The Darvas Box: A Timeless Classic -Part Two

31 July 2016, 03:35
Muhammad Elbermawi

The Darvas Box: A Timeless Classic-Part Two

You can read part one from Here

The Strategy

From a developed industry list, Darvas would create a watch list of several stocks from each industry. Because of the commission structure of the day, he focused on higher priced stocks. With fixed commissions, the cost of trading, on a per share basis, declined rapidly as the price of the stock increased. While this was of no concern to the buy-and-hold investor, Darvas realized that a significant part of his trading profits would be lost to commissions if he was not careful. Modern day investors can look at stock price as a filter indicating that the company has some stability - very low-priced stocks often stay low for fundamental reasons in today's markets.

Armed with his list of trading candidates, Darvas watched for a sign that the stock was ready to move. The only indicator he used was volume, watching for heavy volume among his short list of trading candidates. When he spotted unusual volume, he would telegraph his broker and request daily quotes.

He was looking for stocks trading within a narrow price range, which he defined using a set of precise rules. The upper limit was the highest price a stock reached in the current advance that was not penetrated for at least three consecutive days. The lower limit was a new three-day low that held for at least three consecutive days.

After spotting the range, he would cable his broker with a buy order just above the top of the trading range and a stop-loss order just below the bottom of the range. Once in a position, he trailed his stop based on the action in the stock. In his experience, boxes often "piled up", which meant that they formed new box patterns as a stock climbed higher. Each time a new box formation was completed, Darvas raised his stop to a fraction below the new bottom of the new trading range.

Turning a Profit in Lorillard
In trading, a picture is worth a thousand words, and we can look at an example from Darvas' book to gain a clearer understanding of his method. In late 1957, Darvas was performing in Saigon and noticed a volume spike in Lorillard. He began following the stock closely by asking his broker to begin providing daily quotes.

Source: "How I Made $2 Million In The Stock Market" (1960) by Nicolas Darvas

A. He identified Lorillard's industry and learned that it was selling a lot of Kent and Old Gold cigarettes. While not a technology stock, cigarettes were a growth industry at this time, before the Surgeon General warning appeared on every pack. (For related reading, see The Stages Of Industry Growth.)

B. He bought 200 shares of Lorillard at 27½, as it broke above the box.

C. Unfortunately, his stop at 26 was hit a few days later when the stock price went back into the box.

D. Seeing continued strength reaffirmed his conviction that the stock was going higher, and Darvas repurchased 200 shares at 28¾.

E. Confident in his selection, Darvas bought another 400 shares at 35 and 36½.

F. Continued strength after the drop in February 1958 led to another purchase of 400 shares at 38.

G. To raise money to purchase another stock, Darvas closed his entire position at 57, for a profit of more than 60% in about six months. By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained about 7.5% over that same time frame. (For more on evaluating returns, see Is Your Portfolio Beating Its Benchmark?)

The simple Darvas used to profit from Lorillard can also work in the current markets. The internet has replaced the telegraph favored by Darvas, and also provides real-time quotes, eliminating the need to wait for Barron's to be delivered on Saturday morning. Spotting high volume breakouts is relatively simple to do, and profits like Darvas made are possible if traders apply his disciplined approach.

Much of Nicholas Darvas' success stems from his confidence in his trading strategy. He became proficient at managing risk and taking his profit off the table before the position had the chance to reverse.

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