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Stocks Pumped By Association (Sympathy Plays)

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Written by Timothy Sykes
Updated 1/3/2023 5 min read

This is a great guest post by a new trading challenge echoing my thoughts in this free video lesson about sympathy plays:

One of the most common tactics in promotions or just general pack-and-ship stock advice is to use stocks in the same industry or some other association as one of the “selling” points. Promotions use this all the time in their blast emails, but even general stock advice does it in order to have something to say that is not a stock in the spotlight. For stocks on major exchanges you can call it the hipster method, because they are trying to go to other stocks in a great industry before everyone else.

There are a ton of examples. Inboxes were flooded with OTC stocks with the next big gold company when the price of gold was flying high. There were even penny promotions regarding solar panels, as if a nuts and bolts operations could manufacture solar panels that could be profitable. The associations also extend to larger solar stocks. The IPO of SolarCity (SCTY) has elicited a push for Real Goods Solar (RSOL). Nothing is immune from a quick push in the financial media.

The Fundamental Components of Association

Industries are treated as one group at times. When one company reports great earnings other companies see gains in benefit. The general events that benefited one company would benefit the other company. That is why you see these sympathetic rises. At the same time negative news can send the whole industry down. This is the evidence that has helped association become such an important part of pushing certain stocks.

Evidence is not the sole source of this assumption. It also comes down to growth stocks and similar situations. These are entire industries seeing a massive benefit due to something like a new technology. It might be too late to grab First Solar, but check out this new innovative solar company that only trades for $2. That would be the general idea behind promotions or stock picks based on association. It is hard to see the meteoric rise of a company in a new technology and not want to grab a piece of it.

Using that Association

You will recall that RSOL has some press that plays on a connection to SCTY. It is just a solar-to-solar connection of being in the same industry, not some sort of parent-subsidiary relationship or anything. It does form a great story. The point is to feed off the natural attention that exists. The same thing happens during certain seasons. During the summer you might see a push for garbage stocks that have a summer theme. During Christmas you can be bombarded with some silly OTC ornament maker.

Impeccable yet superficial logic permeates a situation like RSOL or a small gold miner during a great time for gold. Solar does have massive potential, but SCTY has a lot of interest because of connections to people like Elon Musk. Even if SCTY has potential, despite some early weak earnings, that does not mean RSOL has the same potential. The market just works in funny ways. Even people who see the winking going on with the connection between the two companies might buy the stock to try and benefit from the ignorance of other people. Trading is all about playing sentiment, and this is an opportunity. This has the effect of pushing the stock up even higher. Eventually the limelight goes away. It might be when SCTY suffers a pullback from its post-IPO bliss, or any other reason. SCTY has its potential based on its own merits, which might still be specious, but RSOL has done little to earn the interest it is getting.

When the penny finally drops some people will be left holding the bag. Diverting the limelight only works for so long. There are various reasons. The company itself doesn’t deserve its attention like I mentioned. Also, the attention won’t last even for the original star of the show. Hot penny stocks get less hot, and growth industries do not always remain darlings as cold reality sets in. So where does that leave the trader? Well predicting the upward sentiment would be taking a potshot at it. However, once the rise on nothing has occurred the logical next step would be a decline. A rise is never assured, and neither is a decline. However, if the rise is on the thinnest of pretenses at least a decline is far more probable and predictable.


Never assume that just because A and B are letters that they are the same. The same is true of stocks. The companies operate in the same world so certain factors will affect the companies, but that does not make them identical. It also does not guarantee that both companies will see the same benefit. Divergences do happen. In the case of SCTY and RSOL, an IPO and connection to a influential person is not something that can be transferred by association. SCTY is not evidence of the resurgence of solar or of the discovery of a massive vein of gold that all companies can partake in, for now it’s success is just Musk magic.

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Timothy Sykes

Tim Sykes is a penny stock trader and teacher who became a self-made millionaire by the age of 22 by trading $12,415 of bar mitzvah money. After becoming disenchanted with the hedge fund world, he established the Tim Sykes Trading Challenge to teach aspiring traders how to follow his trading strategies. He’s been featured in a variety of media outlets including CNN, Larry King, Steve Harvey, Forbes, Men’s Journal, and more. He’s also an active philanthropist and environmental activist, a co-founder of Karmagawa, and has donated millions of dollars to charity. Read More

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The available research on day trading suggests that most active traders lose money. Fees and overtrading are major contributors to these losses.

A 2000 study called “Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors” evaluated 66,465 U.S. households that held stocks from 1991 to 1996. The households that traded most averaged an 11.4% annual return during a period where the overall market gained 17.9%. These lower returns were attributed to overconfidence.

A 2014 paper (revised 2019) titled “Learning Fast or Slow?” analyzed the complete transaction history of the Taiwan Stock Exchange between 1992 and 2006. It looked at the ongoing performance of day traders in this sample, and found that 97% of day traders can expect to lose money from trading, and more than 90% of all day trading volume can be traced to investors who predictably lose money. Additionally, it tied the behavior of gamblers and drivers who get more speeding tickets to overtrading, and cited studies showing that legalized gambling has an inverse effect on trading volume.

A 2019 research study (revised 2020) called “Day Trading for a Living?” observed 19,646 Brazilian futures contract traders who started day trading from 2013 to 2015, and recorded two years of their trading activity. The study authors found that 97% of traders with more than 300 days actively trading lost money, and only 1.1% earned more than the Brazilian minimum wage ($16 USD per day). They hypothesized that the greater returns shown in previous studies did not differentiate between frequent day traders and those who traded rarely, and that more frequent trading activity decreases the chance of profitability.

These studies show the wide variance of the available data on day trading profitability. One thing that seems clear from the research is that most day traders lose money .

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Citations for Disclaimer

Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors. Available at SSRN: “Day Trading for a Living?”

Barber, Brad M. and Lee, Yi-Tsung and Liu, Yu-Jane and Odean, Terrance and Zhang, Ke, Learning Fast or Slow? (May 28, 2019). Forthcoming: Review of Asset Pricing Studies, Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=2535636”

Chague, Fernando and De-Losso, Rodrigo and Giovannetti, Bruno, Day Trading for a Living? (June 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: “https://ssrn.com/abstract=3423101”