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Market Timing Works… Just Not For You

Market timing works.

The basic idea behind market timing is that you want to pick your spots, buy low and sell high. There are software programs that will automatically trade for you and there are firms, like Tradebot, who have not had a single losing day in four years [3]. Tradebot typically holds a stock for 11 seconds and hasn’t lost a penny on a single day in four years. Four years.

Don’t give me the usual crap about market timing not working. It works.

The problem is that it won’t work for you because you don’t have a big pile of money to trade with, you don’t have nearly as much knowledge, and you don’t have a magic money machine software package. Without all three of those pieces, market timing doesn’t work and you should follow fish like me to the index fund promised land.


One critical idea you need to understand about market timing, and day trading, is that it’s essentially gambling. You want to be able to identify situations where your investment has the highest probability of generating a profit and then put it in play as often as you can. Whether you win or lose a particular bet is irrelevant, it’s the system and the frequency of your bets that matter. That’s why high frequency traders, those who hold stocks for 11 seconds, can win. They have a pile of money, they know the odds, and they play them over and over and over again.

In Bringing Down the House [4], the story of the MIT Blackjack team, it’s obvious that the system was the crucial element. When you want to time the market, you need to know when to do it and then do it frequently.

Don’t Forget!

Hewitt put out a report [5], based on the 401(k) plans they managed, that said:

Hewitt’s annual study of the 401(k) saving and investing behaviors of nearly 3 million employees across 120 large-sized companies reveals that despite the market volatility, only 16.2 percent of employees made any sort of fund transfer in 2009, down more than 3 percentage points from 19.6 percent in 2008. In addition, participation rates and contribution rates remained virtually unchanged from 2008, at about 74 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively.

In other words, people go out of the market in 2008 and many never went back in. They tried to time the market by pulling out funds or reducing and eliminating their contributions, but they didn’t get back into the market in time for the rally in 2009.

You need to time it on the way out and you need to time it on the way back in. Miss one or the other and you lose.

Burton Malkiel @ Google

Burton Malkiel gave a talk at Google that’s worth watching, he discusses day trading:

The takeaway is this – Market timing works, it just doesn’t work for regular folks like you or me.