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Your first trade of the day will probably lose
Hi all, I’m going to discuss some trades I made a few days ago, I’m just now getting time to discuss them. As I said yesterday, I will be transitioning from posting about multiple trades to one high probability trade a day. It’s just easier and I can go in more depth with one trade. I will go ahead and discuss these last couple of trades.
My first trade I placed finished ATM, which was my first trade of the day. In Brian’s trading videos he mentions that your first trade probably will be lost, and it does seem to be true to a certain extent, maybe its because when we first enter the market, you have to get in the groove of things. Anyways, after price was in a strong downtrend, I was waiting for a pullback in price, because after a strong and fast move the market many times goes into a range. I was looking for a trend continuation signal (ex: 2 leg pullback) and I waited for price to retrace back and I entered on the next candle as price dropped below the low of the previous bar. I should have waited for a 2 leg pullback at least, but I entered on a so called “1 leg pullback”. After I entered price dropped ITM for a while but on the open of the next candle came back up. Once this happened I knew price was entering a range.
My second trade was OTM, and after I entered I immediately knew what I did wrong, and I hate it when I do that. On the 1 minute chart I was waiting for a breakout since price was respecting a clear resistance line. I entered because I was impatient and I didn’t wait for the candle to close before I placed the trade, and sure enough price respected the level again and dropped back down.
My third trade I placed after I waited for price to break out of the range. Since price had a very defined level of resistance that was not broken, I had belief that price would continue south, which also agrees with the previous sharp bear trend. As price broke through the range to the south side, I placed a put, ITM. One thing I must address is the value chart not being at ideal levels, the value chart doesn’t always work and especially during strong trends it doesn’t help much. That’s why I use PA and many other forms of confluence to place trades because not every piece of information will agree all the time. I had faith in price going further south because once the market trends, it tends to stay that way until the balance of bears and bulls changes, and that is reflected on your chart.
My fourth and final trade was also a put, simply because the market was not showing much interest in changing direction. I entered my trade after price had a small pullback, and on the 1 min chart it hit the 20 EMA line and bounced back down. Also I waited for price to move below the low of the prior bar pullback, ITM. This is another example of market inertia. The Value Chart was of no help with this trade either.
Traders, Master One Strategy Before Learning Others
Don’t overwhelm yourself, learn one strategy at a time
When you start something new the compulsion is to try to learn as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. It’s human nature; if we like something we tend to overdo it a bit. Trading is no different. You’re excited and eager to learn so you buy lots of trading books, read lots of strategy articles and try to pick out a few things from each book/article/video, tying them together into your own unique blend of trading genius. It seems like the right thing to do, after all, you’re learning things, but it is inefficient, costly and won’t necessarily produce favorable results.
Below, you’ll find out why you should focus on only learning one strategy when starting out, and how to filter through all the information so you don’t waste your time learning things that won’t necessarily help you.
Avoiding Information Overload
When you enter a field, there is so much information that it may seem like you need to know it all. What you should focus on depends on what you want: do you want to just sound smart? Or do you want to make money?
Nearly all successful traders only use a couple of technical analysis indicators to formulate a strategy. Those tools may include a MACD, moving average, Fibonacci retracement tool or trendlines. If you want to sound smart, then you need to learn everything, but it won’t help you make money. Trying to learn everything is information overload. As just discussed, if it only takes one or two tools to successfully create a strategy, so why learn about hundreds of different technical analysis tools you will never use?
Why Just One Trading Strategy?
Most successful traders only use one or two strategies. A strategy is a specific set of conditions which outline when you will enter and exit the market. It allows you to objectively see trading opportunities, and also see how trades would have worked out in the past. While past performance isn’t always indicative of future performance, it does give you a baseline for assessing whether your strategy is capable of producing a profit.
Since markets range–move sideways–or trend–move up or down for sustained periods–you only need one strategy that works in both, or one strategy for each type of market. There is little need for trying to utilize many strategies. Become good at one and it will serve you much better than trading a whole bunch of strategies poorly.
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That’s the real reason behind only using one strategy when you start out–by only focusing on one you get very good at it. The only way to get good at something is to do it over and over again in all types of market conditions. One month of practicing a strategy in a demo account will do much more for your trading than trying to absorb as much trading knowledge as you can. The former is helping you actually implement a method that makes money, the latter is just making you book smart. And we all know there is a difference between knowing something and actually being able to do it.
You’ll know your strategy inside and out because you have practiced and studied it so much. If you do that you’ll avoid a lot of problems many traders face. You won’t hesitate to make a trade (no trading anxiety), and you will get in and out at the proper times (no massive losses or being stressed because you don’t know what to do).
Become an expert in one method. Until you’re able to flawlessly–well, nearly flawlessly because none of us are perfect–execute a strategy for about six months in a row don’t even consider learning anything new. Stick to that one strategy.
Being a master at one strategy that makes money is much better than knowing lots of strategies you don’t know how to implement and make money with.
Final Word on Mastering One Trading Strategy
When you start your trading journey read the basics on the market you want to trade–these include order types, capital requirements, legal and tax information, position sizing and market hours. Then find one or two sources that provide strategies on the time frame, market and time of day you want to trade. Open a demo account and start practicing one of the strategies. Stick with it and don’t get distracted by all the other information out there.
No matter what strategy you pick you will probably lose money at first. Trading is a hard business, but that’s why you are going to become a master at implementing that one strategy. As you practice you will get better at implementing the strategy and hopefully begin to see some positive results–this could take several months. Keep at it, and when you have multiple months of profitable demo trading under your belt with that strategy, switch to trading real capital. Continue to focus on that one strategy, and don’t add any more tools to your arsenal until you’re profitable for multiple months in a real money account. Do that and you may find that one strategy is all you need.
Day Trading Tips for Beginners
Image by Brianna Gilmartin © The Balance 2020
Like starting any career, there is a lot to learn when you’re a day trading beginner. Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction as you start your journey. These tips will get you set up with the proper equipment and software, help you decide what to trade and when to trade, show you how much capital you need, how to manage risk, and how to practice a trading strategy effectively.
Picking a Day Trading Market
As a beginner day trader, you may already have a market in mind that you want to trade. A pattern day trader executes four or more “day trades” within five business days.
Stocks are the shares of the companies, such as Walmart (WMT) and Apple (AAPL). In the forex market, you’re trading currencies, such as the euro and U.S. dollar (EUR/USD). There is a wide assortment of futures available to trade, and futures are often based on commodities or indexes. In the futures market, you could trade crude oil, gold or S&P 500 movements.
One market isn’t better than another. It comes down to what you want to trade, and what you can afford. The forex market requires the least capital to day trade. You can get started with as little as $50, although starting with more is recommended. Trading certain futures markets may only require $1,000 to get started.
Stocks require at least $25,000 to day trade, making them a more capital-intensive option. While more capital is required to day trade stocks, that doesn’t make it a better or worse market than the others. But if you don’t have $25,000 to trade (and can’t maintain your account above $25,000), then stocks likely aren’t the best day trading market for you. If you have more than $25,000, then stocks are a viable day trading market.
All markets offer excellent profit potential. Therefore it often comes down to how much capital you need to get started. Pick a market, that way you can start focusing your education on that market, and not wasting your time learning things about other markets which may not be of help in your chosen market.
Don’t try to master all markets at once. This will divide your attention and making money may take longer. Once you learn to make money in one market, it is easier to adapt to learn other markets. So, be patient. You don’t need to learn all markets at once. You can learn other markets later if you desire.
Equipment and Software for Day Trading Beginners
To day trade you need a few basic tools:
- A computer or laptop: Having two monitors is preferable, but not required. The computer should have enough memory and a fast enough processor that when you run your trading program (discussed later) there is no lagging or crashes. You don’t need a top-of-the-line computer, but you don’t want to cheap out either. Software and computers are constantly changing, so make sure your computer is keeping up with the times. A slow computer can be costly when day trading, especially if it crashes while you are in trades, causes you to miss trades, or its slowness causes you to get stuck in trades.
- A reliable and relatively quick internet connection: Day traders should be using at least a Cable or ADSL type internet connection. Speeds vary across these types of services, so strive for at least a mid-range internet package. The slowest speed offered by your internet provider may do the job, but if you have multiple web pages and applications running (that use the internet), then you may notice your trading platform isn’t updating as quickly as it should, and that can cause problems (see above). Start with a mid-range internet package, and try it out. You can always adjust your internet speed later if needed. If your internet goes down a lot, that’s a problem. See if there is a more reliable internet provider. Day trading isn’t recommended with a sporadic internet connection.
- A trading platform suited to your market and style of day trading: When you are just starting, finding the perfect platform isn’t your goal. Download several trading platforms and try them out. Since you are a beginner, you won’t have a well-developed trading style yet. Therefore, your trading platform may occasionally change throughout your career, or you may alter how it is set up to accommodate your trading progress. NinaTrader is a popular day trading platform for futures and forex traders. There are loads of stock trading platforms. Ultimately, try out a few that your broker offers and see which you like best.
- A broker: Your broker facilitates your trades, and in exchange charges you a commission or fee on your trades. Day traders want to focus on low-fee brokers since high commission costs can ruin the profitability of a day trading strategy. That said, the lowest fee broker isn’t always best. You want a broker that will be there to provide support if you have an issue. A few cents extra on a commission is worth it if the company can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars when you have a computer meltdown and can’t get out of your trades. Major banks, while they offer trading accounts, typically aren’t the best option for day traders. Fees are typically higher at major banks, and smaller brokers will typically offer more customizable fee and commission structures to day traders.
When to Day Trade
As a day trader, both as a beginner and a pro, your life is centered around consistency. One way to generate consistency is to trade during the same hours each day.
While some day traders trade for a whole regular session (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, for example, for the US stock market), most only trade for a portion of the day. Trading only two to three hours per day is quite common among day traders. Here are the hours you’ll want to focus on.
- For stocks, the best time for day trading is the first one to two hours after the open, and the last hour before the close. 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. EST is a two-hour period you want to get good at trading. This is the most volatile time of the day, offering the biggest price moves and most profit potential. The last hour of the day, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST is also typically a good time for trading, as some sizable moves occur then, too. If you only want to trade for an hour or two, trade the morning session.
- For day trading futures, around the open is a great time to day trade. Active futures see some trading activity around the clock, so good day trading opportunities typically start a bit earlier than in the stock market. If day trading futures focus on trading between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST. Futures markets have official closes at different times, but the last hour of trading in a futures contract also typically offers sizable moves for day traders to capitalize on.
- The forex market trades 24-hours a day during the week. The EURUSD is the most popular day trading pair. This currency pair typically records greater trading volumes between 1 A.M. and 12 P.M. EST. During these hours the London markets are open. Day traders should trade within these hours. The hours from 7 A.M. to 10 A.M. EST typically produce the biggest price moves because both the London and New York markets are both open, so this is a very popular and active time for day traders.
- As a day trader, you don’t need to trade all day. You will probably find more consistency by only trading two to three hours a day.
Manage Your Day Trading Risk
You’ve picked a market, have equipment and software setup, and sometimes know what is good for day trading. Before you even start thinking about trading, you need to know how to control risk. Day traders should control risk in two ways: trade risk and daily risk.
- Trade risk is how much you are willing to risk on each trade. Ideally, risk 1% or less of your capital on each trade. This is accomplished by picking an entry point and then setting a stop loss, which will get you out of the trade if starts going too much against you. The risk is also affected by how big of a position you take, therefore, learn to how to calculate the proper position size for stocks, forex, or futures. Factoring your position size, your entry price, and your stop loss price, no single trade should expose you to more than a 1% loss in capital.
- Also, control your daily risk. Just as you don’t want a single trade to cause a lot of damage to your account (hence the 1% rule), you also don’t want one day to ruin your week or month. Therefore, set a daily loss limit. One possibility is to set it at 3% of your capital. If you are risking 1% or less on each trade, you would need to lose three trades or more (with no winners) to lose 3%. With a sound strategy, that shouldn’t happen very often. Once you hit your daily cap, stop trading for the day. Once you are consistently profitable, set your daily loss limit equal to your average winning day. For example, if you typically make $500 on winning days, then you are allowed to lose $500 on losing days. If you lose more than that, stop trading. The logic is that we want to keep daily losses small so that the loss can be easily recouped by a typical winning day.
Practicing Strategies For Day Trading Beginners
When you start, don’t try to learn everything about trading at once. You don’t need to know it all. As a day trader, you only need one strategy that you implement over again and again.
A day trader’s job is to find a repeating pattern (or that repeats enough to make a profit) and then exploit it.
You don’t need a college degree or professional designation, nor do you need to read through hundreds of books, to do that.
Find one strategy that provides a method for entry, setting a stop loss and taking profits. Then, go to work on implementing that strategy in a demo account.
For forex and futures traders, one of the best ways to practice is using the NinjaTrader Replay feature, which lets you trade historical days as if you were trading in real time.
This means you can practice all day if you want, even when the market is closed.
No matter which market you trade, open a demo account and start practicing your strategy. Knowing a strategy isn’t the same as being able to implement it. No two days are the same in the markets, so it takes practice to be able to see the trade setups and be able to execute the trades without hesitation. Practice for at least three months before trading real capital. Only when you have at least three months in a row of profitable demo performance should you switch to live trading.
Stay focused on that single strategy, and only trading the market you picked, only during the time you have chosen to trade.
From Demo to Live Trading
Most traders notice a deterioration in performance from when they switch from demo trading to live trading. Demo trading is a good practice ground for determining if a strategy is viable, but it can’t mimic the actual market precisely, nor does it create the emotional turmoil many traders face when they put real money on the line.
Therefore, if you notice that your trading isn’t going very well when you start to live (compared to the demo), know that this is natural.
Start with the smallest position size possible when you first begin live trading, as this helps alleviate some anxiety of losing large amounts of money.
As you become more comfortable trading real money, increase your position size up to the 1% threshold discussed above. Also, continually bring your focus back to what you have practiced and implementing your strategies precisely. Focusing on precision and implementation will help dilute some of the strong emotions that may negatively affect your trading.
Pick a market you are interested in and can afford to trade. Then, set yourself up with the right equipment and software. Choose a time of day that you will day trade, and only trade during that time; typically the best day trading times are around major market openings and closings.
Manage your risk, on each trade and each day. Then, practice a strategy over and over again. You don’t need to know everything to trade profitability. You need to be able to implement one strategy that makes money.
Focus on winning with one strategy before attempting to learn others. Hone your skills in a demo account, but realize that it is not exactly like real trading. When you switch to trading with real capital, a bumpy ride is common for several months. Focus on precision and implementation to steady your nerves.
How to Make (and Lose) $2,000,000 Day Trading: The System & The Story
I’ve tried and failed to write this article ten times.
Even after I finished, I thought it was terrible–actually I was just scared to share the story. I sent it to a reader who had asked me about trading. He replied:
“It’s different than most that I have read because there is no bullshit to try and look past and all of your readers appreciate that.”
Thanks Garrett, here goes nothing:
A Kind of Introduction To Day Trading
This is about the lessons I learned while trading. The pitfalls people fall into and the ways people destroy themselves. There’s also the time I raised money for a hedge fund. Then my partner turned $30,000 into $2,000,000 in three months. It only took him two months to turn $2,000,000 into virtually zero.
We’ll get into the details later.
I mean trader as in “day trader”. From the time I was 15-22 I sat in front of 6 computer monitors watching charts go up and down. Why am I not doing it now? I didn’t make the billion dollars before hitting 22.
Traders are unique in that they might be the only group of people more delusional than entrepreneurs.
I say this lovingly.
According to my calculations, there’s no reason I couldn’t have made a billion dollars day trading. Never mind that 99.9% of traders are losers. Forget the fact that 80% of traders are depressed middle-aged men going through their mid-life crisis. (I saw one in the local library yesterday, he looked like he was avoiding his wife. I saw another today at Starbucks, he didn’t buy a drink and he smelled funny.)
I was the exception. I was going to get my billion-dollar pay day before my 30 th birthday.
And I actually was the exception. I made a nice chunk of money before stopping. I treated the thing with respect—not some get-rich scheme.
It breaks my heart when I see people tell me they day trade and then see them following some bullshit newsletter or some coach with a fudged track record. When I see someone watching another FOREX algorithm sales pitch or drooling over some penny-stock report I just want to shake them and say You have potential! Stop letting yourself get scammed! Stop scamming yourself!
If you trade without the proper preparation you’d be better off in Vegas. This is not an exaggeration. Not only are there free drinks, sexy ladies looking for fun, and an obscene selection of Cirque du Soleil shows… your odds at pretty much any casino table are better than the markets. I mean this literally (like “literally” as defined by a dictionary)—you are guaranteed to lose money over any decent period of time unless you learn to trade well.
And then even once you’re prepared and you feel you know everything there is to know about the markets, you’re still not guaranteed to win. That’s just the nature of the beast.
That’s why I started meditating at 16. Trading is intense. In college I would make $5000 in the middle of class and then lose $10,000 a few hours later while watching a movie.
That kind of thing gives you a different perspective on money.
One last thing before we get into the meat of the post: Like Garrett said, this is probably different than anything else you’ve read on trading. Why?
- I don’t want to sell you anything. I don’t give a shit if you trade or not. Actually, I would almost rather you not trade… most people would be better off spending their life doing other things.
- I’m not currently trading. I’ve double-checked my methods and they still work, so the information is current, I’m just not spending my life using it.
- The focus isn’t on the method—although I’ll give you all the dirty details. You’ve got to be fluid as a trader. The top hedge funds in the world hire mathematicians, physicists, meteorologists… they are constantly shifting algorithms. How do you compete with these people? You don’t. This will make more sense later.
- I don’t have any stake in you listening to me. For real: nothing is for sale. I’m not going to teach you to trade. People that teach people how to trade or run newsletters giving trading ideas make more money by selling their ideas than using their ideas. They all have their own stories about why they are being so generous with their SECRET knowledge but it’s bull. (Not that all this information is bad, it’s just that you got to be careful—don’t follow anyone blindly.) (Wait, so what are my incentives for writing this? I just want you to like me—I want you to like me and this article so much that you subscribe for our newsletter and I can write more things. Also, I’ve been thinking about writing this for way too long and I had to do it.)
- I’m not trying to convince you the world is ending.
Okay okay it’s time for the meat and potatoes.
Meat and potatoes? Ha! You’ll be eating liquid gold with the information I’m about to give you! Yes, you too can be a Rich Kid of Instagram!
Just kidding, you probably won’t do anything with it. (And that’s probably a good thing.)
Someone did make $2,000,000 with this information though. For real, I watched it happen.
Before we get to that story, we’re going to go through some of the major pitfalls new (and experienced) traders fall into.
[Note: I’ve provided the meanings of some words but I’m going to leave the glossary work to you, Google, and other places on the Internet that like defining words more than I do.]
What Not To Do
Why start with what not to do? Because not smoking cigarettes is more healthy than eating all organic. Because if you lose all your money then trading becomes kind of impossible, doesn’t it?
“You can do a lot by avoiding bad as opposed to seeking good.” – Paul Graham, founder of Y-Combinator
DO NOT: Use Real Money Before You Know What The Hell You’re Doing
Warren Buffett’s #1 rule in investing is to keep your capital. He says that his regrets have mostly been acts of omission instead of commission. That is because he doesn’t throw money at something that he doesn’t think will work—and so he misses out on making money on tech bubbles but doesn’t lose his ass when they bust. (Honestly, Warren Buffett isn’t a trader… he plays the long term and hasn’t done anything but acquire massive companies—or huge pieces of them–for decades… he is one of the world’s best money-getters but not someone who will give you anything useful in trading.)
What does this mean for you? Paper trade before you put any of your capital on the line. (Paper trading is when you make trades with a fake account. There are tons of platforms you can use for this, I used TD Ameritrade’s Think or Swim.)
How do you know when to start putting money on the line? When a system has proven itself.
When has a proven system proven itself? For me, a month of profitable trading (and a statistically significant number of trades).
This infers the next DO NOT:
DO NOT: Day Trade Without A System/Method
If you’re trading willy-nilly you’re going to lose.
I don’t even know exactly what willy-nilly means, but if you have to ask if your trading would fall under the “willy-nilly” category, then stop trading right f*&#ing now!
You’re not George Soros, you don’t get to trade on your gut.
You don’t need an algorithm running on a supercomputer—but you do need some sort of system that won’t let you be an idiot.
You will tell yourself you don’t need a defense against being an idiot. This is you being delusional. Believe me. I betrayed myself too many times before committing to my systems. You don’t win every time if you follow your methods but you do do a hell of a lot better.
How Do I Create A System?
So what makes a good system? We’ll get into this more later when I show you the exact system I used (don’t skip to it, this post will be useless if you do that). For now, this will be helpful when thinking about how to approach your trading:
- Offense. It tells you exactly when and how to enter a trade. Maybe it’s “3 of the 5 requirements must be met to invest 1 share, if 5 of 5 are met – 2 shares”. This is one line of emotional defense: trading will make you think that you can make a million dollars today, this is very exciting, you will want to fudge the rules. Warren Buffett only broke his rules when he got bored—notice when you’re bored. If you think you can take advantage of more opportunities in the market then alter your system, test it, and implement it. Remember: no willy-nilly!
- Defense. It tells you exactly how to exit a trade. This means stop losses. (These are orders that automatically get you out of a trade when the market you’re in hits a certain price.) A common rule is to take 50% of your position (your money in the market) at a certain profit point, maybe 100% maybe 68.2% (this is a Fibonacci number that is extremely popular among traders). It also defines exactly how much of a loss you are willing to take on a certain trade. This must be determined before you enter a trade. If you don’t put a stop loss in your brain will justify your position over and over to you while your hopeful trade ends up losing you your house (and family). This is even more important than a strong offense—don’t go broke!
- Adding to a position. Sometimes you may want to make your position bigger as the market moves in your favor. You need to have a set of rules determining how you’ll do that.
- Don’t complicate it. Every tool seems so powerful, so prophetic! Early on I had a habit of adding signals that I would wrap up into my system. I theory they should make your trading better. Maybe it does for a Harvard physicist, it didn’t for me. The more complex I made my system the worse I did, over and over. I would start simple, screw it up by adding a bunch of things people recommended, then go back to the drawing board. The best method I ever used was dead-simple (that’s the one we’ll get to in a little bit).
- Give yourself a ton of room for failure. Eight out of ten trades failed for me. That was fine because when I hit a winner it won big. But if you’re averaging eight out of ten trades failing, then it will be common to fail 20 times in a row. I’ve gone through streaks of 40 failed trades in a row. You’ve got to be able to survive those. My recommendation would be to risk 1% (or less) of the money you’re willing to lose on each trade. That gives you 100 chances for failed trades before you go bust. It shouldn’t happen. (Of course, when I was twenty I was risking 10% on some trades… if I went bust it wasn’t that big of a deal.)
- It has to work. Again, test the damn thing. If it doesn’t make fake money then it certainly won’t make real money.
There is a time and place for throwing caution to the wind and just going for it. Trading is the worst place for that kind of bullshit. The adrenaline that comes from the potential of losing thousands of dollars in a minute is enough—you’re mission is to keep a cool head.
DO NOT: Get Big Fast
If you do this right, you have the potential for making a lot of money faster than any other method out there. (Excluding entrepreneurs who are insanely talented and simultaneously insanely lucky.) The potential—chances are it won’t go that way.
Chances are you’ll lose money.
Or you’ll make money, feel like a god, trade like a god, and lose all your money.
When you put real money on the line the game completely changes again.
You think you’ve tested your method. You’ve gone the first month and everything looks solid. Great.
Then you put money on the line. Shit gets real. You can’t seem to follow the system like you did in the test month. The market seems totally foreign again.
You don’t believe me, that’s fine. For you it’s different.
I don’t know how many times I told myself that. I’m different.
It doesn’t matter though, you’ll feel it the same as I did.
To save yourself some money though, trust me, start small.
DO NOT: Trade When You’re Emotional
I told you I started meditating at 16. It’s not because I was excited about being “in the moment” or that I was into Eastern philosophy. It was because if I didn’t I couldn’t trade. I’d mess it up.
James Altucher talks about how he created algorithms for each of his methods and then let them trade for him while he was depressed an losing everything. I wasn’t smart enough for this (and my methods inevitably had some level of subjectivity to them) and so I manually entered all my trades. (Entering a trade or “putting on a trade” or “entering a position” just means you’re buying (or selling short) into a market.)
James got to trade emotionally because he wasn’t actually trading.
If I got emotional then I would get silly.
You’ve got a system so this shouldn’t matter. But it so matters.
Imagine this: You’ve just gone long the corn futures market for 2 contracts. You’re up $5000 on a trade in two hours. Awesome, right? Hell no!
This is what happens in the two sides (side 1 and side 2) of your brain:
1. I want to take this $5000 off the table now, that’s a great win.
2. Yeah, but look at this pattern—this could be the BIG trade—this could be $100,000 if I add contracts.
1. Yeah, but it’s more important to conserve capital. $5,000 is a great win. Maybe I could just take half off the table.
2. Don’t blow it. That’s $50,000 instead…
1. Fuck. The system says to sell now.
2. Yeah, but the system isn’t perfect. You made it anyway—you can change it. You can feel it!
1. Yeah. But, the system…
And then on and on. I said “imagine” but that exact inner-dialogue is something I went through twenty times a day every day for a long time.
When did I make the right choice? (The right choice being following the system, not making money. A lot of people make money with a shitty trade and then think they have some special talent… of course they go bust within the quarter.)
I made the right choice when I let reason reign.
When did I make the wrong choice?
When I was either excited or scared. Both fear and greed will destroy you. (Immediate greed that overtakes your rational decision—which has longer term greed in mind.)
I’ve said this earlier, but it’s important to repeat:
A. Some days you will feel like a worthless human being who has done and never will do anything worthwhile. You will enter trades you aren’t supposed to because you’re afraid of missing out. You will exit trades before you should because your stomach is weak.
B. The next day you will make a winning trade and feel like a god. You will forget whatever it felt like to lose and you will make trades outside of your method. You will enter trades you shouldn’t because you have the feeling that you can’t do wrong (the market may validate you for a couple days and make the problem worse). You will stay in trades too long because you “know” that the market will turn in your favor—no way could you be wrong!
Your trading decisions need to come from numbers and predetermined rules. After years of deliberate practice and success you may actually get an intuitive feel for the market. Then begin introducing those feelings into your systems. Before then, no way José.
DO NOT: Trade Based on Some Purchased System or Newsletter
Listen, if someone has a really kickass way to make money trading they sell it to a hedge fund or use it themselves. They don’t sell it to you for five easy payments of $300.
That being said, there are some decent newsletters out there. The James Dines letter being one of them. It may be worth signing up for a couple, but don’t rely solely on them. Experiment with their information. Test their ideas against your method.
Do not follow them blindly.
Think about the incentives at work… there is nothing in your favor.
(This means, by the way, don’t follow the method below without testing it first. Just so you know–if I were actively trading it right now I probably wouldn’t have shared it.)
DO NOT: Get Caught Up In Stories
if you see this image – RUN!
Your system either works or it doesn’t.
People will devise elaborate narratives around their ideas they want you to buy into. They will spend countless hours telling you about this thing and why it’s the next took to make you a millionaire.
They will scare you by telling you you’re going to miss out on the next big thing. They will tell you that you need them.
You don’t. You need a system that works. Incorporate their idea into your system if you believe in it, see if it actually works. If it doesn’t, take it out.
DO NOT: Trade
This isn’t a joke. Most people shouldn’t trade. If you’re not willing to give everything to the market then it’s not worth messing with. Do what Warren Buffett says and put your money in the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund and go about your life. (Or invest in your own business.)
Of course, as terrible as trading is, it’s also freaking awesome for the right people. To this day I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see a price chart. I’m not joking. I feel at home and I see patterns and I get the urge to dive in… Maybe I will again. Who knows.
For real: you should only trade if you are extremely drawn to it and if you can behave rationally (while remaining delusional).
Alright. here it is:
I was on break before going into my junior year of college. I was trading, doing pretty well. I was having a particularly good morning when I received a picture message on my phone. It was a screenshot of my partner’s trading account.
A couple weeks prior I received one that said $250,000. He had started with $30,000 only a few weeks before. I was freaking amazed.
This particular day, though, I didn’t believe it was real. The image read: $2,000,000 (and change, whatever). That was a “holy moly” moment, to say the least. I stared at it for a long time.
I texted back, “This isn’t real.”
How did that happen?
How did he turn $30,000 into $2,000,000 in three months?
Well, the method below.
But also! (And this is a massively important “but”.)
- He was more balls to the wall than I’d seen anyone ever before. Every bit of profit was immediately thrown back into the trade so his position ballooned like crazy. I actually used the term “stapled to the wall”.
- He was insanely lucky. See that lumber futures price chart below? You see that massive move down? Yeah, he got that at the top and rode it straight to the bottom. (He had a short position—meaning he made money as the price dropped.)
- He does have mental powers.
THAT is a move!ne
This combination ended up with massive losses in the next couple months. He still ended with an awesome five-month return… but you were a millionaire for a month and then not… well, it hurts.
I used this method with my balls about a foot off the wall and made great returns. I nearly doubled my personal account in six months and then was able to raise money from investors with that track record.
[Note: This method is specifically useful for commodity futures but can be applied more widely with certain modifications.]
Here is what we looked for:
1. Multi-Year High or Low
This method required constant awareness of price movements but not a lot of action. With this method you probably won’t be making more than two trades a week—often you’ll make one every other week. It’s also a bit unique in that we are trying to spot tops and bottoms of markets, something that most people will tell you is suicide: “like catching a falling knife”.
I just looked up the Corn Futures price chart at barcharts.com and found it sitting right at a multi-year low.
This is a weekly chart (each bar represents one week) so we can see that we’ve missed the bottom last week. We can zoom in to see if that would have presented us an opportunity.
The first is the simplest, this is the first filter I use to sort through charts: is it at multiyear high or low? You can see this quickly and skip it if the answer is no. If it is then go in for a closer look.
(I will keep tabs on a bunch of charts sitting at these areas while I wait for the other requirements to be filled.)
2. Hammer, Morning Doji Star, or Abandoned Baby Candlestick
[Note: I’m not going to get too technical here–just what you need to have a basic understanding and get started. I recommend you read everything at StockCharts.com’s Stock School if you have any sort of commitment to this. Candlesticks are just another way to view pricing information on a chart. An empty/white bar means that the price closed higher than it begun for the period of time measured by the bar. A red is the opposite, the bottom of the red bar is the closing price. The skinny area is the full area covered by price movement during the period covered by the bar.]
The second thing I would look for is a daily Morning Doji Star or Hammer Candlestick.
A Hammer Candlestick:
A Morning Doji Star:
Here is an Abandoned Baby:
Keep in mind we want these patterns at a multiyear high or low. Preferably with a gap. That means, for the corn chart above, we would want the price to open below where it’s current.
The gap shows one last push up. The two candlestick show consolidation of price movements. Basically, the price wasn’t able to follow through–signaling that this movement is out of gas.
Now, if you don’t see one of these right away, don’t discount it totally. Check for the third requirement.
3. The Producers Are On Your Side
General Mills buys a metric shitton of wheat. They move that market big time. It would be nice to know what companies like General Mills are doing so we could be on their side, right?
Yeah. And we can. And it’s pretty awesome.
Now, General Mills and other large producers use futures markets to hedge price fluctuations more often than trading for a profit like us. So we don’t take them with a grain of salt unless they are making significant movement.
Companies that trade over a certain amount of contracts are required to report the trades they make. These are collected in reports called Commitment of Trader Reports. You can get these reports here. You can get them in a more useful form (a chart) here.
Let’s see an example. I just looked up a promising chart of Soy Bean Futures:
We can see a great multiyear low (which is more obvious in the weekly chart, note that this is a daily) and some consolidation. Okay, let’s see what the producers are doing–this information is available to us in the red line in the mini-chart below the main one.
We can see here (and on here-just CTRL+F “soy” and you’ll see it) that producers (the RED line) are still significantly short soybeans and they aren’t in any rush to get long (“get long” means to buy).
Because of this I’m not going to make a trade but I am going to keep an eye on this over the next few weeks to see if a cleaner setup emerges. (A setup basically means the boxes for your method are checked off.)
We want to see the producers make a significant move in the direction of our potential trade. Here I would want to see a large movement toward zero.
[This is a fascinating topic. Check out Trade Stocks and Commodities with the Insiders: Secrets of the COT Report, it’s freaking amazing. And if the $40 price tag looks too high, seriously reconsider trading as an option.]
4. (Optional: For the insane ones) Balls-to-the-Wall-Re-Buy
My partner was able to make such insane returns because he caught a great run and leveraged it to the hilt. He put on a huge position and then used all the profits from each movement to make his position even bigger. That means you’ve got to hit a home run.
I honestly can’t recommend anyone do that. This method alone demands more risk than most (even though you can use mini contracts to take smaller positions). I played more conservatively and did well. When I trade again, I’ll trade even more conservatively. Capital is the first requirement for trading–without it you’re out of the game.
You need to set a stop-loss immediately after entering your position. I would give different markets different leeway depending on how widely they fluctuated normally.
Corn might fluctuate 10 points daily on average while Crude Oil might fluctuate 20. I would give Oil more wiggle room (not willy-nilly, mind you!)
The most important thing is that you set a stop loss with a loss that you can manage. It doesn’t matter how perfect a setup might appear, it could still lose money. You need to be prepared to take losers.
Ideally your stop loss is below the previous low. Sometimes you won’t be able to catch it that close, but if you can you’re golden. (You trade seeing more of a movement for taking on less risk.)
6. Managing the Trade
Let’s say we get long Soy Beans. We’ve got our stop-loss right under the previous low.
Version #1: The market moves against us and takes out our stop (this means the stop-loss is hit and we are taken out of the trade, we are “flat”). This is the most common scenario.
Version #2: This is the more interesting version–the market moves in our favor! Yeehaw! We’re not out of the woods yet though.
Obviously we would love the market to take off in the direction of our trade and lead us to our fortune. If this happens then count your blessings and remember the feeling–because it won’t come often.
Even when we get a winning trade, we have to work with it. It will go up a while and then back down, then up and then down.
When we talk about “managing a trade” we are really talking about three things:
1. Adding to the position. We talked about this a little earlier. Essentially you can add to a position that’s working to double down. Say you get a strong movement in your favor, then it pulls back a bit to consolidate, you can add to your position to double-down on the move.
**2. Adjusting our stop-loss. This is the one you will use most often (as in every winning trade). I like to move my stop-loss to my entry price as soon as possible. This means that if that market moves against you then you still don’t lose any money. I will normally wait until there is a new solid level of “support” created and then move the stop loss up to this new level. A support level is a price at which there is resistance to the market moving below. This is usually created by a small pullback. Continue to adjust your stop losses as the market moves in your favor.
3. Reducing our position (taking money off the table). I alternated between taking 50% of my trade off the table when I had 100% and never reducing a trade unless I got out completely. Often taking 50% or 30% at a certain point is a good way to lock in trades, the only problem is that it limits your upsides.
4. Exiting. At certain reversal patterns I would exit a trade and not wait for it to hit a stop-loss.
how we used to trade
Scary simple, right? (There are a few minor things omitted just for the sake of simplicity… these items decided most of the decisions.)
You probably noticed that I didn’t give you any examples of perfect patterns (if you go back and look at a more magnified version of the lumber one you’ll see a perfect setup). That’s because it takes a massive amount of work to find a great trade. I may have to look through 200 more charts before finding a decent setup.
If you’re really interested in this, go to BarCharts.com (or download a trading platform, I like thinkTDA) and look through every single commodity futures chart you can find. Look at a 5 year chart, then if one looks promising look at a 1 year chart, then a 6 month.
- Keep a list of ones that look promising that you need to keep an eye on. Review these every day.
- Once a week review ALL the commodities again.
- When you find a good trade, make it on paper. Either literally with paper or with your program (again thinkTDA is awesome… I don’t even have an affiliate link for them, they’re not sponsoring this post… but now I kind of think they should :P).
- When you start to get good at it, dip a toe in with real money.
That’s 4 steps and a ton of time.
I was going to recommend more books for you to read but I’m not. If you want them in the comments I’ll offer some up but the important thing is for you to actually apply this knowledge first. Go and spend an hour looking at charts right now.
This post ended up being fairly long… but the topic is huge. I glossed over a lot of technical stuff on purpose. The goal here was to give you an idea of what it is to be a trader and an example of a method to begin using.
I’m happy to answer any questions you’ve got! Just put them in the comments below or email me.
10 Steps to Building a Winning Trading Plan
There is an old expression in business that, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It may sound glib, but people that are serious about being successful, including traders, should follow those words as if they are written in stone. Ask any trader who makes money on a consistent basis and they will probably tell you that you have two choices: 1) methodically follow a written plan or 2) fail.
If you already have a written trading or investment plan, congratulations, you are in the minority. It takes time, effort, and research to develop an approach or methodology that works in financial markets. While there are never any guarantees of success, you have eliminated one major roadblock by creating a detailed trading plan.
- Having a plan is essential for achieving trading success.
- A trading plan should be written in stone, but is subject to reevaluation and can be adjusted along with changing market conditions.
- A solid trading plan considers the trader’s personal style and goals.
- Knowing when to exit a trade is just as important as knowing when to enter the position.
- Stop-loss prices and profit targets should be added to the trading plan to identify specific exit points for each trade.
If your plan uses flawed techniques or lacks preparation, your success won’t come immediately, but at least you are in a position to chart and modify your course. By documenting the process, you learn what works and how to avoid the costly mistakes that newbie traders sometimes face. Whether or not you have a plan now, here are some ideas to help with the process.
Disaster Avoidance 101
Trading is a business, so you have to treat it as such if you want to succeed. Reading a few books, buying a charting program, opening a brokerage account, and starting to trade with real money is not a business plan—it is more like a recipe for disaster.
A plan should be written—with clear signals that are not subject to change—while you are trading, but subject to reevaluation when the markets are closed. The plan can change with market conditions and might see adjustments as the trader’s skill level improves. Each trader should write their own plan, taking into account personal trading styles and goals. Using someone else’s plan does not reflect your trading characteristics.
Investing After the Golden Age
Building the Perfect Master Plan
No two trading plans are the same because no two traders are exactly alike. Each approach will reflect important factors like trading style as well as risk tolerance. What are the other essential components of a solid trading plan? Here are 10 that every plan should include:
1. Skill Assessment
Are you ready to trade? Have you tested your system by paper trading it, and do you have confidence that it will work in a live trading environment? Can you follow your signals without hesitation? Trading the markets is a battle of give and take. The real pros are prepared and take profits from the rest of the crowd who, lacking a plan, generally give money away after costly mistakes.
2. Mental Preparation
How do you feel? Did you get enough sleep? Do you feel up to the challenge ahead? If you are not emotionally and psychologically ready to do battle in the market, take the day off—otherwise, you risk losing your shirt. This is almost guaranteed to happen if you are angry, preoccupied, or otherwise distracted from the task at hand.
Many traders have a market mantra they repeat before the day begins to get them ready. Create one that puts you in the trading zone. Additionally, your trading area should be free of distractions. Remember, this is a business and distractions can be costly.
3. Set Risk Level
How much of your portfolio should you risk on one trade? This will depend on your trading style and tolerance for risk. The amount of risk can vary, but should probably range from around 1% to 5% of your portfolio on a given trading day. That means if you lose that amount at any point in the day, you get out of the market and stay out. It’s better to take a break, and then fight another day, if things aren’t going your way.
4. Set Goals
Before you enter a trade, set realistic profit targets and risk/reward ratios. What is the minimum risk/reward you will accept? Many traders will not take a trade unless the potential profit is at least three times greater than the risk. For example, if your stop loss is $1 per share, your goal should be a $3 per share in profit. Set weekly, monthly, and annual profit goals in dollars or as a percentage of your portfolio, and reassess them regularly.
5. Do Your Homework
Before the market opens, do you check what is going on around the world? Are overseas markets up or down? Are S&P 500 index futures up or down in pre-market? Index futures are a good way of gauging the mood before the market opens because futures contracts trade day and night.
What are the economic or earnings data that are due out and when? Post a list on the wall in front of you and decide whether you want to trade ahead of an important report. For most traders, it is better to wait until the report is released rather than taking unnecessary risks associated with trading during the volatile reactions to reports. Pros trade based on probabilities. They don’t gamble. Trading ahead of an important report is often a gamble because it is impossible to know how markets will react.
6. Trade Preparation
Whatever trading system and program you use, label major and minor support and resistance levels on the charts, set alerts for entry and exit signals and make sure all signals can be easily seen or detected with a clear visual or auditory signal.
7. Set Exit Rules
Most traders make the mistake of concentrating most of their efforts on looking for buy signals, but pay very little attention to when and where to exit. Many traders cannot sell if they are down because they don’t want to take a loss. Get over it, learn to accept losses, or you will not make it as a trader. If your stop gets hit, it means you were wrong. Don’t take it personally. Professional traders lose more trades than they win, but by managing money and limiting losses, they still make profits.
Before you enter a trade, you should know your exits. There are at least two possible exits for every trade. First, what is your stop loss if the trade goes against you? It must be written down. Mental stops don’t count. Second, each trade should have a profit target. Once you get there, sell a portion of your position and you can move your stop loss on the rest of your position to the breakeven point if you wish.
8. Set Entry Rules
This comes after the tips for exit rules for a reason: Exits are far more important than entries. A typical entry rule could be worded like this: “If signal A fires and there is a minimum target at least three times as great as my stop loss and we are at support, then buy X contracts or shares here.”
Your system should be complicated enough to be effective, but simple enough to facilitate snap decisions. If you have 20 conditions that must be met and many are subjective, you will find it difficult (if not impossible) to actually make trades. In fact, computers often make better traders than people, which may explain why nearly 50% of all trades that now occur on the New York Stock Exchange are generated by computer programs.
Computers don’t have to think or feel good to make a trade. If conditions are met, they enter. When the trade goes the wrong way or hits a profit target, they exit. They don’t get angry at the market or feel invincible after making a few good trades. Each decision is based on probabilities, not emotion.
9. Keep Excellent Records
Many experienced and successful traders are also excellent at keeping records. If they win a trade, they want to know exactly why and how. More importantly, they want to know the same when they lose, so they don’t repeat unnecessary mistakes. Write down details such as targets, the entry and exit of each trade, the time, support and resistance levels, daily opening range, market open and close for the day, and record comments about why you made the trade as well as the lessons learned.
You should also save your trading records so that you can go back and analyze the profit or loss for a particular system, drawdowns (which are amounts lost per trade using a trading system), average time per trade (which is necessary to calculate trade efficiency), and other important factors. Also, compare these factors to a buy-and-hold strategy. Remember, this is a business and you are the accountant. You want your business to be as successful and profitable as possible.
The percentage of day traders that quit within two years, according to a 2020 paper titled “Do Day Traders Rationally Learn About Their Abilities” by Barber, Lee, Liu, and Odean.
10. Analyze Performance
After each trading day, adding up the profit or loss is secondary to knowing the why and how. Write down your conclusions in your trading journal so you can reference them later. Remember, there will always be losing trades. What you want is a trading plan that wins over the longer term.
The Bottom Line
Successful practice trading does not guarantee that you will find success when you begin trading real money. That’s when emotions come into play. But successful practice trading does give the trader confidence in the system they are using, if the system is generating positive results in a practice environment. Deciding on a system is less important than gaining enough skill to make trades without second-guessing or doubting the decision. Confidence is key.
There is no way to guarantee a trade will make money. The trader’s chances are based on their skill and system of winning and losing. There is no such thing as winning without losing. Professional traders know before they enter a trade that the odds are in their favor or they wouldn’t be there. By letting their profits ride and cutting losses short, a trader may lose some battles, but they will win the war. Most traders and investors do the opposite, which is why they don’t consistently make money.
Traders who win consistently treat trading as a business. While there is no guarantee that you will make money, having a plan is crucial if you want to be consistently successful and survive in the trading game.
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