Jesse Livermore: Lessons From a Legendary Trader

Who Was Jesse Livermore?

Born in 1877, Jesse Livermore is one of the greatest traders that few people know about. While a book on his life, written by Edwin Lefèvre, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (1923), is highly regarded as a must-read for all traders, it deserves more than a passing recommendation.

Livermore, who is the author of How to Trade in Stocks (1940), was one of the greatest traders of all time. At his peak in 1929, Jesse Livermore was worth $100 million, which in today's dollars roughly equates to $1.5 billion.

Key Takeaways

  • Jesse Livermore was a stock trader that amassed a huge fortune worth $100 million ($1.5 billion in today's money) at his peak in 1929.
  • Livermore traded on his own, using his own funds, his own system, and not trading anyone else's capital.
  • Livermore liked trading in stocks that were moving in a trend, and he avoided ranging markets. When prices approached a pivotal point, he waited to see how they reacted.
  • Price patterns, combined with volume analysis, were also used to determine if the trade would be kept open.
  • Jesse was highly successful but also lost his fortune several times, usually from not following his own rules.

Understanding Jesse Livermore's Trading Strategies

The enormity of his success becomes even more staggering when considering that he traded on his own, using his own funds, his own system, and not trading anyone else's capital in conjunction. There is no question that times have changed since Mr. Livermore traded stocks and commodities. Markets were thinly traded, compared to today, and the moves volatile. Jesse speaks of sliding major stocks multiple points with the purchase or sale of 1,000 shares.

Despite the change in times, his rules still apply, and the price patterns he looked for are still very relevant today. We will look at a summary of the patterns Jesse traded, as well as his timing indicators and trading rules.

Price Patterns

Jesse did not have the convenience of modern-day charts to graph his price patterns. Instead, the patterns were simply prices that he kept track of in a ledger. He only liked trading in stocks that were moving in a trend, and he avoided ranging markets. When prices approached a pivotal point, he waited to see how they reacted.

For instance, if a stock made a $50 low, bounced up to $60, and was now heading back down to $50, Jesse's rules stipulated waiting until the pivotal point was in play in order to trade. If that same stock moved to $48, he would enter a trade on the short side. If it bounced up off the $50 level, he would enter long at $52, closely watching the $60 level, which is also a "pivotal point."

A rise above $60 would trigger an addition to the position (pyramiding) at $63, for example. Failure to penetrate or hold above $60 would result in a liquidation of the long positions. The $2 buffer on the breakout in this example is not exact; the buffer will differ based on stock price and volatility. One wants a buffer between actual breakout and entry that allows them to get into the move early but will result in fewer false breakouts.

While Jesse did not trade ranges, he did trade breakouts from ranging markets. He used a similar strategy as above, entering on a new high or low but using a buffer to reduce the likelihood of false breakouts.

Price patterns, combined with volume analysis, were also used to determine if the trade would be kept open. Some of the criteria Jesse used to determine if he was in the right position were:

  • Increased volume on the breakout.
  • The first few days after the break, prices should move in the breakout direction.
  • A normal reaction occurs where prices retrace somewhat against the trend, but volume is lower on retracements than it was in the trending direction.
  • As the normal reaction ends, volume increases once again in the direction of the trend.

Deviations from these patterns were warning signals, and if confirmed by price movements back through pivotal points, indicated that exited or unrealized profits should be taken.

Timing the Market

Any trader knows that being right a little too early or a little too late can be as detrimental as simply being wrong. Timing is crucial in the financial markets, and nothing provides better timing than price itself. The pivotal points mentioned above occur in individual stocks and market indexes, as well. Let price confirm the trade before entering large positions.

Jesse Livermore believed no matter how much we "feel" that we know what is happening, we need to wait for the market to confirm our thesis. And only when it does, do we make our trades; and we must do so promptly.

Trading Rules

The trading rules that follow are simple and have been included in many trading plans by many traders since they were created nearly a century ago. They are still valid today, and were created under Jesse's truism: "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."

  • Trade with the trend. Buy in a bull market, short in a bear market.
  • Don't trade when there aren't clear opportunities.
  • Trade using the pivotal points.
  • Wait for the market to confirm the opinion before entering. Patience leads to "the big money."
  • Let profits run. Close trades that show a loss (good trades generally show profit right away).
  • Trade with a stop, and know it before you enter.
  • Exit trades where the prospect of further profits is remote (the trend is over or waning).
  • Trade the leading stocks in each sector; trade the strongest stocks in a bull market or the weakest stocks in a bear market.
  • Don't average down a losing position.
  • Don't meet a margin call; close the position instead.
  • Don't follow too many stocks.

Lessons Learned

Jesse was highly successful but also lost his fortune several times. He was always the first to admit when he made a mistake, and when he lost money it came down to two potential culprits:

  1. The rules for trading were not fully formulated (not the case for most of his losses).
  2. The rules were not followed.

For today's traders, these are likely still the culprits that keep profits at bay. To be profitable, a trader must actually create a profitable trading system, and then must adhere to it in actual trading.

Towards the end of his life, Livermore lost his entire fortune and was living off of family annuities.

Jesse outlined a simple trading system: wait for pivotal points before entering a trade. When the points come into play, trade them using a buffer, trading in the direction of the overall market.

Let the price dictate your actions and stay with profitable trades until there is good reason to exit the trade. Losses should be small and trading should be avoided when there are no clear opportunities. When there are trading opportunities, trade stocks that are most likely to move the most.

Jesse Livermore FAQs

Was Jesse Livermore a Day Trader?

Jesse Livermore began his trading career as a day trader but after time eventually became a swing trader and a long-term trader.

How Did Jesse Livermore Manipulate the Stock Market?

Livermore manipulated the stock market by manipulating the prices of thinly traded stocks in bucket shops. He chose corrupt bucket shops to trade with because bucket shops were refusing to work with him anymore since they were not created to lose money but they were because Livermore was successful and building up a fortune.

At the bucket shop, Livermore would place a trade on a stock that was thinly traded on the NYSE. He would then trade the stock on the exchange, causing it to move significantly in the direction he wanted and would then collect the profits from the bucket shop.

There were many other ways in which he would manipulate the market, such as aggressively shorting a stock or commodity to drive down the price, as well as "painting the tape."

How Quickly Did Jesse Livermore Make Money?

Livermore started trading at the age of 14, making his first profit of $3.12 at the age of 15 and $1,000 later at that same age. At age 20, he made $10,000. He continued making and losing money, eventually amassing a fortune that was at its highest in 1929, shorting the stock market, benefiting from the stock market crash, and making $100 million.

Who Taught Jesse Livermore?

Jesse Livermore was a self-taught trader, learning as he traded stocks to formulate his own strategies, knowing what worked and what didn't through trial and error.

How Much Did Jesse Livermore Make in the Great Depression?

Jesse Livermore made $100 million during the Great Depression because he shorted during the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Jesse Livermore. "The Trading Career of Jesse Livermore - Notable Events."

  2. Jesse Livermore. "Market Manipulation."

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.