Components Of A Trading Plan – A

This is the first in a series on trading plans. In this article, I shall be looking at the elements of a discretionary plan. But before I do that, let’s look at the different types of traders and plans:

  • Subjective: There is no plan as such. The traders use kinesthetic information to enter and exit trades. Subjective traders trade solely (or mainly) by intuition. Successful subjective traders with whom I am acquainted are ex-floor traders (locals). Most locals have had a difficult time making the transition to the screen. Perhaps the scalping screen traders will replace the locals – we’ll see.
  • Mechanical: On the other side of the spectrum lies the Mechanical Trader. The Mechanical Trader has a set of rules to which he always adheres. “See a signal, take a trade” is his mantra.

  • Discretionary: Between the two is the Discretionary Trader. The Discretionary Trader has a set of rules but reserves the right not to follow them. In this way, he makes room for his intuition. Newbies need to understand that intuition is the result of experience and is not to be confused with ‘into-wishing’. ‘Intuition’ in this context is the subconscious recognition of patterns. For the subconscious to amass the patterns, we must first have had the experience of consciously identifying them. Newbies are unlikely to have this experience and more often than not, call label ‘into-wishing’, intuition.

Discretionary plans have either a fundamental or a technical base or have a combination of the two. The better discretionary plan reflects some fundamental idea of the nature of markets. For example, Buffett believes that companies have an intrinsic value and that this value is assessable. The Market Profile believes that the nature of markets is fractal and is best observed via the bell curve with present tense information.

The better technical analysis based plans have certain, specific components:

  • Identification of a Trend of a Timeframe
  • Low Risk Entry


Setup, Entry and Initial Stop (or initial exit strategy)

  • Trade Management

I am heavily influenced by Pete Steidlmayer’s approach to the markets. Pete used to say that ‘traders succeed, not because of their tools but in spite of them’. I believe that his words are particularly applicable in this area of trend definition of a timeframe.

Most traditional trend definition tools rely on some form of moving average. The tools are great if a market is trending but do a poor job when the market is in a transitional phase. The reason is as a rule markets move from Bull to Sideway to Bear or Bear to Sideways to Bull. Moving Averages do a poor job in sideways markets.

Is there an alternative to moving averages?

I thought so: swing charts. But the traditional swing charts were almost as unsatisfactory as moving averages so I developed my own: a swing chart that had a time component (unlike percentage charts that only have a price component) and a price component (unlike Gann Swing Charts that have only a price component). I called the swing chart Barros Swings.

My book the Nature of Trends (available from Amazon) describes how the swings are drawn. I use on Daily Bars:

  • A 5-period swing to define a weekly trend (5-d)
  • An 18-period swing to define the monthly trend (18-d).

I also use the 13-period swing on Weekly Bars (13-w) to define the quarterly trends and the 12-period swing (12-m) to define the yearly trend.

I call the timeframe that defines our trading strategy the Trader’s Timeframe Trend. The trend of the Trader’s Timeframe is impacted by the trend status of the First and Second Higher Timeframe.

For example, if the Trader’s Timeframe is the 18-d, then the First Higher Timeframe is the 13-w and the Second Higher Timeframe is the 12-m. To know when the 18-d has a high probability to change its trend we need to know the likelihood of the 13-w changing its line direction or trend. The 12-m provides further perspective.

The swings make it easy to define the trend of a timeframe:

  • Uptrend: higher swing highs and higher swing lows
  • Downtrend: lower swing highs and lower swing lows
  • Sideways: almost equal swing highs and almost equal swing lows

Once we have assessed the Trader’s Timeframe trend, we need to ask: continuation or change? Once we answer that question, we have our trading strategy: be a buyer or seller or stand aside. I will trade against the trend only if there is a change in trend pattern. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

VISION and Trading

Yesterday I wrote that VISION, goals etc had their counterpart in out trading.

VISION is found in two components:

Our trading philosophy. Consciously or unconsciously our philosophy, Ayn Rand’s ‘sense of life’, governs our actions. So too with our trading, consciously or unconsciously, our trading philosophy governs our actions from the plans we choose to our position size to the actions we take to execute consistently our trading plan.

I adapted the statement of my philosophy when I first read it in Trader Vic – Methods of a Wall Street Master by Victor Sperandeo. The articulation there of Sperandeo’s philosophy strongly resonated with my values. So with a small amendment, I adopted it:

  • Preservations of Capital
  • Consistent Execution (leading to consistent profitability)
  • Superior Returns

You’ll see the three ideas reflected in all that I do. Our trading philosophy forms one part of our VISION.

The other component is found in the rational for a trading plan. We need a trading plan for two reasons:

  1. Before entry: it tells us when the probabilities favour our trade
  2. After entry: it tells us when the probabilities are no longer in our favour and we should quit a trade.

Both components are essential to our trading success. The key analytical insight to our success is found in the expectancy formula; the formula that tells us we can expect to make, on average, on each trade. Unless the sum is positive, we don’t have an edge i.e. we are doomed to fail in the long run. The most basic formulation of the formula finds its expression in:(Avg$Win x WinRate) – (Avg$Loss x Loss Rate) = Expected Trade Result


  • Avg$Win = Total $ profits/Total number of Winning Trade
  • WinRate = Total number of Winning Trades/Total Trades taken
  • Avg$Loss = Total $ losses/Total number of Losing Trade
  • LossRate = Total number of Losing Trades/Total Trades taken.

Most newbies focus on the Win and Loss Rate. But in my view, this is the more difficult part of the equation to control. Why this is so is best described by a story I heard about while learning Drummond Geometry (P&L Dot):

One day an ex-floor trader was told by an apprentice he had taken under his wing: ‘The 1-1 support WILL hold this decline”! The market was heading south towards what P&Lers called 1-1 support.

The ex-floor trader replied: “What are the probabilities?”

The apprentice said: “It WILL HOLD, I am certain!”

The ex-floor trader said not a word; instead, he picked up the phone and said: “Sell me 3000 Dec contracts at market”

Needless to say, the market went through the 1-1 support like knife through butter. “Remember this” said the ex-floor trader, “ we think in probabilities not certainties”.

This is a great tale. It tells us that the trading is in the realm of probabilities and as such the win/loss rate is less under our control than the Avg$Win and Avg$Loss. Both of these depend entirely on our decisions to enter and exit.

Notice that the formula explains why someone with a 90% win rate can still lose money. Let’s see why. Let’s say the Avg$Win is $10 and Avg$Loss is $100 and the win rate is 90%. The sum of the formula is:

($10 x .90) – ($100 x .10) =

(S9) – ($10) = -$1.00

So over the long term, over a large sample size, each trade we take will lose -$1.00.

Our VISION allows us to imagine a number of critical events:

  1. What does a trade need to look like – what does it have to do after entry – for me to remain in a trade?
  2. What does a trade need to look like for me to exit a trade?
  3. What does a trade have to look like for me to stop and reverse?

By visualizing the answers to these questions allows me to exit trades BEFORE my stop is hit. The technique allowed me to return 46.64 on capital (ROI) for 2007 an average dollar profit per trade of US$181.00.

By keeping detailed statistics, I am able to CANI (constant and never-ending improvement) my entry and exit. This is not to say I won’t have losses; of course, I will. My loss rate for 2007 of 50.44 attests to that. But by keeping a margin of 2:1 for my Expectancy Ratio (same formula except we divide the Avg$Win component by the Avg$Loss), I was able to return a fabulous 46.64% ROI.

In the next post, I’ll look at a trading plan and its components.

Welcome to the Inaugural Post

Welcome to my Inaugural post. I’ll be using these pages to post my thoughts on the three elements for success in the markets: Winning Psychology, Effective Money Management, and Written Trading Plan with an Edge. I’ll also address the oft-omitted subject in trading literature: the generic element for success.

What do I mean by that?

Peter Steidlmayer, whom I credit with turning my trading around, taught that the principles applicable in life are the same ones that apply to the markets. In life, there is a wealth of literature on what it takes to succeed

  1. Create a VISION
  2. Set Goals to attain that Vision
  3. Set plans and routines to take concrete steps to achieve the goals
  4. Review the effect of our actions: those that move us towards our goals do more of; those that move us away from our goals discard after seeing what can be retained.
  5. Recycle to step 2 and/or 3

I have been teaching now for over 19 years and I am amazed still by the refusal of students to move past their comfort zone. Unless we are willing to do that, we are doomed to wallow in failure. Let’s put it this way, if whatever we are doing is producing negative results, throwing more resources without changing our behaviour will only result in the same negative result.

The extreme example of this behaviour: “I’ll keep within my comfort zone no matter what” was exhibited by an Indian man at a presentation I once gave. He told the class that he had lost around S$1.7M over 3 years. When I asked him to change, what he was doing, he said: “No I won’t. It may come good!”

What chance of that happening? As Aussies say: “Buckley’s!” (i.e. no chance). A great definition of insanity is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

So if something is not working for you, change your behaviour. So ask yourself: “Is what I am doing producing the results I want? If not what behaviour will I change?”

The change that we need to make will be determined by our VISION. Vision is our compass of where we want to be within a specific period. I see it as a motivational one-page document carefully crafted with word-pictures. For most of us, pictures provide the primary stimulus. To fulfill its function, our VISION statement needs to arouse our emotions.

We all need a VISION statement, no matter how experienced we may be…..

…In the period 1998 to mid-2001, I suffered the most prolonged drawdown to date. Everything I did was wrong. If I bought, the market went down and if I sold, the market went up. The maximum drawdown was around 22% over the period. I credit my VISION statement with providing foundation to continue. The same can be said for the period mid-2002 to mid-2003. My VAMI hit a peak of about 130,000 and dipped to 80,000. Again, the VISION statement proved its worth; the changes I made allowed me to move to a current VAMI high of 246,000.

(VAMI stands for Value Added Measurement Index and tracks the increase or decrease of a theoretical $1000.00 over the life our trading. The initial capital of $1000.00 in 1990 is now worth $246,000.00).

VISION without action remains a dream. Action presupposes a plan i.e. Goals. I’ll deal with this subject in future posts but for the moment know there is a wealth of material on the nature of goals and how to set goals, much of it free. Google “goal setting” and you’ll see what I mean.

I have found that while Goals remain more or less fixed, the way to achieve them is fluid. Sure, we’ll set our plans but like our trades, we need to constantly scan and assess the horizon for stimuli that will favourably (or adversely) affect our actions. Consequently, the REVIEW process is critical.

This process of VISION, Goals, etc finds its counter-part in our trading. I’ll deal with this in tomorrow’s post.