Monday, July 8, 2013

Miller, Chronicles of a Million Dollar Trader

When I reviewed Jim Paul’s What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars last month, I concluded that it was much more valuable than most “What I Learned Making a Million Dollars” books. I stand by my hedged judgment. But Don Miller’s Chronicles of a Million Dollar Trader: My Road, Valleys, and Peaks to Final Trading Victory (Wiley, 2013), though not quite the exception that proves the rule, comes close.

In 2008, as the financial markets became increasingly volatile, Don Miller was in his element. He had started the year with a modest retirement fund balance of a little over $700,000. If he was ever going to reach financial security, 2008 was the ideal time to push his intra-day trading skills to the limit. His goal was to add a million dollars to his nest egg over the course of twelve months. By July 4, when he began his online journal, he was more than halfway to his goal. For whatever reason he decided to share his journey (I assume that if his gains had been insignificant in the first half of the year we would never have heard from him) Miller became a dedicated blogger, recording his daily thoughts, trades, and results.

This book is a compilation of selected blog posts, mostly from 2008, with 15-minute ES charts added to make sense of Miller’s trade reports. Once he overachieved, with a net profit exceeding $1.5 million in 2008, he became more reflective in his 2009 and 2010 posts as his account more or less plateaued in early 2009. Then came the MF Global bankruptcy in 2011 and with it angst in spades. Miller had approximately $3 million in three personal trading accounts with the clearing firm—and for a while it seemed he might have lost everything. He devotes a brief chapter to this crisis.

Readers looking for trading strategies that will produce outsize gains come rain or shine won’t find them here. Miller took advantage of favorable intraday trading opportunities that don’t happen every year. What the book does offer, however, is an account of how an individual who had honed his skills for years without remarkable results pushed himself day after day when the market was finally willing to reward all that work, how he fought his way inch by inch (think Al Pacino’s motivational speech in Any Given Sunday) toward the goal line. He intentionally adopted a “coming back from draw” mind-set. He sacrificed sleep to trade early morning, he graded himself relentlessly and often mercilessly. He found inspiration in poker and football. (By the way, his favorite “trading” book is The Tao of Poker—which I too can heartily recommend.) He used emotions to his advantage, admitting that he traded better and in a more focused state when he was angry. Journaling also contributed to his focus.

Reading Miller’s book is a bit like watching the Rocky films. You don’t learn how to box but you come away with some important life lessons. Life lessons, in this case, that just might make you a very good trader one day.

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