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“Have you increased your trade size?” – A friend asked me point blank. We have not met for several months, and he stuffed this in my face. What happened to “you look great?” What a ___? (I know you are reading this.)

I fumbled “yeah, of course I have, well … ” and whatever soundbites I could piece together as an intelligible answer.

Well … in a way I think I have. You see my friend successful as he is, founded his game on the traditional premise – more risk, more reward. His question hoped to gauge my maturity in the game.

Simply, if you get a 100% return on what you risk per trade,

 

Risk         Potential Reward

$1000       $1000

Risk         Potential Reward

$2000       $2000

 

Risk more, you lose more or win more.

My friends know I do not risk more than 1% of equity on any trade. I confess on occasions, I have lost self control. I let greed overwhelm me, I doubled everything – and risked 2%.

Sigh, so even if I increase my trade size by one zero, two zeroes – it is still a timid trade compared to the millions he risks. But I was answering truthfully nonetheless – 1% of a larger equity base is a larger trade size …. well, … except these days, I oft risk only 0.5% instead ……

 

Previous per trade

Risk         Potential Reward

1%         1%

 

Now per trade

Risk         Potential Reward

0.5%       0.7% to 1%

(higher spreads these days)

 

My friend focuses more on profit potential a.k.a. greed, whilst I focus more on risk mitigation a.k.a. paranoia. That is why he is a longer term trader whilst I am a very short term trader. The forex market, quite unlike its equities peer, is not a viable long term asset class in terms of fundamentals and its dynamics highly disadvantage the retail trader.  Yes, sometimes currency pairs trend for a long duration, but not due to fundamental valuations. Managing risk is about the only trump card a retail forex trader has. Hence, in the forex market at least, I am happy to be risk averse. Throw this in with hard work, and we get a highly respectable annual return with much lowered risks than long term trading.

Why not increase risk back to 1% and double the return? Seriously?! Finance 101 !

Risk more, you lose more or win more. That’s the universal truth —- in gambling.


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In 2012, in one writing blitz I wrote a 65 pager for posterity,… here’s page 1. I hope it is illuminating to you as it is still to me.

“Notes to Trading (for the average Joe)

A trading system is merely a systematic approach towards the market place. A trading system with an edge is one that favors the probability of success more than failure, across the ever changing faces of the market space, over many consecutive trades – one that grows your equity base.

A trading system is not a fixed series of set ups. If it is so, everyone with a computer can do it successfully for a long, long time. It is a science of knowing what key variables to account for. It is an art in making sense of these key variables and knowing when they matter. Think of it this way, many traders want the wrong thing – a system that helps them trade profitably, rather than trade a system successfully.

The tools of objective setting, trade selection, trade and risk mgt, money mgt, set ups, psychology serve only as guideposts. At each guidepost, you have to make assessments on the situational variables and what the market is telling you, then decide on how to risk, what to risk, what targets may be. Trading is not merely about set ups and discipline, and blindly trying to group workable setups or indicators together and waiting for opportunities to appear. Trading requires you to know your edge based upon what the market is telling you, and what your strategies are. At anytime, if you are not sure what your edge is – you do not have it. To some this edge is fixed, eg. a set up given the “confluence of supporting factors” that are in line with the market action, for others -opportunities in the market may provide the edge – reliable inside information, extreme sentiments not backed by fundamentals, obvious price behaviors.

Trading is not simple. Here’s the one sentence kicker ….. A set up or a candle identification such as a hanging man, doji, hammer or a pattern formation is meaningless unless you read it together with the guideposts and the higher or lower time frames, thereby unrolling or extrapolating the right side of the screen, where possible price movements may be projected, based not only on technical analysis, but also the current behavior of the market (particularly the market makers), the news which have been absorbed in the market, what potential news may be, where stops are, where various participants’ entry and exit points are (eg. scalper vs day trader, those who miss earlier trades, those who use the market to hedge, the financial users vs the corporate users, the inexperienced traders), the volume flow of the market if possible, what recent price patterns were like, whether the prices have been range trading etc. It involves sentiments and logic as well as knowing your selected market well (what moves it, who moves it and any change in the microstructure). Did you get that?

In this sense we may get an idea how we should proceed and what set ups or strategy to adopt. It is understanding what the market has done, what it is doing, what it will likely do, and how we can participate in it. The list seems daunting, but an expert trader takes only a few minutes to assess and use these information. He is able to do so if he keeps abreast of reading, listening, thinking through and knowing the structure of the markets (how the market is organized, who the key participants are, and what they do). Much of the information is also readily seen on the charts and price action. Hence, anticipation is critical – leading one to plan his trade. Know what you know, know what you do not know, slowly get enlightened and know what you don’t know you knew, reduce what you don’t know you do not know. Again, It is not just waiting for setups to appear. It is not taking a set up simply because it appears. It demands screen time and lots more screen time if you are a beginning trader.”


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Over 3 years have flown by since I started trading – just a small part of the last 15 years I devoted to finding myself.

Except for a compulsory 2 years’ stint in the military, no job or vocation had penetrated me  with as much depth. Trading had been a highly personal interaction not only with the market, but always with the “Self”.

In early years, my friend told me, “ to be a good trader, you have to be a good person”.  There are many types of traders – from the high rollers, to the conservatives, from the carefree larks to the paranoid, from amateurs to professionals, from investors to pure scalpers.  All of them  have  their own definitions of  what a “good person” is.

So my good person is / has - emotional self balance, correctly prioritized living and trust (God, family, Neighbours) – these are the foundations for reliable emotional  management, constructive self correction or encouragement, lack of greed, placement of hope in the right entity, lack of fear, being able  to recover from bad outcomes and rejoice with good outcomes, being able to contribute to those around me and benefit from their support, being able to see more clearly with less prejudices.  What about trading ability ? I am totally zilch on this – I depend on reading the market as accurately as I can  – always being certain I will be wrong, right or unsure sometimes.  I depend on my trading system – edge, money management,  trade management and clarity of processes.  Truth is, there is nothing much I can do about the trading methodology.

Trading helps me see the different angles of myself.  The journey is sometimes painful, sometimes joyous.   Questioning, understanding, forgiving, accepting and being generous to one self. As the self is being built and cleansed, one is better  able to connect with others on an equal footing with right attitudes, irritation and temperance.  God has taught me in many ways, and trading is a gifted opportunity to profit from knowing myself better.

What trading cannot change is a person’s values – if a person is racist,  dishonest, discriminating, hypocritical,  believes in good triumph over evil and so forth.  Rather, trading will help him improve himself so he can pursue his values and balance better.

Regardless if you agree with me – consider at least one thing – it should not be that profits and losses determine self worth – it is the act of trading well that illuminates and enhances self worth. I am not sure you see the point, I hope you do.


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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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A few days ago, my friend (a reasonably new trader) was lamenting over his losses and mistakes.  He felt miserable.  If not for his naturally glowing persona, I presume he would have fallen into depression.

I wish I could help him, but really I couldn’t do more than lend him a listening ear.  There is no secret to trading.  Whatever a trader needs to learn – head knowledge- is freely available at good sites such as Babypips, Dailyfx, Fxstreet, Forexfactory etc  The rest comes from practicing what he had absorbed intellectually.

This friend had lost a  sum that was significant to him - something that should not have happened if he had followed money management rules.  Though he had read up on money management, he just did not practice it conscientiously.

That is a depressive ordeal many starting traders go through – the inability to take losses/profits, develop and follow a trading plan, and practice good money management.  Many such traders believe they can wing it and make proper decisions on the run.  Such dismissive arrogance ultimately destroy their accounts.  They forget that in a trade, the mental processing edge is really limited, information absorption is scant, and that emotions convolute judgement.

I know a trader who said it took him more than 3 years to be consistently profitable because he was stubborn.

The sooner the young trader understands his complacent limitations vis a vis  shark infested markets, the sooner he can work on his success.

Components of a Trading System Forex

The Trading Plan Must Have These Components


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Today marks the 3rd anniversary when I left a full time job and started trading.  I have penned this article as a mini celebration.

Someone theorized if we reverse a terrible trading system (eg.  one with a 20% winning probability) and buy when it signals to sell, we should have a very solid trading edge with an 80% win rate …… sorry to burst your bubble  ….. no bacon here.

- Because the market is varied, an edge may work in one market condition but fail in others.  The terrible system in question may actually run an impressive win rate under the appropriate market conditions.

- Generally I categorize market conditions into 2 groups -  1) whether the price is in trend,  range or indeterminate,   and 2) how price behaves inside the trend /range eg.  wild price swings, normal tempered price movements with nice swing highs and swing lows, or fast paced momentum.

- So the first pre-requisite to good trading – the trader must match the correct edge to the correct market condition.  (The internet has trading strategies galore – many are good strategies and can be profitable when relevantly applied to the right market environment.)

- Second – money management is critical – Ralph Vince and others proved clearly that without good money management, one can still lose money even with a strong edge.  (Refer to previous blog post No money management = Gambling.)

- Third , trade management is equally important.  The market often swings a trader out before running to the trader’s original intent.  How can a trader avoid or minimize the damage from such whimsical moves?  That is a crucial part of trade management.  When to add to a position, when to reduce a position (eg .take profit , take a loss), how to enter a trade (graduated multiple entries/exits,  when to use a single lumped entry/exit), how far or near to put a stop, when to use a dynamic stop, when to use a hard stop, how to take profits at what levels.  How much can one bear?  What is the reward risk ratio?  Is it advantageous to scalp a pair given a certain spread and trading costs?  Trade management is really multiple scenario management after a trade is executed.  It is closely tied to the edge and tells the trader how good it is if various scenarios arise – and must be done before entering the trade.

These are 3 pivotal points of how I trade.  Of course, there are other factors (eg. psychology), and the internet is full of similar advice.  But look again, if you have clear, defined rules in these 3 areas, your trading would be much calmer, more rewarding, and hopefully enjoyable.

 


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Should a forex trader specialize in a limited number of strategies and apply them across a multitude of forex pairs?  Or limit the forex pairs but beef up  the number of strategies he can wield to trade any market condition?  The former means one can find the highest probability trades from a plethora of forex pairs, whilst the latter means one can always trade optimally regardless the market state related to the pair.

To maximize returns and reduce risks – one should master both approaches.  If one is working with a team of traders, splitting up the workload, this combination is ideal.  Working solo however, one will require massive computing resources and highly capable computing skills, as well as a tolerance for much discretionary analysis based on filtered computer results.  You put this across 4 to 6 sessions in a 24 hour time frame, and wow!  Run this on a day trading mode 4 days every week – and you get a very charred trader.   (Sigh –  it is so much easier to do swing trades with key events and major sentiment changes - I sometimes wonder why I continue to be so pig headed)

Ever willing to be the guinea pig, the sacrificial lamb, the greater fool,  I of course endeavored to test my limits with both approaches.  So being a bit pig headed helped.

For the last 8 months, it was mental anguish alternating with delighted epiphany.  The darkness that shadowed the beginning trader troubled me again - I certainly did not expect the overcast to be so heavy.  However, to reach for other skies often  mean letting go of many sacrosanct devices and thought processes which had represented over a year’s sacrifices.  For traders who have struggled as I did in the initial learning process, giving up hard taught principles that have anchored subsequent trading success was painful.   Stop loss principles were overturned in some strategies, the notion of currency strengths was trodden on, multi timeframe analysis was completely warped, price action had various twisted indicator companions, trend analysis was deflated, exit strategies reduced to probability numbers,  and there was this long exhaustive debate over odds …. – and many awkward ideas and observations were sketched on my “whiteboard” walls , doors and long table ( — my wife finally understood why I insisted on a long white table that was completely out of place in the living room).  And not for a few occasions I would wake in the middle of the night and run over to a wall to write down my dreamt solutions.

However, three  important developments gave some direction to this mayhem.  I learnt earlier this year, I was not able to computerize many of the discretionary thought processes – simply too many permutations - so there is no way I could reduce my legacy to a computer program.   Secondly, not everyone would be motivated to learn trading like this even if it will benefit them.  Thirdly I needed to find a way to make all these useful.

So with my usual common sense (or lack of it) , an unexpected eureka moment over Yong Tau Foo, and God given courage, I endeavored to develop a robust trading system that requires no trading skills or knowledge – the real pig head approach.  Naturally, such a system can only be built through a profused understanding of forex trading in the first place.

Ha ha, the trick to making all these useful, —  is to build something not meant for me.   To define success the system must meet criteria which included the following – Respectable profitability with risk management caveats ( based on a system of money management numbers), clear identification of market characteristics , leading to right strategies, clear rules governing entry and exit strategies, clear responses for possible market changes,  and enough recurring frequency in such a way to give at least 1.5 times reward risk ratio, as well as a system that does not intrude unnecessarily into ordinary living.  So simple I could laugh at myself.  For those who have also succeeded, congrats.

 

 

 

 


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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 liquid, 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

Is clomid genericproceeded 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:  Montelukast generics pharmacy ,    Generic viagra sildenafil citrate malegra 50mg , 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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