Wall Street Legend Bob Farrell's 10 Rules

 

Who is Bob Farrell?

Twelve years after the conclusion of the Second World War, Bob Farrell started his career at Merrill Lynch as a technical analyst. Before kickstarting his illustrious career at Merrill Lynch, Farrell studied at the prestigious Columbia business school under Benjamin Graham and David Dodd. Graham and Dodd are widely hailed as the “godfathers of modern value investing” and are best known for their best-selling book “Security Analysis,” which was first published in 1934. In fact, Graham and Dodd are so synonymous with value investing that Warren Buffett (also a student of Graham at Columbia) attributes much of his success to the classic work and teachings of the two value investing legends.

A Wall Street Pioneer

While Mr. Farrell was educated under the value investing umbrella, he found his niche and success on Wall Street at the intersection of technical analysis, sentiment, and market psychology. Though this type of analysis was considered unconventional and even frowned upon at the onset of his career, by the end of Farrell’s nearly five-decade run on Wall Street, it had become mainstream. Farrell became so respected in market circles that his daily newsletter was read by several of the world’s sharpest money managers, including the likes of multi-billionaire George Soros. There is little Mr. Farrell hasn’t seen or experienced throughout his career. Below are Farrell’s 10 Rules:

1.   Markets tend to revert to the mean over time. Like a rubber band stretched in one direction, markets tend to snap back to the other direction eventually.

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

2.   Excesses in one direction will lead to an opposite excess in the other direction. Think about the internet boom and bust. At one point, stocks like Pets.com would rocket 200% in a single trading session just because they had “.com” in the name. During 2000-2003, the market unraveled just as violently in the opposite direction. The COVID-19 crash and subsequent rally afterward is another prime example:

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

3.   There are no new eras – excesses are never permanent. History is littered with boom-and-bust periods – nothing lasts forever. The great “Tulip Mania” of the 17th century, the dot com bust of 2000, and the 2008 housing debacle personify this rule.

4.   Exponential rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways. The meme craze that occurred a few years ago is a good illustration of this rule. In 2020, GameStop GME ran from $1 to $5.50 in five months. After more than a 500% move in such a short time, that wasn’t the end. The following month, shares soared 1600% to $120 a share before correcting to their current price of $18 per share.

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

5.   The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom. Most investors let their emotions get the best of them. Generally, if the public invested when they were most fearful and sold when they were most giddy, they would be much more profitable. In late 2022, most sentiment gauges showed fear. Over the next few months, the market went on a tear.

6.   Fear and greed are stronger than long-term resolve. The fast-moving pace of Wall Street can wreak havoc on investor emotions. When the opening bell rings and real money is on the line, it is akin to having a volume dial on emotions for most investors. The lack of discipline to create and stick to a well thought out investing plan can be detrimental to investors. Even if a well-thought-out plan is created, execution always supersedes intentions.

7.   Markets are strongest when they are broad and weakest when they narrow to a handful of blue-chip names. A “blue chip” is a well-established mega-cap company such as Apple AAPL. Breadth refers to the number of stocks participating in a rally. The participation gauge is an important measure to follow because it can provide clues to a market breakdown prior to it occurring. In early 2021, Apple and other mega-cap blue chip stocks continued higher as the market began to stall slightly – a subtle, early caution flag for savvy investors who were paying attention.

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

8.   Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound, and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend. Because the public typically buys the dip at the wrong time or shorts “in the hole” when stocks have already moved down rapidly, equity markets usually have a violent “bear market rally” before trending lower.

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

9.   When all the experts and forecasts agree – something else is going to happen. Contrarian, independent thinking is the clearest path to success on Wall Street. Following the Global Financial Crisis, David Tepper bought Bank of America BAC in 2009. Later when he recounted the trade, he said, “I felt like I was alone”. The trade ended up netting him $4 billion. To achieve outstanding results, you must think differently.

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Image Source: Zacks Investment Research

10.  Bull markets are more fun than bear markets! While making money in a down market can be done, bull markets are much more forgiving. Who can argue this?

 

Conclusion

Over Farrell’s 45-year career at Merrill Lynch, he saw bull markets, bear markets, and everything in between. While investors can educate themselves by reading books or attending seminars, nothing beats decades of seat time. Through his successful and deep experience, Farrell’s rules challenge investors to study history, the madness of crowds, and their inherent “humanness” and emotions.


 


 

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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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