Trader Vic’s Principles of Trading

November 7, 2011
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A select handful of books have influenced generations of traders.

One of them is Trader Vic: Methods of a Wall Street Master by Victor Sperandeo.

I first came across “Methods” in the mid-1990s. It was unique at the time — and still is — for covering all the bases, from risk management, to technicals and fundamentals, to psychology and Austrian economics.

It’s a helpful book to return to when market conditions get tough. A great place to start is Vic’s “business philosophy,” as encapsulated in three rules:

1. Preservation of Capital

2. Consistent Profitability

3. Superior Returns

Below is Sperandeo in his own words:

Preservation of Capital

Preservation of capital is the cornerstone of my business philosophy. This means that, in considering any potential market involvement, risk is my prime concern. Before asking, “What personal profit can I realize?”, I first ask, “What potential loss can I suffer?”

…There is one, and only one, valid question for an investor to ask: “Have I made money?” The best insurance that the answer will always be “Yes!” is to consistently speculate or invest only when the odds are decidedly in your favor, which means keeping risk at a minimum.

Consistent Profitability

Obviously, the markets aren’t always at or near tops or bottoms. Generally speaking, a good speculator or investor should be able to capture between 60 and 80% of the long-term price trend (whether up or down) between bull market tops and bear market bottoms in any market. This is the period when the focus should be on making consistent profits with low risk.

…Anyone who enters the financial markets expecting to be right on most of their trades is in for a rude awakening. If you think about it, it’s a lot like hitting a baseball — the best players only get hits 30 to 40% of the time. But a good player knows that the hits usually help a lot more than the strikeouts hurt. The reward is greater than the risk.

Pursuit of Superior Returns

As profits accrue, I apply the same reasoning but take the process a step further to the pursuit of superior returns. If, and only if, a level of profits exists to justify aggressive risk, then I will take on a higher risk to produce greater percentage returns on capital. This does not mean that I change my risk/reward criteria; it means that I increase the size of my positions.

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