50 years of trading: Larry Williams looks back

In another segment celebrating 40 years of Futures Magazine, an early pioneer reminisces what it was like "back then."

Larry Williams Larry Williams

If there is one person who embodies the mind and spirit of the individual trader during the entire 40-year existence of Futures, it probably would be Larry Williams.

Although there have been a number of big-name commodity trading advisors, commodity pool operators, hedge fund traders and other well-known institutional money managers – names like George Soros, Paul Tudor Jones, Richard Dennis, Steve Cohen and others – Williams has been the one most closely associated with the public traders over the years. 

“What Paul, Steve and guys like Scott Ramsey have done amazes me,” Williams says. “These guys are brilliant as great traders and businessmen. I have never been much of a business guy, just a trader. There is a massive difference and skill set needed to do what John Henry or Ray Dalio do vs. what I do. I trade, at times perhaps better than them. They, on the other hand, run huge enterprises, which is way out of my league.” 

Williams was already gaining fame as a trader and author of trading newsletters and books when Futures was launched in 1972. His first article in the magazine (then called Commodities) appeared in the October 1972 issue (“Measuring Market Momentum”). Futures awarded him its first Doctor of Futures in 1999. 

Endurance test 

In a business known for one-hit wonders, Williams has endured, passing the test of time. He continues to be actively involved in the markets, often trading thousands of contracts a month along with teaching and research.   

Williams gained renown not only for his trading abilities and trading contest winning feats but also for his books, now available in all major languages of the world, featuring innovative trading concepts and technical indicators associated with his name such as Williams’ %R, the “Oops” trade, the “Ultimate Oscillator,” seasonality and indicators based on accumulation/distribution and the Commitment of Traders (COT) indexes. 

Although some say his legacy is based on winning the Robbins World Cup Trading Championship, Williams disagrees. 

“Winning that was an accomplishment,” he acknowledges, “but it is not meaningful in that it did not teach or share my research. My real accomplishments have been the first book ever on seasonal patterns back in 1973, my work on measures of accumulation and distribution and being the originator for all the volatility breakout strategies that have become so popular. 

“Another high mark for me,” he adds, “has been seeing the COT data become about as popular as Perrier water. In 1970 I was the only one trading and writing about this valuable data. It was undiscovered. To know I was the source of that and seasonals are my accomplishments. What pleases me about the contest is that most of the winners of the championship have been my students as well as my daughter who won in 1997. People can learn to trade.” 

His marketing sense and flamboyant presenting skills have long made him a big draw at trading seminars worldwide, entertaining audiences by actually biting into and eating light bulbs to show that risk can be controlled while educating them on the value of fundamentals and monitoring what the market “elephants” (commercials) are doing. Williams has appeared around the world from Hong Kong to Hawaii, Moscow to Malaysia, Brazil to Belgrade; the world has become his stage. 

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