Getting started in Trading
Below is a very helpful article we found for would be traders written by one of the staff at the website: Trade2Win.
TRADING IS SIMPLE . . . First and foremost, this section of the Sticky is a reality check, intended to give aspiring traders a glimpse of what they’re getting themselves into. It’s not intended to be negative, though some people may perceive it that way. It tries to tell it like it is. If you went on a hike across the Himalayas, you’d want to go prepared and know as much as possible about the perils that may lie ahead. The boards of T2W are littered with past members who have fallen by the wayside, often because they embarked on their trading journey without due care and preparation. Although trading won’t result in serious physical injury, it does carry substantial risks which could jeopardise your savings and, possibly, your house and your relationships. This Sticky scratches the surface of some of the perils that most new traders face. Hopefully, it will help to ensure that you navigate your way through the dangers to reach the trader’s Holy Grail: to be a consistently profitable trader. Thoughts of an easy life surrounded by fast cars and fast women, (or slow men if you’re a lady), are what attracts most people to this industry. Its doors are always wide open with a large welcome sign overhead. And it’s so simple, really simple. Opening an account with a spread betting company literally takes a few minutes and, better still, some of them even give you real money to trade with. How great is that! But hold on, think about why this is so. If you’ve seen the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, you may remember the scene in which the two brothers were on a rubbish tip, sheltering from the sun on a sweltering hot day, when they were approached by a smiling man from an orphanage, offering each of them an ice cold Coke? (Didn’t their mother ever tell them not to accept gifts from strange men?) Well, if you’re a trading ‘newbie’, then you’re at least as vulnerable as the young boys were in that movie. The financial services industry is like a big blue whale that needs to consume tons of plankton every day. No prizes for guessing who the plankton are in this analogy! Make no mistake; the odds against you making any money are longer than a very long long thing, unlike the odds against you losing it. If this Sticky helps to ensure that you don’t ‘blow up’- traders’ jargon for losing all of your capital - then it will have served its purpose. . . . BUT IT ISN’T EASY The mechanics of trading are simple. However, being able to consistently take money out of the market is anything but. On the face of it, trading is a near perfect business. (Note the use of the word ‘business’. Treat it as a hobby and you’ll get caned.) Anyone can do it from anywhere in the world. There is no stock to carry, no customers to find and service. The barrier to entry is low, no qualifications are required, no boss to please, no employees to pay and, beyond spreads and commissions, relatively few expenses. The cherry on the cake, if one were needed, is that if you can make money via spread betting, (discussed later on), you don’t even have to pay Income Tax! But hold on a second. Surely, if profitable trading is as ‘easy’ as some people would have you believe, wouldn’t everyone do it? To make money consistently, you’ll have to be as good as, if not better than, the professional traders working for the big city institutions. Why? Because they already have an ‘edge’ over you (also discussed later on). They have state of the art kit, pockets that are much deeper than yours, access to the best and latest information and are surrounded by colleagues with specialist skills and years of experience. Likely as not, these are the people on the other side of your trades. What makes you think that you can compete with them? Look at it this way: if you truly believed you could dispatch Andy Murray in straight sets at Wimbledon or do a lap around Silverstone faster than Lewis Hamilton, then you’d probably become a professional tennis player or F1 racing driver. Beating the top proprietary traders of Canary Wharf and Wall Street is going to be equally tough. The good news is that it can be done, but don’t kid yourself for one minute that it’s going to be easy. Between you and trading success lies a lot of hard word. As for ‘get rich quick’, forget it!
A GAME WITH FEW RULES There are few hard and fast rules about which traders agree, for reasons which will be explored later. However, there are one or two. High on the list are traders who lack discipline and patience: they tend not to last very long. With that in mind, here’s a little test. Before opening a new account, placing your first trade and sending that ‘whatever you can do – I can do better’ e-mail to Messrs Soros and Buffett, read this entire Sticky and all the information that’s linked in it. If you lack the discipline and patience to do this, then your foray into trading is likely to be short lived and expensive. You can study economics and the markets at university, but you can’t enroll on a course to learn how to be a successful trader, in the way that you can with other professions such as Engineering or Dentistry. Why? Well, subscribers to the ‘Big Blue Whale’ theory argue that it’s in the interests of the whale (i.e. industry professionals working for banks and other institutions) to make the entry requirements as low as possible and to provide minimal education. This ensures the maximum number of people entering the market with cash in their pockets, but with little idea about what they’re doing. In other words, they’re cannon fodder. However, there are other, less cynical explanations. Some people say it’s because trading can’t be taught. Others argue that if you develop a profitable strategy, you’d keep stumm about it, trade your socks off and make your first million. Then another million, just in case the first one was a fluke. If and when you’re done, maybe you’ll ‘do a Darvas’ (see Books, below) and write a book called: ‘How I Turned a £20 Lottery win into £2 million Trading the Markets’. The other reason why there are so few rules is that trading, by its very nature, involves two parties. There is someone on the other side of your trade. So, every time you buy in the expectation of a price rise, you buy from someone who believes that price isn’t likely to rise any higher or that it’s likely to fall. Self evidently, both parties can’t be right. If there were rules that governed trading in the way that there are rules that govern engineering and dentistry then, broadly speaking, all market participants would want to buy and sell at the same time. That’s no good; prospective buyers need and want sellers – and vice versa. The markets can only function effectively when two people with opposite views agree on a price and trade. That is the common denominator that unites all traded instruments in all markets. So, different opinions, ideas and beliefs not only abound, but are necessary for the markets to function effectively. No two traders are the same. For the new trader, this makes the tricky task of knowing where to start and who to trust harder still. Fear not, by the end of this Sticky, the fog will have lifted. Well, some of it will at least!
FIVE TRADING ATTRIBUTES An obvious starting point is to look at the skills and attributes that will help you in your quest. You may already have some, others you will need to develop. In just about every profession you can think of, including engineering and dentistry mentioned above, having above average intelligence is usually an advantage. The same applies to other ‘conventional’ attributes such as being persistent, industrious and determined. Whilst all these traits may be useful for the aspiring trader, none of them will guarantee success. The market doesn’t care that you have a double first from Cambridge, just as it doesn’t care that the person on the other side of your trade is an East End barrow boy without a single GCSE to their name. Attributes that are good for trading vary slightly, depending upon the type of trader you want to be. If you’re a 'scalper', trading many times a day for small moves, you need unwavering concentration, a quick mind and fast reactions. Good scalpers tend to be good at fast paced computer games. If you’re slow and methodical in your approach, then a longer term strategy is likely to suit you better. Here are some typical attributes found in most successful traders, be they scalpers, swing traders or position traders.
1. Self Discipline It’s been mentioned already, but self discipline is so important that it not only warrants being mentioned again, it’s No.1 on the list. If trading is ever to be anything other than a bit of fun, then it’s necessary to approach it as one would any other type of business. Most hobbies, e.g. sports, arts and crafts etc. cost us money. Relatively few people cover their costs or make any money from their hobbies. And, as hobbies go, for some people, trading proves to be a very expensive one indeed. So it’s best to take it seriously from the start. Central to this is having a Trading Plan that sets out when and where you enter and exit your trades. (See the Articles section below for a link to a Trading Plan Template.) Trading is a bit like driving in that we have predetermined actions for every event that occurs in our journey. Before we even set off, we know that we’ll stop at the T junction at the end of the road, indicate, look in all directions and only pull out when it’s safe to do so. As drivers, we all have a rigid plan as to how we will behave and what we will do in all conceivable situations. We all take a test to prove that we not only understand the plan, but that we can also apply it whilst driving. Our trading plan needs to be equally well thought out and executed. If we don’t do this and ignore our own rules, the impact on our equity is likely to be as serious as the impact on our car (and possibly our health) if we ignore the rules laid down in the Highway Code. 2. Keeping Your Emotions in Check If you’re a discretionary trader, it’s vital that you make trades for rational reasons and not gut instinct. It’s easy to confuse the two. If you look at your past trades and you can’t easily and quickly pinpoint the precise reasons for taking them then, almost certainly, they were ‘shoot from the hip’ gut instinct type trades (aka gambling). The market enticed you to trade emotively through fear and greed, rather than calmly and rationally according to a predefined trading plan. Chances are, you’ve done this AND made money; it’s very common amongst new traders. Unfortunately, it’s a dangerous habit to get into and one that’s often tough to break. If one were to equate easy profits with drugs and the market with dealers, it’s akin to dope pushers handing out free Acapulco Gold to kids at the school gates. (This is not to be confused with Nescafe Gold which, although very different, is almost as expensive!) Good traders do not allow their emotions to be manipulated by the market and always trade according to a pre-determined trading plan. In the long run, if you trade purely with your emotions you will lose your money – guaranteed. 3. Ego & Humility The market is always right. It is in control, not you. Good traders know this and accept it. The downfall of many traders comes when they believe they have a handle on the market and they think they know what it will do next. If you are trading for the satisfaction of being proved right, then be afraid, be very afraid. You might be a super trader in all other respects but, if your ego gets the better of you, likely as not you’ll blow up eventually. The human ego is to traders what Kryptonite is to Superman. 4. Beware of Opinion – Especially Your Own Good traders not only exclude their emotions when trading, but their opinions as well. There’s a pro’ day trader of U.S. equities and long standing member of T2W called ‘Mr. Charts’ who frequently imparts this advice: “I ignore opinions about the markets, including my own. Of course I’ve got an opinion, but I don’t take any notice of it. I trade what actually happens, not what I think should happen. The market doesn’t care what people think or expect, it does what it does under the pressure of supply and demand”. This is a difficult and counter-intuitive skill to master. Throughout much of 2009, the markets soared and every technical and fundamental indicator suggested it looked overcooked. Day after day traders closed their longs and/or initiated shortpositions, based on their opinion that the market would reverse, or at least retrace, some of its gains. They let their opinion dictate their trades, rather than rational analysis of what the market was actually doing. 5. Do Your Own Research This is something you’ll read a lot if you spend much time on forums like T2W. The need to question everything, test everything and do your own research surprises a lot of novice traders. Not unreasonably, they join sites like this one in order to learn from others so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. As has been discussed already, trading has its own unique characteristics and is unlike most other human endeavors. To use a scientific analogy, imagine you were an inventor back in Thomas Edison’s day around the time he did his famous light bulb experiments. If you had an idea for an experiment, but found out that Edison had already conducted the same experiment and it had failed, you probably wouldn’t bother to repeat it on the off chance that it would magically work for you. Unfortunately, this logic cannot be applied to the markets. In trading, nothing works for everybody and everything works for somebody. Only as a result of your own effort and research will you discover the magic combination of markets, timeframes and strategies that work for you.
FIVE TRADING PRECEPTS Everything discussed so far begs an obvious question. If there are so few rules, and if what works for one trader may not work for the next, how does each trader find what will work for them? The bad news is that no one can answer this for you; it is something you have to discover for yourself. It takes a lot of time and effort, which is why anyone focused on get rich quick schemes will lose interest – or their money – and sometimes both. On a positive note, there are certain basic precepts about which most traders (but not all) agree. These are outlined below. (Remember, don’t accept these as given, question them, test their robustness and decide for yourself whether or not they are valid for YOU!) Once you’ve done that, your mission is to use the precepts (tools) and invest time and effort (materials) and build yourself a trading strategy. The good news is that, at this stage, little or no money is required. Ultimately of course, you’ll want to trade your strategy with real money to discover if it lives up to your hopes and expectations. Very occasionally on T2W (and elsewhere) a member will claim to be able to predict the future with consistent accuracy. Most people can’t, including successful, consistently profitable traders. However, their analysis of the market indicates the probability of a move up or down. This leads to the first trading precept . . . 1. Trading is a numbers game, based on probability Being consistently profitable in your chosen timeframe is the holy grail of trading. Just as Roger Federer will spend hours on the practice courts and study the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents, the wannabe trader will have to study the markets to discover the optimum point to enter and exit their trades. The balance of probabilities must be such that any given trade is more likely to produce a profit than it is a loss. Just as Federer can’t be certain that he will win every game or set that he plays, a trader can’t be sure that every trade will be a profitable one. However, in the same way that the tennis ace has a knack of repeatedly getting his hands on the tournament trophy, the successful trader comes out ahead over time. The first step towards achieving this happy state of affairs is to understand the second precept . . . 2. You don’t have to predict the future to make money trading! This comes as both a huge surprise and an even bigger relief to many new traders. A seemingly insurmountable obstacle is removed. Yippee! You just have to have the balance of probabilities in your favour or, to use trader’s jargon, a ‘positive expectancy’. In a fair coin toss, the probability of flipping heads or tails is 50/50. If you won £10.00 for heads and lost £5.00 for tails, you’d be on to a winner. You might get 5 or even 10 consecutive tails in a row and suffer what traders refer to as a 'drawdown' of £25.00 or £50.00 on your account. However, over time, you know you will recoup the loss and make a profit. You’ll have a positive expectancy which is what separates consistently profitable traders from ‘shoot from the hip’ gamblers. To get a positive expectancy, you’ll need an understanding of the third precept . . .
3. Risk & Money Management Risk management focuses on the steps required to minimise losses, while money management focuses on the steps required to maximise gains. Central to both these objectives are two simple ratios which, between them, enable traders to create a positive expectancy. They are: A) The Success Ratio. Out of any given sample, what is the total number of winning trades relative to the total number of losing trades? This is called the success ratio or win:loss ratio. B) The Profit Ratio. This is the average £’s won on the winning trades, relative to the average £’s lost on the losing trades. This is called the profit ratio and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sharpe Ratio’, although this is technically incorrect. The important thing to note about the success ratio is that it is not necessary to have more than 50% winning trades to have a profitable trading strategy. Indeed, some of the biggest names in the industry utilise strategies that are profitable only 30% - 40% of the time. Let’s revisit the fair coin toss mentioned earlier, in which heads wins £10.00 and tails loses £5.00. You can see from this example that you would only need to have 33% of the coin tosses coming up heads to break even (Three coin tosses: 1 x heads = +£10.00 and 2 x tails @ -£5.00 each = -£10.00). In a fair coin toss, the success ratio is known to be 50/50 or 1:1. In this example, the profit ratio is 2:1. Over time, every coin toss has a positive expectancy of a +£2.50 gain. This is covered in detail in the Article linked below entitled: ‘How to Win at the Futures Trading Game’. The topic of risk and money management is absolutely vital to your success or failure as a trader and is covered in greater depth in this Sticky: Essentials Of 'Risk & Money Management' Ignore it at your peril! Now, you may be starting to get excited and thinking to yourself that none of this sounds very difficult. Indeed, the principles are fairly simple. However, as you will soon discover, it’s deceptively tricky to put into practice in order to generate consistent returns. To help you achieve a positive expectancy, you’ll need the forth precept . . . 4. A trading ‘edge’ In the words of ‘TWI’, a long standing T2W member and hedge fund manager, your trading edge is “anything that removes the random nature of throwing darts at the FT markets page”. Many threads in the forums found in the ‘Start Here’ category focus on developing a trading edge. It might be something that sounds very simple, such as cutting losing trades early and letting profitable trades run, or determining when a fresh trend is underway and then riding the trend. These ideas sound simple enough but, for most traders, they’re devilishly difficult to put into practice. Or, if you’re that graduate from Cambridge mentioned earlier with a double first in maths and economics, your edge might be the ability to develop highly sophisticated computer algorithms. Needless to say, developing your edge is the really tricky bit. One way to develop an edge is to try to understand the forces at play in the fifth precept . . . 5. Supply & Demand The principle of supply and demand is as old as the hills and is, arguably, the only reason why prices fluctuate. The larger the imbalance between the two, the bigger and faster the price move. This can occur for any number of reasons. Broadly speaking, imbalances are attributed to fundamental and technical drivers. Briefly, fundamental analysis is favoured by investors and includes things like earnings statements, government reports and news. For example, the severe cold weather over Christmas 2009 in the UK was widely predicted by the Meteorological Office. There will have been market speculators who used this information to buy up shares in companies that manufacture toboggans, ear muffs and woolly hats etc. in the expectation that their sales would go through the roof. The logic is that the surge in demand for these products and the increased revenue that they generate would, in theory, be reflected in higher share prices. By contrast, traders tend to gravitate towards technical analysis (commonly referred to as ‘TA’) for signs of an imbalance in supply and demand and look for clues of this on a price chart. The five precepts outlined above are by no means comprehensive and are intended merely as a starting point for new traders who aren’t too sure where to begin. Whatever your approach, if you are able to determine that demand for your traded instrument is large and that supply is limited, then the probability of a price rise is good. You may have found your trading ‘edge’, or part of one at least. However, prices very rarely ever move in a straight line and, when they do, they don’t do it for very long. This means that your analysis of the market – be it technically based or fundamentally based, may be correct, but you can still end up with a losing trade unless you time your entry very well and/or have a sufficiently wide stop loss to allow for ‘wiggle room’. Getting this combination right and then exiting your winning trades for a gain that is larger than the loss on losing trades is all down to your risk and money management strategy. If, for example, your results indicate a success ratio is 1:1 and a profit ratio of 2:1, then you’ll have a positive expectancy and will be well on the way towards the trading Holy Grail of consistent profitability. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. Good luck!
SORTING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF ON T2W The market environment is very liquid and changes constantly and, as has been said already, has few rules. So, you register here on T2W in the hope of being shown ‘the way’, only to be told that there is no way, no holy grail and no fast track to an easy life. On top of that, you can’t tell fact from fiction, or who’s a seasoned pro’ from a teenager with attitude - yet to sit their GCSE’s (and yes, you’ll come across both here on T2W). And we haven’t even got to the snake oil salesman yet. In the slipstream of the big blue whale are loads of sharks with promises of untold riches in return for little or no work. Sorting out this lot from the start isn’t easy. But it is possible and it will make your time spent on sites like T2W more rewarding. But how? The simple answer is to assume nothing and question everything. Nothing is exempt, including the ideas and advice in this Sticky. If you must assume anything at all, assume nothing works and that all information (from whatever source) is incorrect unless and until you’ve proved its validity to your complete satisfaction. Remember, if the routine ideas that are trotted out day after day in books and on the internet worked for everyone, then we’d all be rich. There is a lot to be said for evaluating how most other traders work and then resolving to do something different. When reading posts on here (and elsewhere), learn to separate fact from opinion. Facts are usually easily verified, opinions are not. Here are some examples of facts and opinions and how you can differentiate between the two: Simple Fact Q. ‘What are the market hours for the FTSE 100 Index?’ The answer to this question is a verifiable fact. It’s black and white, there’s no grey area. Whoever answers this question will either be right or wrong. Middle Ground Q. ‘Have I drawn this trendline correctly on my chart?’ Given the same chart, different traders will draw trendlines in different places. Consequently, members will reply with their opinion about whether it’s drawn correctly or not. Q. ‘Have I drawn this trendline correctly on my chart in accordance with conventional Dow Theory?’ The question is tighter and more likely to result in a yes or no answer, which may or may not be correct. Either way, if the answer is important to you, you can cross check it with another source. Personal Opinion Q. ‘How far from my entry should I place my stop loss on my trades?’ The replies to this are all opinion, regardless of who they’re from. You could get a poorly worded, hastily written reply from a member who manages a multimillion dollar hedge fund. (Unlikely, but possible.) The very well written post after that may be from a complete novice. Newbie’s tend not to know the tell-tale signs which enable more experienced traders to separate the pro’ from the novice. And the so called pro’ may in fact just be someone who talks a good talk but can’t trade for toffee – and never has. More importantly, the reply from the novice may be more appropriate to you and your style of trading than the approach of the professional. How come? Well, suppose you decide to take kite surfing lessons. Would you want and expect to learn on a beginner’s kite or a killer beast used by adrenaline junkies for maximum speed and power? Advanced tools in the hands of novices are usually a recipe for disaster. The point is that lots of newbie’s want to distinguish the pro’s from the novices in the belief that if they only ever listen to the pro’s and ignore the novices – they’ll lick the markets in no time. The idea that a novice trader never posts anything of any value is as ludicrous as the idea that pearls of wisdom cascade in a continuous stream from the mouths of the pro’s. (No offense to any pro' traders reading this!) Your life on T2W (and elsewhere) will be more rewarding and far less frustrating by doing the following: try to ignore the source of the message (post author) and focus on the message itself (post content). There are lots of excellent and worthwhile posts that have been written by people who have subsequently been banned. This may sound like an anomaly but, for better or worse, knowledgeable and experienced traders are as prone to breaching the T2W Site Guidelines as anyone else. Equally, there are some long standing members who never put a foot wrong, exhibit a high post count and 'Legendary Member' status, but rarely contribute anything of real trading value. So, please remember, it’s the message that matters, not the status of the messenger, be they ‘Legendary Member’, ‘Banned’ or somewhere in between. Can you cross check the ideas presented to validate them to your complete satisfaction? Are they fact or opinion? If they’re the latter, do they concur or conflict with other views you have formulated about the markets? This principle doesn’t just apply to T2W, but to anything on the web, books and most other resources too.
TRADING VENDORS In amongst the broad spectrum of ideas and often conflicting opinions about the markets, there are also those who claim to cut to the chase and to tell you exactly what you really need to know in order to make money – for a fee! Vendors are a magnet for new traders and, as a group; they provoke strong reactions from T2W members, some of which are very damning indeed. ‘Those that can’t trade - teach’ is the common refrain. Without doubt, it’s a highly contentious subject and a complex one at that.
Suffice it to say, if you are thinking seriously of spending significant sums of money with any trading tutor, coach or mentor, you would be well advised to exercise extreme caution and do extensive research first. And the old adage ‘caveat emptor’ – let the buyer beware - should always be in the forefront of your mind. Regardless of whether you're considering buying something from a vendor on T2W or elsewhere, you would be wise to conduct due diligence. Start by checking out these two FAQs: How Can I Distinguish Between Scams and Reputable Vendors? Can You Recommend a Mentor, Coach or Trading Course? Hopefully, the ideas above will serve as a useful primer for your journey towards consistent profitability. It’s not a race, there’s no finish line and there are no time restrictions. The markets will still be here next week, next year and beyond. So, take your time and, above all, remember that in the great scheme of things, trading isn’t that important. Don’t let trading take over your life at the expense of family and friends. The Fate of a Trader is a thread started by ‘trader_dante’, one of T2W’s most celebrated members, who has paid a high price for his obsession with the markets. Perhaps the only opinions that you need not question and accept at face value are those posted by him and other members in the above thread. In the words of ‘Market Wizard’, in the fifth post to the thread: “Once the market gets its claws into you, it is very difficult to set yourself free.”