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How To Learn From My (Expensive) Mistake


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I couldn't believe what I had just done. I went against everything I talk about in the pages of my premium newsletter, Maximum Profit .

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I let my ego and emotions get the better of me. And I lost.

In Maximum Profit , I constantly preach about cutting losers short, letting winners ride, not letting emotions control your investing decisions, and how vital a rules-based system like Maximum Profit is to becoming a successful investor.

And here's the thing... I was doing exactly that. I had my rules laid out, I was following them, and I was doing great.

I Was Doing Great... Until I Wasn't
I was trading cattle futures and following a similar technique that we use in Maximum Profit : momentum. I would wait for a solid trend -- up or down -- and I would either buy or short cattle depending on the trend. I had my sell signals in place (both a trailing and hard stop in this case), and I was following them.

No surprise. It was working. I was quick to cut my losses short if it hit my stop. It was going well, very well, in fact. So I started expanding into other futures markets. I saw a good trend in soybean futures, went long and made money. After just over a month, my portfolio was up more than 60%.

Now, if you've never invested in futures, know that it carries a tremendous amount of risk and is highly leveraged. That leverage is how you can make (and lose) large amounts of money. For example, if you want to trade sweet West Texas Intermediate ( WTI ) oil futures, then know that one contract controls 1,000 barrels of oil, or 42,000 gallons. That means that each point value, or dollar move (i.e. the price of WTI going from $67 to $68) translates into a $1,000 swing for one contract.

To buy one contract of WTI, you only have to put up $3,795 in a margin account. So say you buy one contract of WTI at $67 and it jumps up to $70. That means you just made $3,000, while only putting up $3,795 as collateral. Of course, if it drops to $64 then you lost $3,000 and you'll likely get a "margin call" if you don't have enough funds in your account.

That's just a quick rundown on futures. Of course, there's a lot more to it, so don't dive into this market willy-nilly. I had been following and learning about futures for two years before I ever made my first trade.

Anyway, here I was, my futures portfolio up 60% in a little over a month. I was on top of the world. I was sure I had it conquered. I began looking into hog futures, and I was positive that they had topped. Everything pointed toward an oversupply. And since I was feeling my oats I decided I would short the hog market.

This is despite the fact that when I asked a couple of gentlemen who regularly trade the agriculture futures markets as part of their jobs and livelihood, both expressed a decided lack of enthusiasm for jumping into this particular trade because of the extreme volatility.

But I proceeded anyway, because I was confident that I was right. After all, I had just made a grip of cash in the last month. Also keep in mind that there wasn't a downtrend yet, I was calling the top.

What Went Wrong
Boy, were those gentlemen right. That first day, hogs swung down. Then back up, before ending the day about where they started off. The next day futures rallied a couple of points, close to where I had my hard stop (remember I was short hogs, so I was betting that the price would go down). The next day hogs plummeted... just as I expected. Finally, I remember thinking, this will be the start of the downtrend.

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Hogs continued to drop over the next couple of days, and all was well. I had set a profit target for my hogs trade and I was right there... but I wanted more. Ah, what the heck, I remember thinking, this thing will just keep dropping, and I started calculating my "future" gains. Instead of following my rules, the very ones that got me to this point, I got greedy. I had set both profit targets and stop-losses for my strategy, and was ignoring both rules.

Worse, emotions and pride got the better of me when the trade started going against me. And not only did I not sell when I hit my stop-loss, I shorted more. I doubled down, positive prices would swing back down.

Instead, hog futures kept climbing and climbing and climbing.

I held firm. I couldn't book a loss now. Each day that hog prices climbed, that little voice in my head said, "it'll turn around, and then you can sell when you're back to even."

Well, it never turned around. I finally had enough. The damage was done. I had let my emotions and ego win. And it cost me all my profits and more. Instead of exiting the trade at my target profit price, which would have put my portfolio up 76%, I ignored all my rules. I didn't follow the strategy and system that I had in place. Of course, I tried justifying to myself that this was just "play" money and didn't mean anything. But that wasn't true. It was money that I foolishly lost.

I felt like a hypocrite.

My portfolio took a massive hit, a 63% haircut to be exact. To put that into perspective, imagine starting with $10,000, growing it to $17,600 in a month, only to watch it shrivel to $6,512 in a matter of days. All because you couldn't follow some simple investing rules. That means it would take a 54% return just to get back to "even" and a 170% return to get back to that $17,600 mark.

How You Can Learn From My Mistakes
I don't tell this story for sympathy. I tell this story because I hope you can learn from it. Learn from my mistakes. Understand that rules and a system can truly help make you a better investor. Don't let emotions, ego, pride get the better of you, as it did with me. Stay humble, and remember that you can lose it all just as quickly as you made it if you don't follow some simple rules.

Maximum Profit provides the system and the rules. But you still have to execute them. If we're cutting a stock for a loss, just do it. Don't try to outsmart the strategy.

If you're tired of not knowing only what to buy, but when to buy and sell, then you should give the Maximum Profit system a risk-free trial . It just might be the best investment decision you make all year. We've found gains of 135%, 181%, 242% and more using this system -- but perhaps ever more important, it's steered us away from the market when it hits rough waters. To learn more about the MP Score, check out this report .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Stocks
Referenced Symbols: WTI



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