Preparing for Figures in the S&Ps

Non-Farm payrolls tonight. The forecast range is +110,000 to – 10,000 and the mean is around 85,000.00. The mean was around 65,000 to 70,000 until the ADP employment number last night. With that coming in at 189,000 (against the expected 50,000), the expectations have edged up.

In this post, I’d like to show the process by which I prepare for figure night. Figure nights have been my bane. It’s the time my ‘rat brain’ (using Dr. Janice Dorn’s label) is most likely to exert an influence. To counter this, I spend a lot of time preparing my responses to the figures; in addition, I make a commitment to adhere to the pre-figure plan. In short, it’s one of the few occasions, I don’t give my intuition a look-in; at least not until at least three or more hours have passed.

The first thing I do is the normal analysis – as if there are no figures coming out.

Right now, I am long with expectations that the market will make a new high. I intend to cover the longs on new highs and stand aside after that. I outlined the fundamental reasons why I think the next high will mark a 2-year high in the post “Fundamental or Technical Trader?’; add to this the position of the market on the Ray Wave structure and it makes holding past new highs a high risk trade

In the meantime, using a variation of the Rule of 3, I have closed out 1/3 of my open positions, brought the stop to breakeven on 1/3, and for the remaining 1/3, I have my stops in their initial location. The profits I took will cover the loss on the 1/3 initial stop so I am on a ‘no-loss of capital’ situation.

So the above is where I stand at the end of the normal analysis.

After the usual analysis, I prepare my responses to the figures. The attached Decision Tree shows the probabilities as I see them and they show scenarios that are too close to call.

The events I considered:

  1. The ADP numbers have a terrible record for forecasting the Non-Farm numbers but they were so skewed, we may see a higher number than expected.
  2. On the other hand, John Williams’s excellent site had this to say: (http://www.shadowstats.com/cgi-bin/sgs):

“Employment Numbers May Play Role. This Friday’s employment report could be used to decide or at least to try selling any forthcoming rate action or lack of same. Fundamentally, the numbers should be horrible; October help-wanted advertising sank anew, while jobless claims continued to rise.

So the first thing I decided was I wouldn’t be doing anything in the ES immediately after the Figures. If they come out within the range +100k to +10K, I’ll call it a night for the ES. If they come in at either extreme, I’ll be looking for a sell-off and then signs that the sell-off has failed.

The sign I’ll be looking for is an ‘open-gap’ down at the open, followed by a failure to close 50% of the gap in the first 60 minutes. The hourly close would need to be at least around the 50% of the hourly range and preferably at or below the lower 33%. I’d then look for an upside breakout of the hourly range.

On the breakout, I’d need to see Market Delta confirming breakout volume.

decision_tree.jpg

DECISION TREE

Our Life’s Purpose

Today’s (Monday) blog is a little late. The trip to and from Shenzen proved more taxing than I expected. Looking back I can say, the event went well, judging from the post presentation reactions.

The event itself was probably one of the most taxing in recent memory; whatever could go wrong did. And for those of you that give presentations, the audience in China is unlike any other. By Western standards, they can be quite rude and aggressive. As an example, take one of the ‘crises’ that happened to me. The electrical source gave out, as did my battery, despite all efforts by the organisers to prevent the crash.

So you had all these staff, in full view of the 1000-strong audience, scurrying around trying to get power back to my notebook. In the meantime, I took questions from the audience. One participant asked:”Is this a news conference or a lecture? Why don’t you get your computer fixed and take questions later?!”

Imagine the situation, I am stressed out thinking of ways I can show chart patterns without a computer in a room where a flip chart won’t work and this xxxxx berates me for not fixing the computer!

Later that night I wondered what had allowed me to keep my cool – especially since it was merely another problem on top of many. Sure experience had a lot to do with it but as I thought about it, I realized that experience was only a small part of the answer.

The answer lies in what the Greeks called: “Our Highest Purpose”. That’s not the only handle by which it has been known. The most recent description is Jim Loehr’s “The Premise of Your Story, The Purpose of Your Life”.

However you describe it, identifying your purpose, ensuring that it’s consistent with your core values is the key to your motivation when times get tough. To identify our PURPOSE, we use the eulogy method:

“If you were present at your funeral, what would you like to hear?”

Jim suggests other questions (Power of Story, 2007, Free Press):

  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What is the legacy you want to leave?
  • What makes my life worth living?
  • What is worth dying for?

The questions require ‘big’ answers. “Because I want a new $5M house” just doesn’t cut it.

In my case, my life purpose is clear: “I want my life to touch others – to have made a difference to as many as possible”. Trading success, as much as I love it, is but a by-product that allows me to better achieve my life’s purpose.

In a sense, our Life’s Purpose is the standard by which we measure our actions. Actions that lead to the Purpose are to be followed; actions that lead away or detract from our Purpose, we abstain or curtail.

Having a conscious Life Purpose provides us with the incentive to do whatever it takes to succeed. The key word here is ‘conscious’. An unconscious purpose means we are living someone else’s. To quote Jim Loehr (page 88): “The manipulations in our lives are numerous…..But whether external influences on us are intentional or accidental, malicious or well-meaning…simply cannot happen unless we let them happen.”

So the choice is not whether we live by a Life Purpose but whether ours is consciously chosen.

The Quality of Our Decisions Part 1

As traders, we spend much time in seeking more knowledge on the markets, knowledge that will provide us a distinction, a distinction that will lead to a greater edge.

But there is an area that most of us tend to overlook when looking for that edge; indeed usually when I introduce it in my public talks, I can see the audience glaze over and can almost hear the audience think: “Get over this quickly! I want the good stuff!” Well folks, “this is the good stuff”.

And the topic (drum roll please..): A Better Decision-making Process.

If you reflect on this, you’ll see why this is so important to trading, and to life. The quality of our trading, and life, ultimately depends on our actions and our actions are a by-product of our decisions.

So on what does a more robust decision-making process rest? Behavioural Finance? Logic? Creative Thinking?

None of the above. We need to go beyond Behavioural Finance; it does a great job for identifying the blocks to better decisions but some have taken a view that because we can never totally eliminate our blocks, we are doomed to poor decisions. The question is ‘poor’ compared to what? It’s like saying because we are not champion ‘traders’ we are doomed to being merely ‘good’ traders. So?

I consider myself not particularly talented in the trading arena – not a champion by any means; but that has not stopped me from making a better living than I probably could have made from any other profession and certainly better than one I would have earned from the law.

Similarly even if we never totally eliminate the psychological barriers to robust decision-making, this does not mean we should not try to make the best decision we can in the circumstances. And this implies seeking ways to improve the process.

Luckily for us, in recent years new discoveries have been made that lead us to think better. One discovery: the better decisions come from a synthesis of the right and left brain. Recently a discovery was made that an even process is to alternate between right and left brain activity. Since I read about the theory, I amended my decision-making process to incorporate this idea. It’s too early to report if there has been a bottom-line impact but it certainly feels more comfortable.

My previous decision-making process began with the right brain ‘stream of consciousness’ thinking. I would start with the 12-period monthly swing chart (yearly trend, 12-M) and work down to the 18-period daily swing chart (monthly trend, 18-d). The purpose of this step was to seek the critical question/questions relating to an instrument. For example in the S&P, on Monday November 19, the critical questions for me are:

  1. Whether the low at 1438.53 marks the termination of the correction.
  2. If not whether the end of the Zone marks the end of the correction (For those that have read the Nature of Trends this is the Primary Buy Zone marked by 1555.9 and 1370.6).
  3. Whether the high at 1576.1 identified a 13-w Upthrust Change in Trend Pattern or an Irregular Correction.

Using the various tools at my disposal, I would seek the answers using my Left-brain. The result of this process would be a strategy (buy/sell) and tactics (zone, entry and exit strategies). The final step would be to review the decision against my Behavioual Finance checklist to ensure I was not making some simple error in thinking e.g. anchoring an exit price.

I have just described the previous process. Recently I read “Think Better” by Tim Hurson and have adopted his model. I believe it is superior to the one I am using. I’ll deal with this in tomorrow’s post.

The Relative Importance of Your Trading Tools

I was referred to Brett Steenbarger’s blog of Nov 14 ( http://traderfeed.blogspot.com/) . As I read, it struck me that the tools we use in our trading plans are of less importance than having a plan.

Brett’s approach to the markets is very different to mine. He is a short-term trader and to gain his edge, he uses internals backed by statistical testing. I have had the honour and pleasure of meeting Brett and would say that his tools suit his personality.

I too use statistical testing but because I process sensory information visually {and to a much lesser extent kinesthetically (through feelings)}, I use tools that suit my personality: Barros Swings, the Ray Wave and the Market Profile are all used as visual mediums.

A fab example of this difference was Brett’s use of the volume at the bid (as the market moved down) as a target for identifying the end of the move up. I never thought of using volume that way. Incidentally, I also subscribe to Market Delta but what I find important is the shape of the profile at support and resistance areas.

Again last night provided an interesting example.

As you know from my blog, I went long early with a position that was half normal size. I then decided to use the breakout of the 1st hour’s opening range to enter the market for my remaining positions. But, the 30 minute volume profile on the 1st breakout (at 11:30) took the form of a bell curve. This suggested that the market would rotate back into the range and it did, all the way back from 1466 to 1459.

At 13:30 the market took out 1466 but this time the volume profile for the period took the form of a one-timeframe (trending) market. Sure I got filled 3 points worse off, 1469 rather than 1466 but I had an easy exit strategy if I was wrong about the breakout. A failed breakout with one-timeframe characteristics is likely to attempt a move in the opposite direction. This meant I could place my stops at 1457 under the start of the distribution (1459). This exit strategy was unavailable to me if the breakout took the form of a bell curve since that shape said that the probabilities favoured a rotation back into the opening range.

Score another important lesson for Pete Steidlmayer: it’s not the breakout price that is important. What is critical is how the market reaches the price (e.g. the form the breakout takes) and what the market does after reaching the price.

So, you’re probably asking what’s the central point of this posting.

It’s a simple one.

Newbies worry about some secret whiz bang, never fail, tool that will bring them untold riches. But such a tool does not exist. What is more important than the non-existent, never fail tool, is to find a tool or tools that match our personality. Unless we do that, we are likely to second guess our signals; such second guessing will lead to the slippery road of breach of discipline. So, rather than engage in a fruitless search for a non-existent super tool, focus instead on understanding your personality and find the tools that mesh with it.

The ‘Rat Brain’ and Trading Success

Today I’m addressing Winning Psychology. If we look behind the reasons why traders fail we find one or both of these reasons:

  • The don’t know what to do and/or
  • They don’t do what they know.

Winning Psychology addresses the latter. I define Winning Psychology as a set of tools that facilitates the consistent execution of our trading plan. To understand why we need the set of tools, we need to understand our brain’s make-up. Let’s turn to that.

Paul D. MacLean, an American physician, made an exciting breakthrough for neurology with his concept of the Triune Brain. He postulated that our brain is composed of three brains:

  • The Reptilian (responsible for our survival instincts – our fight or flight response). When triggered the Reptilian’s response is action. Action, any action, is better than no action.
  • The Limbic (responsible for our emotions)
  • The Neocortex (responsible for our thinking processes).

Now if all we had to do was control our ‘fight or flight’ response, as traders we would find it easier to make money. But we need to add to the Triune Brain one more piece of essential information. Advances in Neurology have established that the best decisions are made when our emotions and reason are in sync. The idea that we should trade like emotionless robots has been shown to be impossible (at least for most of us) and even if possible, the emotionless decisions would be sub-optimal. The key to a robust decision-making process is to ensure that the Reptilian (Dr. Janice Dorn’s ‘rat brain’) does not overwhelm the Neocortex. This link between emotion and our decisions is an important finding.

When we trade, we tend to attach emotional significance to our profits and losses. Despite years of trading I still experience joy on profitable trades and sadness when I lose money. What I do is experience the pleasure and pain and move on. It’s important I do this or else I am likely to have unprocessed emotions and when that happens, I inevitably do some thing silly (like enter without pre-defining my loss) on my next trade.

The management and processing of emotions (managing the ‘rat brain’) is the key to Winning Psychology.

The best tools I know to managing the ‘rat brain are PREPARATION & REVIEW. In the preparation phase, I suggest you use some technique that will bring you to the Alpha state e.g. the Relaxation Response or some form of meditation. Once in the Alpha State, we use visualization to complete the preparation phase.

On occasions I have been asked why visualization and meditation help.

Studies have shown that visualization exercises help performance. Since trading is partially a performance activity, visualization does have a favourable impact. The meditative process is added because visualization has been shown to assist and bolster the meditative process.

The process I teach is a simple one – let’s take the entry as an example:

  • Complete your analysis and define your entry and exit strategies. You know what the market has to look like to take the trade and what it has to look like to remain and to exit. You have defined your stop loss and determined your potential core profit target. The risk/reward is one you consider worthwhile.
  • You consciously accept the loss. It’s essential here that you explore what the loss of $X would feel like if it occurred. The key is to imagine that the loss has taken place and that you feel it’s OK to take the dollar loss. By that I mean that you’ll be able to experience the sadness and then be able to move on without the loss constantly replaying. If you find that in your imagination you are unable to accept the loss, reduce your position size.

This usually works.

  • You slip into the meditative state using muscle relaxation, a meditation CD or any mediation technique (like ‘mindfulness’, ‘transcendental meditation’, Chopra’ Primordial Sound, ‘Natural Stress Relief’ etc). I would keep this aspect to around 10 minutes or so.
  • Once you feel you are relaxed (in the Alpha State), visualize every step of the entry and exit, profit and loss. Check again how you would feel if the loss occurred. See yourself experiencing the emotion resulting from the loss and moving on.

The Review Phase is similar.

  1. We review our equity and psychological journals for lessons about the markets and for insights into our personality.
  2. Then we slip into Alpha and ask: “What did I learn about the markets and/or myself”?
  3. We then visualize applying what we have learnt.
  4. Finally when we come out of meditation, we write down the applications in Step 3 anything other ideas we consciously think of.

There you have it: the Preparation and Review strategies to manage our’ rat brain’ for optimal decisions. The Preparation and Review does take time as does journal keeping, analysis etc. These processes are the price for success. On the other hand, the success we experience makes that price more than worthwhile.

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

Where:

  • 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.