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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.

The lesson is obvious – WE CAN FAIL EVEN IF WE ARE TRADING A WINNING SYSTEM WHEN WE DO NOT USE PROPER 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

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

25%

100

100

100

94.3

19.7

30%

100

100

87.4

3

0

35%

100

98.7

16

0

0

40%

100

9.2

0

0

0

45%

93.6

0

0

0

0

50%

5.4

0

0

0

0

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 :  Can i buy metacam over the counter  and http://www.investopedia.com/articles/forex/06/fxmoneymgmt.asp

 


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For The Impulsive Day Trader

Impulsive traders tend to take impulsive trade with less forethought than others at the point of entering the trade.  It does not help even if they had thought through the trade the night before.   This is because impulsiveness blinds or blocks out assessment and recall ability, and for a short term trader this will likely lead to overtrading, and missing out key risk parameters (eg. forgetting to check if there is a demand or supply zone immediately in front of a breakout, or assessing a risk to be less dangerous than it really is).

An impulsive trader is overwhelmed by his emotions and may even act against his logical reasoning.  In his own imagination, his mind may even be cool and contemplative, but the emotions wield an invisible dominance.  Such impulsiveness  differs from intuition which says ” wait a minute, there’s something here…..”. Rather the impulsive trader thinks “ I want…”.

The best therapy I know of is to associate positive or neutral feelings with events that may compel impulsive behavior – i.e. develop a calming disposition by learning how to associate calmness whilst in an extreme,  distressed circumstance – e.g. imagine being in a losing trade and associate it with calmness.  Such techniques are well documented and free resources abound in the internet space, so I shall not dwell on them here.  Of good reference are materials from Dr Brett Steenbarger (you can find his youtube videos and writings readily on the net).

Many impulsive traders however, will not even carry out this simple life saving exercise – which is perhaps the logical behavior expected of many human beings…….

For these traders, here are some suggestions that may help reduce or alter impulsive tendencies.  I know they work for some folks, and I hope they can work for you.

First do not let your emotions be hijacked. The gathering steam of impulsiveness is catalyzed by such feelings as boredom, the need to generate profits, missing out on opportunities, need to make up for losses, being overjoyed with previous winnings,  the need to be in control (especially after an argument with a spouse, or some other frustration).  Once you recognize they exist, change your emotional frame easily by looking at photographs, or listening to music, or making a cup of tea, (do not engage in an eating binge, and create another problem of “comfort” food).  Even consciously diverting your visual glance, (e.g. deliberately looking up to the ceiling), or texting a message to a friend help to reduce impulsive stress to a manageable level.  Do not try to control your impulsive emotions, simply change them.

Second, recognize where the impulsive emotion originated.  If you know you may get impulsive, or feel the onset of impulsiveness, (eg. “need to make up for the lost money”, “ah.. missed the opportunity”, “Since I have enough profits, I can take a risk on this trade …  gambling”, “feeling angry”), try to understand how the emotion came about – e.g. are you are too eager to reach today’s target profits,  have you been on a losing streak,  have you made an unnecessary mistake, have you argued with your spouse or parent.  Just knowing the reason why immediately reduces the impact of emotions.  Knowing why also allows you to introduce solutions – (eg. If you had a loss, tell yourself trading is a long term game, you will lose some points along the way. Can you imagine not losing a single point over the next 12 months?  Is that even possible?  Are you going to grieve over these future losses too?  Not possible. )  However, if you are greatly stressed by a problem and cannot get it out of your head, immediately stop trading for the day.

Third, create a simple process list.   Make sure it is easy to use, and within easy reach.  Always go through this process list before you make a trade entry.  A few major assessment criteria are sufficient for re-tweaking the brain, and cause the trader to rethink more carefully.  Do not have a simple “yes” “no” list, but something requiring more prudent assessment – eg. Instead of asking “Is the higher timeframe in line with your intended trade?” , ask rather “ How is the higher timeframe in line or not in line with your intended trade?”  Put a blank piece of paper on your trading desk – and add one question everyday until you have at least 5 questions. Draw up a process list of between 5 to 10 questions.  You need to answer at least 3 questions before you enter the trade.

Remember these process questions help you better assess the trade opportunity – if you have not even considered them, you are not maximizing your trading advantage.  Determine above all else you will never enter a trade, under any circumstance until you have reviewed your process list.  Use this list as “hard stop” of sorts.   You are not trying to control impulsive emotions here, you are merely introducing an additional process variable – much like when you put in a trade, your process is to submit a trade quantity, trade price and press “enter”.  Frankly, an impulsive trader who is not even willing to do this, should not be trading.  I am sorry, but the end consequences will be disastrous – even if he has some winners along the way, and he will often feel miserable.

Remind yourself of the dire consequences that may follow an impulsive trade.  An impulsive mistake will often cascade into more painful errors and ends with “What just happened?!”  Recalling previous unpleasant experiences with impulsive trades will normally reinstate a reality check on these inclinations.

If however, you have entered into an impulsive trade, you still have a safety valve – your money management stops.  Do not question your money management rules whilst in a trade.  Do it outside the trade.   This is however not a long term solution – it just helps the impulsive trader to lose money more slowly.

PS:  This article is for the impulsive trader who knows how to trade.  There are traders who trade impulsively because they are unsure of what to do.  Learning to trade properly with understanding, and appropriate lot sizes will help many of these traders stop taking impulsive trades.


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Today, my friend bittered how he chickened out and exited a profitable trade too early.

As a short term trader, how far can we let profits run?

If we keep a tight stop, and we let profits run, we risk losing part or all of our profits if the market pulls back quickly, or take out our trailing stop, and then go on with its original run – a common frustration.

Therefore a lot depends on how tolerant our short term stops are.   Our stop tolerances are in turn  dependent on the reward risk ratio and money management strategy associated with the setup and its edge, (and whether the edge is still there). How far we let profits run, depends on these and the potential for further  trending or breakout profits.  There is one more factor to consider – but we shall leave that till the last paragraph.

Take for example, a breakout trade around the European session opening for the EUR/USD.  Generally, the market insiders tend to take out stops on both sides of the range before proceeding with one stronger trend direction.  (Remember this is not necessarily true everyday, – the market will do whatever it wants to do.)  If we see a nice set up for the first breakout and take the trade, watches it reach our expected reward risk ratio - how far do we let profits run thereafter - do we even consider letting profits run?  The answer is simple – do we still have an edge under the circumstance? If we are dependent on HOPE that momentum will carry on, we have better find a way to track that momentum or keep a tight exit stop – the whipsaw back into range can be nasty and fast.

If we are unable to track momentum, and our set up is completed, we can say our edge is gone.  Any ability to let profits run is dependent on how much we have exceeded the expected reward risk ratio, and the potential that price continues to trend beyond our expectation.  The run may be due to further stop catching, position building or unexpected market news – all of which we have no certainty or information on.

Based on the same example, if price action has weakened but subsequently resurfaced with strength, there may be some traders who would exit partial positions and leave partial contracts to let profits run.  I will only do that if my partial exit(s) can give me a monetary return that is the same as what I would get if I had exited fully at set up completion.  Then I will set the remaining positions at a breakeven stop if I cannot find a way to monitor momentum.  If I do not exit partially,  my trailing stop for the full position is at that price level which realises my initial reward risk ratio.  Can I get swung out easily?  Yes, but unless we know our edge, there is no point in taking on potential risks beyond our targetted reward risk ratio.  We can always re-enter with another set up, or we may just have to give this up - remember there are plenty of opportunities down the road.  Some of these opportunities allow us to let profits run extensively, and some do not.

If however the trader insists on taking all such opportunities when they occur on a full trading position, it is best he first considers how to manage the trade, what potential reduction in reward risk ratio he is prepared to accept, the longer term impact on his equity based on continual deployment of this strategy, before he enters the trade.

Remember, there are essentially 2 types of profit runs

1. Price persists in a favorable direction even after the set up has been completed and achieved our desired reward:risk ratio, and we do not have an edge.

2. The set up deployed is meant  to capture continual price trending action, and remains relevant when price persists in a favorable direction even after the targetted reward risk ratio has been achieved. The edge continues to be in play.

The example discussed falls in the 1st category.  In the 2nd category, the set ups meant to capture and follow trending prices will indicate when to exit the trading positions, regardless whether the target reward risk ratios have been achieved.   When the edge is gone, the trader exits fully.  Such set ups generally let profits run, but are never foolproof.  Such set ups are also price movement oriented, not price level oriented.

The last but not least consideration is the trader’s psyche makeup.  If his personality is such that he is less anxious with small ebbing retracements, but freaks out at a large swift pullback, then it is better he keeps a tight stop loss as profits run – otherwise he risks taking foolish action without properly evaluating his options when a big retracement wave hits.


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WHERE TO PLACE PRE-EMPTIVE STOPS

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.

STOPS ARE CLEARLY DEFINED BY LOGIC AND TRADE MANAGEMENT

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

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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