Editor’s Note: Louis James is one of the smartest guys in the natural resource space that I know of. Today, he shares the secrets he’s learned from legendary speculator Doug Casey—and how he’s used them to make money speculating in resources.
By Louis James, editor, International Speculator
When I started working for Doug Casey in 2004, I probably knew as much about investing as the average Joe, but I now know that I knew absolutely nothing then about successful speculation.
Learning from the international speculator himself was like taking the proverbial drink from a fire hose. Fortunately, I was quite thirsty. I got serious about learning how to put my money to work for me.
It’s impossible, of course, to communicate all I’ve learned over my years with Doug in a simple article like this. Still, I can boil what I’ve learned from Doug down to a few “secrets” that can help you as they have helped me.
I urge you to think of these as a study guide, if you will, not a complete set of instructions.
As you read the list below, think about how you can learn more about each secret and adapt it to your own most effective use.
Secret #1: Contrarianism takes courage.
Everyone knows the essential investment formula: “Buy low, sell high.” But it is so much easier said than done, it might as well be a secret formula.
The way to really make it work is to invest in an asset or commodity that people want and need but, for reasons of market cyclicality or other temporary factors, no one else is buying. When the vast majority thinks something necessary is a bad investment, you want to be a buyer—that’s what it means to be a contrarian.
Obviously, if this were easy, everyone would do it, and there would be no such thing as a contrarian opportunity. But it is very hard for most people to think independently enough to risk hard-won cash in ways others think is mistaken or too dangerous. Hence fortune favors the bold.
Secret #2: Success takes discipline.
It’s not just a matter of courage, of course; you can bravely follow a path right off a cliff if you’re not careful. So you have to have a game plan for risk mitigation. You have to expect market volatility and turn it to your advantage. And you’ll need an exit strategy.
The ways a successful speculator needs discipline are endless, but the most critical of all is to employ smart buying and selling tactics so you don’t get goaded into paying too much or spooked into selling for too little.
Secret #3: Analysis over emotion.
This may seem like an obvious corollary to the above, but it’s a point well worth stressing on its own. To be a successful speculator does not require being an emotionless robot, but it does require abiding by reason at times when either fear or euphoria tempt us to veer from our game plans.
When a substantial investment in a speculative pick tanks—for no company-specific reason—the sense of gut-wrenching fear is very real. Panic often causes investors to sell at the very time they should be backing up the truck for more.
Similarly, when a stock is on a tear and friends are congratulating you on what a genius you are, the temptation to remain fully exposed—or even take on more risk in a play that is no longer undervalued—can be irresistible. But to ignore the numbers because of how you feel is extremely risky and leads to realizing unnecessary losses and letting terrific gains slip through your fingers.
Secret #4: Trust your gut.
Trusting a gut feeling sounds contradictory to the above, but it’s really not. The point is not to put feelings over logic, but to listen to what your feelings tell you—particularly about the company people you meet and their words in press releases.
“People” is the first of Doug Casey’s famous Nine Ps of Resource Stock Evaluation, and if a CEO comes across like a used-car salesman, that is telling you something. If a press release omits critical numbers or seems to be gilding the lily, that, too, tells you something.
The more experience you accumulate in whatever sector you focus on, the more acute your intuitive “radar” becomes. Listen to it. There’s nothing more frustrating than to take a chance on a story that looked good on paper, but that your gut was warning you about, and then the investment disappoints. Kicking yourself is bad for your knees.
Secret #5: Assume Bulshytt.
As a speculator, investor, or really anyone who buys anything, you have to assume that everyone in business has an angle. Their interests may coincide with your own, but you can’t assume that.
It’s vital to keep in mind whom you are speaking with and what their interest might be. This applies to even the most honest people in mining. It’s such a difficult business, no mine would ever get built if company CEOs put out a press release every time they ran into a problem.
A mine, from exploration to production to reclamation, is a nonstop flow of problems that need solving. But your brokers want to make commissions, your conference organizers want excitement, your bullion dealers want volume, etc. And, yes, your newsletter writers want to eat as well; ask yourself who pays them and whether their interests are aligned with yours or the companies they cover.
(Bulshytt is not a typo, but a reference to Neal Stephenson’s brilliant novel, Anathem, which defines the term, briefly, as words, phrases, or even entire books or speeches that are misleading or empty of meaning.)
Secret #6: The trend is your friend.
No one can predict the future, but anyone who applies him- or herself diligently enough can identify trends in the world that will have predictable consequences and outcomes.
If you identify a trend that is real—or that at least has an overwhelming amount of evidence in its favor—it can serve as both compass and chart, keeping you on course regardless of market chaos, irrational investors, and the ever-present flood of bulshytt.
Knowing that you are betting on a trend that makes great sense and is backed by hard data also helps maintain your courage. Remember, prices may fluctuate, but price and value are not the same thing. If you are right about the trend, it will be your friend. Also, remember that it’s easier to be right about the direction of a trend than its timing.
Secret #7: Only speculate with money you can afford to lose.
This is a logical corollary to the above. If you bet the farm or gamble away your children’s college tuition on risky speculations—and only relatively risky investments have the potential to generate the extraordinary returns that justify speculating in the first place—it will be almost impossible to maintain your cool and discipline when you need it.
As Doug likes to say, it’s better to risk 10% of your capital shooting for 100% gains than to risk 100% of your capital shooting for 10% gains.
Secret #8: Stack the odds in your favor.
Given the risks inherent in speculating for extraordinary gains, you have to stack the odds in your favor. If you can’t, don’t play.
There are several ways to do this, including betting on People with proven track records, buying when market corrections put companies on sale way below any objective valuation, and participating in private placements. The most critical may be to either conduct the due diligence most investors are too busy to be bothered with or find someone you can trust to do it for you.
Secret #9: You can’t kiss all the girls.
This is one of Doug’s favorite sayings, and though seemingly obvious, it’s one of the main pitfalls for unwary speculators.
When you encounter a fantastic story or a stock going vertical and it feels like it’s getting away from you, it can be very, very difficult to do all the things I mention above. I can tell you from firsthand experience it’s agonizing to identify a good bet, arrive too late, and see the ship sail off to great fortune—without you.
But if you let that push you into paying too much for your speculative picks, you can wipe out your own gains, even if you’re betting on the right trends.
You can’t kiss all the girls, and it only leads to trouble if you try. Fortunately, the universe of possible speculations is so vast, it simply doesn’t matter if someone else beats you to any particular one; there will always be another to ask for the next dance. Bide your time, and make your move only when all of the above is on your side.
Editor, International Speculator
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