One big happy, dysfunctional family

 

I think that like most of us that write a blog, particularly in the trading/finance genre, we do so for similar reasons:

  • To scratch our writing itch
  • To share what we know…or think we know…or really don’t know at all
  • To hold ourselves accountable to the public eye, in the hopes of bettering ourselves
  • Because it’s fun

When I was a kid in grade 6, our school introduced a penpal program with students from various faraway countries. This was pre-internet and very much a snail-mail endeavor, but it was a lot of fun writing to, and then waiting impatiently for a reply from, someone thousands of miles away. What I learned from the experience is that in a lot of ways, regardless of what country we call ‘home’, we’re all pretty much alike regardless of geographical boundaries and distance.

Going into this blog-site a little over a year ago, I had no expectations, but I have found it a truly rewarding experience; this for me, is what the internet is all about: making it a little bit easier for everyone to hear, and be heard. I’ve met some truly wonderful peeps here, which I wasn’t expecting.

There are an almost countless number of blogs available now (and growing), and time is a scarce resource that no one wants to squander. This is why I’m grateful for both the chance to scribble publicly, and for those that choose to read it. Just trying to put the ‘fun’ back in dysfunctional…

For those that don’t blog, but have wondered, “does anyone really read all these blogs?!?”, I thought it would be fun to post all the countries that have stopped by my wee corner of the ‘net. Find your flag!

(provided by WordPress)

Blog countries 1Blog countries 2

 

 

 

3 Steps in 30 days to a better version of You

It might actually not take that long.

Or it might take substantially longer.

I have no idea – I don’t really know you.

We could wait until January 1st and then go at it, turn over a new leaf, start a new beginning, make a fresh start, etc  ad nauseam. Instead, why not start now. Or at least now’ish.

So here are three ideas for building a better version of You:

  1. Exercise. That means different things for different people. If your level of regular exercise is currently at nil, then start with baby steps. Don’t try and run 5 miles your first go out, that’s nutty. Go for a walk. Maybe just around the block, literally. Then tomorrow, go two blocks. Then the day after, do three, maybe four. Now you’re moving. Next week, jog one of those blocks, walk the next, then jog the next one, and so forth. Baby steps. If it’s raining/you’re tired/you’re grumpy/you’ve had a long day, and don’t feel like going for a run, then just put on your running clothes, but tell yourself it’s ok just to walk the route. Once you’re out there, maybe you’ll run a bit anyway…since you’re out there. And if not, at least you went out.
  2. Purge. If you’re like me, maybe you tend to hold onto things… a lot of things. I’m far from a pack rat, but I do have a fair bit of “stuffs”. Lisa, on the other hand, spent a large portion of her youth and early adulthood moving from place to place, country to country. Because of that, being a hoarder wasn’t an option. Consequently, to this day she can be out the door with little more than a suitcase, a plant and a medium sized U-haul box, like someone out of the witness relocation program. I don’t necessarily wish to go to that level of minimalism, but some reduction would be nice. To whittle down my crap, I’m going to take a queue from these guys and do the 30 day challenge. Should I make it to the end (and that’s a tall order, but we’ll see), that’s nearly 500 less belongings. Less crap in my life = a simpler life. That’s a good thing.
  3. Forget about Goals, have a System. Perhaps one of the best architects of this idea is Scott Adams, who sums it up perfectly here but certainly there have been others, from James Altucher to Jim Carrey to Will Smith. Essentially, goals add stress to our lives, and if we fail to reach the goal, we feel like a loser. Contrast that to having a system, where we simply apply standards to our everyday lives in an effort to better ourselves. Sure, there’s some overlap and some would argue it’s just word semantics, but it’s a matter of perspective. This notion of a system can be applied to all aspects of our lives, be it weight loss, career, relationship, athletics, and not just trading.

Obviously this could be an exhaustive list of ways to improve yourself. From having a good diet, to getting solid sleep, to reading more, to flossing daily, to never, ever buying “fresh” seafood at a convenience store, but the reality is, it’s overwhelming. So I say start with three manageable changes.

For now.

 

 

 

Don’t be TOO good at your job

 

Anti+Cap+249+life+guard+in+office

My job at the first brokerage firm I worked for (there were a couple), was as the lowly wire operator. Ya gotta start somewhere.

Look at me date myself! Yes, there was a time, when every broker in the office had to actually walk over to “the cage” and hand a blue or pink slip to a minion, who would then enter the trade into what was essentially a teletype. The trade was then sent to the brokerage firm’s trader on the floor of the exchange (yes, there were actual floors, and actual traders on those floors, too!). It was frankly, an important job. A careless entry could be potentially expensive for both the broker and for the firm. It was soon obvious whether or not you were a competent wire operator – some wouldn’t make it a week. For my part, I was not a buffoon, and even though my typing skills weren’t “mad” as the kidz say, I made few errors.

Only a couple really come to mind. One involved entering the ticker symbol “INTL” and not “INTC”. In my defence, the broker had remarked to me as he handed over the ticket that he was buying Intel, and not already knowing what the symbol was, read his hastily scrawled “C” as an “L”. And really, wasn’t that a more logical symbol? In any event, when the trade confirmation came back over the printer, the broker realized he had purchased 500 shares of International Assets Holding and not so much of Intel. Whoops. The loss was minimal, I learned a lesson or two, and moved on.

But I digress. The wire operator had a couple of mandatory duties. Being on the west coast, the markets opened at 6:30am, and it was the responsibility of the wire operator to tear off the overnight reports from the printers, separate them, and place them in each broker’s cubby-box. A number of brokers would be in the office at 6am or earlier, and I quickly discovered that if that report wasn’t in their box when they arrived, they would a)  go through the printouts themselves and tear out their own pages, thereby leaving the rest of the printout in a muddled mess, or b) throw a fit when I did arrive and make my life even more miserable. So I learned to get there by 5:30am, ahead of my scheduled 6am starting time. In reality, it wasn’t a hardship as I found the early morning quiet to be a peaceful and productive way to start my day. Win-win.

Another duty of the wire operator, as they were traditionally one of the first into the office, was to make the coffee.

Now, I don’t like coffee. I do not like the smell, and I probably don’t like the taste. I don’t know that for certain, as I’ve never actually tried it. I suspect it’s because I associate coffee with cigarettes (long childhood-stuff, lie-on-a-couch story there), but who knows. I was prepared to start at 5:30am. I was prepared to stay until 5pm. I was prepared to work through lunch. I was happy to cover other departments. I was happy to make bank deposits. But I’ll be damned if I’m making coffee day after day. Fuck that shit.

Turns out, it was a short-lived task. See, no one ever showed me how to make the coffee. They probably just assumed that someone that gets up to be at work for 5:30am must drink it. The first morning I went to make it, I stared at the machine. There were no instructions, but I had a vague sense of which buttons to push, and where to put the grounds. Not being a fan of the beverage, I had no idea how much coffee to put in the machine.

Half an hour later, one of the more senior brokers came lumbering up to my desk and asked who the hell made the coffee that morning.

“I did,” I said.

“Well don’t do it again. It’s shit.”

Well OK, then! Problem solved. I never made coffee again. I don’t know who did, but it wasn’t me.

Inadvertently, I learned a valuable lesson that day. It is important to do your job, even if it’s a menial job, to the best of your abilities. Do it well, or don’t do it all. It’s also important to pick your battles. There were times over the years since then where I recognized that doing some tasks a little too well was going to stunt my progress. Competence leads to promotion. But uber competence can lead to “he does that job so damned well, let’s just keep him put” syndrome.

A number of years ago when I was beginning my plumbing apprenticeship, I spent considerable time working with a grizzled old-timer who knew more about boiler controls and pump stations and plumbing in general than most of the journeymen in the company combined. We each had company vans, and for the most part we could stock them as we saw fit. We were loading up his van at the end of the day, and I noticed something.

“Where’s your plunger?” I asked.

“Don’t have one,” he grunted.

Pause.

“Where’s your toilet auger?” I pressed (I can be nothing if not inquisitive).

“Don’t have one of those either.”

“Shouldn’t you though? I mean, you’re a plumber, right?”

He paused, looked at me, and said, “I could carry all that shit, but if I did that, they’d expect me to use it. And I don’t want to unplug toilets. Any monkey can unplug a toilet. I’d rather use my brain and work on control panels, or at the very least, ‘clean water’ problems. Wouldn’t you?”

He had a point.

Plumbers

 

 

7 questions I need to answer before hitting “buy”

 

Sparrow

Before confirming that trade, can I answer these seven questions:

1. What is the precise systems-generated signal/indicator/technical pattern/back-tested & trusted reason that is telling me to enter this trade (“I just have a feeling”, “The dude on CNBC just said to”, “That handsome Tradervancouver is buying it so I will too”  are NOT trade entry signals)

2. At what price/moving average/indicator/support-resistance/date will I be proved wrong and need to exit (“I’ll just know”, “The dude on CNBC will come back on to tell us”, “When my wife finds out how much money I’ve lost” are not exit signals)

3. How many shares/option contracts will I be buying to properly size this trade to manage my risk (“This is a sure thing so I’m going all in. What could go wrong?” is not a properly sized trade).

3a. If buying option contracts, how will I know if the option is reasonably priced, what delta will I select, what expiration will I choose, what minimum open interest do I require, and what bid/ask spread is acceptable (“I’ll buy as many of the cheapest options I can” is not a plan)

4. If the trade works, how will I know when to raise my stop

5. If the trade works, how will I know what to raise my stop to

6. If the trade works, how will I know when to add to my trade/take partial profits*

7. If the trade works, how will I know how much to add/sell**

* Personally, I choose to add to winning trades. However, some traders prefer to take some partial profits and let the remainder run with a trailing stop. Whatever works for you.

** As a follow-up, whether adding or taking partial profits, a trader still needs to know how much to add or sell.

 

If I cannot answer these questions before (that’s BEFORE. As in: ahead of, preceding and in advance of, ) I enter a trade (Did I mention that these questions need to be answered prior to entering the trade?), then I don’t take the trade.

Lack of a plan = Fear in trading

Having a plan = Confidence in trading

Dilbert1

 

 

Two and a half weeks in the psych ward

That’s not entirely inaccurate.

But let’s back up for a sec.

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up

Back on July 23, I fell and broke two ribs. Sadly, it isn’t a particularly cool story, I simply slipped and landed on my ass. Well, I landed on my ribs, actually, I just felt like an ass.

In Vancouver there are a number of hospitals, and the two largest are both within a 25 minute walk of our home. One is downtown, older, and has a great deal of traffic from the marginalized, homeless and addicted, but does have a lightning fast ER. The other is just outside the downtown core and is newer, quieter, but ER wait-times can be over three hours. Both have phenomenal staff.

Because of the pain I was experiencing, Lisa and I opted to go to the downtown hospital to get quicker admittance.

Whisked through the ER, two right rear broken ribs were confirmed, and a small pneumothorax had presented. There’s not much you can do for broken ribs except control the pain. I was given a prescription for Oxycontin and told to come back the next day for another another x-ray to determine if the pneumothorax had worsened. Home I went, and after a fitful night, went back to the hospital. The pneumothorax was unchanged. Yay. On with my life.

Six days later, something wasn’t right. I had trouble breathing, there was pain, and I wasn’t happy. Back to the ER. More x-rays. Apparently, the pneumothorax had indeed worsened because now I had a full-on collapsed lung.

It’s a large hospital, with a significant staff. One of the resident doctors was an attractive, inquisitive, sharp woman we’ll call “Blondy”. Nothing derogatory intended, she simply had striking blonde hair. She was part of a team, which included two other resident doctors, a young’ish man from Saudi Arabia (“Saudi”), and an attractive brunette with a fondness for running (“Fitness”). Saudi was clearly highly intelligent, but almost to a fault; it soon became clear that the words “I don’t know” were not in his vocabulary, and I’d prefer someone admit they don’t know rather than guess. On the flip, I can imagine the confidence it must require to open up the human body and be entrusted to put it back together more or less the way you found it – left over pieces are discouraged. Saudi also had a rough hand – compassion and gentleness was not in his DNA. In contrast, Fitness had both the skill and the caring touch.

I do not do well around needles or blood, not well at all. I was told I would need to have a chest tube put in to release the air in my chest cavity, which was preventing my lung from re-inflating. The catch is, you have to be conscious for the procedure. They did numb my side with various local anesthetics, and give me Oxycontin as well, but at the end of the day, you be awake! And so a small tube was pushed into my side between a couple of (non-broken) ribs, a truly unpleasant experience. A one way valve was attached to allow the air to flow out, but not into me. I was sent home, and told to come back the following day for further evaluation.

I didn’t sleep much that evening, but when I got up in the morning, something was clearly not right. The line was full of blood, and freely coming out. I shrieked like a little girl (something that would happen a few more times over the coming weeks), and even my paramedic-trained better half wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. We decided to call an ambulance, and with phenomenal efficiency, we were hearing sirens in less than five minutes as they pulled up.

At the hospital it was determined that my pneumothorax had developed into a hemopneumothorax, and I was admitted.

Because the hospital does not have a thoracic department (the other hospital does), they had to find a place to put me. That ended up being on a ‘general’ ward. And that’s where the fun really began.

Welcome to the Jungle

The floor has four wings, all of which have lock-down doors that require buzzing into the main nursing station to gain entry…or exit. It didn’t take long to figure out why the need for such security.

I was put into a room with one other patient, which seemed fortunate in that I could have found myself in a four bed room. Of course, it all depends on who exactly is in those beds. My roommate was a man in his fifties, average height and weight, clearly had had a rougher life, and was mute. He was also there to detox. Let’s call him Richard.

But back to me.

I was essentially confined to my bed, as my chest tube was now connected to vacuum suction to constantly pull the air out of my chest, in order to give my lung a fighting chance at re-inflating. They had given the suction line a longer extension to allow me to get from my bed to the washroom, which was beside the room’s door. Richard had the window bed, which at first was a let-down, but given the choice between having a nice view or convenient access to the washroom, I’ll take the later.

The suction wasn’t going well. The original chest tube that had been inserted into me was only meant to pass air, but had now of course become partially clogged with blood. The various doctors overseeing my case had warned me that another, larger, tube may have to be inserted in its place. After a week of no progress, they decided to proceed with the new tube, but not before pulling out the old one there in my hospital room. It was a small tube, however there was no local anesthetic this time, it was simply a matter of exhale…hold…and they pull. It hurt. A lot. I may have whimpered like a little girl.

And then it was back to the OR. This time I was more amped up because I knew exactly what to expect. The first set of drugs they gave me didn’t take the tiniest edge off. Around the third set, I started to feel wobbly, but still very much aware. The insertion area was once again localized, and Fitness inserted the new tube. It’s a disconcerting feeling being awake while a foreign object is being fished into your chest. Especially when you’re a gigantic pussy like me. So yeah, despite her skilled touch, it hurt. A lot.

The thinking was that this larger tube would do a more efficient job of evacuating the air from my chest, and at the same time, wouldn’t become clogged with blood. It had been determined that one of the ribs that broke had punctured the lung, and that puncture was slow to heal, making the inflation process more challenging. Perhaps the larger tube would help that healing process as well.

Click to enlarge

chest tube

The second chest tube. They gave me a new one as a souvenir.

 

Yellow wrist bands

If you had an additional yellow wristband, you were restricted to the ward – you weren’t getting through the locked doors. There were a lot of yellow wristbands on my wing.

Healing in a hospital is tricky at the best of times. Even for the few in a private room, you’re still in a hospital, and not in your own familiar bed. There’s the constant noise, the frequent pokes and proddings, and plenty of bad food.

But on this ward, the fun is amplified. The nights were actually worse than the days. There were other patients on my wing that were there for similar reasons to Richard. There was Wayne, who would scream out repeatedly for a nurse because he was in pain. He was in pain because he was in withdrawal, and the nurses repeatedly explained to him that they gave him the maximum medication they could, when it was due. Apparently it didn’t adequately meet his needs. Fun for his three other roommates. And Wayne wasn’t the exception, he was the norm.

And then there was Richard. Richard had a yellow wristband. Richard also disliked clothes. There was a two day stretch where he would get up, remove his hospital gown, and stroll out into the hallway, wearing not so much as a sock or a smile. A nurse would generally spot him quickly, scold him in an exasperated tone with completely controlled patience, escort him back to our room, grab a gown from the room’s linen trolley, and remind him that he needed to be clothed as it’s rude, and there could be children present visiting relatives. There were no words from Richard, of course, but there was defiant grunting and bellowing. The nurse would leave, Richard would bound up from his bed, remove the new gown, toss it in the laundry hamper and march back out into the hallway. We went through a lot of gowns during that phase. And I saw way too much of his bits and pieces, as did Lisa. Sorry, Lisa – you can’t un-see something like that, unfortunately.

Then came the pee and poop phase. That started about a week before my stay came to a close. There were stints where I was able to temporarily be off vacuum suction, which gave me greater mobility. Not that there were a lot of places to run off to, but even a shuffle down the hallway was a welcome break from bed confinement. On one such excursion, I returned to the room to see a very naked Richard standing in front of the big bay window. He was peeing into a plastic drinking cup. He finished, walked over the to hand-sink by the door, and poured the contents into the sink, pee awash. He looked at me in the hallway, gave me a big smile, followed by a thumbs up. A couple things occurred to me. One, why was he naked again. Two, why was he peeing into a drinking cup. Three, why was he pouring said contents into the hand-sink and not the toilet in the washroom…or at least the sink in the washroom. Four, why was he giving me the thumbs up. And five, how did a collapsed lung land me in this environment.

Throughout my stay, Richard had a quirky habit of walking over to the bathroom, opening the door, looking in, then going back to his bed. I never did figure out exactly what he was expecting to find. He also had a habit, on those occasions that he actually made use of the bathroom, of not flushing. Anything. ‘Nuff said.

Five days after the larger tube had been inserted, it had begun to slide out. Saudi came to my room and announced he would be stitching it into place. Would I like a local, or can he just go ahead and stitch? Yes, I would very much like a local! I got the impression he would offer those facing limb amputation a leather strap to bite down on, and a Flintstones chewable multivitamin. He clearly but silently disagreed with my frivolous request, but once he started the stitching, I was thankful to have it. I yelped as he pressed down on my fractures, and as he tugged at my skin like he was sewing a boot.

At one point the tube needed to be flushed to ensure it hadn’t become plugged. Saudi, Blondy and Fitness came to my room, but at my request, Fitness did the actual work. Saline solution was flushed up into the tube, and it was the most pecular sensation. Both Blondy and Fitness were quite curious as to what I was feeling, and the closest description was it felt like someone was pouring water on my side, but of course, it was actually under my skin. Not a painful experience, just terribly odd.

Of my two and a half weeks, I had roughly three nights of reasonably solid and continual sleep. Most nights I averaged three to five hours. I suspect that everyone that was sane on the ward was in the same boat. I do know that Richard slept well, because by and large, that’s what primarily kept me awake. His snoring was of a volume that is unlike anything I have ever heard. And it went in 15 to 20 minute waves. It would start quiet, and work up slowly into a crescendo, and peak with a violent, sleep apnea-like induced coughing and choking explosion. Rinse and repeat. Even with headphones, it was an impossible event to sleep through.

My 15th evening was the limit. Throughout the night, the screaming from around the ward, combined with a Restless Richard, made for an impossible sleep environment. By 6am, I had not slept a single minute. Sleep deprivation does something to you. And in a hospital setting, you’re also trying to heal. I count myself infinitely fortunate that I had a “Lisa” looking out for me, and bringing me food daily, saving me from what was largely unappealing hospital fare. To the hospital’s credit, they’re trying to produce reasonable food on a mass scale for an ever-changing variety of dietary requirements, all on what is probably a strictly controlled budget. I don’t think I’m a particularly finicky person, but I think two and a half weeks of minimal sleep and an unappealing food plan would not be conducive to mending. On this particular morning then when Lisa came by before heading to work, I told her I didn’t think I could stay here anymore. There was talk of discharging myself, and going over to the other hospital. Ultimately though, the doctors told me I would only be sent back to the first hospital that provided the initial care. Escape plan foiled.

The next night, Richard got up around 11pm. I was still very much awake as I watched him walk in front of my bed, and proceed to poop on the floor. I didn’t get the sense that it was a case of him not making it to the bathroom, rather he had in fact reached his destination of choice. Perhaps then sensing the error in his ways, he grabbed some paper towels and not so much attempted to pick up his handywork, but rather wipe and spread it around the floor. The smell was, well, you can imagine. I rang for a nurse, and housekeeping arrived shortly afterwards to clean up the scene of the crime. Despite their thoroughness the smell continued to linger.

Richard also had a habit of grabbing gowns or towels off the room’s linen trolley, using them briefly, and placing them back on the trolley. On one occasion, he had a need to clean his ass. Don’t we all? He picked up a cloth, gave himself a couple of wipes, looked at the cloth and I assume deemed it still useable, and put it back on the trolley. If a nurse put a gown or a cloth in the hamper, once she left the room he would reach into the hamper, remove the item and place it back on the trolley. I learned pretty quickly to get linens from the main supply at the nurse’s station.

By the two week point of my stay, there was serious concern that my lung was not inflating. Two possible courses of action were being considered. Either another chest tube would be inserted, just above my current one, or I would indeed be transferred to the other hospital (the one I was trying to escape to) where their thoracic department would look at performing surgery on my lung.

Neither option particularly excited me. Going through not one, but two chest tube implants already, and knowing how painful it was trying to move or sleep with it made me none too excited to have another inserted. The idea was that this new tube would be placed higher above the current one which would be staying in, and therefore be better able to remove the higher pockets of air. The problem was, the tubes are plastic. There’s little way to guide it effectively, and it’s free to move as it wants once inserted. All of which is to say, there was absolutely no guarantee it would even work. When I asked about the surgery option, Saudi’s response was, “Well….it’s not as serious as open heart surgery…”. Very reassuring.

One of the cool things hospitals do now is offer therapy animals. Lisa happened to catch one on her way out of the hospital and asked if they wouldn’t mind popping up to see me. I had no idea what was coming, and it was a welcome treat to see this big, beautiful girl pad into my room:

Dakota

A most welcome visit from Dakota, the St. Bernard. Pretty girl!

Ultimately, it was agreed that surgery was the better course of action. The threat of that alone was apparently enough to kick my body into healing mode, and the day prior to transfer, the latest of many x-rays showed my lung had indeed begun to heal, and had inflated enough to send me home to continue the recovery. Of course, before I could leave, there was the matter of the tube sticking out of my side. Saudi came in, and told me he’d just taken one out of another patient who had barely felt anything. That patient must have been a fucking Viking because when Saudi yarded mine out, it felt like a white hot poker had been pulled straight through my rib cage, and I wailed like a little nancy, once again.

My saving grace was Lisa being there, and willing to remove the old bandages and apply the new ones. Saudi was happy to let her do the “nurse’s work”, and obviously she had a defter touch than him.

So long and thanks for all the fish

I was glad to be home. After many nights of hospital mayhem, it was almost hard to re-assimilate. In fact, the first night home was a pretty terrible sleep. But yes, obviously I was relieved to be done with Richard, et al.

My lunacy of my little adventure had not gone unnoticed by hospital staff. Even Fitness had grown concerned, commenting that if I was there much longer, I was probably going to need a psych eval. Unfortunately, there were limited options for me – the hospital was at capacity, so it was what it was.

A couple of things really stood out while serving my time:

First, the hospital staff were truly amazing. From the ambulance paramedics, to the entertaining porters that whisked me down for x-rays and CT scans dozens of times, to the unfailingly cheery cleaning staff, to the doctors, and most certainly to the nurses. Especially the nurses. I watched numerous instances where the nursing staff were faced with impossibly difficult patient situations. And in every single case they handled it with infinite grace, compassion and patience. A mere mortal would not last a shift on that ward. Whatever they are paid, it is not nearly enough. Respect.

Secondly, being sick or injured sucks. But if you have to be sick or injured, having the support of a loved one certainly makes it more tolerable. Lisa was usually there twice a day. Consider for a moment trying to balance your already full work and daily routine with the added component of visiting a hospital before you head to work, and again in the evening. And then imagine organizing and bringing meals, washing pj’s, and taking care of the homefront on top of that. It was a long three weeks for me, but it was an equally long three weeks for her. It wrecked my Summer, but it also brought hers to a grinding halt as well.

Contrast that with Richard. He was there when I arrived, and he was there when I left. Mostly because he had no where to go if he was discharged. He had been living with his sister prior to his hospital stay, but she no longer wanted him in her home. Family or not, I can’t really say I blame her. In the time I was there, she visited him twice. Each visit was roughly 15 minutes. He was informed that he would be moving into some sort of care facility, and three days before I left, he decided to go on a hunger strike. Nurse after nurse, after practitioner, after social worker came to see him. He was largely illiterate, but could manage a confusing concoction of hand signals and writing. They would ask him endless questions about foods or beverages he liked. Did he like milk? No. Did he like chocolate? No. Did he like sandwiches? No. Did he like Coca-Cola? No. Did he like ice-cream? No. Did he have a favorite food? No. Finally someone started asking the bigger questions – was he upset about not going back to his sister’s? Yes. Was he upset about having to go into a care facility? Yes. And then THE question – was he thinking about killing himself? Yes. At that point, he was put on suicide watch, and had a nurse bedside at all times. Cutlery was now plastic. Not that he was eating.

You can’t help but feel empathy towards him, but quite honestly then I remember, and that quickly dissipates. There’s also a sense of frustration that there are patients in the hospital that are simply there because there’s no where else to put them. He wasn’t physically ill or injured. He had been admitted at some point, and now was stuck in the system. It’s undoubtedly frustrating for the care staff, it’s frustrating for other patients, and clearly frustrating for him as well. It’s an inefficient use of resources to be sure. I have zero idea what the solution is, and I know that I most certainly do not have the expertise, nor the compassion, to come up with realistic solutions.

As injuries go, I very fortunately haven’t had many in my lifetime. While this wasn’t the worst – the broken hip holds that honor- it was certainly the most…colorful. My lung is 100%, and now it’s just a question of waiting for my ribs to heal.

And finding a way to make it up to Lisa.

 

 

 

On Trading Advice vs Trading Opinions

 

I recently had a thought provoking conversation with a friend who is a successful trader in his own right, that got me thinking about the slippery slope that exists between listening to other traders for words of advice, and listening to them for words of opinions.

Without question a new trader can find an abundance of both out…there *he gesticulates wildly*.

I tend to read a lot, and mostly on trading or trading-related subjects. I prefer an actual book, as then I can scribble in them, freely and enthusiastically bend page corners, and refer back to them at a glance down the road. But I’ve also got a few books on my iPad, and of course, there are a number of blogs and websites I check in on now and again.

I’m not looking for market opinions, though. Some of the traders I read are quite well known and respected, but I’m more interested in their notes on trading psychology, risk management and trade planning. A number of them also have subscriptions available, and in many cases, those include frequent emails on their own personal opinions on the market. Some even go so far as to call tops, or advise going to cash.

For starters, without knowing a trader’s time-frame, those sorts of recommendations are meaningless. And then there’s the question of bias. It’s impossible to fully know what another trader has going on behind the keyboard – did they miss the recent run themselves, and would then prefer their followers join them in the “be in cash” camp? Did they load the boat on $SPY calls and are therefore suggesting everyone else feverishly hit the ‘buy’ button too? Have they recently gone through an ugly divorce and are bitterly looking at the world with self-destructive intent? Are they in a new and blissful relationship and everything looks like puppies and happiness?

I re-tweet or mention the work of some well-known traders from time to time. I do so because I think the specific article or book has merit and value. But while some of them offer up additional – and usually fee-based – services, that isn’t something I’m interested in, nor would I endorse signing up.

Because, once again, while there is no shortage of market opinions out there, no one has a clue what’s going to happen next. It’s just their personal best guess.

Read to soak in various trading strategies and trading plans that are out there. Read to learn about the critical role trading psychology plays in being profitable. Read to learn about the plethora of methods traders use to determine stop placements. Read to understand risk management. Read to understand the mistakes of those that have gone before us.

But don’t read to find out if now is the time to go to cash, or the time to buy out of the money weekly $FB calls. That’s a question only you can answer. And you’ll know, because you have a trading plan. Right?

 

 

Why I’m shorting McDonald’s

 

It seems almost impossible to imagine that a company the size of McDonald’s could in fact, vanish…or is it?

First though, some disclaimers.

  • I’m a fast food eater. I grew up with McDonald’s in my life, but my parents recognized the value of balance, and so eating at McDee’s was a ‘sometimes’ treat, not an ‘everyday’ treat.
  • I’m not a born-again vegan with a raging hard-on against the satanic fast food industry and a single-minded desire to change everyone’s eating habits; I still eat the occasional fast food, but some time ago, McDonald’s ceased being my go-to choice.
  • I’m normally just a charts guy. But every once in a while, a story appears that catches my interest on a few levels, so I start to look a little deeper.
  • I could be totally, completely, utterly wrong here. Which is why I use stops, but more on that in a minute.

McDonald’s has been on my radar for a while now, but what finally nudged me over the edge to get into the trade was seeing one of their new TV commercials last night. It was for some wrap thingy (maybe only available here in Canada, who knows), but the 30 second spot screamed of a company frantically trying to reinvent itself. The product looked odd, which is not an appealing quality, and certainly didn’t leave me wanting to try it.

Case #1. The numbers:

Now, I’m not going to painstakingly break down the latest $MCD earnings numbers for you here. There are enough people out there doing that already, and doing a far better job of it than I ever could, at that. McDonald’s reported for the quarter on the 22nd, and it missed on both earnings ($1.40 versus $1.44 estimated) and revenue ($7.18 billion versus $7.29 billion). It’s feeling the pressure of lower sales in both the US and Europe, and perhaps most disturbing, it’s offering little in the way of positive guidance for the remainder of the the year. And this is not a new development: the company has struggled with their  numbers since 2012. One gets the impression that every quarter the board probably feels like a grade 8 student schlepping home with a poor report card, bracing for that conversation with the parental units. The company is facing increased pressure from, quite frankly, better tasting competitors. Those competitors include Chipotle Mexican Grill, which interestingly, McDonald’s once owned 90% of; “once owned” being the key phase there. D’oh! Which brings us to…

Case #2. The food:

Consumer Reports latest food survey had McDonald’s burgers rated 21. Out of 21. So, last, basically.

http://static3.consumerreportscdn.org/content/dam/cro/magazine-articles/2014/August/CRM_Consumer_Reports_Taste_Champs2_08-14.jpg

That’s not good. At the end of the day, even if it’s fast food, people want to at least enjoy the indulgence. And clearly McDonalds isn’t delivering.

What more is there to say?

Case #3. The chart:

(click to enlarge)

MCD July 2014

$MCD has had an undeniably strong run since 2003, as this weekly chart shows. But that trend seems to be wavering. The double top that formed with the peaks of April 2013 and May 2014 is easy to see. While that strong uptrend hasn’t yet been broken, it is weakening. With the double top comes an obvious stop loss point – a break above that would nullify this short idea.

There are clearly cracks in the armor of this monster company. Calling for it to vanish completely sounds a bit silly, until you start to ponder the larger question, which is: Is this a business that would get off the ground if it were started today? I think the answer to that is no. And the problem is, despite their attempts to reinvent themselves, they are still McDonald’s. Brand recognition is a powerful thing, but in this case, that may not be a good thing.

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Sometimes big companies do in fact just go the way of Blockbuster (see, there’s an example right there). Remember Compaq? MCI WorldCom? How about Arthur Andersen, a company that ran from 1913 to 2002, and employed over 80,000 people?

Think McDonald’s couldn’t just vanish? Ask yourself if your life would even skip a beat if it did. Would anyone’s?