Kroll on Futures Trading Strategy (Stanley Kroll, 1988)
In John Train’s excellent book, The Money Masters, he writes about the careers and professional methods of nine great investors. Among them are several stars whose names are well known to all of us - Warren Buffet, Benjamin Graham, T. Rowe Price, Larry Tisch, and John Templeton. There, among this “Murderers’ Row” of investors, you will also find the name of Stanley Kroll. Train describes the commodities business, where Stanley made his money, as an “impossible casino.” If this is so, Kroll has had some good runs at the gaming table, and they clearly are no accident or mere luck.
In the 1970s, Stanley had a three-year run during which he built $18,000 of his own money into $1 million. And he performed with equally spectacular skill for his partners. It’s best to leave the other tales of Stanley’s exploits to readers of Train’s book. Suffice it to say that they are impressive displays of guts and brains.
I am not a “commodities man” myself. I try to stick to the paths that I understand better, primarily equities and debt instruments. For me, reading Kroll on Futures Trading Strategy was an education. The thing that most impresses me about the book is that virtually all the major tenets of Kroll’s advice are rooted in a constant regard for discipline and common sense. In short, the best parts of his advice share the underpinnings of any good investment strategy - watch the markets carefully, do copious research, and keep a level head. As Stanley points out, hapless traders act “on the basis of emotion instead of discipline, sentiment instead of logic, and subjectivity instead of objectivity.”
Stanley’s trading philosophy draws most of its important principles from a central core that is key to almost all investing - identify the major ongoing trend of each market and trade in the direction of the dominant trend. Most really savvy investors know that this is as much a key of making money in equities as it is in commodities. One of the reasons that Stanley is highly regarded and has done so well is that his feet are grounded in concrete and not in clay.
When you meet Stanley, as I have many times, you are immediately impressed by how little this expert on commodities claims to know. This is one of the greatest strengths of most real experts. They don’t get overly confident or pretend omniscience. Better to constantly assume that you don’t know enough and constantly investigate your assumptions and numbers; hence, another important Kroll tenet-play in the real world. As he puts it, “the need for a disciplined and objective approach to futures trading is a recurring theme in this book.” Realistically, it is the theme of the book.
Reading Kroll on Futures Trading Strategy can do a little something for all investors. It will not make you into an avid commodities trader overnight, but there is solid advice for each of us. For the novice, it brings a sense, stated in plain English, of how these markets operate and what investing “systems” can work well. For the expert, the book contains plenty of details for resharpening already good steel. For the investor in general, Stanley offers a sense of what makes good investors really good - consistent hard effort on research and the discipline to put it to work participating in significant market trends. Everyone with money in any market can benefit from a healthy dose of Stanley’s advice.
Douglas A. McIntyre
President & Publisher
New York City
May 27, 1987
The fund manager from Seattle, visibly agitated, had been giving me a hard time. It was a bleak mid-November afternoon in 1985, and he had come to Port Washington to talk to me about his futures trading. As we sat in the paneled salon of my boat-cum-office-cum-residence, he painfully described how he had been whipsawed in soybeans over the past year in a succession of losing trades - despite what appeared to have been a reasonably (down) trending market. Trouble was, he had allowed himself to be influenced by news, TV reports, and trade gossip. Although he had gotten onto the right (short) side of the market at times, he invariably panicked (he called it “defensive posturing”) and closed out his good positions at nearly every countertrend rally that came along. He somehow “managed” to hang onto his losing trades during this period, which considerably worsened his already dismal performance. His state of mind during our meeting matched his gloomy track record.
Having gotten his grim confession off his chest, he asked, rather testily, what my trading system had done in beans over the period. “It’s been short since June 11,” was my response. “June 11? What’s so great about that,” he managed to grumble, mentally calculating the time interval as being just five months. “June 11 of 1984,” I replied. A long silence ensued. We both knew that, having being continuously short of soybeans for the past 17 months, the profit in the position exceeded $10,000 per contract.
Regrettably, this sort of conversation has been repeated countless times over the past 30 years, leading me to the inescapable conclusion that each trader’s worst enemy is neither the market nor the other players. It is he, himself…aided and abetted by his misguided hopes and fears, his lack of discipline to trade with the trend and to allow profits to run while limiting losses on bad positions, his boredom and inertia, his apparent need for “action,” and his lack of confidence in his own (frequently correct) analysis and trading decisions.
Someone once said that the surest way to make a small fortune in futures trading is to start with a large fortune. Unfortunately, there is considerable truth in that bit of cynical logic. Clearly, the losers outnumber the winners by a substantial margin. So what is it that continues to attract an increasing number of investors to this game? For me, it is the knowledge-confirmed by nearly 30 years of personal experience - that the futures market is clearly the best way for an investor to have the opportunity to parlay a modest initial stake into a substantial fortune. For a trade firm or financial institution the futures markets present a means of laying off (hedging) financial risks and, in fact, having the potential to make a profit on dealings that would otherwise be a sure loss. Countless family fortunes and international mercantile empires had their humble beginnings in canny and profitable commodity dealings.
But surely it takes far more than desire and wishful thinking for the operator to break into the winners circle. To be successful, an investor must be practical and objective, pragmatic and disciplined, and, above all, independent and confident in his analysis and market strategy. One maxim, which has consistently guided me during scores of trading campaigns, comes from Jesse Livermore, perhaps the most successful lone market operator during the first half of this century: “There is only one side of the market, and it is not the bull side or bear side, but the right side.”
I’ve spent my entire professional career as a practitioner in quest of speculative profits. But I still consider myself both student and practitioner for, in reality, you never stop learning about markets, price trends, and trading strategy. After all these years, I’m still concerned with the quest for profits - no, for substantial profits - from the markets. Considering the tremendous financial risks involved, the emotional strain, and the feelings of loneliness, isolation, self-doubt, and, at times, sheer terror which are the futures operator’s almost constant companions, you shouldn’t be content with merely making “profits.” Substantial profits must be your goal.
That is what this book is all about. It’s about the strategy and the tactics of seeking substantial profits from the markets. It’s about getting aboard a significant trend near its inception and riding it to as near to its conclusion as humanly possible. It is about making more on your winning trades and losing less on your losers. It is about pyramiding your winning positions to maximize profits while keeping losses under control.
It is my belief, confirmed in the real world of tens of thousands of trades made by hundreds of traders, that viable money management strategy and tactics are as important to an overall profitable operation as a first-class trading system or technique.
And, although I would ideally prefer to have both, my priority would be for the best in strategy and tactics. You will do better, in my option, with first-class strategy and tactics and a mediocre trading system than the reverse. A significant portion of this book will be concerned with elaborating on that premise because I consider first-class strategy and tactics as the linchpin of any successful trading campaign.
One final word before you embark on this book. Readers may write to me, in care of the publisher, about any aspects of this book they would like to discuss further. I will respond to the best of my ability and time availability.
Stanley Kroll


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