Strong hands or weak hands

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  ~ Oscar Wilde

Strong hands are long-term investors, including most institutional investors, who focus on intrinsic value and are insensitive to price.

Weak hands and leveraged investors are highly sensitive to price. They follow the news cycle in an often unsuccessful attempt to to time purchases and sales according to short-term, often random, fluctuations in price.

Weak hands respond emotionally to price movements — making it difficult to be objective in  their decisions to buy or sell — while strong hands focus on dividends and other measures of long-term value.

Strong hands recognize that the biggest obstacle to sound investing is their own emotional response to rising or falling prices. Weak hands submit to the psychological pressure, make frequent buy and sell decisions, and find it difficult to be objective. Strong hands detach themselves as far as possible from the price cycle and the emotional pressures that accompany it.

At the peak of the investment cycle, weak hands pay way above fair value for stocks, while strong hands resist the urge to buy when price exceeds their own objective view of long-term fair value.

Fair Value

As confidence decays and prices fall, weak hands are shaken out of their positions. Margin calls force some to liquidate while others sell through through fear — failing to recognize that anxiety is the primary cause of falling prices. Some try to hold on to their positions but eventually succumb to the pressure. The mental anguish of watching their stocks fall often drives them to sell at way below fair value — just to end the pain.

Strong hands are patient, independent of the herd, and unmoved by the wild emotional swings of bull and bear markets. They wait for stock prices to fall to below fair value, when opportunity is at its maximum. Stocks that are gradually recovering from a steep sell-off and scarce retail buyers are signs that a bottom has been reached.

Recency bias

One of the key benefits of years of investing, through several stock market cycles, is the ability to recognize the familiar signs of euphoria in a bull market and despondency in a bear market. When it seems that the bull market will never end, that is normally a sign that risk is elevated. Conversely, opportunity is at its maximum when an air of despair and despondency descends on the investing public.

Don’t confuse price with value

Price seldom equates to value.

Short-term investors confuse price with value, making them vulnerable to wild price swings which can weaken the resolve of even the most hardened investors.

Long-term investors hold the majority of their investments through several  investment cycles, pruning only those stocks where long-term revenue growth or profit margins have been permanently affected and are unlikely to recover.

Supply and demand

Many readers are familiar with supply and demand curves from basic economics. For those who are not, here’s a quick refresher:

  • The supply curve, represented by the red line on the chart below, represents the quantity available for sale (bottom axis) at any given price (left axis). The higher the price, the greater the supply.
  • The demand curve, represented by the blue line on the chart below, represents the quantity that buyers are willing to purchase (bottom axis) at any given price (left axis). The lower the price, the greater the demand1.
  • Price is determined by the intersection of the two curves, maximizing the value achieved — at quantity sold (Q1) and price (P1) — giving value of Q1*P1.

Supply & Demand

Bear markets

In a bear market, the supply curve moves to the right as weak hands are influenced by falling prices and a negative media cycle. Note that the bottom end of the curve shifts a lot more than the top — strong hands are relatively unmoved by market sentiment.

Price falls steeply, from P1 to P2, as weak hands increase the quantity available for sale. Volume sold increases from Q1 to Q2.

Bear Market

We need to be careful not to equate the price at P1 or P2 with value. They may reflect the marginal price at which you can acquire new stock (or sell existing holdings) but they do not reflect the price at which strong hands are prepared to sell. That is why takeover offers are normally priced at a substantial premium to the current traded stock price. If you had to increase the quantity that you want to purchase to Q3, you would have to move up the supply curve, to the right, and price increases to P3 in order to attract more sellers2.

Market capitalization, likewise, is simply the number of shares in issue multiplied by the current traded stock price and is not a reflection of the intrinsic value of a company.


Investors need to have a clear idea of their investment time frame and adjust their approach accordingly.

One of the worst possible mistakes is indecision. If undecided, you are likely to be caught between two stools, buying late in an up-trend and selling late in a down-trend.

If you are a weak hand, it is far better to recognize that. Resist buying near the top of the cycle; apply sound money management — position-sizing is vital if you are focused on price; sell early, at the first signs of a bear market; and never, ever trade against the trend.

If you are a strong hand, never confuse price with value. Focus on dividends and other long-term measures of value; stay detached from the herd; and have the patience to wait for opportunity when prices are trading at way below fair value.

“The stock market remains an exceptionally efficient mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the impatient to the patient.”

~ Warren Buffett



  1. Discussion of inelastic supply curves and negative-sloping demand curves is beyond the scope of this article.
  2. P3 will shift to P3′ in a bear market.


Hat tip to RBC Wealth Management for the investment cycle chart to which we added fair value.


Jesse Livermore: The Wall Street fool

“What beat me was not having brains enough to stick to my own game – that is, to play the market only when I was satisfied that precedents favored my play. There is the plain fool, who does the wrong thing at all times everywhere, but there is also the Wall Street fool, who thinks he must trade all the time.”

~ Jesse Livermore in Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Risk versus volatlity

Ben Carlson cites Howard Marks on the difference between volatility and risk:

Volatility is the academic’s choice for defining and measuring risk. I think this is the case largely because volatility is quantifiable and thus usable in the calculations and models of modern finance theory.

However, while volatility is quantifiable and machinable – and can also be an indicator or symptom of riskiness and even a specific form of risk – I think it falls short as “the” definition of investment risk. In thinking about risk, we want to identify the thing that investors worry about and thus demand compensation for bearing. I don’t think most investors fear volatility…. What they fear is the possibility of permanent loss.

Read more at A Role Reversal For Stocks and Bonds | Pragmatic Capitalism.

Fidelity Reviewed Which Accounts Did Best And What They Found Was Hilarious | Business Insider

From Miles Udland:

[James O’Shaughnessy of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management] relays one anecdote from an employee who recently joined his firm that really makes your head spin.

O’Shaughnessy: “Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity….They were the accounts [of] people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity.”

There are numerous studies that explain why this happens. And they almost always come down to the fact that our minds work against us. Due to our behavioural biases, we often find ourselves buying high and selling low.

I have always called this “the Siemens effect” from an example I came across, in a completely different field, about 30 years ago. German electronics giant Siemens built a telecommunications exchange in a sealed container, where no human could have access and all maintenance was conducted from an outside control panel. The exchange experienced only a small fraction of the equipment failures experienced in a normal telecommunications exchange, leading to the conclusion that human intervention by maintenance staff caused most of the faults.

Likewise in investment, if you build the equivalent of a sealed system. Where there is no direct human intervention, you are likely to experience better performance than if there is constant tinkering to “improve” the system.

The caveat is, during an electrical storm it may be advisable to shut the telecommunications exchange down from the control panel. Likewise, with stocks, when macroeconomic and volatility filters warn of elevated risk, the system should move to cash or assets (e.g. government bonds) with low or negative correlation to stocks.

Read more at Fidelity Reviewed Which Accounts Did Best And What They Found Was Hilarious | Business Insider.

108-year-old investor: ‘I doubled my money in 1929 crash and I’m still winning’ | Telegraph

Irving Kahn, of investment firm Kahn Brothers, is 108 years old and began his Wall Street career before the crash of 1929. He still works in the investment firm he founded, although nowadays his son manages the firm. Richard Evans asks what advice he would give to investors who go it alone:

Mr Kahn said: “I would recommend that private investors tune out the prevailing views they hear on the radio, television and the internet. They are not helpful. People say ‘buy low, sell high’, but you cannot do this if you are following the herd.

“You must have the discipline and temperament to resist your impulses. Human beings have precisely the wrong instincts when it comes to the markets. If you recognise this, you can resist the urge to buy into a rally and sell into a decline. It’s also helpful to remember the power of compounding. You don’t need to stretch for returns to grow your capital over the course of your life.”

Read more at 108-year-old investor: 'I doubled my money in 1929 crash – and I'm still winning' – Telegraph.

15 Biases That Make You Do Dumb Things With Your Money

You are your own worst enemy.

Those are the six most important words in investing. Shady financial advisors and incompetent CEOs don’t harm your returns a fraction of the amount your own behavior does.

Here are 15 cognitive biases that cause people to do dumb things with their money: 15 Biases That Make You Do Dumb Things With Your Money | Morgan Housel | Motley Fool. Hat tip to Barry Ritholz.

My favorite:

14. Restraint bias
Overestimating your ability to control impulses. Studies show smokers in the process of quitting overestimate their ability to say no to a cigarette when tempted. Investors do the same when thinking about the temptation to do something stupid during market bubbles and busts. Most investors I know consider themselves contrarians who want to buy when there’s blood in the streets. But when the blood arrives, they panic just like everyone else.