The story of the “turtles” has been told many times, from many different vantage points. In “The Complete Turtle Trader” (pub. HarperCollins, 2007), Michael W. Covel offers what is perhaps the definitive telling of the legend of the turtles. Covel obtained several interviews with actual turtle traders, as well as extensive trading results which I have never before seen published.
For those that are new to the turtles, they were a group of about a dozen traders chosen from a group of applicants to a Wall Street Journal ad placed by legendary trader Richard Dennis. Dennis and his partner William Eckhardt, ran a hugely successful commodities trading firm in Chicago throughout the 1980’s. The idea for the turtles came from a debate between Dennis and Eckhardt in which they argued whether or not successful trading could be taught, or if it’s an innate skill. Dennis believed that he could take a group of non-traders (the group included college dropouts, Harvard MBAs, chess players, and card sharks among others), and within 2 weeks impart his knowledge to the group so they could be let loose to trade his funds without any outside interference. The long and short of it was, in fact, that Dennis did successfully train this group, as they experienced tremendous returns for the next few years, and many of them continue to trade successfully to this day including Paul Rabar and Jerry Parker.
Covel begins the book by introducing us to Richard Dennis and his trading philosophy. Surprisingly simple, his methods certainly seemed teachable, but as we meet the various traders from all different backgrounds, it is natural to wonder how something like commodity trading could be taught to such a group at the same time, in the same manner. Covel then goes into detail on the actual trading strategy, and how it was implemented by the turtles. This section of the book is not entirely new, as the basic gist of the turtle system has been disseminated for years, but Covel goes into precise detail on the system. He discusses stop losses, profit taking, pyramiding, and more. The only problem I had with this section was the examples he used. Covel uses stocks such as Google in his charts, as opposed to commodities which, of course, the turtles used. Better yet, it would have been very useful to utilize commodity charts from the time period he is discussing (generally 1984-1988). This is a minor quibble, but seems easy enough to address, possibly in a future edition.
“The Complete Turtle Trader” finishes with a “where are they now?” section on the turtles. It is interesting to see which students evolved into professional money managers, and which left the field entirely. A little more detail in this part would have been nice, but it is noted that many of the turtles lead very private lives, so it is possible that the author simply had no additional information on some of the participants. Overall, Covel presents the story of the turtles in a highly readable fashion, and most importantly he includes previously undisclosed details on the system, and the turtle’s actual performance results.