But the key to his success was more a tolerance for risk than the magic of a certain system.

    This is one of the lessons of "The Way of the Turtle." Despite the recent rise of computational power and statistical sophistication, the mind of the trader has changed little in the past century. Mr. Faith wisely refers more than once to Edwin LeFevre's "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator," a thinly disguised biography of the legendary roaring-'20s trader Jesse Livermore. The book conveys the highs and lows that a trader goes through as he works through various systems. It shows, above all, how a trader must believe in his system even when it is going against him.

    Mr. Faith captures this emotional reality in his own chronicle, and its perils. In an extended epilogue, he wistfully recounts the struggles that he has endured since the turtle heyday. A company he started fared poorly, and the value of his equity holdings diminished rapidly after he left. He tinkered with a start-up airline. He went through a divorce, ran out of money and decamped to Argentina. He says that people wonder whether he is going through a midlife crisis. Even the Dalai Lama makes an appearance.

    Mr. Faith's soul-searching is hardly inevitable -- plenty of traders can live without it. But it does suggest that, whether the trading strategy is Mozartian or turtle-like, emotions often matter the most.

    Mr. Kansas is a former Money & Investing editor at the Journal.
  2. chud


    Too bad for him they got his company name wrong.