Friday, November 29, 2013

A Trade or a Gamble?

The very best broker on the entire planet! Tradefort

Source: BKTradeFx

I love to trade a lot - which is of course a euphemistic way of saying I love to gamble. Although I have been to Vegas more than a dozen times I never laid down so much as a dollar bet in any casino. I have absolutely no interest in backjack, craps, slot machines or any other games of chance and I look down with disdain at the excited masses crowding the cavernous Vegas gambling halls. But deep down, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that whenever I trade a lot I am just as much of a sucker as every hopeless loser that gives up his hard earned money to Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson

If you are constantly trading just for the sake of trading, just for the rush of being “in the game”, just for the momentarily thrill of being right you are gambling. You are trading without an edge, without any solid information and are therefore completely vulnerable to the random vagaries of price.

Towards the end of last year I decided to do something about my toxic addiction and created two separate accounts - one for trades that would only follow my trading plan - the other for all my trading/gambling impulses. But before I share my experience with you allow me to define the difference between a trade and a gamble. The key distinction is information. The less information you posses the more likely the chances are that your trade is gamble.

A techincal trader who only looks at the five minute chart to gauge his support and resistance points is just gambling. On the other hand a trader who looks through the hourly, daily, weekly and monthly support points, carefully calculates Fib retracement positions and only acts when multiple time frames confirm his analysis has a much greater chance of success. Similarly a fundamental trader who mindlessly reacts to the latest economic release without understanding the prior market expectations, the current price flow and and countervailing information on the other currency in the pair is also just gambling.

Notice the unifying theme? Like everything else in life success in trading requires hard work and homework. There is no magic formula, no simple 5 minutes per day method to make you money. In trading, working hard is no guarantee of winning, but not working hard is an assurance of losing, because trading at its core is a game of information and you must always be up to date on what' s gong on in the market or become the sucker at the table.

Now back to my experiment. I subdivided my trading into two accounts - one where I traded only calendar risk on a reactive basis with very disciplined entries and exit rules and strict adherence to money management. The other account was just for my whims and impulses. An interesting thing occurred. My “trading plan” account which I traded far rarely and more carefully became much more profitable and incurred much lower drawdowns. Meanwhile the equity in my gambling account bounced up and down like a hopped up rubber ball. Suddenly the thrill of “being in the game” wasn't so much fun. Like a reformed smoker who appreciates the smell of fresh air, I was no longer drawn to making impulsive trades. That's not completely true. I still dabbled in my gambling account (who amongst us can completely give up our vices?) but my need to trade constantly has been reduced substantially. The less you gamble, the more you realize how stupid it is and that has been the most valuable lesson learned so far.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Five Fatal Flaws of Trading

The very best broker on the entire planet! Tradefort

Source: Elliot Wave International

Close to ninety percent of all traders lose money. The remaining ten percent somehow manage to either break even or even turn a profit - and more importantly, do it consistently. How do they do that?

That's an age-old question. While there is no magic formula, one of Elliott Wave International's senior instructors Jeffrey Kennedy has identified five fundamental flaws that, in his opinion, stop most traders from being consistently successful. We don't claim to have found The Holy Grail of trading here, but sometimes a single idea can change a person's life. Maybe you'll find one in Jeffrey's take on trading? We sincerely hope so.

The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Kennedy's Trader's Classroom Collection. For a limited time, Elliott Wave International is offering Jeffrey Kennedy's report, How to Use Bar Patterns to Spot Trade Setups, free.

Why Do Traders Lose?

If you've been trading for a long time, you no doubt have felt that a monstrous, invisible hand sometimes reaches into your trading account and takes out money. It doesn't seem to matter how many books you buy, how many seminars you attend or how many hours you spend analyzing price charts, you just can't seem to prevent that invisible hand from depleting your trading account funds.

Which brings us to the question: Why do traders lose? Or maybe we should ask, 'How do you stop the Hand?' Whether you are a seasoned professional or just thinking about opening your first trading account, the ability to stop the Hand is proportional to how well you understand and overcome the Five Fatal Flaws of trading. For each fatal flaw represents a finger on the invisible hand that wreaks havoc with your trading account.

Fatal Flaw No. 1 - Lack of Methodology

If you aim to be a consistently successful trader, then you must have a defined trading methodology, which is simply a clear and concise way of looking at markets. Guessing or going by gut instinct won't work over the long run. If you don't have a defined trading methodology, then you don't have a way to know what constitutes a buy or sell signal. Moreover, you can't even consistently correctly identify the trend.

How to overcome this fatal flaw? Answer: Write down your methodology. Define in writing what your analytical tools are and, more importantly, how you use them. It doesn't matter whether you use the Wave Principle, Point and Figure charts, Stochastics, RSI or a combination of all of the above. What does matter is that you actually take the effort to define it (i.e., what constitutes a buy, a sell, your trailing stop and instructions on exiting a position). And the best hint I can give you regarding developing a defined trading methodology is this: If you can't fit it on the back of a business card, it's probably too complicated.

Fatal Flaw No. 2 - Lack of Discipline

When you have clearly outlined and identified your trading methodology, then you must have the discipline to follow your system. A Lack of Discipline in this regard is the second fatal flaw. If the way you view a price chart or evaluate a potential trade setup is different from how you did it a month ago, then you have either not identified your methodology or you lack the discipline to follow the methodology you have identified. The formula for success is to consistently apply a proven methodology. So the best advice I can give you to overcome a lack of discipline is to define a trading methodology that works best for you and follow it religiously.

Fatal Flaw No. 3 - Unrealistic Expectations

Between you and me, nothing makes me angrier than those commercials that say something like, "...$5,000 properly positioned in Natural Gas can give you returns of over $40,000..." Advertisements like this are a disservice to the financial industry as a whole and end up costing uneducated investors a lot more than $5,000. In addition, they help to create the third fatal flaw: Unrealistic Expectations.

Yes, it is possible to experience above-average returns trading your own account. However, it's difficult to do it without taking on above-average risk. So what is a realistic return to shoot for in your first year as a trader - 50%, 100%, 200%? Whoa, let's rein in those unrealistic expectations. In my opinion, the goal for every trader their first year out should be not to lose money. In other words, shoot for a 0% return your first year. If you can manage that, then in year two, try to beat the Dow or the S&P. These goals may not be flashy but they are realistic, and if you can learn to live with them - and achieve them - you will fend off the Hand.

Fatal Flaw No. 4 - Lack of Patience

The fourth finger of the invisible hand that robs your trading account is Lack of Patience. I forget where, but I once read that markets trend only 20% of the time, and, from my experience, I would say that this is an accurate statement. So think about it, the other 80% of the time the markets are not trending in one clear direction.

That may explain why I believe that for any given time frame, there are only two or three really good trading opportunities. For example, if you're a long-term trader, there are typically only two or three compelling tradable moves in a market during any given year. Similarly, if you are a short-term trader, there are only two or three high-quality trade setups in a given week.

All too often, because trading is inherently exciting (and anything involving money usually is exciting), it's easy to feel like you're missing the party if you don't trade a lot. As a result, you start taking trade setups of lesser and lesser quality and begin to over-trade.

How do you overcome this lack of patience? The advice I have found to be most valuable is to remind yourself that every week, there is another trade-of-the-year. In other words, don't worry about missing an opportunity today, because there will be another one tomorrow, next week and next month ... I promise.

I remember a line from a movie (either Sergeant York with Gary Cooper or The Patriot with Mel Gibson) in which one character gives advice to another on how to shoot a rifle: 'Aim small, miss small.' I offer the same advice in this new context. To aim small requires patience. So be patient, and you'll miss small."

Fatal Flaw No. 5 - Lack of Money Management

The final fatal flaw to overcome as a trader is a Lack of Money Management, and this topic deserves more than just a few paragraphs, because money management encompasses risk/reward analysis, probability of success and failure, protective stops and so much more. Even so, I would like to address the subject of money management with a focus on risk as a function of portfolio size.

Now the big boys (i.e., the professional traders) tend to limit their risk on any given position to 1% - 3% of their portfolio. If we apply this rule to ourselves, then for every $5,000 we have in our trading account, we can risk only $50-$150 on any given trade. Stocks might be a little different, but a $50 stop in Corn, which is one point, is simply too tight a stop, especially when the 10-day average trading range in Corn recently has been more than 10 points. A more plausible stop might be five points or 10, in which case, depending on what percentage of your total portfolio you want to risk, you would need an account size between $15,000 and $50,000.

Simply put, I believe that many traders begin to trade either under-funded or without sufficient capital in their trading account to trade the markets they choose to trade. And that doesn't even address the size that they trade (i.e., multiple contracts).

To overcome this fatal flaw, let me expand on the logic from the 'aim small, miss small' movie line. If you have a small trading account, then trade small. You can accomplish this by trading fewer contracts, or trading e-mini contracts or even stocks. Bottom line, on your way to becoming a consistently successful trader, you must realize that one key is longevity. If your risk on any given position is relatively small, then you can weather the rough spots. Conversely, if you risk 25% of your portfolio on each trade, after four consecutive losers, you're out all together.

Break the Hand's Grip

Trading successfully is not easy. It's hard work ... damn hard. And if anyone leads you to believe otherwise, run the other way, and fast. But this hard work can be rewarding, above-average gains are possible and the sense of satisfaction one feels after a few nice trades is absolutely priceless. To get to that point, though, you must first break the fingers of the Hand that is holding you back and stealing money from your trading account. I can guarantee that if you attend to the five fatal flaws I've outlined, you won't be caught red-handed stealing from your own account.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Serious Money

The very best broker on the entire planet! Tradefort

Source: BKTradeFx

There is an article in this week's news section which is entitled How to Combat Over Trading. It's an issue that I tackle often in this column because it is probably the greatest source of pain for most traders I know. K and I are often amazed by emails we get from subs who tell us that they have blown up even after BKT has had a huge run of winning trades. The reason clearly is that they over trading their account. Now this particular article tries to fix the problem by talking about the need to "visualize you plan", "talk out your trades" and "keep a running diary". While all those sentiments are noble I am here to tell you that they are all pure bunk.

Let's face it, as currency traders we are in the markets because we love to trade. We don't pore over balance sheets looking for misalignment in cashflow calculations like the credit gnomes in the bond market. Nor do we spend endless hours researching business plans like stock investors. FX is the purest speculative market there is driven first and foremost by sentiment. What is the value of a currency anyway? Some will argue that the dollar isn't worth the paper its printed on. But we don't care. There are no bear markets in FX. We are the ultimate "absolute return" asset class.

We are in the game because we want to PLAY. We want to match wits with the smartest people in the world and win. Trading is also very much like violin playing. If you don't practice every day - you lose your touch. But just as violin players miss a few notes from time to time, so do we miss a few trades. The key difference of course is that the violin does not crumble into a thousand little pieces after each bad performance, but our trading account can be decimated by just one bad trade.

So how do we reconcile our desire to play with our need remain disciplined and preserve capital? Simple. We separate our money. I have multiple accounts just for that reason. For example we trade the BKT account only twice or three times a week and not surprisingly it has the best performance by far. The reason is of course because we are extremely disciplined and take only the trades that are consistent with our trading model. Next, I have an account where trade K's calendar calls both proactively and reactively. Those of you who have been with me in live chat are familiar with some of those trades. Finally I have an account that I just trade - no real rules, lots of experimentation and needless to say a lot of stupid mistakes.

The BKT account is serious money, the procactive/reactive account is semi-serious money and the free trade account is just stupid money. The key to winning in FX is not to curtail the over trading. It is not only futile but arrogant to think that we can conquer our worst impulses. The key is not to over trade your serious money. Ironically enough the more freedom you give yourself to experiment in your stupid account, the more likely you are to stick to your trading plan in your primary account. Give it a try and let me know if it helps.