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Should we trade just one or many markets?

The more able and ambitious the trader, the more markets he can trade to maximize his returns whilst minimizing risks.

Let’s get this out of the way – this is NOT a version of portfolio theory for maximizing returns through effective differentiation. Elegant as the mathematics may be, the Nobel laureate himself pointed out the model’s effectiveness was predicated on assumptions made about the performance of assets being admitted into the portfolio – ie. the objective mathematical mechanics are run on subjective persuasions.

No – trading multiple markets simply means picking and choosing opportunities with the best trends and trading the motivations behind the strongest moves.

As an example, an event may happen in the equities market that also influences the commodities and FX markets (such as a Chinese market meltdown). The world runs into a risk off scenario, and the severity of the equities market weighs on other markets. But due to the vagaries of the commodities and FX markets, their price movements are not as directly correlated to the unfortunate event. Though pervasive pessimism sweeps all the markets, their trends may be less predictable and vitriolic. The stress behind the equities market thus offers a more direct, stronger trend than for commodities and FX markets. Another example is the sustained oil price slump. Even when it was possible to trade the Aussie and Canadian dollars, it would have been more rewarding and less pressurizing to trade the fall in oil price directly, than weather interim whipsaws in the FX markets provoked by Yen, US and European currencies.

So is a choice of multiple markets naturally better for the trader? The caveat is the trader himself must know how to trade different markets well. He can achieve this through diligent appreciation of various markets’ characteristics or by employing various trading solutions. If the trader lacks such motivation or abilities, it is better for him to trade single or fewer markets. It will not be as efficient, but at least he can still be reasonably profitable. For someone who wants more bang for the buck, multiple markets and multiple timeframes is the way to go.


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A person’s journey is marked by the milestones he leaves in his wake. Imagine how short that journey will be if he keeps carrying the marker stones around.

Recently my son was preparing for his first story telling competition. The young lad slaved without break and was all pumped with vivid imagination. He finished his first draft with a flourish and gleefully showed me his masterpiece. Admittedly I was impressed, but there were key parts of his creative work that a first time audience would not be able to connect together. Hence crops of his work had to be rewritten, even deleted so the audience can embrace the simple joys of a good tale. His eyes began to ream red as he pondered the murder of his art. So I asked him – where was the value of a piece of work if the audience could not share in its delight. Which was more important to him – to show off his polish, or to share the joys of a wonderful story – and possibly even win the competition. Which was more satisfying?

And so it is with a trader’s progress, how much of his past successes and failures he is willing to let go in order to evolve. The trading guidelines, principles, learnt set-ups and trading patterns – all the hard work and sacrifices made to acquire those skills – to drop them and move on.

This is a mandated metamorphosis necessary to thrive in a market which continues to change regardless if we do. It is an emblem of maturity worn by those who continue to better themselves. The maturity to let go and the courage to push the envelope. But pride, laziness and a stubborn chain to past endorsements often restrain us. It is at such point, the journey stops.


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Any financial market opened to risk taking is a casino.

A friend asked me how much to risk on each Forex trade.  I reprised what Ed Seykota has advised : Risk no more than you can afford.  Risk enough so the win can be meaningful.  If you cannot achieve both – don’t trade. That about sums it up:  How much one can afford to lose?  How much one hopes to make?  How good is one’s edge ie.  can it help you achieve both mandates?  (Ed Seykota is incidentally a great trend trader who generally does not risk more than 5% in each trade.)

The Bottom Line

Chande, in my previous Buy tamoxifen pct, has demonstrated the prospect of ruin by risking beyond 2% of equity for various probability trade set ups and pay off ratios.  For example if your payoff ratio is 2:1, you need to win at least 35 to 40% of the time to possibly avoid risk of ruin comfortably.  (Note “possibly”.)  Chande underlined the probability of ruin for stop losses amounting to 1%, 2%, or 3% of equity etc,  calibrated against the trader’s edge (payoff ratio and probability of winning).

An Optimal Bet Size

Cost of generic lisinoprilproceeded to show that each trading edge had an optimal betting percentage – beyond which the returns start to dwindle.  The optimal “bet size”  or “optimal heat” for a 50:50 toss of a coin with a 2:1 reward ratio is 25% of equity.  The theoretical return is approximately 12.5% after a 50%  gain and a 37% drawdown.

Evidently, how much to risk and how much to bet are different concepts.  A trader may risk 10% of his equity by entering a position that uses 50% of his equity.  How much to risk is a money management decision.  How much to bet is a strategy decision depending on how good the trader’s edge is.

How Much Do You Want To Bet In A Casino?

The forex market is like a casino.  Casinos as a rule only offer games that favor their owners.  This is known as the House edge.  Gamblers in casinos usually engage in negative expectancy games.  That means if they play long enough, they will eventually lose everything in accordance to probability theory.

Several years back, I was engaged to develop a financial feasibility study for a casino acquisition in Macau.  In my diligence, I had the opportunity to confer with an old Don of the establishment.   One gem he shared was that a casino did not need to cheat.  All its games had built in advantages and safety valves.  The two key principles were simple – have a “small” house edge (eg. the double zeroes in roulette) so that gamblers think they still have a good chance, and keep the gambler actively betting for an extended duration (think free rooms, free drinks, no clock). Over time, regardless how much the player had won, he would likely give the winnings back.  This is the negative expectancy game.  Many would get “cleaned” out.  If the player had walked into the casino with $100, the casino would not mind letting him rake in profits.  As long as the gambler continued with the casino’s games, he would most likely give everything back, and more importantly – the “play money” he originally brought with him.  The gambler’s initial profits if any, were merely the casino’s “working capital” – (now even more conveniently “stored” on digitized prepaid cards – think QE).  It is only by taking over the player’s original equity, that the casino gets richer.     The casino is further assisted by the gambler’s psychology.   How often does one walk into a casino with a  mental stop loss and hopes of large cash winnings?  The gambler had already been primed to at least lose a pre-determined amount and is further seduced by greed.  He would be lucky if he only lost what he originally  intended.  But the casino’s edge is only a small percentage, would it not take forever to clean out the gambler’s original equity?  Well, how fast that happens depends on how much the gambler bets …….. (think trade size and excessive leverage for the retail trader).

Forex – A Casino By Any Name   (By the way, Singapore’s third casino is also third largest in the world)

The spread between bids and offers, the private collaboration between market makers,  and the confidential intelligence that bank dealers have  (eg. major customers’ buy and sell orders), are tremendous “house” advantage – not privy to the ordinary retail trader.  Additionally, many traders wrestle against unscrupulous brokers with dealing desks (some hidden), and unethical practices of widening spreads inordinately to pick off stops, “slowing down quotes” according to the win-loss profile of the trader, and ill timed slippages.   Brokers also know where the traders put their stops.   Many offer excessive leverage, marketing promises that are difficult to keep, and deceitful half truths disguised as trading advice.   Like a casino punter, nothing a retail player does can modify the behavior of the Forex market.   The odds against the ordinary retail trader are simply incredulous.  As with all negative expectancy games, the trader will have a higher probability of losing his complete equity the longer he stays in the game.

Is This The End Game For The Retail Trader?

What does the retail trader have – his edge, his money management system, the ability to control when to play and how much to speculate each time (bet size).

How a trader bets should depend heavily (not wholly) on how good his edge is.  Assuming the trader already has his basics in place – money management, sound trading psychology – then his edge and game plan will tell him how much to bet in volatile situations and in highly favored scenarios.

Is there a formula for bet size?

There are many formulas for bet size (eg. Kelly criterion, Fixed Fractional, Unit Betting ), and many are relevant when used with complementing strategies.  Bet size depends on the trader’s edge and his ability to take the “heat” (ie. stomach for the risk undertaken).   There is no one universal formulation.

But there is definitely a correct bet size according to one’s edge.  At the very least the trader’s money management system shall be able to suggest a maximum bet size for his account’s acceptable level of risk.  (That said, will you trust a strategy with no money management system in place?)

However many traders do not know how much they should bet on each trade or how effective their current bet sizes are.  Obviously, many traders do not know their edge and strategy well.  They are looking for quick answers.  They will complain of not being able to determine stop loss points, exit points, and some will even give the excuse, ” gotta to let your profits run”.

Let us be clear, there are successful traders who do let profits run, and there are others happy with predetermined exits.  There are traders with lenient stops, tight stops and even no stops (there are tactics for this).    Indeed successful contradictions abound.

Different game plans, different edges – yes, but each trader that is consistently profitable knows his edge very well.  The trader will know whether to reduce or run up his bet size when the odds are favorable, or how to vary his bet size to reduce risks and yet achieve targets.   His strategy and edge will tell him when and how to enter or exit a trade.  His strategy will clearly tell him what to risk if stops are too near, too far or cannot be identified.  His strategy will tell him what conditions are favorable, and how to exit based on signals.    If a trader does not know his edge well, and has no discipline to organize his trading game, he will not be able to size his positions.  Unfortunately, over time he will likely lose whatever amount he has won, regardless his bet size.  (Reflect on how casinos work.)

PS.  If the trader’s edge or its execution is unreliable, and falls below the market’s house advantage, then it will ultimately be a negative expectancy game for him.

3 good articles to read on money management are:  Safest online pharmacy for cialis ,    Buy viagra in uk over the counter , http://www.futuresmag.com/2011/12/31/simple-money-management-wins-over-time


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Recently I completed work on a short term trading system based on holding a trade for a longer duration (approximately 4 hrs to 30 hrs holding time).  Before this I held my trades anywhere between 5 mins to 6 hours, and was used to trading exclusively in the first halves of the Asian and European sessions.  You can imagine how much havoc the longer holding period wreaked on my sanguine lifestyle.

I had to start accounting for volume peculiarities and changing behaviors on opened positions across 3 or 4 sessions (ie. Asia, Europe, US, Asia again).  I had to develop a system for scouting entry and exit opportunities across 24 hours  instead of only up to 6 hours previously.

Hence even when I was resting, eating, playing or sleeping, there was a burden to appraise the market for trade opportunities, position erosion, or profitability enhancement at critical timings  and at key price zones.  Done at stretches, this became debilitating and intruded into my family life.

As an opportunistic trader in equities, I am very comfortable holding positions in terms of days, weeks and months ( any equity held for more than a year generally means I am losing money on it….I am also terrible at holding intraday equity positions).  But Forex “short term swing trading” is mentally exhaustive.   I am not talking about the stress of losing money – that is an unhappy occurrence, but easily manageable.  Rather it is the stress of keeping pace with the market, keeping apprised of changing market behaviors in different sessions, watching profits evaporate and return,  making trade management decisions to add on or reduce position size, evaluating market movements for impact on later sessions etc .   Even when I was not trading, I was thinking about the markets.  How does such a trader truly rest?  Particularly one infatuated with understanding how the market dances.  I had to manage myself – otherwise it would be back to square one, when I first started trading – no day or night.

To cut the story short - the culprit is infatuation with the market – an obsessive passion for the market – regardless if the cause was addiction or as a replacement for something missing in one’s life.  When a person’s other priorities are not as favored as trading the market – he is in trouble.  It is as simple as that.  When we do not have other compelling commitments to look forward to, we are not fully detached from the market, we have no time to heal.  That means we cannot walk away with a quiet heart  at the end of each trading day — there is no end to the trading day.  We cannot leave the trading desk knowing we have something more pleasurable and important to attend to, and the trading result that day will not matter tomorrow.  There is a risk we return to the trading desk rationally composed, but emotionally disquiet.  Our emotions are likely to become more distorted, and we fall prey faster to the bad habits we have tried so hard to overcome previously – impulsiveness, the need to make up lost opportunities or losses, the need to jump on the wagon and increase our profits – because the music has not stopped  we keep dancing. Once I realized I was seduced by my compulsive need to develop this new trading system, I put in safeguards, and completed the system with rules and principles I can live with – life back to normal.

Then it occurred to me  why Livermore  might have “failed”.  Though he held membership in gentlemen’s clubs, enjoyed the opulent life, took vacations, had enviable companionships, he could never extract himself out of the market.  His life was the market.  He was one of the market’s greatest traders – and its infamous victim.  But what else was he?  Why did he pen “ … I was a failure…”?  Here was a man, whose mind never stopped turning, (he believed one had to be intelligent to trade the markets),  and ultimately he became emotionally attached to the trades that did him in. He took risks, but he was not a compulsive gambler.  He was bipolar but his decision making framework was smart and simple, and he had made similar decisions to run up or close down trades successfully many times.    But the latent emotional baggage would finally be too heavy one day, particularly after successive losses, and smothered his will to follow rationality.   Seduced by whatever the market offered him, he could not shake free -  too much of himself became entwined with the market.  Perhaps Livermore’s failure was his singular dedication to the market.  To him the market had become personal, but in truth the market never loves anyone back.



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Money management. Most people have heard but care little to implement this wisdom correctly. A stop loss is not money management. Position sizing is not money management. These two are merely arms and legs of money management.

Ralph Vince conducted an experiment with 40 Phd students using a computer trading game that gave 60% winning odds to the player (which incidentally was better than Las Vegas’ casinos). Each player attempted 100 trials winning or losing whatever amount he bet. At the end of the experiment, 38 of them (95%) lost money – and only 2 were profitable. The scenario set was essentially the same for each player – what differed was how much each player decided to bet on each trial – ie. money management.


Money management sets the tone for

  • reward risk ratio selection,
  • edge selection (to some traders – set up selection)
  • growing our equity account efficiently and
  • serves as a warning system if the trader is losing touch with the market.

The greatest pleasure it gives me is peace of mind – that is an important trading edge.

There is much material on money management on the internet. Three authors worth noting are Van Tharp, Tushar S Chande and Ralph Vince.

3 of the most important money management pointers are:

  1. Realistically test and know clearly the expected returns (or range of returns) and losses your edge gives you. Understanding these payoffs, the win rate and how they affect your equity under different scenarios (eg. 5 continuous drawdowns) will better shape your money management goals and rules than with wishful thinking. Knowing them impact your choice of strategies and how hard you need to work to achieve your goal. For me, my daily targeted expected returns are small, but consistent – so I make sure my potential losses are also very small with proper position sizing, and I take note of the market conditions that give me the best chance of achieving my target returns with little risks. Some Forex traders, who wisely use leverage and limit losses according to their money management rules and trading edge, can with 20 pips profits per day easily translate to more than 100% return on equity per year.
  2. Knowing how much to risk on each trade is vital. Note the word is risk – ie. what you are potentially able to lose. Many traders simply place a regular amount eg. 1 lot of S&P futures with potential cut loss at negative US$250.  This is very unwise.  Even if he has a trading edge, he  is going to lose on some occasions. If those losing trades happen consecutively, it becomes harder and harder for him to recover his account.

Assuming he started with $100 in his account, and risked $10 a trade as a hard stop. If he lost 4 trades in a row, he would have lost $40.  He would then need to achieve a 66.7% return on his remaining $60 to just restore $100 in his account (ie. 1.667 X $60 = $100).  Would that be easy or hard to achieve? Perhaps if he had reduced his bet size to say – $5, – a continuous string of 4 losses would cost him $20. Would his chances of recovery at 25% return more realistic?

But would risking only$5  per trade help him achieve his targetted profit objective?  If the average return for each winning trade was 10%, a $5 bet would only yield $0.50 profit, whilst a $10 bet would double  profits to $1. So what is that magical compromise between risk management and profitability?

A good trick is not to use a fixed dollar amount for each trade, but to use a percentage figure instead. For example, if we have $10,000 as trading equity, our risk may be 2% of the equity ie. $$200 potential loss for each trade. If our risk reward ratio is 1:1, then we potentially win $200 or lose $200. If we are profitable, our next trade will risk 2% of $10,200 ie. $204 and if we had lost on the first trade, our next trade will risk 2% of $9,800 ie. $196.

Why is this important?

If you run a simulation using a fixed risk amount versus a percentage risk amount, you will realize that with a percentage risk value –

  • Your equity will increase faster and higher when you are continuously profitable (because you are able to risk more when you are winning)
  • Your equity will drawdown less quickly when you are continuously losing (actually significantly less because you risk less when you are losing).
  • You prevent Gambler’s Fallacy (ie. some traders think if they had lost the last 3 trades, the next one will definitely be a winner – so they risk a large significant amount in the next trade – that is gambling and not an exercise on probability. This especially hits those using “70% system or 80% winning systems”. Did the inventor get 80% after losing 2 continuous trades out of 10, or losing 20 continuous trades out of 100?

There are other money management strategies – the more aggressive ones can be seen from Ed Thorpe’s or Ralph Vince’s work. But I prefer this simple, straightforward percentage method.

3.     Risk of ruin. That means the probability of losing all your equity.  Should our risk percentage be 2%, 1%, or 10% for each trade?  Did you know statistically, if a trader risks 2% of equity as a hard stop for each trade, in 1,000 simulated trades, with a payoff ratio of 1.5 times, and a winning probability of less than 35% – he will almost certainly face complete ruin? So if a trader wants to risk more than 2% of equity per trade continuously, then his payoff ratio or winning percentage must be improved dramatically.

The table shows why many traders risk only 2% maximum for each trade.

Risk of ruin with 2% of capital at risk. A 0 probability means the total loss of equity is unlikely, but not impossible
Payoff Ratio

Probability of Winning










































Table reproduced from Chande’s “Beyond Technical Analysis 2nd Edition”

This is not to say a trader cannot size more than 2% of equity as a hard stop for ad hoc trades, but the trade opportunity should be one with conditions highly favorable to the trader.

Be mindful, position sizing a potential trade to a 2% equity hard stop should also carefully consider the volatility of the market space and the extent of losses typically experienced by a particular edge or set up.

Thence, taking the time to develop a money management system suited to a trader’s profile will help the trader minimize the pain of mistakes and hasten his progress towards profitable goals.

Two good articles to refer to for further reading :  Where to buy cialis over the counter in canada  and http://www.investopedia.com/articles/forex/06/fxmoneymgmt.asp



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Should we place stops –  10 pips from entry?  At 3 times the ATR (average true range)? At the extremes of noise levels around support/resistance lines?  When price crosses a SMA support?   Must it be 10 pips – can’t it be 3 pips instead?  At the last pivot point or 50% Fibo retracement?  At the last swing high or low which shows clearly that the set up has failed? What about whipsaw?  Should we put the stops 20 pips from or maybe 50 pips from such a point?  Maybe we should not place a stop, and wait for price to rebound.  Simply pick the most conservative stop that meets money management guidelines? ….  Seriously??

There is no universal standard for putting stops, and every set up or strategy must have good logic (abeit sometimes subjective), for stop placement. Apply a universal stop, and what works with one strategy  will prove disastrous for another.


Successful pre-emptive stop placement is dependent on 2 skills – our ability to associate the rationale behind the set up we are using with its proposed stop(s), and how we make a trade entry.

As an example –  If our setup is a momentum motivated quick scalp with intended 5 to 10 pips profit target within 15 to 30 minutes, then preparing for a possible price retracement which shows a change of direction or shows overall momentum retarding,  will indicate where the stop should be. Most likely we shall need a fixed value mental stop (eg. fixed stop of 3 to 5 pips from trade entry).  Will a retracement of 3 to 5 pips be sufficient to show definitive change of direction?  Does it matter?  If the set up is to capitalise on impulse momentum generated by the market maker to take out obvious nearby stops within a 10 pip range, than a 3 to 5 pips stop is clearly compelled by money management guidelines.  Momentum retarding becomes the main trigger – we don’t wait for definite direction change.  If we widen the stop to 10 pips away, it may give  price a chance to rebound in the desired direction. Great if it works, but what if it does not?  We are gambling once we place a stop that is incongruent with money management guidelines, and  the reason why we took the trade (ie. momentum ramp up that should be sustained by stop catching).  If we maintain an open position after momentum slows down, and HOPE momentum will pick up again, we are gambling on faith.  Continuous misalignment between stop loss placement and this driven scalp strategy will likely ruin our equity account.

On the other hand, if our strategy is to catch stops in a retracement move over the next 3 hours for  20 to 40 pips average profits, then our stop will likely be a certain number of pips below or above that major support/resistence level coinciding with price action (eg. a reversal hammer with a long tail bouncing off the support/resistance level).  The trader may also consider the ATR value as well as money management guidelines (eg. 10 pips below the support if the ATR is 8 pips).  Should the stop be 10, 20 pips away from the support / resistance level?  That depends on the logic behind the setups we use and when we enter.  If we take a trade after a hammer reversal with a long tail, complemented with a following higher low or lower high, we can set a small pip value (eg. 3 pips) from the support or resistance level.  If price further bursts through a minor congestion in our favor, we can move the stop loss to the higher low or lower high.  If price fails, ie. it retraces violently towards  support/resistance, that means our setups (eg reversal hammer + possible 1-2-3) have failed, so why risk more pips at the support/resistance level in hope?  Some would question whether we be entering at a premium price -  does it matter?  Assess the reward risk ratios of both options, weigh the value of risk mitigation, and make a decision.  (By the way, I speak of setups in simple terms here to facilitate reading – but whether we even take an entry based on a “set up” depends on many factors – in the current example, this may include higher timeframe trend analysis, news release, whether price action has settled into a congestion/range or is likely to, estimated market liquidity.)  Setup strategies can be covered in future articles. What we are pointing out is  setting an optimal stop involves common sense regarding strategy and set up rationale, rather than just a “loss tolerance” money managemenet exercise.


No stop loss?  I know at least 1 person who does not put stop losses and trades successfully.   Some studies have shown that stop losses in certain market conditions actually impair longer term profitability performance.  Perhaps he is wise in such areas. I personally do not put stop loss on mid term equity investments, but I have non-monetary conditions for hedging or closing such positions (eg.  the company is not competing well in the industry regardless of stock price).  As for Forex, this trader  friend had been willing to take longer term trades, had been successful, so I do not argue against his results.  But I trust I generally sleep better than him.

That’s one part of stop placement – it depends on the strategic logic of a trading set up under prevailing market conditons.  How we enter a trade determines stop placement too - watch for that instalment in an upcoming article – Stops and Whipsaws.


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