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TRADER'S NOTEBOOK


Investing Clubs And Trading Communities

08/24/11 02:41:59 PM PST
by Karen Wasserman

Trading and investing is a solo activity in the end, but that doesn't mean traders and investors can't benefit from the feedback, idea-gathering, and communal support offered by organized communities. Whether you're interested in participating online or in person, here are a few approaches to consider.

Investing clubs used to be found in cities and towns everywhere, and in some places they still thrive. With the growth of the Internet, part of the need for in-person discussion with other like-minded pursuers of profit has been taken up by online forums and online communities. But live meetings can fill a need (they can be a source of motivation, offer continuity, and introduce you to others), while online groups offer convenience; today, investors may even have a choice.

Whether you like to hang out online or meet face-to-face (or accomplish both with the assistance of web cams), you can participate in practical, nitty-gritty discussions on what works and doesn't in trading and investing by joining a group.

Local investing clubs
Sometimes it's nice to be able to discuss investing and trading ideas with others at live gatherings. Local investing clubs can fill this niche.

Investing clubs may pool their money to invest and vote on what to invest in, or they may exist simply as informal study groups or meetings in which to toss around ideas, debate the worthiness of a particular stock, or mentor others. The former kind of club may need to be formally organized as legal partnerships, while the latter are loose groups with no legal structure and no financial pooling. Depending on the type of group, meeting spaces could be conference rooms of hotels; meeting rooms of public libraries; restaurants or coffee houses; community centers or rentable neighborhood spaces; or even members' living rooms for small, informal groups. Where the groups meet will likely influence the fee charged or amount of donation suggested per meeting.

For investing clubs that actually pool their money to invest, contracts and agreements will be needed, since you're dealing with real money here - a pool of money that members certainly hope will grow. For help with establishing your club as a legal entity and getting the appropriate contracts in place, some resources that may help include the National Association of Investors Corp. (NAIC ) at www.betterinvesting.org and Motley Fool at www.fool.com. The Motley Fool website also hosts a discussion forum on investing clubs at http://boards.fool.com/investment-clubs-100097.aspx.

In some cases, investment clubs (usually larger ones) may be required to register with the SEC given certain criteria, such as the size of the club (say, over 100 members); the nature of a membership in the club; and the amount of money in the pool (say, over $25 million). In addition, if someone acts as an advisor to the group's fund, that person may need to be registered with the SEC as an advisor, as opposed to a case where all club members actively vote on the investments to make. Moreover, some state securities laws, which differ from federal securities laws, may affect investment clubs in some circumstances; learn more about your state's regulations from your local securities regulator with your state government.

But how do you find a local club that's already in existence? That's not always easy. A group that is most open to new members may be more well-publicized or findable through an Internet search. You might be able to locate an investing club through www.Meetup.com, a site that specializes in helping people get together for a particular purpose. At Meetup.com, input your zip code and use the keywords that suit you, such as "stock market" or "technical analysis" or "forex," and peruse the results.

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and StockTwits (a feed of financial or stock-related tweets) may also provide leads or help you to reach out to your "friends" or "followers" to ask around about possible groups to join. You may find leads through local publications or newspapers, either through the occasional feature story or through calendar and event listings.

One of the easier ways to track down local meetings is through a national organization under whose umbrella a local chapter operates.

Local chapters of national organizations
National organizations with a mission geared toward investing or trading education will likely have a prominent website that is easy to find. In turn, the site may offer a list of chapters as well as links to local chapters' websites (if the organization is structured to have local chapters). Local chapters often have periodic meetings, which can serve as informative sessions or seminars. This type of group is not going to be the sort of investment club that pools and invests money together, but rather a resource for continuing education in investing and trading with informational meetings, the possibility of guest speakers, and question & answer sessions. These types of meetings are excellent places to learn more about investing topics, gather information, and meet other investors.

Here are a few national organizations with central websites and links to local chapters. Depending on whether you're a trader or investor and how you approach the markets, one may be right for you.

  • AAII - The American Association of Individual Investors at www.AAII.com is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to provide individual investors with education and tools for building wealth, including stock investing, financial planning, and retirement funding. A basic membership currently costs $29 and grants the member access to the full website as well as their printed monthly journal. The website hosts a bulletin board for members to communicate with other members. The site lists local chapters and their upcoming events; choose your city and click through to the local chapter events. Currently, 26 states are listed as having local chapters.

  • NAIC - The National Association of Investors Corp. (NAIC) hosts a website at www.BetterInvesting.org. The mission of this not-for-profit organization is to provide a program of investment information, education, and support. For $79 a year, membership gives you a subscription to its BetterInvesting magazine; online stock and fund analysis tools; local chapter-sponsored support and training; and access to website content, including self-guided investing courses and an online forum. Click on "learning events near you" or "find a chapter near you" to see a list of sponsored events in your area.

  • MTA - The Market Technicians Association at www.MTA.org is a not-for-profit national organization focused on the study of technical analysis. Membership includes portfolio managers, traders, investment advisors, and others involved in the technical aspects of equities, futures, options, fixed-income securities, currencies, international markets, and derivatives. At the MTA website, click on the "chapters" tab to explore chapters by geographic region, including international regions. Many particulars about meeting times and places, topics, guest speakers, and registration information can be found here.

  • IFTA - The International Federation of Technical Analysts (IFTA) at www.IFTA.org was incorporated in 1986 and is a not-for-profit international organization of market analysis societies and associations, with member societies in 31 countries. Click on "events" to find a listing of member societies around the world.

Looking to one of these (or other) national organizations may be a good place to start if you are having trouble locating a local group to join. Considering the additional benefits and structure these groups provide, your membership dues can go a long way. While at a local chapter meeting, you may even happen upon leads from other members, speakers, or group leaders about other events, resources, or local clubs. Of course, joining a local chapter could meet your needs on its own without your having to look any further.

Software-based user groups
Another approach is to look for user groups that center around a particular software product for trading or investing. For example, programs such as MetaStock, eSignal, and other programs have traditionally provided user support and may be a draw for users to gather locally.

While most of the in-person versions of these groups dissolved as they moved online - since an online forum is a natural fit for software that runs on the Internet, and because sometimes, online forums are an extension of the product's support center - there are still a few opportunities for live user groups. Try checking with the developer of the software you use to find out whether they have any information about local user groups based on their software.

If there don't seem to be any local groups, look for online forums at sites dedicated to the software you use, which are usually found in the support area of the site. Most software developers host message-boards (electronic bulletin boards) at their website, but not all are widely used. Here are a few software companies that host robust message-boards at their site for users: TradeStation, Wealth-Lab, Wave59 (including a chatroom), ShareScope, Trade2Win. Online forums offer opportunities to interact with other users, either about the software itself, about trading strategies, or how to use the software to implement those trading strategies.

Some online forums related to specific software may not be affiliated with the software developer but may be independent. To track down forums, try an Internet search for the term "user group" or "SIG" plus the software you use. Or visit the software site's online message-board to look for user-group announcements or post to an inquiry about live user groups.

Other online discussion forums
Online forums have long been a feature of the Internet. In fact, back when Yahoo! and AOL were new, newsgroups and chatrooms and online bulletin boards were mainstays. Today, the investor or trader may go online to "meet up" virtually with other investors and traders. The trick is finding a forum that has a high level of participation; quality contributors; and one that is targeted to your interests. While such online forums can come and go over the years and vary in their popularity, a few to mention include EliteTrader.com, Collective2.net, traddr.com, and even Wilmott.com for all those interested in quantitative finance out there. Our own Message-Boards at Traders.com is an additional place to post comments and read posts from others. Trading chatrooms (as opposed to leaving messages on message-boards) also exist, offered by commercial services or proprietary trading firms, sometimes for a membership fee.

Online forums can be a convenient place (with merely a login required) to seek answers to questions; discover leads to other resources; get user opinions; discuss strategies and approaches; and share your experiences with other users. Depending on the rules at any given forum, posts to message-boards can be accepted or rejected, and the forums are usually moderated by the company hosting the forum.

Advantages to joining an online forum are that they are easy to find and easy to access; most anyone can join (although forums hosted by software companies may require an account login or require you to be a registered user of the software); you can participate remotely; you can remain anonymous (to other users); and you can partake at any convenient time, even while you trade.

Yahoo hosts a list of a few finance- and investment-related clubs, chatrooms, and online message-boards at http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Finance_and_Investment/Chats_and_Forums/.

Brokerage-sponsored seminars & webinars
Brokerage firms have a vested interest in educating people on how to trade, and it certainly behooves them to foster interest in investing and trading. One way they do that, to the benefit of the account-holder, is by offering seminars, webinars, and other events in which investors and traders can participate and further their skills.

For example, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and E*Trade all offer educational webinars and some local, in-person seminar or events that are free or free to account holders. Here is a look at tracking down some of the event listings through these three large brokerage firms:

  • Schwab - At www.schwab.com, click on the research & strategies tab to see a list of upcoming workshops. Click on the link to "Look for one of our workshops near you" to find out if there are currently any in-person events in your area (they are usually held at local Schwab branches). Or click on the link to sign up for a live online workshop if there are no in-person events in your area but you'd like to attend a workshop online.

  • TD Ameritrade - At www.TD Ameritrade.com, click on the education tab. Choose from the webcasts, courses, workshops, or publications tabs. You can also target your skill level. Full-day or evening workshops provide overviews of the programs and tools offered through Investools and the thinkorswim trading platform. Introductory-level online workshops by TD Ameritrade teach the basics or buying and selling stocks, while additional webcasts presented by affiliate Investools, which may be fee-based or which may be free to account-holders, offer technical discussions of approaches and techniques in a live chatroom format.

  • E*Trade - At www.etrade.com, click on the research & guidance tab, then on "videos & web seminars." Click on "live events" and peruse the list of upcoming online webinars. Then view a list of live events under that (there may be a small number, although they appear to be full-day or full-evening workshops). If there are any local branch offerings, they are listed below.

Webinars may not provide the custom-agenda feel that local club meetings can offer, but they can be a way to keep up to date in the investing world, further your interest in investing, and even ask questions to presenters or benefit from questions asked by other participants. So while seminars certainly aren't clubs or member-based organizations, they are one way of getting together with other traders and investors for trading support and continuing education.

A LOOK FROM THE INSIDE
Since it may be helpful to hear directly from some active clubs on what they do locally, here is a look at a few clubs, ranging from local chapters of national organizations to independent clubs.

  • MAP (Maximum Advanced Profits) is a group of 67 active traders based in the Sacramento area, formed as a not-for-profit organization in 2006. Acceptance is predicated on a proven level of commitment and demonstrated ability to implement a trading strategy in the form of a submitted business proposal. A group with a high level of participation, they approach trading as a business and meet monthly as a larger group plus weekly in smaller groups, either in person or via web cam. Ray Bohlke, the group's secretary, remarks that this smaller group level is where "the sharing, learning, and growing as a competent and effective trader takes place."

    As to whether making such a group commitment is worthwhile, Bohlke answered: "The support is priceless. Trading can be such a lonely profession. The support network we have and the diversity of backgrounds of the membership only makes each of us better traders." An FAQ at the group's website, mapinvestors.org, gives a closer look at how this organization functions and what has made it successful.

  • The Puget Sound MTA chapter is one of several local chapters around the country and internationally that meet locally to pursue the goals of the MTA. Tom McClellan, a chairperson for the Puget Sound chapter in the Seattle area and editor of The McClellan Market Report, states that the purpose of the group is to "foster member fellowship and education about technical analysis through monthly meetings with guest speakers who are experts in their subject matter." He continues, "Meetings are held in the Seattle area and at this point are open to anyone with an interest in technical analysis." (More information can be found at http://www.mta.org/eweb/dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=seattle.)

  • The Computer Investing Users Group (CIUG) of Philadelphia is a not-for-profit group of individual investors who meet for educational purposes to discuss various methods of investing using computers. There are no membership fees. Says member Chris Morris of the club: "The group has been meeting the third Saturday of each month since 1984 to discuss what phase we believe the stock market is in [expansion, contraction, transition]; to analyze stock charts; design stock scans; talk about trading plans, risk/reward ratios, and portfolio money management; conduct Q&A sessions; and more. We also discuss the stocks that result from different software scans and data programs. We have about 80 members on our email list and about 20 show up each month."

  • The Philadelphia Area Computer Society is a chapter of BetterInvesting (NAIC). This SIG looks at ways in which BetterInvesting can help members become successful, strategic long-term investors. At the time of this writing, an upcoming meeting had planned to look at the Stock Selection Guide (SSG) from BetterInvesting, which is a tool for analyzing companies, with a special focus on management.

  • The Telechart Users Group (TCUG), also in Philadelphia, is a not-for-profit group dedicated to the education of its members in technical analysis of investments through the use of Telechart and StockFinder software, both of which are distributed by Worden Brothers. "At each meeting, we look at stock charts and associated indicators through the eyes of some of our members. The group is made up of all levels, from the totally inexperienced to the seasoned investor. Group activities are very interactive, and the more experienced members are always willing to assist the less knowledgeable," said member Chris Morris. The group meets four times a year.

  • Technical Securities Analysts Association of San Francisco (TSAASF) (www.tsaasf.org) was formed in 1970 devoted to the study and development of technical analysis of stocks and commodities. A member society of the International Federation of Technical Analysts (IFTA), it offers members access to all the associated benefits, including the IFTA Journal and newsletter, as well as access to the TSAASF website and periodical.

    The association provides for the exchange of ideas and methodologies by way of meetings, social events, and conferences. Members include individual investors, academics, professional research analysts, fund managers, and financial planners. The group has a close working relationship with Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

    Membership in the TSAA is open to those interested in technical analysis as part of their investment strategy. Annual dues provide members with invitations and/or discounts to seminars, meetings, and luncheons as well as a subscription to the newsletter. Click on "events" at the tsaasf.org website to see a list of upcoming or past events, meetings, speakers, and classes.

If you are unable to locate a group to join and think you would like to start your own locally, check out some of the national organizations mentioned in this article for guidelines on starting and running a local chapter, or see Barbara Star's article from the archives of STOCKS & COMMODITIES magazine called "Starting A Technical Analysis Group" for some pointers on forming groups and running successful meetings. If you try searching the Internet for existing groups in your area, keep in mind some of the alternative terms for these types of groups: user(s) group, SIG or special interest group, society, organization, association, and club.

NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
Investing and trading is a stressful activity and can be complex. Some guidance from experts or feedback from peers can help keep your unprofitable impulses in check and your goals pointed up. When or if you find that you need it, seek out a level of interaction with other investors that is right for you, whether you are interested in support, continuing education, or new investing ideas. The world of investing and trading can be a lonely one, but it doesn't have to be.

REFERENCES, RESOURCES
Rens, Marshall, and Federico L. Brown [1990]. "The Electronic Bulletin Board Comes Of Financial Age," Technical Analysis of STOCKS & COMMODITIES, Volume 8: March.

Star, Barbara [1991]. "Starting A Technical Analysis Group," Technical Analysis of STOCKS & COMMODITIES, Volume 9: September.





Karen Wasserman

Karen Wasserman can be reached at KWasserman@traders.com

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