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TTU72: Adding Value to Your System ft. Mike Shell of Shell Capital Management – 2of2
12th February 2015 • Top Traders Unplugged • Niels Kaastrup-Larsen
00:00:00 01:11:40

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In the second part of our talk with Mike Shell, we delve into the specifics of his program and why most of his clients have 100% of their investments with his firm. He discusses backtesting, risk management, and the differences between purely systematic systems and systems with a discretionary element. Listen in for an inside look at this fascinating firm.

Thanks for listening and welcome back Mike Shell.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn:

  • How people should look at Mike’s 10 year track record and how his models have evolved over that time.
  • How much of the strategy is machine run and how much is human run.
  • What he does when he backtest a system.
  • How he started out as a chartist in the 1990s.
  • What is it that he can’t systematize.
  • The difference between a trader that is purely systematic and one that has a discretionary element, however small.
  • How his investors use his program.
  • What his approach to risk management is and how it plays out with his program.
  • Why he doesn’t take on much short exposure.
  • What’s the biggest challenge with his business right now.
  • How to expand the customer base to investment advisors.
  • What books Mike would recommend.
  • What he’d do differently if he had to start all over today.

Resources & Links Mentioned in this Episode

Follow Niels on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or via the TTU website.

Follow Mike Shell on Linkedin.

IT’s TRUE 👀 – most CIO’s read 50+ books each year – get your FREE copy of the Ultimate Guide to the Best Investment Books ever written here.

And you can get a free copy of my latest book “The Many Flavors of Trend Following” here.

Learn more about the Trend Barometer here.

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...but it's been a very strong trend up. So it's interest rate is down like 2%. So interest rates are going down, and bond prices are going up on Treasuries. That's all interconnected to global deflation. See, I understand that. There's not a whole lot of people that I know, and I communicate fairly regularly with about a hundred people that do this stuff... There's not a whole lot of people that truly understand what's going on: why gold is down, why the dollar's going up. It's global deflation. The price of things is going down, and interest rates are… and that's driving... And the second thing that I think that's driving long-term treasury up would be the fact that there's a lot of world markets that have actually fallen recently. That money tends to rotate into bonds, and that drives the price of the bond up. Those kinds of things to me are important.

Now do I have to know that to do well? No, I don't. But I can tell you that overall… part of my… The consistency of my return stream and the uniqueness in my return stream has been because I'm following trends primarily. I also identify at times when those trends do get to an extreme, and I do some things there. Now particularly, I'll give you a good example, I normally don't talk about my fund a lot, but I'll tell you something I do in my fund that's different than I do in managed account. So in the fund, if I've got a trend that's going to the moon, like say TLT - the treasury, I may go sell call options against that. I may start to slightly hedge that position. So I'm going to let it keep going up. I'm going to allow it to keep running, but I may say, "You know what, this trend has reached an extreme point based on my definition, and I'm going to go and I'm going to use options to maybe hedge that position." Rather than sell it, I'm going to let it go, but I'm going to hedge it in some way. And I may use a vertical spread or some real complicated option strategy to do that. By the way, options are very, very asymmetrical. You know the payoffs are very asymmetrical if done correctly. They're not risky unless you don't know how to use them, which most people don't. So, I guess at the end of the day, there's a lot to it. For me, it's been man versus machine.

Over the last ten years, I can tell you that when you look at my return history, which will be on our website: When you look at my return history, in the first several years we had… Like if I compared it to the stock market, for example, which is a bad comparison because we're not just trading the stock market… But the performance was really, really strong, and there's a reason for that. It's because I had a lot of international exposure, and I had a lot of commodity exposure to commodity indexes, and particularly energy.

Energy was rocking out from:

We do this in profit sharing accounts and all kinds of different accounts, because we can you see because we're not shorting, we're not using margin, or nothing like that, no leverage.

th less capital… Going into:

Energy was still going up. We probably got into maybe some bonds that were going up in price, and two, really unique things at that time that we don't do too often was that I was short financials and REITs (real estate) through inverse ETFs. I'll never forget… I normally don't get very many questions from our investors, because they see what we do, they understand what we do, so they don't ask very many questions… But I do remember one investor back then saying, "Mike, who shorts REITs?" He said, "That's a dividend paying, and all this." And I said, "Well I do." You know he said, "Well why?" And I said, "Because REITs are going down more than anything else in the world is going up." Real estate investment trusts in early 2008 in financials, you know banks and things, they were going down at a higher… you know a better trend. Their velocity was… they were going down more than anything else in the world was going up, so we ended up actually going inverse using those.

The managed account is mostly a long strategy. It's primarily long things, but it will go short things. And we do use things like SH the short ETF… S&P 500 ETF that get's the short side… We will do that at times too, but it's just not a huge exposure to it because I just don't need it. In that strategy, I want a consistent return stream. So overall it's a very flexible strategy. It's not really changed a lot it's just you know… I've kind of been doing the same thing over the entire period of time, but the conditions have changed, so that is probably… There're periods of time where we've had more bonds. There're periods where we've had more international stocks. There're periods where we've had more United States stocks.

There're periods where we've had currencies… You don't hear much about currencies anymore, but you forget that the Euro and all those currencies were doing really well in early...Say ten years ago to five years last ago.


Sure. I don't know whether it's possible… I mean what's intriguing to me actually is that you clearly embrace trend following. Trend following is about mechanical systems for the most part, yet you do it differently. You have man and machine. Is it possible to quantify how many man and how much machine is in the strategy so to speak? And has that relationship changed? Were you more doing your thing, imposing on the strategy initially, or maybe you do more now? How has that evolved?


re mechanical. So back around:

My thing is though, and a lot of people have trouble with discipline operating a system, that's not my problem. That's not why the man's involved. For me, I believe that the human element is, is that there's this… I want to supervise what I'm doing, okay? So I'm overseeing these systems, and I am applying these systems as I believe I should. So that's been very consistent.

Now let's talk about backtesting. So I've developed these systems through the process of backtesting, which… Backtesting is a scientific process whereby you look back in the past using past data, and you apply different entry, exit, and size systems to that. You're able to then quantify what works and what doesn't work. So you're able to mathematically determine what has a positive mathematical expectation. You're mathematically able to determine how much should you bet in each position, at what point should you get out, and how much risk should you take in these positions, and what parameters… how should you define a trend? So trend following actually is not mechanical, trend following is not just mechanical because if you've read John Murphy's book, one of the first books I've ever read… that was like probably the second book I ever read… about technical analysis, they talk about trend following in there too; they're just doing a discretionary chart-based method.

was unheard of by the way in:


So now you've got backtest being sold everywhere. Well, the problem is, there is… The interesting thing and this is an in-depth answer to your question, but the interesting thing is if you look at it… I would like somebody to show me that they did a backtest thirty years ago, okay? And they did it on say fifty years of prior data, thirty years ago. I'd like them to show me that they have done the exact same thing the last thirty years as they did in their backtest.

My point is there is the human element. You see, I don't believe that there are any systems that are running today that have been exactly the same for thirty years, precisely the same. So if you do a backtest and you go sell it to people, you're going to have to make changes. Things change, markets change, things evolve, you get to add new markets as they come out, you take markets out as they may have some issues, and that is the human element. You know some of the people that you and I both know that have been doing this stuff for thirty years, they say, "Well, you know we're very systematic and we're very mechanical and there is no human part." Well, there is a human part I think. I believe there is a certain skill level that you have to have, an experience level to know when to make those changes over time. Because you can't look at a ten or twenty, or thirty-year track record and not think that there's not some human element to it. I think that you do actually have to make some changes, and if you don't believe that I think you'll find out someday that it's true.


No, I completely agree with you on that, that there is a human element. I think the difference is though, that those who say that they're fully systematic, although admitting that (in their research) they make changes over time. I think what they're saying is that if a certain situation in the markets occurs today, and it occurs tomorrow, our reactions are going to be the same. If I understand you correctly, in a sense is that you actually have the ability to implement things slightly differently one day to another. I think that's the difference between being fully mechanical, but still obviously having a human element in the research, and there for being able to change your models. But the models will react exactly the same today as they will tomorrow if the same thing happens. In your case and in many other cases, which works very successfully, you have the flexibility of implementing or reacting to things in a slightly different way. And I don't think there's anything wrong or right about that, to be honest, as long as people know what they're buying, that's the key thing.


ll. I decided later on around:

What I actually did was different, I actually already knew what I wanted to do. I already had methods that I was using. I wanted to just take what was more in the nineties, a discretionary method and to turn it into a more algorithmic, a more systematic method. So that is a very distinct difference. Now let me be clear, I don't sit around and try to figure out what's going to happen next. I don't try to make decisions on a discretionary basis or on a daily basis based on what's going on. It's really… There is a lot of systematic processes to it. It's just that I oversee it, I supervise it, and I've got all kinds of different systems that do different things.

Let me make another point about that. I can tell you this: the Turtles, back during Richard Dennis's training program, they did not have a computer system that was mechanical that told them what to do. They certainly didn't have a program that routed the trade interactive brokers automatically without them even knowing it. What they actually did have, is I believe they had a chart book. I believe they got it about once a week, and they actually looked at a chart book and they updated their data that way. Now if you think about that, that was not a mechanical system that the Turtles operated. We have evolved into that over time. The computer systems have allowed us to become more quantitative, and more systematic, and more mechanical, but even the Turtles back then used chart books. They didn't have…

You know Richard Dennis didn't hand them a software and say here's the software, hit this button to update the data, and it will tell you whether to buy or sell and how much to buy or sell. So you have to realize that… and in my opinion when we get to… I believe that there are human skills involved in this. I believe that there are human edges, and I believe that some of the friends of mine that have been doing it for thirty years that I've talked to recently about this, I believe as much as they will say, "You know yeah, we're mechanical and systematic." There are personal traits about that person, and about me, and about these different people that I know, there're certain characteristics about us that allow us to do what we've done, and I don't think that just anybody can go out and do it.


What is it about you that you can't systematize? Because obviously you have the knowledge, you have the skill; you have the experience. What is it you can't put into fixed rules in your methodology?


Well that's a good question, for the most part I actually have. I do have more of a systematic version of everything that I do. The only thing… and I've gone so far as to have NLP experts actually observe what I do back years ago. That's how far I took this. So I had neural linguistic programming people, somebody actually sit and watch me make a decision to figure out what is it that I do. You see when you start… I was a discretionary person, so I was looking at charts. I was running screens, looking at charts, and the funny thing is, is that you're so in the flow of doing that, that you don't really know for sure… I really couldn't even tell… There were pieces that I was missing, but I wasn't even aware that I was doing it because I was so in the flow of doing it. It's kind of like driving a car, you know, you don't think about shifting gears or hitting the gas pedal or brake.

Now I do have systematic methods for most of what I do, but the things that I do… the managed account program though, that are more complicated is the… I think that so overall we're trend following, and we're certainly using momentum, and relative strength and velocity, and directional trends, but the pieces of where the counter trends kick in, I've got these counter-trend systems that I have too… Counter trend systems are kind of you know… So the theory of mean reversion is that a trend will go so far, and eventually it will overreact, and it will go too far and revert back to its main… the VIX is an excellent example.

So the VIX index is a… The VIX is not going to go to one thousand. Okay? It's going to oscillate between you know, whatever - maybe ten and thirty for the most part and average maybe twenty. It's going to go to seventy or eighty occasionally, and it may go down to five someday, but it's going to oscillate up and down, so it's very mean reverting. That is a counter trend system that you want to apply to the VIX if you're going to trade volatility. I do trade volatility in my fund. That's very difficult to quantify and systematize. I think that there's a whole lot of other understanding of what's going on in the markets that gives an edge to knowing when to do those things, when to go long volatility or maybe when to go short volatility.

But within my managed account program, you know I do have the model version of it, I do have the systematic version of it, it's not… It sort of replicates what I do in some degree, but it is far more complex than… It's not complex in that it is some real crazy equations, but it's complex in that there're lots of different pieces to it, and it changes over time. Because you see, there's different types of trends. Trends can go up, and trends can go down. Trends can be non-trending and go sideways, but trends also go up with high volatility. Look at the S&P in the last six months, fairly a little more volatility. It dropped ten percent, and then here recently it dropped five again… a little bit more volatility than it was six months prior to that. So trends can go up with volatility. They can go down with volatility. They can go up with low volatility smoothly, they can go down with low volatility smoothly, they normally go down with a lot of volatility though… They can go sideways, or they can go sideways smoothly, or they can go sideways with lots of range that's very tradable if you’re a swing trader. You know they may go up and down five or ten percent, you know where you can actually capture those trends.

Those are lots of different conditions to consider. So to me if you're running the most simple trend following system using moving averages, which I do not do, by the way, I don’t use moving average or just simple breakouts. My algorithms are a little more complex than that. If you're just trading moving averages… lots of research papers written on moving averages, and that looks good in theory, but it doesn't seem to work… There's not been that many people who've been able to make those strategies actually work well in practice if you've noticed. I mean there's some great papers, but then you look at their performance, and they haven't actually made any money, they've been flat for ten years. So there's understanding, there's the knowledge like: why wouldn’t you use a two hundred day moving average? Well, because there's a lot of scenarios where you could actually still lose a lot of money with a two hundred day moving average. Think about how the two hundred day moving average if the price goes down slowly enough and it doesn't ever pierce the two hundred day, you could go to zero.


Sure. I do want to try and take you back and pinpoint a little bit just for my understanding. I think it's actually quite interesting, and that is: can you pinpoint where it is that you use your, in a lack of a better word, discretion or input? For my understanding, so you have thirty-three systems. Do they just run on their own, or do you say, "Actually today we're going to run system number 17, 15, and 27." Or where is it in the process where you add your value?


Well, I think the main key is that I have multiple systems that I've developed, and I run, and these systems now keep in mind they're not all necessarily used in the managed account or in the fund, those two are using two very different systems. But these systems for me are sort of almost like indicators in a way because they're buying and selling different markets and doing it in different ways. I've got counter trend, I've got trend following, some of them are short term, some of them are long term, and so they're multidimensional. So the neat thing is about having these systems and observing them operate over the last, more than a decade now is that I learned a lot from all these markets and all these systems about how markets trade. I've been able to observe these things. Now where I think my advantage is or where I have… So what I do is primarily, you know it's very rules based, it's very systematic, but there are times ultimately at the end of the day what I'm saying is, is that I sit down, see the signal, get a good feeling about it, see that it looks right and pull the trigger.

So I am ultimately… There is no routing of trades directly to the broker or anything like that, so that's what I call mechanical.

Mechanical is if we did a fixed route, and we direct it directly to the brokers and we don't even look at it, and I know people who do that. What I do is I get up in the morning, and I run all my systems and I determine if we should buy this or sell that or reduce this or add to that, or reduce a risk in this thing or add risk to this thing… I look at it, and I am ultimately what I call a tactical operator. Okay? So I'm a tactical operator, so it's like being a military operator except for in a very different kind of way, but I'm a tactical operator. My job, my role is to... I've got these things these systems and methods and processes that I implement. Ultimately at the end of the day I'm taking responsibility for executing these things. So as I do that, most of the time it's very rare that I don't take a signal or that I may override something. Most of it is quite systematic, I mean it is program driven, it is algorithmic driven. But there are times when... For example, I mentioned recently there're some things in one of my portfolios that is gone to an extreme. I may hedge that, and that is because I have a counter trend system that says maybe I should hedge, and so I'll do those things.

Let's look at it from the other extreme, let's look at it… Very good topic, so let's take a moment here and let me explain two different extremes. One extreme is if you tell me that your methodology is completely mechanical as a manager. If somebody has a completely mechanical methodology, and if I know what that is and I can figure that out, then I can also replicate it. I can put it in and ETF and charge ten basis points because all it is, is just a system, and there's no human involvement whatsoever, and there's no skill. But here's the problem with that, because I had somebody approach me and ask me to do that a few years ago, and I just couldn't quite put my name on it you see. I thought about coming out with some indexes, and I just couldn’t quite do it. You know why? Because at the end of the day, I reserved the flexibility as a person, as a money manager, as a trader, as a tactical operator, that at the end of the day I understand what's going on in the markets. I understand how markets interact with each other. I understand why interest rates are doing this and that, and why commodities are doing that. I want to understand what's actually happening.

Now I don't apply that to my decision-making so much as I do that I just understand it, and that can affect… You know there's times when you don't want to get too loaded up in one market. Let me give you an example, somebody said to me a while back that they put twenty-five percent in four different areas of the markets. Well, I don't do that, I would actually go seventy-five percent in stocks, for example, you know I don't have a problem doing that because my exits control my risk. But what I'm not going to do, is I'm not going to have seventy-five percent of my money in say tech stocks you see because I know better because the correlations. Well, if you really are that mechanical, just launch an index, put it in an ETF, and that's all you have to do. It's not that simple though if it were then… I just challenge people, show me somebody who has been running the exact same system thirty years ago that they're running today, or forty years ago, that they're running today. I want to see it.


But I think Mike if I may just venture a comment here. I don't think there's anything wrong or right between the methodologies and I think where maybe where I certainly personally differ a little bit is that you apply the skill in the execution and in the overlay. For me, it's just an overlay, but the people who are one hundred percent mechanical, and I know quite a few of them, and so do you… their skill in my opinion lies in the research, because of course they evolve, but they just don't want to have to make any discretionary decisions when it comes to implementation. They want to make those decisions when they pick the parameters in their research and in their testing. That is the way I see the difference, I don't think there's anything wrong or right.


Yeah, well I have to say that what you just described is actually me though. I have to say that what you just said describing them is not unlike me, I'm doing the same things, that would fit me too. My point though is that the human element is in the systems development, developing the systems and the methods that you use. The human element then, though, is also operating those systems. I believe that there is a certain amount of skill involved over time that will guide you and will prevent, for example, to me a huge drawdown would be unacceptable because my investors think it's unacceptable.

At the end of the day, the ASYMMETRY Managed Account was created for some specific people, and we sat down and we answered two big questions. Number one, how much decline in your account are you willing to tolerate? Most people and again, remember we'll also get to the part where we talked about we're managing all of their money most of the time. This is usually the entirety of their portfolio. So if they're a physician and they have five million dollars in all their accounts, I mean I managed it all in this one portfolio. So we're saying how much can this five million dollars or million dollars or whatever, one hundred thousand, whatever it may be… how much can that decline before you tap out? Or before you cry uncle before you call us and say you're afraid? What's your uncle point, where are you going to tap out?

declined as much as it did in:

The S&P 500 dropped fifty-six percent, now that is not acceptable to my investors and nor is it to me personally. Twenty percent drawdown is about as most… that's within my tolerance. The reason for that, by the way, is because it takes me twenty-five percent to get back. If I go down thirty, it'll take me forty-three percent, and I just don't want to have to dig out of a hole. If I'm good enough at managing risk and maintaining drawdowns within reason, you know ten to fifteen percent I think is reasonable. That's reasonable, but when we go beyond fifteen percent man, you're talking about having to really dig out of a hole. So that's just how I do it. I know I have a lot of friends who don't see it that way, and they disagree with that, but that's fine. My equity curve looks consistent as it does because that is my goal, is I'm applying tight risk management. I am also doing some counter trend along the way, and I'm applying it to world markets to identify trends across all kinds of different markets, and different uncorrelated markets.

I'm creating my own unique return stream by creating unique return streams. You know when you take… If you take the energy sector, ETF and you look at its price trend, well there's one return stream. Well, if I apply some trend following method to that, well that's a whole new return stream that doesn't exist without doing that. Then I can apply a counter trend to that return stream, and there's a whole other looking chart. Do you see what I mean? I just threw three charts using the same exact data, but applying different methods to it. So what I'm actually doing is my systems are sophisticated enough that that's actually how I'm ultimately doing it.

Now to get back to your question is, so number one, I'm managing the majority of people's money in almost every circumstance. Now sometimes when the financial… See there're three ways that financial advisors use my managed account. Now they use it a little differently than me sometimes, but there're three ways they'll do it. Number one is they may use it as a complete portfolio all in one account, which is how we do it. That portfolio is going to have around ten to fifteen ETFs in it, fully loaded, or it may be one hundred percent cash as it's been nine or ten times in the past decade. So it can go from ten or fifteen positions or it may be zero to cash. Cash is the only way to completely avoid loss. Now there is no other way, cash is the default when things are going down. We may go short just a little bit, but cash is where we will... We are not afraid to go to cash. So they may use it as a complete portfolio all in one account.

The second way they may use it is a lot of investment advisory firms in the United States are asset allocators, and they have their own asset allocation models. It may be passive using index funds like… I mean I'm using index funds, I love index funds myself. An ETF is a systematic trading system; it's a systematic index. Some of them may be using mutual funds and trying to pick active mutual funds to beat those indexes. I think that's a lot harder to do. That's the part of active management that I actually don't agree with that much, is that I think it's very difficult to find a mid-cap manager that's going to beat the mid-cap index. I think there's a lot of manager risk involved in that. I'd personally rather buy the ETF index at a much lower cost and know what I'm getting, rather than having the risk there.

So they may have their own asset allocation, and they call that strategic asset allocation. They rebalance it, and they do it the way they do it. Well, what they may do with me… and that by the way I call symmetry too because it's usually a balanced portfolio, so I call that symmetry. What they may do with me is that they may… Some of the advisors that are using ASYMMETRY, my program, is that they may add it in twenty, thirty, forty, fifty percent. It's sort of the tactical strategy added to their allocation. This is because I'm going to create a very different looking return stream than their asset allocation model does, as evidenced by the last ten years. It's a very different strategy, very different return stream, and so they can add those two together that have lower drawdowns and a whole lot more return.

Now the third way that they'll do it is some firms are more of like the endowment model where they actually use hedge funds and private equity and all these alternatives. Or they'll use private real estate trusts and whatever it may be. Now they call that the endowment model. Those are policy portfolios, where they don't use modern portfolio theory and optimization to do their allocation. They just have some investment committee that says, "We want to put this much in here, this much there and this much." And they'll have an allocation called, "Alternatives," and the way ASYMMETRY, my program, fits into that is that it would be a liquid alternative. So it's like a liquid alternative to a hedge fund or a liquid alternative to a fund and they get transparency and liquidity and control. So they consider me an alternative investment strategy, whereas some financial planners, they don't so much consider me alternative investment strategy as they can just consider me a tactical manager as a component to what they do. And then the first one that I mentioned, some of them will actually do what we do which is we only do this portfolio, so all of our investors are in this portfolio, including us.

So we use it as a complete portfolio all in one account, and that's what it was designed for. Now in doing that, because that's a big obligation you know. The risk control is much tighter I think, and our downside risk is a huge component because we don't want that downside risk to go too far. We don't want them to panic out. When somebody taps out, I don't know when you'd ever get them back in. If somebody's account dropped twenty percent or thirty percent, and they tap out and they say, "You know what, get me out." So at what point do they want to get back in? When it drops thirty more, or when it goes up thirty? I don't know, you tell me, I don't have an answer to that. So I don't want to go there, we don't want to get them there.

We want to give them something that's going to be within their risk tolerance; it's going to fit within their objectives for risk. Then the second thing of ASYMMETRY is that how much return do they need? What kind of a total return do they need? So like my managed account I can say it's gained like one hundred and twenty percent net… Our average management fee is like two percent. So it's one hundred and twenty percent total return over a ten-year period, net of all cost, and I think maybe more than one hundred and twenty percent. Last time I noticed is one hundred and twenty percent, and over about a ten year period. Well, that's a pretty strong return; you could do the simple math to get the average. It's had the worst drawdown was fourteen percent, the second worst drawdown was I think nine, and then the third was like seven. So it doesn't go down a whole lot. It's got this big nice total returns. It's a very steady return stream, and that fits a lot of people, and it fits both institutions, family offices, and investment advisors, and individuals.

In order to do what I do you see, when you look at my return stream it looks different than say the managed futures indexes. That is because I'm trend following, I am systematic, I do have models, I do have systems, and I do have a person and people who can come in and actually implement it. Down the road, I am definitely going to have somebody who will be able to do that. So you could think about key man risk, well you know it's no different than Bill Gross. When a money manager leaves a firm or leaves a fund, you know it is what it is. So they say, "Well what if something happened to you?" Well, first of all we do have the model version so we do have people who can implement it and continue to do it. The second thing is though, which I think is more important ultimately, if something really happened to me at this stage, you know it's no different than… Bill Gross leaves PIMCO Total Return, and you decide what you want to do about it you know?

Down the road, we will have... We do have a succession plan. I do have somebody that I mentioned that I've hired that I think down the road will be somebody who's going to be closer and closer to the portfolio management process. I just believe that… I don't think that… I'm not willing to say that what I do is… I'm not willing to do it on a fully one hundred percent mechanical way, whereby my programs are just routing a trade directly to a broker and executing it that way. Now I know there's a lot of people that do that, and that's fine and if you believe your system is that complete, and I do believe my system is very complete. But at the end of the day I think really the only thing that I'm doing that's really the human element is, is that I'm executing it. I'm making the ultimate decision.

Then secondly I would be afraid while the last ten years I've been doing the same thing over and over and over again. I know I am aware… As a famous person said, "I know what I don't know." I think it's Larry Hite that says that, "I know what I don't know." And I would not say that I would index what I do and be willing to put my name on it and say that it's going to do the exact same thing for the next thirty years. And I say that because I don't believe anybody's actually been able to accomplish that in that level of mechanical system. I don't think anybody's been able to do that. I'd like to see it if they have, you know send me an e- mail and explain it to me. I'd like to see it, but I just don't think we can go quite that far. I just think that there're things that change over time whether it's new markets coming in or out or… There're certain things that I think do have to change over time, we have to evolve with it. I think that there is a human skill involved in doing that.

I definitely without a doubt know for sure that there is a human skill involved in executing the strategy. I could not post or email my trades, and other people would be able to follow my trades. I've tried that before, we've tried it with some advisory firms where we give them signals… That's very difficult to do unless they have a real professional trader who's not going to think twice about it, and they're just going to pull the trigger. But operating the system, it's not as easy as doing a backtest and then you go out and you run the system and then it works well into the future. There's a whole lot more… There's all this experience that the guys that you and I both know that have been doing this for thirty years, there's a lot of experience and knowledge that they have and that I have over the last ten or fifteen years.

There is experience and knowledge that you have about the markets and how they work that I think is necessary to be applied, and that's just what I believe and I challenge anybody to disprove that. Because I've asked a lot of people, everybody I know that's been doing this stuff for thirty or forty years, and I've yet to have anybody completely show me that they can really say that there's not some human element and human skill involved in it.


I wanted to jump to the next topic, which is risk management. We already touched upon it, but I want to ask a question here. You know you say, for example, you don't want to go below twenty percent, so here's just a question. If you're down fourteen, fifteen percent and maybe at some point in the future, you might be down seventeen percent. Does the fact that you're close to the twenty percent, do you think that influences your position sizing or whether you take a signal or not? Is that where you would say your real sort of a finesse or fine tuning off of the implementation comes in?


account, and that was during:

So in September:

Well, we were in cash… That period was so dangerous; that money market broke the book. I think it was called the reserve fund or something. It actually dropped, what was it, 2% or 3% if you remember? That's how dangerous that period was. I actually remember sitting in the hotel while I was at that speaking engagement, I remember sitting in the hotel, and I actually diversified across four money markets. I actually called a money market analyst that that writes a research report on money markets. I talked to him and we actually allocated across different money markets because we didn't want to have all our money in this one money market. And that's how dangerous that period was, we had gone to cash during that time.

Now I know that not a lot of managed futures trend followers had they actually gotten short, because they short more than I do. They'd actually gotten short and actually were starting to profit from that period, but we'd gotten cash. Now I actually re-entered the following week when the markets took off very sharply all of a sudden, you know countertrend move, and they took off very sharply, had gotten back in, it went up and then it went down, and I had another drawdown at around 7%. So 3.4 plus 7, you know you're getting into ten or eleven percent. Okay?

Now at that time I was down around ten percent because again, the markets had reversed up, I got in, it went up a little bit, turned around and went back down. I'll never forget on October the 15th I had filed an extension on my tax return, I was in my conference room the entire day with accountants trying to get my tax return finished. And I'll never forget that I walked out of there, and the market was already closed… the markets were closed, and we had lost what we made in that position and then some. And had actually lost 7%, you know so we had incurred a drawdown. Now at that time we weren't all that concerned about it really because the fact of the matter is… So we were down 10% off our peak. Probably most people were down like thirty or forty or you know, or maybe more percent at that stage, so it wasn't a big deal because it was a pretty minor thing, so it wasn't a major deal.

Now once, I got down… See I only risk a certain amount at a time. So if you don't want to have a twenty percent drawdown or more, then that necessarily means that you're not going to have… You're going to have a limit of how much open risk you have on at any given time. You need… I'll call it units; you need like… They used to call it units of risk. I'm going to call it.. you need blocks or units of risk that you can use at different times because it's not as simple as allowing your portfolio to go down 20% and then getting out. I guess what do you do then? Just give them their money back? I don't know. I mean what do you do? And I'm not guaranteeing that we're not going to ever have a 20% drawdown, I’m just saying that's my objective, I'd like to stay with less than that.

So what that means that I do then, is that my exits across all of my positions and my overall portfolio risk across the entire portfolio is controlled within certain amounts of risk in each of these things and across the entire portfolio. So I only risk so much at one time. Notice that I said 3.4%, and then it was 7%... and once I got down about 10%, then I very much reduced my position size going forward. The only way you can control your downside that way is to reduce your position size going forward and kind of what I call crawl out of that drawdown. So you're in this little hole and if you want to get back out of it… Because if you keep on betting the same amount then of course you know, you're just going to keep on having the bigger drawdown possibly. I've got friends who've done that, and they were down 40%. You know? I mean I have a lot of friends that do similar things than this, and they don't manage risk the way that I do. They ended up being down 40%, and they did it at 10% blocks at a time. So they were down ten and then they were down ten again, and then they were down ten again, by the time it's all over, they're down about 40%. So on the recovery as things start to finally trend back up again, I gradually started gaining exposure. So we got out of the drawdown, and once we got out of the drawdown then I start taking more and more and more risk again. So that's really the essence of how I'm doing this.

So you can kind of see that in the equity curve, you'll notice that I didn't participate in… you know some of these markets, they really shot up strong, and we didn't participate in that as much because the risk management systems that I do don't allow me to do that. It forces me to reduce my risk. Now I know that a lot of your pure managed future CTA trend followers would disagree with that kind of strategy. They also are willing to have much larger drawdowns, as are their clients, I mean their investors, or you know… a 30%, 40% drawdown… But again that comes back to… an investor or a family will give me their entire capital, you know they'll sell their business, and they'll invest… They could invest 10 or 100 million dollars with me, and I would feel comfortable putting it all in this strategy because that's the way it's managed. Now if I were really swinging for the fences and were willing to have bigger drawdowns, you know that'd be different. But I wouldn't expect to get all their money, I'd expect to get maybe a 5%, 10%, 20% allocation.


Sure. I wanted to move on just to cover a few other things, but just on a very quick note, maybe there is a quick answer to this one. And that is how come you don't take much short exposure?


Well in a managed account you have to realize that these are mostly individual investors. A lot of our investors especially early on, a lot of them probably watch their accounts quite closely, I think. They have full liquidity, you know they have full transparency and so they're able to see everything. And I can tell you that, in the early days, I had some large investors that would… I think most of them probably look at their account regularly at first until they get used to seeing how it happens, and that's the nice thing about the transparency, is that they get to see it and experience it and see how the strategy kind of plays out. The downside to that is, and this is also why if you're going to do something other than this, and you want control...

I call it the fund strategy has control of transparency; they don't get to see the trade, so you can do things in there that they don't see. The fact of the matter is if you're doing it in a managed account, particularly if they have 5 million dollars and all of their money in there and they're watching it every day or a couple times a week, or maybe once a month or something, you have to realize that they see that. I can tell you that whether it's a person that's sold their business for 100 million dollars, or it's a surgeon that's retired with 5 million in his profit sharing account, or it's an engineer with 1 million dollars in his 401K or whatever it may be… There are certain parameters about which you have to deal with.

You're dealing with human behavior. It doesn't matter how good your return stream is or how good your performance is, we ultimately have to get these investors to be able to deal with the strategy and what we're doing. So because they see what we're doing, if I was short 50%, the challenge to that would be… say you're short the stock market, for example, what happens is the stock market will go down very fast, and it will turn around and shoot right back up pretty fast too. So like that 10% decline just recently, it was a very V bottomed decline. If you're trend following you're going to get shorted after it's already gone down.

You're going to get short and it's going to turn around and go back up, and you're short. When the market takes off and resumes its trend, it usually does so like I said earlier, with high velocity and high speed. And here you are, you're short and so it's difficult… there are certain parts… You know we have to manage the managed account within the understanding that you do have people that can see that, and you want to do it within… so you do actually have to do it within… It's their account, it's their money, we're a fiduciary, we have to manage it within their objectives and their ability to deal with it, and we have to kind of teach them that over time for some people. Some people just totally… They don't bother with it, and they don't look at it that much. There are some that we don't want them to look at it every day or anything, but that's just how I did it. That's the biggest reason, shorting… there is nothing wrong with going short markets, and I like going short markets, but I'd have to do that in a fund in controlled transparency.


Sure, makes sense. What do you think… just one question about business in general and obviously in looking from your point of view, what do you think is the biggest challenge today when you look at your business?


s of right now today, January:

that it executed through the:

It's always nice when everything is just kind of going up, and you're just kind of going with the flow. I like the challenge, I love the challenge of when it gets a lot more difficult, and then that's when we also find out who's not wearing clothes. You know? We find out who's really got an edge and who doesn't, and I'm very confident in my edge. I can't guarantee it, but I can tell you that I'm real sure about what I’m going to do about it.

Now the challenge for me I think going forward is, you know we've been doing this in a very almost a family office like situation where we've just got this small group of people that I've worked with for many years. We know them really well and are all over the country, by the way, they're not just in Tennessee or Florida; they're everywhere. They're in New York, and Texas, and all over the place. And I think that the thing that we're working on right now is I want to get my managed account strategy out to investment advisors, and I think the challenge to that is that… You know can we find advisors who really understand the strategy? That we're not just trying to beat the stock market every month or every year or anything, it's not a stock market thing.

A lot of advisory firms tend to be, so stock market focused, it's hard to get them past that and look at a unique return stream. So I think that's a big, big challenge is to try to get them to see, "Listen, look at my return stream, look at equity curve, look at what it looks like and we're doing something very intentional here. This is something that your investors would probably appreciate." And we have to try to get them to understand that. That is my single biggest challenge is that I believe… because we've been trying to do it for you, now about two years now. I think that in going forward we're going to do it at a much bigger scale because I'm bringing people on board, that's going to be taking it further than what we have.

I just wrote a 10-page letter to my investors. We just celebrated out ten year anniversary, and I wrote a ten-page letter about it, and I described the evolution over time of how we do things. It's really more of custodians and brokers than it is the system itself. I think that as I sat down and gazed into the future, I think that I have something that we do need to take more publicly. We need to share it with more people. We're developing the systems and the ability to be able to do that without it interfering with me. My thing has been is that I'm so deeply committed to what I'm doing that I've always been very concerned… My number one concern has been anything that would affect my mojo, anything that distracts me. So I have to be very careful that I do what I do every day, and I'm very, very focused and in the zone, and I don't get distracted.

So there's some challenges that I have to continue to stay focused and not be distracted by any kind of growth or anything else that's going on. I'm very, very focused. I think that the registered investment advisor channel is the way forward for us as far as getting it out to more people. Then overall I think that when you look at the industry… I've got a lot of people that will send me articles, and I write articles on asymmetry observations and people send me a lot of stuff. There's a lot of talk about liquid alternatives. There's a lot of talk about backtesting and a lot of backtest models being sold by people who really don't have any experience actually executing them. So you really don't know how well they're going to do. You really don't have any real track record there. It's kind of like me saying that I'm a great baseball player and writing it on paper but not actually having done it before.

I think that's a challenge, is that you have people… You have sort of what I consider charlatans that are out saying they can do things, but they don't really have a real experience doing it. And in one case somebody pointed out, a certain firm to me, that says that they're a… they call themselves a "pioneer in quantitative trading"… quantitative tactical systems and are saying that they're a pioneer, and I don't know if the people are over 30 years old. And it was very disrespectful for the people that we know who are the true pioneers which goes all the way back to Richard Dantian, and Richard Dennis, and Wells Wilder, and all those people way back there you know, who really started all this and Ed Seykota, and all these people along the way, and Jerry Parker, and all these other people that have done this stuff for so long, they're the pioneers. We've been able to learn from them.

So I think challenge wise there's a lot of talk about the liquid alternative space. What I do is a true liquid alternative, a managed account is fully transparent, daily liquidity, full liquidity, full control. They can do tax loss harvesting at the end of the year in their accounts. If they lost money in their business, we can take some gains. They can control the taxes within their own individual account. We can do that at the end of the year, which we do for some people. So it's a true liquid alternative. I think going forward they're trying to index everything and trying to put everything into ETFs or mutual funds. That's all good, and there's a whole lot of… I'll tell you something, I think it's fascinating is that… I started hearing a lot about this… you know I don't read newspapers or anything, I focus on what I do more than anything, but I get a lot of feedback from other people that I know. This hedge fund replication is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. And I'm not saying that I don't want to talk bad about people, but here's just the reality… If… hedge fund replication, now just think about that. Replication means that you're going to mimic it or repeat it. The only person that can run a hedge fund replication strategy would be a person who has actually managed a hedge fund before. The funny thing is that the people who are claiming to replicate hedge fund strategies are actually people who don't actually manage hedge funds in the past.

So if you've got somebody who has good performance, yeah they could do it because they're hedge fund managers. But they're wanting to replicate these strategies, and they've never actually even managed it before so how are they going to replicate it? They may try to figure out what you're doing but at the end of the day even if they could figure it out, can they even execute it at all? So that's just… I don't know, challenges wise is you know, can we get advisors and investors to understand and get what we're doing and what our goals are?


The last sort of topic and just being mindful of the time here. I call it general and fun, and it's just really a couple of short questions to you just to give you a… or give people a little bit more of a chance to get some of your insights. You mentioned you read more than 500 books. If you were going to recommend one or maybe two books that have really had a big impact on you and that you would recommend my listeners to read, what would that be?


Well it's funny you say that, I'm actually working on an article as I mentioned earlier. The article was going to be titled, "My Ph.D." which is this Doctorate of Philosophy and a Doctorate of Philosophy, you don't really have to go to college to get one I guess. So I'm actually going to be listing very soon a big long article, and I'm going to list all the… there's probably going to be 100, 150 books on there that are so critical that I think you would actually need to read them and understand them.


But if you could only pick two Mike? I have to pin you on that one.


If I picked two it would be Jack Schwager's Market Wizards, the one with Ed Seykota, and Richard Dennis, and Van Tharp in it. The second one would be Michael Covel Trend Following.


Okay, great! And based on everything, and again I'm just looking for a short answer here because of the time. Based on everything you've learned, if you were going to start all over today, what if anything would you do differently?


If I started over today I think that number one, I would decide, depending on the strategy I was going to run going forward, do I want a managed account program or do I want a hedge fund which is just a private investment partnership? And the way that I would distinguish between those two is this: if I'm running just stocks and ETFs, and I can do it in a managed account. If I'm going… and you could even go short and even maybe use margin or leverage. If I were going to trade futures, derivatives, or options, that's where the fun comes in, and you want to do it mostly in a pooled account. However, there's even brokers now that can actually even do a lot of that in a managed account too.

I think that would be the thing. The first thing that I would think of is who do I want to be? If I want to run ETFs and stocks, I'm going to do the managed account and offer the transparency. If I'm going to do derivatives and options and more complex things, I'm going to do it in a pooled fund. I think that's the main thing, is that I would decide between those two.


Yeah. No, I think that that actually makes a lot of sense. Final question Mike, is there a fun fact that you could share? Something that even people who know you may not know about you.


You'll have to give me an example on that one.


Well some people have said that actually they can imitate other people's voices, some people say that they get their best ideas when they shower, you know, that kind of thing. You know it could be anything! It could be nothing, I mean I don't know!


I guess the fun fact about me is that my little dog, my little Shih Tzu Domino, he actually somehow came in here. Normally he sits beside me most of the time during the day, and he actually just jumped up here in the chair beside me. So I'm 6 foot 2, 275 pounds, been kind of a body builder all my life, I'm a pretty big guy, and I get out and walk a lot up and down the roads. You know we have nice sidewalks in Florida, and I'm this big old guy who looks like a linebacker, and I've got this little twelve pound fluffy dog. So I guess that’s probably the funniest thing about me is that my little buddy is little Domino, and people kind of laugh because we walk…


Opposites attract right?


Yeah, he's the best dog I've ever seen. So it's just kind of funny that my favorite dog is a little Shih Tzu, a little fluffy Shih Tzu, and he's my little buddy.


Great stuff! Great way to end our conversation. Now just before we finish, what's the best way for people to come and learn more about Shell Capital Management?


Well, there's a couple of ways. Mainly through the websites, I think number one is our new website that's been launched right now is, the other one is If you just simply Google Mike Shell Capital Management or Shell Capital Management you'll find that any of those I'm sure. And then the other… the will be the one that actually have performance and information like that on there. And then one more that's very popular, my most popular website is You can Google asymmetry observations and that is where I write all of my articles, and you'll see a lot of the concepts that I've talked about.


Sure, absolutely, and we will, of course, make sure that we have links in our show notes to those pages so that people don't miss out. Which only really leaves me to really say Mike, you know thank you so much! I mean you've given a lot of great views and insights and been very open about your opinions and what you've found, and I appreciate that. That makes the conversation interesting, and you know, I think today we've touched upon things which we've not always covered in the podcast, so I really appreciate your time! Thank you so much!


Yeah and I really appreciate you and the questions. You have excellent questions, and I've listened to some of your other podcasts which have been excellent and this is… I'm a capitalist, and when I receive something I want to give something back in reciprocity and so you know, I'm glad to be able to share this with you and glad to talk to you, and outstanding questions and you're doing a fine job!


Great stuff, thank you so much Mike and look forward to catching up in the future.


Okay, thank you!


Take care, bye bye.


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