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#Quora: How does one address the issue of regime shift in algorithmic trading?

How does one address the issue of regime shift in algorithmic trading? by Laurent Bernut

Answer by Laurent Bernut:change-of-season

Fascinating topic that has kept me awake for years. It is a thorny issue. As the patent clerk Einstein used to say: answer are not at the same level as questions. Answer is not at the signal (entry/exit) level. These are position sizing and order management issues.

Definition of regime change

Everybody has a savant definition, so i might as well come up with a simple practical metaphor. imagine You drive at 150 km/h on the highway and then all of sudden, this 4 lanes turns into a country road. If You do not react quick, you will go tree-hugging.

There are three market types: bull, bear and more importantly sideways. Each type can be subdivided into quiet or choppy. So, we have six sextants. Regime change is when market moves from one box to another.

It can be either a new volatility regime, or a move from bear to sideways, sideways to bull or vice versa. Markets rarely move from bull to bear. There is some battle between good and evil.

Why it matters?

Many strategies are designed to do well in a particular environment. They make a lot of money that they end up giving back when regime changes. Examples:

  1. Short Gamma OTM: sell OTM options and collect premium. Pick pennies in front of a steam roller. 2008–2009, August 2015, CHF depeg, Brexit etc. 1 day those options will go in the money and game over
  2. Dual momentum: trade the shorter time frame but determine regime on longer time frame. When market hits a sideways period, market participants get clobbered on false breakouts like poor cute little baby seals
  3. Mean reversion: works wonders in sideways markets until it does not. An extreme version of that is Short Gamma
  4. Value to growth and vice versa: that is probably the most lagging one. By the time, my value colleagues had thrown the towel and loaded up on growthy stocks, market usually gave signs of fatigue…
  5. Fundamentals pairs trading: relationships are stable until market rotation. For instance, speculative stocks rally hard in the early stage of a bull market, while quality trails. Example: Oct-Dec 2012, Mazda went up +400% while Toyota rallied +30%

The vast majority of market participants are trend followers, whether it is news flow, earning momentum, technical analysis. Trending bulls they do great, trending bears, they can survive. Sideways is where they lose their shirts on false positives.

The issue often boils down to how to enter a sideways regime without losing your shirt

The value of backtests

I agree that backtests will help you identify when your strategy does not work. This is actually the real value of backtest. This is when you modify the strategy and adapt the position sizing to weather unsavoury regimes. Then trade this version, not the ideal fair weather strategy.

Reason is simple: everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the teeth. So don’t lower your guard, ever.

Asset allocation across multi-strats

Some market participants like to develop specific strategies for specific markets: sideways volatile, awesome for pairs trading, great for options strangle/straddle short. Breakouts are good for trending markets etc.

How do You switch from one to the next ? Fixed asset allocation is as clunky, as primitive and as MPT as it gets. There is something far more elegant and simple:

  1. Calculate trading edge for each sub-strategy: long Trend Following, pairs etc
  2. pro-rate trading edge for each strategy
  3. Allocate by pro-rata
  4. Allocate a residual minimum even to the negative trading edge strategies

This is a simple way to put money where it works best

Regime change for single strategy

When not to trade

Van Tharp believes that there is no strategy that can do well or at least to weather all market conditions. I believe there is more nuance. Is the objective to make money across all market regimes? For example, sideways quiet are preludes to explosive movements. In order to make any money, you need to trade big and if you are on the wrong side when things kick off, game over

We trade a single unified (mean reversion within trend following) strategy. What follows is our journey through solving the regime change issue. We found that the three best ways to manage regime changes are

  1. Stop Loss:
  2. position sizing:
  3. order management:

Stop Loss

Regime changes are usually accompanied with rise in volatility. Volatility is not risk, volatility is uncertainty #de-friendSharpeRatio

We used to have a complex stop loss rule. Now we have a uniform elegant stop loss. It just lags current position. It is fashionably late, hence its name: French Stop Loss.

The idea there is to give enough breathing room to the markets to absorb changes without giving back too much profit.

Our solution is to consider stop loss as a fail safe and allow the market to switch direction bull to bear and vice versa within the confine of a stop loss.

The result is we end up switching from one regime to the next more fluidly. We have reduced the number of stop losses by 2/3, which in turn has materially increased our expectancy.

Stop losses are costly. They are the maximum you can lose out of any position.So, unless you have a kick ass win rate or extremely long right tail, you want to reduce their frequency and allow the market to transition.

Position sizing

The first thing You need to understand is that You cannot predict/anticipate a regime forecast. You will find out after the facts. This has some immediate consequences on position sizing: always cap your portfolio risk

Many position sizing algorithms use equity in layers or staircase. We base our calculation of peak equity. So, drawdowns however small have an immediate impact on position sizing. This slams the break much faster than any other method i know.

The other side of the equation is risk per trade wich oscillates between min and max risk. When regime becomes favourable again, it accelerates rapidly.

The whole premise is early response to change in regime through position sizing

Another feature is trend maturity. Betting the same -1% at the beginning and at the end of a trend is asking for a serious kick in the money maker. Trends are born, grow, mature, get old and eventually die one day, just like believers in Efficient Market Theory. So, risk less as you pyramid.

Order management and hibernation

Along with the position sizing comes a vastly underrated feature in most order management: trade rejection.

Secondly, we use a position size threshold. When markets get too volatile and we experience some drawdown, stop losses dilate. As a result, position sizes get smaller. When sizes are too small, trades get rejected.

Order management is vastly under-utilised in most systems i have seen. It is often binary, all-in/all-out, or one way scale in or scale out.

In our system, taking profit off the table is a not a function of chart, technical analysis but driven by risk management. Until price goes a certain distance, exits are not triggered. If exits are not triggered, entries cannot be triggered either. Since volatility goes up and position sizes get smaller, the system drops into hibernation.

We have factual evidence that hibernation during an unfavourable regime is a powerful mechanism to weather regime change. It involves a lot more sophistication than muting indicators, slope flattening etc. It encompasses position sizing, order management, stop loss and to a lesser degree signals.

Conclusion

Multi-strat asset allocation based on pro-rated trading edge is the easy way to go.

Single strat across multiple market regimes means acceleration/deceleration but also hibernation. This is not an easy problem. There is one thought that kept me going through the frustration of figuring this out: “Building a system is like watch making. Time will always be off until the final cog fits in”

How does one address the issue of regime shift in algorithmic trading?

@Quora: If most people lose in the stock market or gambling, then would I make money by doing the opposite of the average person?

My answer to If most people lose in the stock market or gambling, then would I make money by doing the opposite of …

Answer by Laurent Bernut:

Statistically speaking, You would be exactly in the same position as the person You go against

There is something called the serenity prayer. Here is a simple adaptation:out_of_balance_-_Google_Search
Allow me to go with the flow when it is in the right direction
Allow me to stand against the crowd when they are running in the wrong direction
Give the wisdom to know which is which

An ethousiastic reader commented on an answer I provided about predictive technical analysis, saying that the win rate of Fibonacci and  iterations of it such as de Mark have a win rate of around 40%. He said I was an idiot (true) but more importantly if it was the case, people would do the opposite and win (false). While I have rarely been accused of being intelligent, probabilities still do not work like that.

There are three types:
Clear wins
Clear miss
Near miss/win

The third category is between 10 to 30%, 10 for simple (elegant) systems, 30 for simplistic (naive) stuff. So, doing just the opposite of what everyone else does will not make You a hero. Sell Apple short because everyone else is buying will achieve one thing only: provide liquidity for other buyers, thank you very much

How to tilt your trading edge

This is an important point for people who develop systematic automated strategies: improving the trading edge comes from reducing false positives, or moving near wins (small losses) into near misses territory (small wins). The compounding effect of tilting the win rate and the average win has dramatic impact on the overall gain expectancy.

For example, in our strategy, we have introduced a lag in the stop loss, called “French Stop Loss”, because it is fashionably late “bien sur”. This gives additional wiggle rooms to each trade. They can mature and are rarely stopped out. Not all of them succeed however. Some are closed because trend reverts. This is far less costly than stop loss though as trend reversals occur around break even. The number of stop losses has come down by almost 3/4 and now trades are closed around the break even point. This has considerably reduced erosion and has allowed us to increase the number of pairs traded from 12 to 36.

If most people lose in the stock market or gambling, then would I make money by doing the opposite of the average person?

Better System Trader: Questions from the audience

These are questions from the audience on the Better System Trader podcast with Andrew Swanscott. I am honored and humbled by the interest of listeners. We did not have time to cover all questions, so here are some written answers. If You have questions, please feel free to ask

Trading Psychology

From: Jim

The mind plays tricks on us, even with a successful system, as a system trader, what methods to use for the mental part of the system trading?  So meditation, journaling but how to implement them in one overall plan?

EXCELLENT QUESTION: Part 2 of the book will focus on this

  1. You cannot trust your mind. Michael Gazzanikas 1964 split brain theory. Self-deception: (Daniel Goleman) is a built-in feature. It happens automatically and covers its own tracks and designed to deceive us.
  2. Accountability: simple exercise to test validity of prediction and convince us we are unable to predict.
  3. Reframe from outcome to process: develop a system, account for signals generation and be honest about signal execution
  4. Daily market journal: write what You think markets, thoughts, things that happen, small comments, ideas, formulas. Do the James Altucher method: keep a moleskin with You at all times. Deliberate practice: activates the Default Modal Network (Olivia Fox Cabane)
  5. Write about the thoughts that cross your mind:
    1. dreams and aspirations when making money, why You keep doing that, why You like it. How does it manifest in the body
    2. fears, pains, detail, reflexes (ex: read the press, look for expert opinions): be specific and commit to writing or dictating. Very important
  6. Walk through your fears: meditate and manifest your fears. Seneca was history’s first investment banker. He also happened to be the founder of stoicism school of philosophy. He advocated one day a month of living frugally as a form of inoculation.

Another post on the topic:

From: @trader1970

So far as a Trader what is the biggest fear that you have not been able to overcome?  How do you manage this situation?

  • My father had a hemiplegia (brain stroke) when i was 7. He never regained motor skills and speech ability. We fell into severe poverty. As a result, I have a deep seated fear of becoming handicapped and not being able to feed my family anymore. Personal and vulnerable. Markets related fears I can deal with, I am a short seller, this is a versatile skill
  • How does it manifest itself in trading:
    1. Diversify sources of revenue: we have a real estate business that generates enough to cover our primary needs. That provides peace of mind. My family is safe from harm
    2. Frugal lifestyle
    3. Systematically take less risk: when making sizing arbitrage ask yourself, would You be satisfied with earning a little less than You could or losing a lot more than You should ?

 

Position sizing

From: Bass

Tell us more about risk management, Volatility based Stops and position sizing.

  • It really depends on your customers: Investors are like teenage girls: Teenage girls say they want a nice guy and they fall for bad boys. Investors say they want returns but they react to drawdowns:
    1. Magnitude: never lose than what investors are willing to tolerate
    2. Frequency: never be the last person investors think about before going to sleep
    3. Period of recovery: never test the patience of investors
  • Risk is not a story, risk is a hard number: it manifests itself in individual trade risk per trade (RPT), in aggregates exposures. Example: Long small caps / short futures is synthetically residually Long large caps as the index is primarily composed of large caps
  • Volatility stops: swings +/- 3 ATR. Volatility is as welcome as Kanye West at an award ceremony. Bad news, volatility is like Monsieur Kardashian bad manners: it is here to stay. Your job is to ride it and the way to do so is position sizing. For example, biotech and internet stocks are more volatile than department stores for example. So, size them accordingly.
  • used in position sizing. Rank trades by size (bigger first) so as to go for better volatility signature

 

From: Derek

Hi Laurent,

I have been following your website ASC for quite some time and also your answers on quora. I have something related to an answer you had to a quora question In investments, does more risk really equal more return, in the long haul? Your answer immediately clicked with me and it logically made sense to me. Laurent – you may want to quickly summarize what the answer was before we move on to the next part of the question. I’ll ask you what the answer was.

 Would you please elaborate on your convex position sizing method for a risk per trade and draw down module. This was discussed as an answer on Quora. I understand that as you make money you will allocate a larger risk budget using a convex surface with a max risk budget of -0.30. But i do not understand the reverse side of this, the draw down part.  As we get more draw down we should decrease our risk budget again using a convex surface. It starts at 100 and bottoms out at around 35. I do not understand how that part works.

 Also how did you come up with this method? Can you give a practical example of when you used this both for drawdown and additional risk scenarios?

Thank you very much

Derek

Here is a complete article on the topic. Thank You very much for asking

  1. Long Side: people add risk. Short side; frequent squeezes, start from manageable risk then reduce
  2. Metaphor of accelerator and brakes. Optimum fuel consumption happens when You do not solicit brakes. It clicked while listening to Larry Williams interview on the famous Better System Trader after bringing my daughter to the Hoikuen (crèche in Japanese)
  3. Market Value (MV) = AUM * Risk Per Trade (RPT)
  4. Most position sizing formulas will use one side RPT usually to calculate risk. In my case, this is convex so as we make money take more risk. This is accelerator. You want this to be responsive and nervous so to re-accelerate quickly after drawdown
  5. Meanwhile, when strategy stops working, You need to trade minimum risk. The problem with conventional formulas is that brakes are spongy and re-acceleration slow. You can get whipsawed. Which then erodes emotional capital, which leads to downward spiral. (Feedback loop between emotional and financial capital). By allocating a convex surface, AUM drops dramatically very quickly but then re-accelerates as there are signs of life
  6. Practical example: ETF. At the moment squeeze so drawdown, then surface immediately reacts and I naturally trade smaller. Residual open risk in my latest short entry was -0.12%, down from min risk at -0.25%

Trading Edge

From: Marcia

During your interview in episode 32 you talked about the “Edge” formula, which is, I think, ” (%wins X Average Win) – (%Losses X Average Loss) “? Would you talk more about that and what number you are looking for, or, what insights the number gives YOU?  thank you

Thank You very much. I am writing a book on short selling. Part 1 is about how to build a statistical trading edge. Part 2 is about building a mental trading edge. Part 3 is about constructing a portfolio with a positive trading edge. On the Long side, the market does the heavy lifting. On the short side, the market does not cooperate, so building a trading edge is critical

  • I am looking for positive number. I have never looked for a specific number, thank You for the suggestion
  • Use as asset allocation tool:
    • Plot trading edge by side and strategy
    • Pro-rate trading edge
    • Allocate resources (trading AUM or surface) based on trading edge, with floor and ceiling
  • This is useful for multistrats portfolios where You would systematically allocate resources to the best performing strategy

Shorting strategies

From: Adonis

What are the 3 most successful triggers he uses in going short? Does he use daily or weekly charts?

There were originally several variations on two strategies (mean reversion and trend following). Over time i have managed to merge them into one.

  1. Define trend: lower highs, lower highs
  2. Wait for roll-over: maximum information: volatility, swing high
  3. Enter on next bar

Exits:

  1. stop loss: full
  2. trend reversal (logical time exit): entry qualified on the other side happens within stop loss
  3. partial exit: risk reduction, take profit objective is to break even

Now, the delicate part is not in the signal module. Trading suspension for example is not a signal issue but a position size one. If sizes are too small, then trades are rejected. For example, sometimes currency pairs flip-flops between bull and bear. So, we count entries and add penalty for each full exit. This reduces risk per trade. If the overall equity is ain a drawdown, then position sizes get smaller. If they are too small, they are automatically rejected. This allows us to trade more pairs as some of them stop trading.

 

From: Graham

How do you simulate borrowing costs when testing a shorting strategy?

Everything at General Collateral (GC) +0,15% added to slippage. The question is probably related to hard to source issues or crowded shorts.

Do not short issues with borrow >5%, except on the Long side: squeeze box. Do not squeeze people: it is bad karma

 

From: Nikhil

1)  Majority of ideas for a short strategies seem to fail rigorous testing on larger time frames so one should focus on more active time frames [5min to 2H based data] instead of passive time frames [Daily to Monthly based data]  ?

Assumption: Nikhil may trade breakdowns, because this is a classic symptom or rebound higher than entry which leads to false positives.

Solution is not in better entry signal, but in partial exit and better money management, Trading system has 3 components: exit/entry, money management and mental.

 

2) Can you highlight a basic idea on a short strategies variable for further research for those struggling with constructing a short only strategy ?

JNK Short

Sure, check post on JNK attached. It is a scale-out/scale-in system.

There are 2 certainties in life: death and short squeeze. Use squeezes to your advantage

3) What opportunities do you see in the financial industry going forward for new generation of entrepreneurs (non trading/investing related) coming up ?

At the moment, everyone wants to be in the HF game. I entered the HF game in 2003 when it was still in infancy: a bunch of cowboys blowing stuff up in their kitchen. HF is bound for yet another healthy correction.

I believe the future to be threefold:

  1. Algorithmic assets allocation: fire your financial advisor. If You don’t know why, he probably does. Machines do a better job and they don’t get kickbacks…
  2. Separately managed accounts (SMA): open a brokerage account and let algo do the heavy lifting. Funds running costs are prohibitive. Besides, there is a proliferation of single brain cells parasites called compliance. They are the TSA (US airports officers) of finance: utterly useless at catching problems but extremely annoying
  3. Active management “soft patch”: SPIVA.com. The overwhelming majority of funds underperform the index and they are more expensive than ETFs. There is a gambler’s fallacy going on: ETFs have outperformed active managers so far, but the latter will be better equipped to navigate volatility and downturns. That is gambler’s fallacy: if managers failed to outperform during easy times, why would they even succeed during hard times ?

As for non-investment profession, I honestly don’t know

 

From: Ola

I am using market filters to keep me out of bear markets for my long only strategies for stocks, and I’m cashed up for periods of time. I find this a bit boring. What type of indicators or price action should I look for to create a short strategy to complement the long strategies? I’m looking for something simple and robust to be used on the daily time frame.

Best regards,

Ola

Check JNK trade attached. 1 Define trend, 2, enter on counter-trend move 3 exit partially as rebound comes

 

General trading

From: Bengt

Hello, it is often said that short trading is very difficult to make money off: Do you agree with this? If so, do you think it is a matter of the odds not being on your side or is it too much to handle mentally?

EXCELLENT QUESTION: “This is space, the environment does not cooperate… You solve one problem after another, and if You solve enough problems, You get to come home”, The Martian.

Andrew, Allow me to explain why people fail on the short side: they think from a Long perspective. This is deep shit that no-one has ever explained in statistical and psychological terms. Fascinating theme, I am writing the book on the topic and how to build a sustainable short selling practice

Example: 4 stocks: A,B Long C,D short, all start at 100

Start: Long exposure 200%, Short exposure: 200%, Gross exposure: 400% , Net exposure 0%,

A goes up by 10%, B drops by 5%. C drops by 10% and D goes up by 5%

End: Long exposure 205%, Short exposure: 195%, Gross exposure: 400% , Net exposure +10%,

Bottom line:

  1. On the long side, the market does the heavy lifting for You. There is a bigger bet on something good
  2. On the short side, the market does not cooperate: there is a bigger bet of something that does not work
  3. Net exposure is +10%. The main reason why people fail is that they want to short a throw away the key when they should be working more on the short than the long book. Just to stand still they should keep running: this is a Sherlock Versus the Red Queen effect

 

On the other end of the spectrum: is there an outer limit, odds-wise, for profitable long term trading, or is an 800-day breakout tougher to handle mentally than a 2 day breakout?

Best regards: Bengt

The problem is false positives: You will have many more false positives because of poor trend formation with shorter periodicity. You will deal with being systematically late. A more robust statistical approach is to deal with exits so as to move the needle from “near win” (false positive) to “near miss” (partial win)

 

From: Rob

Please ask for the following:

1) What works better in the forex market – momentum or mean reversion?

Mean reversion works until trend following works. It is a question of periodicity and tolerance for stop loss.

My strategy is a combination of both.

Post about two types of strategies:

2) If you had to start over from the beginning with the knowledge you have now where would you focus on and what would you throw away?

  1. Psychology: clarity about beliefs. 90% of trading is mental, the other half is good math
  2. Trading edge is not a marketing gimmick: it is a number
    1. Money management: example of convexity
    2. Exits: stop loss is the 2nd most important variable

3) You have said in the past to focus on exits and not entries – but how exactly do you do this? Is it a matter of thinking about when you will exit if you are right or wrong?

Never think about right or wrong, it is the wrong mental association that will lead to death. Think about profitable. I am writing something on the psychology of stop loss. This article is potentially the most or second most important post I have ever written.

The best analogy is diet. Diets don’t work. We are all getting fatter and there has never been as much information on diet. Diets fix the wrong thing. The problem is not what we eat. The problem is how we think about we eat. Same goes with stop loss and exit.

This is not a mathematical problem. This is a psychological issue about the meaning we ascribe to closing positions. If we associate stop loss with being wrong, the ego will revolt.

IAU option trade anecdote funny and excellent example to talk about emotional capital and Zibbibo viognier white wine blend from Etna

4) What do you think about fixed fractional position sizing

it is a good basis of any position sizing algorithm. Now, it is a bit simplistic for 2 reasons:

  1. Uniform risk taking through the cycle: think of it as a car. Sometimes it is good to accelerate, sometimes You need to decelerate. Win rate changes through the cycle and so should risk
  2. Dissociation: Long and short sides rarely work well at the same time. Since they have different win rate, they should have different risk numbers

Dissociation by side of the book, strategy using trading edge or win rate. Please check my post on convex position sizing

5) Please talk more about stops. you said in the past your stops have a large impact on your P&L – but how do you calculate your stops. What are the considerations when using a mean reversion vs momentum strategy and type of market forex vs futures.

Sure, happy to explain the equation

Now, for mean reversion strategies, the equation includes another variable: frequency. Let me give You a simple example. If you clock +0.5% per month and then have -6% month, it will take roughly a year to make that back if everything else works. So, a simple idea is to empirically come up with a patience factor. Example: never allow losses to be greater than 4 months of average profit. The difficulty though is correlation. Accidents travel in group.

Another important point on mean reversion, never trade open risk strategies. Example: short naked gamma. I was having dinner with some options portfolio managers friends. Short OTM gamma is still marketed to unsuspecting investors. Those are scams: they show consistent returns until they blow up

From: John D

I trade a long term trend following (trade every 1-3 months) system on stocks indices currencies and commodities. What type of exits would you use on this type of system?

Trailing ATR stop? Time stop? Both?

John D, You are right on all of them

Three stops:

I have developed something called box concept. Once in a trade, there are three possible scenarios:

  1. It does not work and needs to be stopped out. That is a floor or ceiling depending on whether You are Long or Short
  2. It works well and warrants some de-risking: take money off the table and leave a portion for the long right tail
  3. It goes nowhere: this immobilizes resources and needs to be dealt with

The concept is that whatever happens, it will trip one of the mines and will be dealt with. This is how it is done in practice

  1. Isometric staircase stop loss: swing +/– allowance for volatility. Markets do not go up in straight lines. They go up or down, retrace and resume their course. This method allows markets to breathe
  2. Partial trailing stop loss: take some money off the table so as to reduce risk, but leave a residual for the big trend. After taking some money off the table, it makes sense to re-enter and a add a little bit more risk.GBPJPY
  3. Time stop: buying power and trading frequency. Some stocks do not move enough to warrant either a stop loss or a risk reduction. These are the harder ones to spot. The solution is to timestamp them.

About timestamp:

 

How do I overcome an addiction to forex trading?

My answer to How do I overcome an addiction to forex trading?

Answer by Laurent Bernut:

Addiction to Forex trading has all the symptoms of alcohol or drug addiction. It is deceivingly easy. It is accessible. It does not require large amount of capital. It can be done anywhere on a smart phone. It gives immediate feedback.

Alacoholic anonymous:
welcome to addictive personnalities. The best thing You can do is attend Alcoholic anonymous and substitute everything that mentions alcohol with Forex

In fact, I cannot recommend their program highly enough to overcome over-trading.

A. How the brain works:
The reason You want to stop is most likely because You are not about to buy that private jet You saw on the advertisement.
Here is the interesting distinction between gambling addicts and recreational players.

    1. Illusion of success
Forex brokers do an exceptional job at giving the illusion of success. Anyone can open an account with almost no capital and start commanding vast amounts of money. It is so easy, yet it is anything but simple.
This is a form of video games, except this time You can make money. The worst thing that can happen is that You make money initially. The best outcome is You lose and wisely conclude it is not for You.
So, You probably made a bit of money, got hooked and then started losing

    1, The curse of near miss
The brain does not process information the same way. Three outcomes:

  1. Win: addicts and civilians process wins the same way, that is they attribute it to their skills (believe it or not, we attribute wins to our skills even in roulette)
  2. Clear loss: addicts and civilians process clear losses the exact same way
  3. Near miss: civilians process near misses as losses, the same way a clear loss is processed. Addicts process near-misses as if they were wins: it activates the dopamine reward circuit (Nucleus Accumbens NaC)


    2. The dopamine reward circuit and “your brain on porn”
The meso-limbic circuitry is also referred to as the dopamine reward circuit.  At its core, the reward circuit is a primitive guide that will psuh You away from pain and toward pleasure. It had a vital role for our ancestors: eat the wrong berry and You will be someone else’s dinner. Fats forward tot he modern world, this is how addicitons are formed: NaC gets activated, releases dopamine and memories are formed.

The best explanation of this cycle is in this medical video. I understand people would be put off, but everyone should watch this video, especially if You are a parent: Your brain on porn

   3. Beginner’s luck neurosciences and statistics
From the above paragraph, it is easy to understand how people can be driven to play again and again. If they win, they will continue. If they lose a little bit, they will play again to make it back and if they lose, they will attribute to bad luck. There is no losing combination. You are bound to play until You throw the towel

Now, if You are a recreational trader, near-misses will be magnified losses and You are likely to trade more conservatively as a result. In the end, You will make money and everyone will call t beginner’s luck.
No, your brain responded to objective (loss) and subjective (fear of loss) stimuli by adequately reducing risk, which increased your trading edge (gain expectancy)

On the other hand, if You are a junkie, You will overtrade, lose and revenge trade to make it back, which will invariably dig the hole a bit further.

The subtle statistical difference is in the treatment of the near miss. For example, imagine payoff equals loss. If the objective win rate is 48% but You think You win half the time, what do You think happens in the end ?

You are not as good as You think You are, You are just as good as your trading edge and here is the formula:
Trading edge = Win% *Avg Win% – Loss% * Avg Loss%

B. How to cure addiction

Alcoholic anonymous
They have an impressive track record. Their method works.

The habit loop301043
Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Neural pathways of addictions are almost permanent.The brain loves habits. More than 45% of daily activities (a bit more if You work for CNBC) are spent in automatic unconscious mode
Mechanism is simple:

  1. Cue/Stimulus
  2. Routine
  3. Reward

The habit loop is unlikely to change. Whenever the stimulus is triggered, the urge will itch, and the loop will be activated. Rings a (Pavlovian) bell ?

The brain craves its reward and, despite all your best efforts, it will get it. How many people who You know who can’t quit smoking ?

So, the trick is to reverse engineer the habit loop. Substitute the bad routine with a good one, and gradually habits will form. The key here is to identify the cue that triggers the routine.

Whenever the cue happens, don’t fight it, use it. Example, I used to smoke 1 cigarette around 10 am and 1 around 3:15 pm after market close. I changed my routine to inserting two 5 mn Calm.com meditations on my iPhone.

Cold turkey and study
Personally, I would not hire someone who has a tendency to over-trade. This is usually symptomatic of deeper issues: perfectionism, dissonant self-esteem, poor discipline, addictive personality etc.

It does not mean that compulsive traders don’t make it. It means they have a few more demons than regular people.

There is one silver ling about being compulsive. Those traders are more attune to risk. It is easier to teach them stuff like gain expectancy. BTW, go to my website and download your free copy of trading edge visualiser (http://alphasecurecapital.com/?p=521
). The intellectual part comes naturally, that’s the mental part that they need to keep in tight check.

It is hard to fight an addiction, but those who are admirable

Use this tool, it is 100% free and it will help You visualise, analyse and then overcome your trading addiction
http://alphasecurecapital.com/?p=521

How do I overcome an addiction to forex trading?

Better System Trader 2nd Interview:

 

Andrew Swanscott has one of the best podcasts on trading out there. He has brilliantly interviewed world trading champions, legends such as Van Tharp, Larry Williams, Jerry Parker, Perry Kaufman etc. In each episode, there is a nugget of wisdom. One word of caution though: Better System Trader is more addictive than chocolate.BetterSystemTrader

It was an honour to be interviewed on episode 32.

With the recent “soft patch” in global markets, Andrew decided it was time to catch up and go deeper into topics such as psychology. Markets are stressful on the long side already. On the short side, pressure is something else entirely.

Thank You very much for all the questions and comments on the website. If You have questions You would like to ask on the podcast, please go to the link below:

http://bettersystemtrader.com/ask-laurent-bernut/

 

Topics covered this time will probably be:

  1. How to improve your trading edge ? (This is a question from a reader, thank You). A post will follow shortly
  2. Sherlock Vs the Red Queen: why people fail at short selling ? You will understand the trappings in which people coming from the Long side fall. This topic has never been approached from a statistical perspective.
  3. The psychology of Stop Loss: did You notice that your desk is cleaner when You can’t close a bad trade ? We all know that cutting losses and riding winners is the key to success. We will go through evolutionary psychology, affective neurosciences. We will teach You how to reframe stop loss and trade like a psychopath
  4. Jedi trading: if You want to be the iceman on the trading floor and if You want to switch from fight, freeze or flight syndrome to flow state in less than 2 minutes, then practice this technique
  5. if we have time: why You should not be afraid of this bear market, Einstein and monkeys and the importance of Chuck Norris

 

Quora.com: What-do-the-fund-managers-that-consistently-beat-the-market-do-differently-when-picking-stocks-than-those-who-cant-beat-the-market

https://www.quora.com/What-do-the-fund-managers-that-consistently-beat-the-market-do-differently-when-picking-stocks-than-those-who-cant-beat-the-market
Great fund managers are not smarter, they have smarter portfolio management habits. Making money is not about trying to be right, it is about accepting to be wrong and move on. That is much easier for married men…

Portfolio Manager serenity prayer

No manager consistently beats the markets. Every style has its peaks and valleys. The difference is how managers weather those periods. Profits look big only to the extent losses are kept small. If You know when your style is out of favour, then fold, take less risk. Making money is about accepting to be wrong and move on.

Risk and trading edges are not stories, they are numbers

Finance is the only industry where science fiction is smack in the middle of the marketing pitch and nobody calls the bluff. Ask any manager what their trading edge is and they will weave some positive science fiction story that would put LafayetteRon Hubbard to shame.
Read Jack Schwager’s and Mike Covel’s books and the common thing between all market wizards is their understanding of risk. Risk management is not part of the business. It is the business.
You just cannot meditate enough on this formula
Stop Loss is the 2nd most important variable
Look at the above formula. Stop has a direct impact on the following variables in your system :
  1. Win%: the tighter the stop loss, the lower the win rate
  2. Loss% (1 -Win%): and vice versa from above
  3. Avg Loss %: stop losses cap your losses. BTW
  4.  You can’t buy if You are fully invested
  5. Position sizing: anchor your stop loss and limit prices for position size
Many books were written about cutting losses short and running winners. Very few were written about riding losers and cutting winners.

90% of trading is mental, the other 50% is good math

Making money in the markets is like diet: simple but not easy: eat less, exercise more. Simple, yet the number of obese people continues to go up, not easy. Making money in the market is simple: buy stuff that goes up and short stuff that goes down.
The difficult part is the inner chatter, the beliefs we hold. Great managers have exceptional inner alignment from deep subconscious beliefs to daily routines and habits. Setting a stop loss and honoring it is not a debate: it is a habit.
Some people have subconscious beliefs that they are not worthy of the money they make. So, they sabotage. Some people have fairness as a core value, so stocks should revert because they are too expensive or too cheap. Well, life is unfair and so are markets. Fairness is hardwired in us, It is also a destructive belief.
I have an exercise about eliciting deep habits, but it is a daily struggle.

Complexity is a form of laziness

Long term performing managers have worked hard to simplify their process. Complexity is fragile.
Stress is designed to de-activate the thinking brain. It is an evolutionary built-in feature. If You start thinking that the lion chasing You is in fact a confused cat with some unresolved oedipian complex, then You are lunch.
Markets are stressful. So, it is impossible to execute complex sequences under heavy stress. This is why people make stupid (referred to as sub-optimal) decisions under stress.
Fear makes anyone piss their pants. Fortitude is the ability to work with wet pants.

Grandmother’s advice on advises

Only take advises from people You want to look like. That just took care of 95% of glorified journalists otherwise referred to as experts and market gurus.
You are 100% responsible for your own decisions.
The attitude towards mistakes is fundamentally different. I worked with one fund manager who one day called me to his office to talk about a stock he had some loss. This stock was literally the best performer that year (pure veteran’s luck). After being told that I should have insisted, I finally answered: “R…, if we are here having this conversation, it is because 1) i told You to buy 2) You did not and thought it was a stupid idea 3) You watched it go up 4) You felt frustrated 5) You bought at the peak 6) Now You nurse a loss, feel frustrated and want to blame somebody.”
There is an interesting book called mindset about fixed versus growth mindsets. Finger pointing is a classic fixed mindset attribute, quite destructive in trading

Why is humility an essential trait of profitable short-sellers ?

January 2016 was a difficult month for investors. According to Barry Ritholtz:s, 93% of investors lost money. Feeling helpless and crushed while watching your investments melt away is a terrible feeling that takes a devastating toll on emotional capital. There can’t possibly be anything worse feeling, except perhaps a skill aspiring short sellers have to master, humility.

If You want to profit from a bear market and if You want to hold your short positions long term, then You probably should read this article.

Turning away from the gates of Valhalla

In January, my performance roared out of the gate. i was up at around +5.9% mid-month. i was timidly positioned for a cautious slow start with a gross around 150% and -0.12% risk per trade. Despite being ridiculously conservative and vastlyunder-participating, performance was there day after day. Returns were not only one-sided either. It was quality performance : Longs pulled their weight too: sugar, gold, Fixed income, Forex USD Bull. This is the stuff hedge funds are made off. i have long argued that the secret to AUM is to perform when no-one else does. This was it. And then, i saw it coming. i even wrote a post about it on the first day it happened, January 20th . A short-squeeze was under way. At this point, i could have closed all positions, walk away with +5.9% and be the one who closed right at the bottom. The gates of heaven were opening: Valhalla, shiny and chrome.

But then, i did the unthinkable. i went to work, methodically reducing bet sizes. i chose to take as little profit as necessary. i chose to forfeit all those profits and promises and then sat by the side of the road, waiting for the market to humble me all over again. And sure enough it did. It peeled off rock star returns, money for my family, fame, marketability, anything anyone would have aspired for. By the time Mrs Market was done with me, i had lost 90% of my gains: i went from +5.9% to +0.59% in less than a week. i was humbled alright, but i ended up profitable still. More importantly, I am better positioned now for round 2. Humility is a critical skill and below are the lessons from my journey

Two certainties in life: death and short squeezes

There are two certainties in life: death and short squeezes. There is no way to predict how long, how brutal short squeezes will turn. Why they happen is irrelevant: exhaustion of selling pressure, irrelevant but reassuring good news, government gesticulation, monetary intervention. Whatever the reasons, short squeezes are part of the short landscape and i have to deal with them.

Someone told me that short selling a stock at $1 can still yield a juicy 50% return if it drops to 50 c. True, at least in theory. The real question is would he still be there after price rallied from 52 c. to 70 c., or 30% in 4 days ? Very few people have the testicular fortitude to hold steady. i don’t, and this is why i have developed a methodology that enables to ride short squeezes.

The triple R methodology to weather a short squeeze

Short squeezes happen with 100% certainty. It is not about if, only about when. Rather than thinking of them as pestilence, i came to appreciate them and make good use of them. After all, they provide good entry points, plentiful borrow and flush amateurs (it is hard to feel sympathy for impatient people who jump in the water after vaporetti). Without further ado, here is the triple R methodology:

  1. Reduce: bet sizes as soon as You perceive a short squeeze
  2. Ride the squeeze. Do not short sell on the way up, but trim Longs that got clobbered in the downturn
  3. Reload: once the squeeze fades: lower stop losses and top-up existing positions

In practice, it looks like the chart below:

Reduce

i am a trend follower. My objective is to ride positions as long as trends are valid. So, as soon as i see a squeeze coming, i reduce risk. i cannot control how vicious and how long they will last, but i can control how much damage they will inflict to the portfolio. So, the first step it to reduce bet sizes, so as to capture some profit and reduce subsequent potential damage.

Whether You trade German Bunds, US equities or colorful language with your significant other, You deal in one thing: risk. Risk is not a story. Risk is number. Since there is no way to predict how unpleasant a squeeze will be, it is prudent to bring risk to neutral as soon as You see it happening

Above is a picture of my portfolio in late January:

  1. Open Risk (pink bars) = Shares * (Cost – Stop Loss) / NAV
  2. CTR (Contribution, light green) = [Shares * (Price – Cost) + Realised P&L] / NAV (Scale out model, hence realised P&L)
  3. Weight (blue bars) = Market Value / NAV
  4. Weight at risk (orange bars) is weight (blue) where Open Risk (pink) is still negative

In simple terms, i try to bring the orange bars to neutral. At the onset of a squeeze, my objective is to have as many positions as possible with a neutral or positive risk carry. There are several ways to do it, but if You are new to the method, just halve your positions. Example: if You have -0.50% open risk and +0.25% profit, halving the position will reduce risk by a factor of 4: from -0.50% to -0.125%.

Important: make a note of the mental chatter while You are closing your positions. Which side wins: fear with “close it all, You don’t know what tomorrow is made off” or greed “just one lot, and leave everything on the table, that’s the way to get rich”. This mental chatter is an important window into your psychological market make-up. Journal your thoughts and emotions, You will find treasures

Ride

“Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the teeth”, ​Mike T​yson Mysteries

Now that all the hatches are closed, that i am safe and sound in the cockpit, time to find this bottle of stiff spirit and roll with the storm. The only permissible trades are Longs: close poor performers during squeezes and buy resilient stocks as they underperform.

The hard part is to accept to let go of your paper profits. You have to accept that short squeezes will come and go, that they will wreck your portfolio and that You will have to watch it happening and keep calm. This is part of the game. Roll with the punches.

Important: Journal your fears. There is a tremendous wealth of information here. This is an exceptional opportunity to learn about what makes You tick.

Reload

“it is not about how about hard You can punch, It is about how hard You can get punched and keep coming back”, Rocky Balboa

The whole purpose of the method is to go past the squeeze and reload. Alright, i got humbled, but i am still standing and now it is my turn to hit back. In the above chart, the positions with long green bars have gone through multiple stages of reduce/reload. Australia, Junk bonds, oil, natural gas and Jim O’Neil’s BRICs have delivered over time.

Once the squeeze is over and stocks start to roll over again, it is time to:

  1. Reset the stop losses lower: swing high + n * ATR
  2. Reload existing positions
  3. Reallocate resources to new promising shorts

Example: SPY was entered at 202. It represented -3.8% of the portfolio. Only 0.8% was necessary to cover so as to ensure break even on the remainder position. Previous stop loss was at 209.92. Current stop loss is at 201.23, below cost. This gives +0.15% of positive risk carry to be deployed to another tranche of SPY.

​Short-selling is not like Long buying: You cannot buy once and throw away the key. Shorts shrink, so You have to keep topping them up. Every time a stop loss is lowered, residual risk decreases. This goes far beyond eliminating risk. Positions continue to accumulate positive carry along the trend. This gives a distribution like the chart below where best performers have 5:1 reward to risk.

The -1 peak stands for positions being stopped out. Failure is the primary ingredient of success.

-2 and below positions are positions that woke up way below their stop losses. EWM was a good case in point: i closed a Short, open a Long and a week later the position lost 30% overnight. Volatility was high, so size was small anyhow. It was unpleasant but not hurtful.

As You can see, the methodology is simple: reduce risk, ride the storm and reload. Yet time and again, i have failed to execute and in the beginning at least so will You. Now, would You like to know why ?

Marshmallows, or why i used to fail to execute a simple methodology as the triple R

90% of trading is mental, the other half is just good maths. The triple R methodology relies on three principles

  1. Commitment: this methodology only works if i am committed to hold your positions long term. If i just want quick gratification, i will take profit too early and never allow them to fully mature. Similarly, i would never have the stamina to be slapped around so much
  2. Clear trading plan: commitment is directly proportional to the clarity of the trading plan. People don’t fail because they don’t have a plan. They stumble because they have complex ambiguous ones.
  3. Mental reframing: We are hardwired to do the exact opposite of the triple R​Loss aversion: Kahneman Tsversky have demonstrated that we are risk adverse with profits and risk seeking with losses (i am writing an awesome must-read & practical post about this + Jungian archetypes and neuro-chemistry BTW, so stay tuned)Process versus outcome: performance is the outcome of a good process. ​​delayed gratification: the single predictor of success in life is whether You will eat the marshmallow. Behind the adorable cruelty there is a profound principle Faith: it is simply the perseverance to trust and execute a plan. In the Jungian archetypes, those are the resilience of the orphan combined with the vision of the magician and the discipline of the ruler

Beyond the fascinating academic research on the brain, i came to find a simple conclusion. The reason why i failed was poor habits. As soon as i became conscious of my habits, i became able to fashion new ones. A simple habit is to reset stop loss. Another is to take profit at the onset of a rally. A third one is strict position sizing. All those habits have fashioned my investing style.

So, when the short squeeze was upon us, it was not hard to step aside and let it pass, however petulant it could be. It is a habit now.

Conclusion

“if You can meet triumph and disaster, And treat those impostors just the same”, Rudyard Kipling

The short side is the Antarctica of the markets. It is out there, not too far from civilization, but vastly unexplored at the same time. My stance on short selling is simple: if You think a stock is short, don’t fool people with writing a book about companies fooling people, don’t talk your book to Bloomberg reporters, don’t sue companies. Just locate some borrow, place the trade and let the market give its verdict. Those are no market wizards strategies, those are marketing wizard gimmicks.

Being a good short seller requires a lot of humility. A short squeeze is always around the corner. It takes a lot of strength to forego instant gratification for the sake of long term rewards. So, when the month ended at +0.59% instead of +5.9%, did i feel bad ? Of course, it hurt, but then: Mr Short Squeeze, is that all You got ? Now, my turn…