Reminiscences of a stock operator. E. Lefevre

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I went to work when I was just out of grammar school. I got a job as quotation-board boy in a stock-brokerage office. I was quick at figures. At school I did three years of arithmetic in one. I was particularly good at mental arithmetic. As quotation-board boy I posted the numbers on the big board in the customers' room. One of the customers usually sat by the ticker and called out the prices. They couldn't come too fast for me. I have always remembered figures. No trouble at all. There were plenty of other employees in that office. Of course I made friends with the other fellows, but the work I did, if the market was active, kept me too busy from ten A.M. to three P.M. to let me do much talking. I don't care for it, anyhow, during business hours.

But a busy market did not keep me from thinking about the work. Those quotations did not represent prices of stocks to me, so many dollars per share. They were numbers. Of course, they meant something. They were always changing. It was all I had to be interested in--the changes. Why did they change? I didn't know. I didn't care. I didn't think about that. I simply saw that they changed. That was all I had to think about five hours every day and two on Saturdays: that they were always changing.

That is how I first came to be interested in the behaviour of prices. I had a very good memory for figures. I could remember in detail how the prices had acted on the previous day, just before they went up or down. My fondness for mental arithmetic came in very handy.

I noticed that in advances as well as declines, stock prices were apt to show certain habits, so to speak. There was no end of parallel cases and these made precedents to guide me. I was only fourteen, but after I had taken hundreds of observations in my mind I found myself testing their accuracy, comparing the behaviour of stocks to-day with other days. It was not long before I was anticipating movements in prices. My only guide, as I say, was their past performances. I carried the "dope sheets" in my mind. I looked for stock prices to run on form. I had "clocked' them. You know what I mean.
You can spot, for instance, where the buying is only a trifle better than the selling. A battle goes on in the stock market and the tape is your telescope. You can depend upon it seven out of ten cases.

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 to-day has happened before and will happen again. I've never forgotten that. I suppose I really manage to remember when and how it happened. The fact that I remember that way is my way of capitalising experience.

I got so interested in my game and so anxious to anticipate advances and declines in all the active stocks that I got a little book. I put down my observations in it. It was not a record of imaginary transactions such as so many people keep merely to make or lose millions of dollars without getting the swelled head or going to the poorhouse. It was rather a sort of record of my hits and misses, and next to the determination of probable movements I was most interested in verifying whether I had observed accurately; in other words, whether I was right.

Say that after studying every fluctuation of the day in an active stock I would conclude that it was behaving as it always did before it broke eight or ten points. Well, I would jot down the stock and the price on Monday, and remembering past performances I would write down what it ought to do on Tuesday and Wednesday. Later I would check up with actual transcriptions from the tape.

That is how I first came to take an interest in the message of the tape. The fluctuations were from the first associated in my mind with upward or downward movements. Of course there is always a reason for fluctuations, but the tape does not concern itself with the why and wherefore. It doesn't go into explanations. I didn't ask the tape why when I was fourteen and I don't ask it to-day, forty. The reason for what a certain stock does to-day may not be known for two or three days, or weeks, or months. But what the dickens does that matter? Your business with the tape is now--not to-morrow. The reason can wait. But you must act instantly or be left. Time and again I see this happen. You'll remember that Hollow Tube went down three points the other day while the rest of the market rallied sharply. That was the fact. On the following Monday you saw that the directors passed the dividend. That was the reason. They knew what they were going to do, and even if they didn't sell the stock themselves they at least didn't buy it. There was no inside buying; no reason why it should not break.

Well, I kept up my little memorandum book perhaps six months. Instead of leaving for home the moment I was through with my work, I'd jot down the figures I wanted and would study the changes, always looking for the repetitions and parallelisms of behaviour--learning to read the tape, although I was not aware of it at the time.

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