Monday, September 26, 2011

Veneziani, The Greatest Trades of All Time

Vincent W. Veneziani’s The Greatest Trades of All Time: Top Traders Making Big Profits from the Crash of 1929 to Today (Wiley, 2011) is not the greatest trading book of all time. The problem is that most of its material is readily available in greater detail elsewhere. For instance, if you want to read about John Paulson’s subprime short, the obvious source is The Greatest Trade Ever by Gregory Zuckerman. Or why read ten pages about Jesse Livermore when we have Reminiscences of a Stock Operator? The only original material comes from the author’s interviews with Kyle Bass and Jim Chanos.

For those who are new to trading, however, this book provides an introduction to some icons of the business and their winning trades. Featured, in addition to Livermore, Paulson, Bass, and Chanos, are Paul Tudor Jones, John Templeton, George Soros, David Einhorn, Martin Schwartz, and John Arnold. The final chapter deals briefly with Phillip Falcone, David Tepper, Andrew Hall, and Greg Lippmann.

Each chapter has a life of its own, but all conclude with very brief sections that recreate the person’s trading strategies and his top traits. For instance, we read that “Jones’s brazen utilization of Elliot [sic] wave theory is legendary.” (p. 43) Jones was not a wave counter; rather, he embraced Elliott’s notion of repeating cycles. The author shows a chart overlaying data from 1982-1986 on 1932-1936 data and notes the striking correlation. Jones “extrapolated a time period with a high correlation and began making investments as if he were living in the past with a roadmap to the future” (p. 38), a technique that was chronicled in the 1987 PBS documentary about him. (Despite the best efforts of Jones and his lawyers, the film is still available online.) Veneziani also notes that “Jones helped define the cliché Wall Street traits that much of the industry and its participants attempt to emulate today.” (p. 44) Among them: intensity, keeping a comprehensive viewpoint, and having a methodical approach.

The reader who doesn’t have hedge fund money behind him will be able to mimic very few of the great trades in this book. And some of the highlighted traits are primarily a product of the individual trader’s personality. But it’s still enjoyable to be a voyeur and more enjoyable yet to daydream about pulling off one of the greatest trades of all time.

A footnote for those who need a laugh. I don’t collect howlers from books, but here’s a good one: “The story of George Soros begins on the dreary streets of 1930s Budapest in what is now known as Hungary.” (p. 87) How was it known to English speakers in the 1930s? Oops, Hungary.

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