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Jesse Livermore: Top Trader

People wonder where great traders such as Ed Seykota find inspiration and influence? Jesse Livermore is one such man from the early 20th century. He is the early trend follower.

Livermore Background

Jesse L. Livermore was born in South Acton, Massachusetts, in 1877. At the age of fifteen he went to Boston and began working in Paine Webber’s Boston brokerage office. His job was to post the stock and commodities prices on the brokerage’s price quotations chalk board. He studied the price movements and began to trade on their price fluctuations. When Jesse was in his twenties he moved to New York City to speculate in trading in the stock and commodities market. Over a time period of fourty years of trading, he developed a knack for speculating on price movements in stock and commodity prices. He was said to have accumulated and lost millions of dollars several times over. He earned the nickname of Boy Wonder. Jesse Livermore created a set of trading rules, based upon the lesssons of his personal trading experience. One of his foremost rules was: Never act on tips.

The unofficial biography of Jesse Livermore was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator published 1923. Below are selected quotes:

  • Another lesson I learned early is that there is nothing new in Wall Street. There can’t be because speculation is as old as the hills. Whatever happens in the stock market today has happened before and will happen again.
  • I told you I had ten thousand dollars when I was twenty, and my margin on that Sugar deal was over ten thousand. But I didn’t always win. My plan of trading was sound enough and won oftener than it lost. If I had stuck to it I’d have been right perhaps as often as seven out of ten times. In fact, I have always made money when I was sure I was right before I began. What beat me was not having brains enough to stick to my own game–that is, to play the market only when I was satisfied that precedents favored my play. There is a time for all things, but I didn’t know it. And that is precisely what beats so many men in Wall Street who are very far from being in the main sucker class. There is the plain fool, who does the wrong thing at all times everywhere, but there is the Wall Street fool, who thinks he must trade all the time. No man can always have adequate reasons for buying or selling stocks daily–or sufficient knowledge to make his play an intelligent play.
  • It takes a man a long time to learn all the lessons of his mistakes. They say there are two sides to everything. But there is only one side to the stock market; and it is not the bull side or the bear side, but the right side.
  • There is nothing like losing all you have in the world for teaching you what not to do. And when you know what not to do in order not to lose money, you begin to learn what to do in order to win. Did you get that? You begin to learn!
  • I think it was a long step forward in my trading education when I realized at last that when old Mr. Partridge kept on telling the other customers, Well, you know this is a bull market! he really meant to tell them that the big money was not in the individual fluctuations but in the main movements–that is, not in reading the tape but in sizing up the entire market and its trend.
  • The reason is that a man may see straight and clearly and yet become impatient or doubtful when the market takes its time about doing as he figured it must do. That is why so many men in Wall Street, who are not at all in the sucker class, not even in the third grade, nevertheless lose money. The market does not beat them. They beat themselves, because though they have brains they cannot sit tight. Old Turkey was dead right in doing and saying what he did. He had not only the courage of his convictions but the intelligent patience to sit tight.
  • The average man doesn’t wish to be told that it is a bull or bear market. What he desires is to be told specifically which particular stock to buy or sell. He wants to get something for nothing. He does not wish to work. He doesn’t even wish to have to think. It is too much bother to have to count the money that he picks up from the ground.
  • To tell you about the first of my million dollar mistakes I shall have to go back to this time when I first became a millionaire, right after the big break of October, 1907. As far as my trading went, having a million merely meant more reserves. Money does not give a trader more comfort, because, rich or poor, he can make mistakes and it is never comfortable to be wrong. And when a millionaire is right his money is merely one of his several servants. Losing money is the least of my troubles. A loss never bothers me after I take it. I forget it overnight. But being wrong–not taking the loss–that is what does damage to the pocketbook and to the soul.
  • What I have told you gives you the essence of my trading system as based on studying the tape. I merely learn the way prices are most probably going to move. I check up my own trading by additional tests, to determine the psychological moment. I do that by watching the way the price acts after I begin.
  • Of all speculative blunders there are few worse than trying to average a losing game. My cotton deal proved it to the hilt a little later. Always sell what shows you a loss and keep what shows you a profit. That was so obviously the wise thing to do and was so well known to me that even now I marvel at myself for doing the reverse.
  • The loss of the money didn’t bother me. Whenever I have lost money in the stock market I have always considered that I have learned something; that if I have lost money I have gained experience, so that the money really went for a tuition fee. A man has to have experience and he has to pay for it.
  • In booms, which is when the public is in the market in the greatest numbers, there is never any need of subtlety, so there is no sense of wasting time discussing either manipulation or speculation during such times; it would be like trying to find the difference in raindrops that are falling synchronously on the same roof across the street. The sucker has always tried to get something for nothing, and the appeal in all booms is always frankly to the gambling instinct aroused by cupidity and spurred by a pervasive prosperity. People who look for easy money invariably pay for the privilege of proving conclusively that it cannot be found on this sordid earth. At first, when I listened to the accounts of old-time deals and devices I used to think that people were more gullible in the 1860’s and 70’s than in the 1900’s. But I was sure to read in the newspapers that very day or the next something about the latest Ponzi or the bust-up of some bucketing broker and about the millions of sucker money gone to join the silent majority of vanished savings.
  • There are men whose gait is far quicker than the mob’s. They are bound to lead–no matter how much the mob changes.

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