Survival Before Learning

If you are trading without first assuring your survival, you are just playing a game, a crazy gamble that a drunkard places over the weekend in Las Vegas casino. No real trader who aspires to reach constant profitability will participate in the Market without first assuring their survival.

The above is absolutely essential and goes without saying. It is assumed by default that your risk and money management, as well as psychological well-being, are taken proper care of.

What’s next?

Before anything else, you need the willingness to put in countless hours of work into the Market. Only this will allow you to gain this important subjective feel of the Market as you watch it. The trading ideas will come to you effortlessly and it will only remain for you to execute them. This is how you build your trading system.

Ask yourself: “Why am I not putting enough time into watching the Market? Why am I not willing to take losses, make mistakes and yet continue with my method, learning and improving with each passing day?” Find the answers. Write them in your diary. Propose the solution and implement it.

When you spend enough time on trading and seemingly totally committed to your success in trading, ask yourself this: “Why am I not acting on each and every idea I have? Why am I closing the trades before my targets are reached or my system tells me to close them? What am I afraid of?”

Honestly answering these questions in your daily diary will lead to important improvements to your trading system. Go back to the first step – putting countless hours of work – and repeat the process times and times again, with humble understanding that you will never be good enough to cease improving your method and your execution of it.

Above all else, remember – it is only possible to go through this difficult process when you have absolutely, perfectly ensured your financial and psychological survival! You cannot be worrying about your well-being or losing more than you can afford to lose AND going through the mandatory learning process of taking losses, making mistakes and being clueless.

The best Money Management strategy

If I were to define the most important Money Management rule in one sentence, it would be this:

Make sure you have the money tomorrow to invest with.

It is that simple. Every day, do whatever you should according to your trading strategy (analysis and entry systems), but make sure that no matter what happens today, tomorrow there is money left for new investment opportunities.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this attitude is. Because we are making sure that we have money for investment tomorrow no matter what, we cannot fail. Of course, this simple rule is just the basic foundation for a robust money management strategy, because it implies some important points:

  1. In order to make sure we have the money tomorrow, we have to make sure that our maximum possible risk (and therefore our loss) is limited today.
  2. Because we must have the money tomorrow no matter what, we must also protect against force majeure situations, when all our trade protection can fail (15th of January was such an event, as stop losses were not honored by the market, since it traded thousands of pips away in just one tick). It implies that a complete loss of this trading account should still leave us with enough money to comfortably open a new account the next day and continue trading.

There are many ways how each trader will calculate his risks, position sizes, but in my opinion, if this one simple rule is not honored and he leaves even a distant possibility of losing it all, the money management strategy is not planned properly.

Accepting the Risk, Part 2 – Floating Profit

In the first part we discussed the risk we have on the market – our initial Stop Loss being hit.

I was lucky to have a natural fear of financial loss operating in me on a very deep level from the first days I started trading. Interestingly enough, because I was so cautious with any potential loss, I never let my trades show any substantial gain either. Any time the trade would go my way even slightly I would get nervous and was rarely able to resist taking the profit.

In one of the previous articles I illustrated a very common example, showing how the fear would cause us to look for any signs of the reversal on the market – anything that will allow us to justify taking the profit way before the target.

After we learn that the market will often disagree with our point of view we start accepting that sometimes it goes straight to our Stop Loss. Such situations are inevitable and happen to even the best traders. But what about these situations when everything seems to be going exactly according to our plan?

Managing the floating profit

When the trade is already showing profit many traders automatically identify with that profit subconsciously. They rationalize that the market already showed that they are right and this is their well earned money.

The market can easily reverse against our position, no matter how much profit we have in it.

There are a couple methods we can implement in order to deal with these situations. In this post we covered a couple important steps in order to decrease the risk and reduce the psychological weight of keeping the trades for a longer term:

  1. Enter the trade with a couple positions with the same SL but different targets. I like to set the first target at 3 times the amount of my SL.
  2. When the first target is hit and part of the trade is closed, move SL to breakeven. This will turn the trade into a risk free opportunity to follow the trend (in reality, there is still the risk of losing the floating profit which we can never exclude completely unless we close the trade, but the original risk of losing money is now removed).
  3. From this moment we need to keep reassessing the market and adjusting our SL higher as the market provides an opportunity to do so.

At this point it is extremely important to adapt a different way of thinking about your trade. Instead of looking at the paper profit, look at the amount of money you already accepted and at the value of your current Stop Loss. In other words, the current profit is not whatever is floating, but the amount you already taken plus/minus the amount that will be accepted when Stop Loss hit – not your Take Profit.

Aiming for big targets

When you have the conviction that the market has the potential of giving you 10 times the amount you risked, it is definitely worth it to let the trade go – after we’ve already taken the first profit and made the trade a risk free opportunity by adjusting stop loss to breakeven. Many times the market will not agree with our conviction and stop the trade, but with experience we can hopefully learn to read the market sentiment better and better. When having a longer term perspective (trading Daily and Weekly charts) I found it essential to understand the underlying fundamental reasons why the currency can appreciate or depreciate the way you expect it to.

I like to ask myself this question when I am hesitating whether to let the trade go or close it: “Based on where I can trail the SL in these conditions and where I have my long term target, would I enter the trade right now? Do I still have a good Reward to Risk ratio in this trade?”

In other words, I will first check where I can trail my SL based on the recent price action. After I trailed it, I look at the distance to my target and my SL. Would I place a trade at the current price with such SL and TP? Does it still meet my minimum Reward to Risk ratio criteria?

Let’s take a look at 2 different scenarios:

  1. There was a recent retracement to the trend we are in and we can trail our Stop Loss behind that retracement. After doing so, we have 100 pips distance to our Stop and still 400 pips to our long term target – a respectable 4:1 ratio that makes it worth it to stay with the trade.
  2. The price rushed to our target in an impulsive move, not reaching it by 50 pips. Our floating profit is 500 pips and our SL is set 300 pips lower relative to the current market price. Because the price spiked higher to our target so fast, the market does not show any techincally sound level where we can trail the SL to reduce our risk. If we were to place a trade at this level, we would have been risking 300 pips hoping to gain only 50 – a very bad 1:6 ratio to take. In this case it is a much better decision to close the trade in 500 pips profit, 50 pips before our target, than hoping to catch these final pips and risk giving away 300 pips of our paper money.

Finally, let’s take a look at a recent trade that I’ve been managing over the last 3 weeks. It happens to be a rare example of proper management throughout a couple retracements when I was certainly questioning whether to take the profit or let the trade go. In hindsight, scaling out of the trade in small parts as the market was making new highs, was crucial to lasting throughout the whole move to my original target – it allowed me to secure part of the profit and decrease the psychological burden of supporting the trade.

GN H4 Buy Trade
GBPNZD H4 Buy Trade

Flexible expectations

Finding the trades

While there are many parts of trading business that are essential to trader’s success, the core area is undoubtedly finding and executing the trades. There are two parts of our every day trading process that are designed with that purpose in mind: Analysis System and Entry System.

Analysis System is designed to understand the current market conditions. It helps identifying what we can do on the market. It does not tell us when to trade, but it should certainly tell us when NOT to trade. To me, the essence of market analysis is to identify trading pairs where there is a higher chance of the price going in one direction over the other. When such trading pairs are found, the Entry System comes to action.

Entry System is designed to look for specific entry patterns in the direction identified by our market analysis. Main question that a good Entry System should ask is “Where do I put my Stop Loss order?” No matter what entry parameters we use, what targets we set, there is only one variable we have control over, and that is the amount of money we are willing to pay the market to find whether our trade is going to work or not (see the article in Issue 3). There is always a certain point in any market, beyond which it is not feasible to hold a losing trade. Thus, finding this stop point is the most important task of the Entry System. Without good Stop Loss, there should be no entry in the first place.

After identifying a good technical place for the Stop Loss, we will see whether the price is too far away from it, preventing us from having a good Risk/Reward ratio. When we see that Stop Loss can be placed in a good location, which is not too far away from the current price, we are ready to look for the entry itself.

At this point we already know:

  1. The market bias, or the path of least resistance in which we want to trade, that was identified by our Analysis System;
  2. A good Stop Loss price, beyond which it is not feasible to hold the losing position;
  3. We also decided that the distance to our Stop Loss leaves enough room on the other side (that is, profit side), so that our target can be placed with a good Risk/Reward ratio (ideally the potential reward should be at least 3 times the predefined risk).

All that remains at this point is to find the entry trigger, defined in our Entry System. For some it can be a certain indicator signal – I personally prefer to use Price Action patterns.

Executing the trades

After both the Analysis System and Entry System processes are finished, we should be able to take a trade right at that moment, since we know everything we need to do that. Unfortunately, often it is not the case, as we start to think and hesitate, trying to find the best trade of the day or making sure that it is “truly” the right signal. More often than not such hesitation leads to consulting the information that we do not use in our trading system, and therefore do not know how to use properly. The result is almost universally losses, frustration and subsequent psychological breakdown, leading to even more trading errors.

Even though our trading process should give crystal clear signals what to do or not do right this moment, at the same time we are always facing a certain amount of subjectivity on the market, as we can never predict the price precisely. We are building certain expectations where the price will go, and such expectations should never be made rigid.

Market expectations

It is very important not to have any attachment to our market expectations, as it is one of the main reasons leading to frustration and consequently psychological problems.

Think about it as a weather forecast. While modern technology increased the precision greatly, the weather can still be unpredictable, especially in some parts of the world. When you read the forecast, you build certain expectations for your day, possibly you are planning your weekend according to that forecast. Now, you may be planning a family lunch in the park on Sunday and your expectation, according to the weather forecast, is for a sunny day. After you made all the preparations on Sunday morning, it suddenly starts to rain, and does not look like it is going to stop.

What are your reactions to this situation? Are you going to be upset because you have to change your plans completely? Are you somewhat angry at the forecast stations, since they obviously made such a big mistake? Or are you going to quickly adjust your plans and spend a pleasant day with your family at home?

I am using this example because the way we treat such life situations will be the way we treat our market analysis. If we are not able to stay flexible in simple life situations and adjust the plans, we are not going to be able to stay flexible on the market, where the real money is at risk. Just like the attachment to our plans for the weekend leads to anger and frustration, so will our attachment to market analysis, and even more so.

When you expect the market to break the resistance and go higher, but it doesn’t, how do you feel? What if you already opened a position on the break and now watching the price go against you? Not only you are watching your loss growing, but more importantly, you are dealing with being wrong. The market went against your expectations, making you wrong. Or did it?

Being wrong

In modern life there are not many things that cause psychological pain for most people more than losing money and being wrong. You will find a lot of discussion in various resources about the necessity of accepting the risk and being ready to lose money (I prefer to think of it not as “losing” but as simple expenses of doing business or tuition fee if you are only starting the education). While acceptance of monetary risk is extremely important, another risk in our trading is being wrong, and I think it causes much more grief than the loss of money itself.

Think about it, most people build their whole lives around trying to be right. They argue, they try to prove, they believe to hold the truth that others need to know. How many people do you know that will continue the argument beyond any reason, when it is clear to everyone but themselves that they are wrong?

There is a vicious cycle that is created from attachment to our expectations:

  1. We learn about the market and find a method of analysis that we like;
  2. We apply it and build some rigid expectations about the future price movement;
  3. We act upon our expectations, placing money at risk;
  4. The market goes against our position “making” us lose money AND “making” us wrong;
  5. Fear and anger arise and we continue learning more about the market, with only one purpose in mind: to find a method where the market will not make us wrong. To prove to the market that we are right.

In this situation a trader is personifying the market, assigning certain qualities to it that allow the market to “go against” trader’s position and to “make him wrong”. However, in reality the market is a collective entity, comprised of millions of traders just like himself, and all it does is simply follows the rules to try and balance supply and demand.

The problem here is not the loss that we experienced – after all I am yet to meet a trader who will state that it is possible to trade without losses and with no risk. The problem is our expectations being too rigid while our trading regimen is too flexible.

The thinking goes like this:

“I expect the market to break this level and go higher, so it MUST do that. If it doesn’t do that, it is making me wrong and that is unacceptable to me. I must refine my trading method so that the market follows my expectations precisely, then I will show it!”

In other words, there is no way the trader is willing to change his expectations and review his analysis – after all he believes that the market MUST follow it. However, he is very willing to change his trading rules to adjust them in such a way that the market always follows his expectations.

Now compare it with the opposite attitude:

“My current premise was not in line with the money flow on the market and so my position got stopped out. By going in the opposite direction the market is providing me with new information that I can now use to review my bias and find new trading opportunities”

This thinking will allow the trader to build a better premise, because he has been exposed to additional information about the money flow on the market. Not only will he be able to learn from a possible mistake he’s made when defining his original premise, but also he will instantly see additional opportunities that the market is now making available to him.

One attitude says “This is unacceptable, I resent the price going against my position. I will make sure this never happens again”, while the other asks “What other trading opportunities are available to me now with this new information the market provided me with?” It is not difficult to see what is more helpful to the trader’s development. The first trader is full of ego, he is looking for someone to blame other than himself. The second trader is humble and accepts full responsibility for all his actions, which empowers him greatly.

In my opinion these two attitudes separate consistently winning traders from everyone else.


The psychology and trader’s mindset are closely related to his trading method, his profit expectations and ultimately to his consistency and success. If trading system allows to trade randomly, without rigid rules to enter and support a position, it will lead to losses and frustration. If your risk management allows to overtrade, not controlling the amount of money you can allocate for trading every day or each month, sooner or later it will backfire and cause irreversible losses, when one day can lose more than was made in the past half a year.

It is up to us to create a trading system with rigid rules, and to have the discipline to follow these rules. At the same time we have to develop a high level of mental flexibility, letting go of our expectations easily and adjusting to the new information the market is providing us with.

We can also see a relation between our trading term and the amount of difficulty we will have to control our business properly. When trading intraday, the market is pouring new information on us with such a high speed that it is beyond most traders to absorb it and account for this information on the fly. It is much easier to overtrade when you watch the chart in real time and see one minute candle forming after another. Undoubtedly, there are traders who reached high degrees of success in short term trading, but I would argue that overall success rate is much higher for the followers of a longer term approach.

However, no matter how much we discuss the trading psychology and proper mindset, it is very unlikely to rewire our brain just by thinking about it. A great amount of everyday practice is necessary in order to change many beliefs we’ve been living with for years. In the next issue we will setup a practice routine that is designed to ingrain the new beliefs about the market, risk management, our expectations and trading execution. By following such routine we will be able to change how our brain operates, remove the hesitation and anxiety out of equation and develop the mindset that is most likely to lead to a consistent success in trading.

Setting up the limits

Unrealistic expectations

As I mentioned many times before, it is my opinion that your expectations about the market is one of the most important aspects in defining you as a consistently profitable trader. Market is unlike any day job in that you do not have a clear certainty in your expectations, like the amount of your paycheck, possible promotions, vacations, health plan, etc. When you trade for living all these variables have to be defined by you. Alas, not all of them can be clearly defined at all.

In the previous article we discussed how you can build your expectations about the amount of work you have to do, how often you have to analyze the market, for how long you are going to hold the trades, etc. Today I would like to concentrate on another very important aspect, that of your profit expectations.

I think that many traders start with completely unrealistic expectations, which leads to a lot of frustration and emotional pain as they cannot get these fulfilled. When you see ads on TV with a truck driver owning his private island, implying that he bought it from the profits made in the market in his free time, it is not difficult to understand why so many traders are greatly misled.

Profit generation

First of all, let’s take a look at how the profit is generated on the market. At first sight it seems an obvious question – the profit is generated by the trades we close and open. I would like to argue that it is not as simple as that.

In my opinion it is much more beneficial to view the direct outcome of the trades as the return ratio between the risk in these trades and the reward they return in terms of price movement that was taken. In other words, if the trade returned 100 pips and we risked to be stopped out at -50, this trade generated the return ratio of 2 (100/50). I find such definition much more helpful because it emphasizes that our profit is always tied to our risk, to the potential loss we can have on that trade.

I keep emphasizing that on the market the goal number #1 is survival, i.e. account preservation. We have to play good defense before we can start applying offense.

With most investing even if you put all your money in just one company you are risking blowing up the whole account only if the company’s stock ends up trading completely worthless and there is no one who will take it from you even for free. When you distribute your money between 10 different companies in different sectors you chances of blowing up 100% of your original stake are getting pretty low. With options, futures or on Forex everyone is so used to huge leverage that they cannot even imagine trading without it.

When you trade on Forex, you normally get anywhere from 1:50 to 1:100 leverage. The leverage basically means that you can invest 50 or 100 times more money than you own. However, when you invest 100 times more than you own, the account will be wiped out with only 1% move against you instead of 100% when you trade with no leverage. At the same time you can double your money 100 times faster when the price goes in your favor.

Let’s take a look at a reasonably conservative example. Let’s say that we want to limit our potential losses to no more than 10% a month calculated from the initial capital at the start of the month. Given 20 trading days a month, we will have 0.5% risk available each day. To make sure we don’t lose all the money we already made, let’s say that we never open more than 0.5% worth of new positions on any given day.

Let’s say we lose 10% a month for the whole year and we started with $10 000. What is the size of our capital by the end of the year? No, we are not in debt of $2000 because we lost 120%. Our capital is still ~$2541. Because each month we recalculated our risks, when we lost the first 10% ($1000), the next month we only had $9000*10% = $900 available to risk. Essentially, it is not possible to blow up the whole account when using even such a simple money management technique.

However, let’s also consider how long it will take us to rebuild the account back to $10 000, giving the same trading rules and starting after 12 months of losses, i.e. at $2500. After 12 months stably making 10% and compounding our profits at the end of each month we will be at $7846. It will take another two and a half months before we arrived back to $10 000.

Even though it took us longer to rebuild back the losses, let’s consider it in a different way. During the first year, while we were consistently losing 10% a month, we ended up with approximately 75% loss – at $2500. The next year, when we started making 10% with the same consistency and reinvesting our money back at the end of the month, we arrived to ~$7850 after 12 month – more than 200% increase over the initial $2500 we had left.

Compound interest

In order to restore our $2500 account back in short amount of time, we used compound interest – any profits that we were making, were left in the account and we continued trading with them. The power of compound interest is well known, however in order to exercise it we need enough confidence in the system. It is OK if we just made 10%, invested it back into the market and the next month lost 10% – we are just 1% less than we were 2 months back. But what about a possibility of losing 20% or 30% the next month? Heck, without proper risk management, losing 50% or 80% the next month is just as easy!

Ultimately, the appeal of a trading method should be judged not as the extreme returns it promises the next month but as the consistency of these returns over the next 10 years and more.

Of course, the issue for starting traders is often a lack of capital. When you start with $1000, 10% a month does not seem to be that big of a deal at all. I would argue that the real issue for starting traders is lack of patience, followed closely by the lack of confidence in their trading method.

Here is another example: how much do you think the initial $1000 deposit will grow in 10 years using the basic 10% a month scheme we looked at, reinvesting the profits each month? The result will be an astonishing $92,709,068.82. Improve your edge by as little as 1% additional profit a month and you end up with $274,635,993.25 by the end of the same period.

So, the main question is not whether you find a way to make 20% a month instead of 10%. The main question is whether you are going to stick to your system and reinvestment plan after 5 years, when your $1000 has already become a respectable $304,481.64. After you increased your account 300 times starting with $1000, are you going to trust your system to do the same in the next 5 years, now starting with $300K?

There are two important points that were mentioned:

  • The most important parameter of a trading system is its stability in long term performance
  • The profitability is only relevant compared to the drawdown the system can experience

First of all, we need to realize that right now we are only discussing controlled drawdown – the amount of loss we will accept willingly when the market goes against us. Our ability to control that drawdown is also dependent on the market – we need a valid price in area of our stop loss in order to get out of the market. In situations of major crashes such control is not always achievable, as you are unable to exit the market at a desired price. Different risk control measures need to be used there, to be discussed in separate article.

Limiting monthly risk

Assuming normal market conditions when we can exit with our loss at a predefined price, let’s discuss how we increase the appeal of our trading method.

Any profit outcome is only relevant relative to the amount of risk we exposed ourselves on the market. Let’s differentiate between the loss we experienced and the risk we were exposed to. It is possible to finish the month in 10% profit with the highest draw down being 2%. That amount of draw down was our loss that we experienced in the course of making our 10%. However, it is not the risk we were exposed to. To me, the definition of the risk starts with the amount of money we could have possibly lost if all our trades would have closed in a loss – the worst case scenario, very rare, but possible. However, I would complete that definition by adding that the risk exposure is not only limited to the trades we actually took during the month but any trades we might have taken as well. Let me explain what I mean by that.

First, the drawdown that we experienced is simply the amount of money we were down during the month. We opened 20 trades and at some point a series of trades resulted in 2% consecutive draw down. It might have happened at any time during the month. We still closed the month with 10% profit.

The actual risk exposure during that month is defined as the amount of loss we would experience if all the trades would have failed. If we risked 1% a trade, our actual risk exposure was 20% – that is the amount we would have lost with same 20 trades failing one after another. Unless, of course, our system is limiting the potential of our risk exposure.

The potential risk exposure is defined as the amount of money we would have lost on all the trades we could have entered, limited by our system rules. What I mean by this is that our trading system may strictly forbid any trading past a certain loss threshold. In our example throughout this article the potential risk exposure was strictly limited at 10%, because all the trading stops, if such a loss is reached in any given month. Of course, it is still up to the trader to honor such limitation, but that is a matter of trading psychology and not system Money and Risk Management.

Limiting daily risk

Coming back to the example, there is another extremely important limitation we established in our trading system. Not only we limited the potential risk exposure at 10% a month, but we also limited the risk exposure during any given day at 0,5%, ensuring that we arrive at 10% loss only by consistently losing day in, day out. Let’s see why it is so important.

Imagine another system where potential monthly loss is also limited at 10%, but there is no such daily limit. The trader is using the system successfully, confident that he is well protected against any market surprises and will survive through the bad times.

Let’s say on a certain day the trades sees a great opportunity to buy USD against other currencies. He then opens EURUSD sell trade and GBPUSD trade with 0.5% risk each – very conservative approach. The next day he sees that the market retraced against him and stopped out the trades, but fails to go any further, therefore confirming his bias that the USD bears are very weak. This time even better entries are available on USDCAD, USDCHF and USDJPY, along with the same EURUSD and GBPUSD. Excited, he buys first 3 pairs and sells EUR and GBP again.

Alas, the market is still trading sideways and his stops are narrowly hit. Frustrated, our trader starts looking for explanation with further analysis and sees that the market was just reaching a round number. Now that the level of support was hit, he is even more confident in the reversal, because his original signals stays the same – buy USD against other currencies. Looking at his loss of 3.5% with quiet disgust, he decides to make the money back fast, with a near profit target and puts 1% risk into the same 7 pairs. Predictable as markets are in such situation, his stops are taken before the price finally moves in his direction. The trader, however, already hit his 10% limit and even exceeded it by 0.5%.

Did I mentioned that all of this happened in the first 5 days of the month?

There are many problems with his risk control:

  1. Because he didn’t limit his daily loss limit, he was susceptible to trading on emotions as well as overtrading.
  2. When the market was not presenting easy opportunities he managed to reach his loss limit in just a couple days and could not do anything for the reminder of the month.
  3. Because there is no daily limit, the trading can become very poorly diversified – the trader risked 0.5% in a couple USD pairs, knowing that when they move they usually do so together in the same direction.
  4. The trader is extremely frustrated with his performance and now the question is whether he will be able to honor his monthly limit or not – in his current mental state, when he already made a series of bad mistakes, he is risking to break other rules as well.

Now we can compare it to our original method, where the risk is not only limited to 10% a month but also to 0.5% a day.

  1. When the market is difficult to trade the trader will have to choose the best trading opportunities or spread his 0.5% risk in a couple trades. In other words, such limit ensures diversification, since when the signal is presenting itself in multiple related pairs at the same time, the chances are that the trades in these pairs will close in a loss or a profit together.
  2. If the trader has bad attitude today and is susceptible to making errors, he will be forced to stay out of market very quickly, losing no more than 0.5%. By the next day he has enough time to cool down and trade with proper attitude.
  3. Even the worst market conditions do not last very long and by giving himself freedom to lose money every single day and still be able to continue trading the next day, the trader is maximizing his opportunities.
  4. Because each day presents a new trading opportunity, the trader is truly distributing the signals provided by his edge in a wide array of market situations, ensuring that no single event can affect his bottom line greatly.
  5. The trader is better protected against force-major situations, since his risk exposure on the market is always limited. Even if the market trades through his stop loss, the damage will not be as devastating.


Besides protecting the account from being wiped up by a couple erroneous errors, such trading limitations are even more important psychologically.

When this risk management system is setup, the trader can work with more confidenc. The system allows him to know clearly what will happen not only if this trade loses, but also if every trade will lose until the end of the month. The trader can concentrate on finding his edges and acting on them. Each day he knows his limits, and he also knows that no matter what happens, he can continue trading for the whole month, looking at new opportunities each day, without the fear of hitting his loss limit.

In later issues we will be discussing different variations of managing the risk of trading. We will also look at profit expectations that we can realistically have when such risk limits are used.

Being in control of your trading

The article is from Market Advance newsletter, issue 3

Three aspects of trading

In last article we explored three parts that in my opinion make up a successful trader. The most general assumption is that trading is about analyzing the market and predicting where the price will go. As we discussed, being an analyst is important – you do need a plan to execute in the market. However, that’s where most traders are stuck – finding a method they believe will make them rich, taking a couple trades that do not work out and then jumping to another method, assuming that they do not have sufficient knowledge about the market and therefore cannot open “the right” trades. The belief that I found to be groundbreaking in my own trading, however, is that there are NO “right” trades. There are simply trades offered by your method of market analysis and you have to take them all, before you make any judgments.

Therefore, the most essential addition to the set of skills of any trader, who desires to make profit consistently, is his ability to execute the trades with no hesitation, trade the plan exactly as his rigid rules are saying to trade it. The plan might as well be faulty and simply not provide the trading edge necessary to win, but without executing a sequence of flawless trades (not from the profit/loss perspective, but in terms of absolute discipline in following the system’s rules) you will never know that and very likely will switch to another Holy Grail only to find yourself with another set of potentially good rules that you cannot follow.

Five or even ten trades is not enough to judge any trading method. Your edge is not going to be visible and such a small set of data bears little to no statistical significance. Imagine a casino operating a slot machine with 4% advantage (meaning that they win 56 times out of 100 on average) calling a mechanic to repair the machine, or suing the gambler for somehow rigging it, just because after 10 customers the casino is in net loss.  Changing the machine after each 10 customers if their gambling produces a loss is just as absurd as changing your system after you have a couple losses in a row, especially if you “jumped the gun” on half the trades.

Mastering trade execution and getting a method of analyzing the market that provides you with some consistent edge are essential for any good trader. However, there is another aspect to trading we briefly discussed in the previous issue and arguably it can be even more important because unwillingness or inability of learning that aspect can help you decide pursuing a career elsewhere, long before you leave your life savings in the market.

Trading is a business

Like in any business, in trading it is most important to stay in control of what you do. First of all it implies having control over yourself, getting your mindset right and acting appropriately on each trading opportunity the market is offering. But when we see that opportunity and ready to enter in our direction, what do we really control in that trade?

I prefer to think of the trader as a small business owner. Anyone can open a small shop as a pursuit of having more freedom in one’s life, but interestingly enough 50% to 80% fail in the first 3 to 5 years. In trading I would argue that the failure rate is closer to 90%. My belief is that the reason for their failure (in business or trading) is defined primarily by the attitude they start with.

As we discussed before, the entrepreneurial freedom NEVER implies freedom from responsibility. In fact, starting out on your own increases the responsibility in almost all areas of your life:

  1. Your level of income
  2. Your medical insurance
  3. Your taxes and book keeping
  4. How you manage your time
  5. Your own development

It is my opinion that the understanding and full acceptance of this responsibility is what defines you as a success or a failure in business or indeed in trading.

In this issue we start our detailed discussion of managing your trading like a business. Being in business means being in control and yet I find that most traders have none –  often unknowingly giving up the only thing they have true control over in trading.

Being in control

If you are a small store owner and you are just starting out you can control quite a few things. First of all you control the stock in your store. You decide how you spend your initial investment. In trading that is your starting capital and in turn you control your Money Management and decide how many positions you can hold simultaneously.

In the store, when you spend $1000 to stock up, how do you know what your returns are going to be? Well, you know for a fact:

  1. The rent you are going to pay this month
  2. The salary to your employees
  3. You know the average bills you have to pay
  4. The advertising costs to attract the customers to your store

It is obviously an oversimplification, but it will do for our comparison. With that information on hand you add it to $1000 you just spent and now you know the amount of money you need to make in order to breakeven. Let’s say it is $1500. Everything above that is your profit (don’t forget the best part – the taxes!). Now, if you want to get $500, you have to sell your stock for $2000.

At that point you’ve already done your research and know that compared to your competition it is a reasonable price tag and given your location you should have no problem selling it at that price point. If (and it’s a big “if”) everything goes well, you just figured out your profit for the month.

Now, in trading you have some benefits, such as:

  1. No additional rent is needed (unless you like working in the office)
  2. There is no one to pay the salary to
  3. The bills are the same as if you would be living your normal lifestyle
  4. You have no product to advertise

In other words, you don’t have that extra $500 minimum you need to make this month just to get out in breakeven. In fact, the only thing you need to do in to order to stay breakeven is to do nothing!

The bad news though is that you have no expectancy for the amount of money you are going to make this month. On the one hand, you know your statistical results over the past months and if you are extremely consistent they can give a good average expectation for your profit (or loss). While the store owner can try to increase his sales in numerous ways by expending more money into advertising, introducing new services, etc., we can only do trades, and usually trying to trade more actively than our system allows will not increase the income by the end of the month – quite on the contrary, you stand a good chance to lose what you earned while following your system as it is.

When a customer enters into our hypothetical store, we don’t know what he is going to buy, if anything. He can go away empty handed or leave half his savings with us. We do know, however, that on this day we already invested ~$500/30 (our monthly expenses divided by the amount of days in this month) into our business in bills alone. We never know how this money is going to come back to us.

When you start your trade, similarly you have no idea what it produces. Yes, your edge provides you with statistics, saying that 12 trades out of 8 will make money, but you can never know the exact winners before they are closed and cashed in.

In reality, when you open your trade, there is one and one only variable that you have certain control over: how much money you are willing to pay the market in order to find out if the trade is going to work. In other words, your risk on that trade. You put your stop and you know where you get out if the trade doesn’t work. Everything else is only your expectation.

Giving up the control

Imagine that in our little store we decide to cut the costs on the salary by declining the medical insurance to our employees and instead paying the direct costs for any accidents they have. Yes, we are happy to know that we saved $100 extra every month but now we never know the costs of doing business. Another unfortunate day a fridge falls down and crashes our clerk’s leg, resulting in $100 000 hospitalization costs and ruining our business, all our savings – our car and the house taken away in addition.

Trading without a SL is exactly the same. If you give up control over the only variable you have in your hands in the market, you are going to do fine until one day you lose it all.

To emphasize the point, I offer this quote by Larry Hite in his interview in Market Wizards:

         I will tell you another story. I have a cousin who turned $5,000 into $100,000 in the option market. One day I asked him, “How did you do it?” He answered, “It is very easy. I buy an option and if it goes up, I stay in, but if it goes down, I don’t get out until I am at least even.” I told him, “Look, I trade for a living, and I can tell you that strategy is just not going to work in the long run.” He said, “Larry, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to work in the long run, just till I make a million. I know what I am doing. I just never take a loss.” I said, “OK…”

In his next trade he buys $90,000 worth of Merrill Lynch options, only this time, it goes down, and down, and down. I talk to him about one month later, and he tells me he is in debt for $10,000. I said, “Wait a minute. You had $100,000 and you bought $90,000 in options. That should still leave you with $10,000, even after they expired worthless. How could you have a deficit of $10,000?” He said, “I originally bought the options at $4k. When the price went down to $1k, I figured out that if I bought another 20,000, all it had to do was go back to $2k for me to break even. So I went to the bank and borrowed $10,000.”


The difference between any entrepreneur (traders included) and usual paid worker is in the acceptance of the risk and the responsibility. Most people prefer to live in the comfort of some assurance in life that they get a pay check every month as long as they follow the rules – and in the current economy that assurance is very tiny indeed. Any entrepreneur accepts and embraces the risk, giving up that assurance in exchange for control over his or her life.

As traders we can learn a lot in regular business. The costs of doing trading business must be defined as rigidly as possible.

We can:

  1. Set our monthly loss limit
  2. Set our daily loss limit
  3. Given the expected activity of our trading system, work out the amount of money we can risk in each trade, so that we do not exceed our daily loss limit after we fail a couple signals in a row

We cannot:

  1. Set a rigid profit expectation for every trade
  2. For every day
  3. Even for every month

Unfulfilled expectations will lead to frustration and mental disturbance, undermining our success in trading.