Friday, March 20, 2009


This article continues the weekly educational series, primarily dealing with psychology and methodology. Here are the previous articles: 4 Stages of Learning, The Trading Death Spiral, and the Trader's Mindset /w Common Psychological Issues.

I get over 100 e-mails per week and people asked me more questions about the trading plan and some ground rules, so I'm going to combine both topics into one article.

I like to ask myself several questions when constructing the plan. I'll give you 20 of them here and you can brainstorm the rest. The plan is your defense against emotional trading (if you actually follow it). Without a plan, you will be all over the place. The plan must be clear and concise and written down. If you do so, you'll be in the top 3% of individuals who have a plan, immediately giving you an edge over the other 97%. Here are the questions (in no particular order):

1) WHY are you trading? - The simple answer is "to make money", but that's really not a specific answer that describes you. Perhaps I can change the emphasis: "why are YOU trading"? Every person has their own reasons, such as quitting their full-time job, spend more time with their kids, increase their quality of life, take control of their financial future, etc. Why are YOU trading?

2) How will you enter & exit trades? The best entries are when the trades that you put on are lower risk compared to a much higher reward. This requires a through understanding and rationale of WHY you enter the trades in the first place. You can exit trades in many ways, such as setting initial and secondary stops, trailing stops, scaling out of positions. Do what makes you the most comfortable.

3) What type of orders will you use? There is a vast array of orders. I like to use market orders 99% of the time. Others like limit orders, and of course, there are stop limit orders and trailing stop orders. Make sure you know when to use what.

4) What broker, software, hardware will you use? Compare brokers and see what you like. Don't make the mistake of simply going to the cheapest broker. You get what you pay for. Instead, aim for a balance of reasonable fees, fast execution, excellent service, etc. You can choose what software and platform you want to use as well. Try out a couple. Finally, I'm not very knowledgeable in the hardware field, so just get a fast computer with lots of memory.

5) How much capital will you need to reach your goals? I think the absolute minimum to feel safe and without most restrictions is $25,000. To be adequately capitalized, I suggest a min. of $50,000. If you suffer a large drawdown in a small account, then you will have some problems. A larger account ensures flexibility and the ability for you to remain in the game, provided that you don't go crazy in your trading. If you hold a smaller account, limit the downside risk.

6) What ARE your goals? This goes with #1. Make sure your goals are 1) written, 2) believable, 3) challenging, 4) measurable, 5) specific, and 6) with deadlines.

7) What's your % allocation of capital per position? On average, I like to use 10% per position or side. Depending on my conviction level and the probability, I can go up to 20% per position and up to 100% per side (a rare occurrence). For people that are starting out, I'd say start with 5% per position, and move up as you build a tolerance. There are many ways to allocate capital.

8) What is your pre-market trading preparation process? This is your plan of action in the morning. You definitely want to check the futures in the morning for any gaps and their implications and location vs. the previous day's close. I like to check different news outlets/sites (there are hundreds of links on the sidebar for you to explore). I also check analyst upgrades/downgrades, economic reports, and earnings reports that may move the market. Be aware of what's happening.

9) What is your after-hours review process? Besides taking a nap sometimes, your end-of-day routine is key. Use this time to think about what happened during the day and what you did. It's good to keep a journal or blog to record your thoughts and observations. Keep a daily log.

10) How many positions are you able to focus on at once? I personally do not like to have many positions open. 10 is the limit for me. Having a portfolio with dozens and dozens of positions will create a distraction and you may miss exit points. The good thing is that the more positions you have and capital allocated per position, then the risk level per position is minuscule. I prefer larger, concentrated positions initiated through directional timing.

11) What type of trader are you (day, swing, position, etc.)? If you don't know this yet, then you shouldn't even be trading at all. Know yourself. Figure out what style suits you the best. What is your psyche most comfortable with and able to tolerate. Just because I do "X" doesn't mean X is appropriate for you. This is also why many people to follow other people become losers automatically by default.

12) Are you purely fundamental, technical or a hybrid of both? There is no wrong answer to this. It all depends on what you like and it's your choice. I am 100% technical and could care less about fundamentals (except earnings).

13) What will you use (exch-listed, OTC, futures, options, etc.)? Again, your choice.

14) When will you trade (all day, set time, every few days, etc.)? This depends on your available time, schedule, strategy, and personal preference. If you set a certain time, don't violate it. Commit to your scheduled and allotted time, or risk impulse trading.

15) What are your guidelines for using stops? This is your choice, but you have to adapt to market conditions when making your decision. Presently, wider stops are the norm due to high volatility constantly triggering tighter stops resulting in many losses. I personally do not use a hard stop unless I have to step out. I can use a mental stop and monitor the situation throughout the day. If you have a 9-5 full-time job, then you should use stops. Stop use is on a case-by-case basis.

16) What are your guidelines on losing positions? Specifically, how will you identify a serious loss vs. a temporary drawdown? How will you deal with the loss. Some traders simply stop trading for a few days to screw their head back on straight. This accompanies your strategy for exiting trades, but on the losing side. If you have 3 consecutive losses, seriously, take a break. Go ride some horses.

17) How much will you risk on every trade? Typically, a common rule is to risk no more than 2% per trade. Your risk depends on your allocation, exposure, and your loss limit. If you allocate 20% per position, you may risk up to 10% per position using th 2% rule. If you allocate 10% per position, you may risk up to 20% per position using the same rule.

18) Will you go both long and short? You should learn both skills. If you do not know how to short in a bear market, you will left with a severe disadvantage. Learn to take profits on both sides of the market. I recommend 4 main books on short selling (the first 2 are fundamental and the last 2 are technical): The Art of Short Selling by Kathryn Staley, Sold Short by Manuel Asensio, How to Make Money Selling Stocks Short by William O'Neil, and Sell & Sell Short by Dr. Alexander Elder. Get reading.

19) Are you going to trade the open? If the gap exceeds the high of the previous day after a day long consolidation, then the gap will run in the direction of the gap's open. An area gap that opens within the previous day's range is subject to fading/filling. What is your gap strategy? What is your strategy if the market opens unchanged?

20) Do you have a list of sites to visit, resources to read on a daily basis? If not, then check the sidebar for hundreds of links to every resource you need as a trader.

There are many more questions to ask yourself, but here are basics. Meditate on them.

As for the rules, there are plenty of them. We all forget about them once in a while. In fact, I always catch myself in the act of breaking them. The key is to be aware of your mistake and to get out of it as quickly as possible. Right the wrong. If you are not aware, then you won't know, and then you will be finished. Here are some rules, or little tidbits, that should aid you as a short-term trader. Some are obvious, some are not, just mind them all.

1) Buy on the 1st pullback from a new high & sell the first pullback from a new low. The first pullback and subsequent continuation move will confirm the strength of the rally or sell-off. Don't be the trader they buys right before an upside pullback and shorts right before a downside pullback.

2) Enter during quiet times & exit during crazy times. Then the markets are quiet, or trading in a tight range, that indicates that an explosive move is imminent. Use the chart to determine if it will most likely be a breakout or breakdown. Get out when everyone in the world is trying to get in at the same time, usually indicating a blow off exhaustion top.

3) Equalize time to opportunity. You must know how long you're going to hold the stock before you enter the trade. If you have to keep asking me or anyone else, "Are you still in?", "When are you getting out?" (of such and such stock), then clearly, you have no idea WTF you are doing. My timeframe may or may not be the same as yours.

4) Sell the 2nd high, buy the 2nd low. By default, the 1st high becomes resistance and the 1st low becomes support after major pullbacks. When a high or low gets tested more than 2x, then the likelihood of a break is extremely high.

5) Don't trade the exact open (in most cases). I like to wait a full 30-mins prior to pulling the rigger, unless #19 shows up (in the Trading Plan section above).

6) Short the weak rallies and not the sell-off (in most cases). Shorts are looking to cover since they are finally making money on the breakdown. There are times where the market just sells, sells, and sells, however, I'm talking about the majority of times when it doesn't cascade.

7) Do not short strong rallies & do not buy strong weakness. If a rally continues, corrects, continues, corrects, etc., then the rally is strong and sustained for whatever reason. Shorts will continue to cover in the face of it, adding fuel to the fire. Likewise, don't buy when a stock is selling off like there is no tomorrow. Something is terribly wrong and traders, for whatever reason, are willing to sell at any price they can get. Just remember why you are buying or shorting.

8) Keep the charts in mind & ditch the news. News moves the markets, but news is immediately priced in, and it shows in the chart immediately. First, determine if the news item is valid, trustworthy, relevant, and important. Second, measure the impact of the item. New items of all sorts are responsible for the vast majority of the breakouts and breakdowns that occur, but charts already tell you that.

9) Keep support & resistance and MA's in mind. Prices have memory, because humans have memory. People buy at support and sell at resistance. That's how it is. Use trend lines, channels, and moving averages to guide you. They are NOT just some stupid lines on a chart.

10) Trends test the last point of support or resistance (in most cases). Combine this with #9 above.

11) Use the TICK, VWAP and/or VIX, and other indicators to verify moves. They are your friends.

12) Stop chasing stocks, long or short, if you don't have a valid reason to do so. Don't be a sucker. Stop wondering why the market reverses everytime you buy or short. It's probably because you were chasing whatever you were chasing and that's your fault, not the market's. Afraid of "missing out"? Too bad, wait for the next opportunity.

13) The 200-day MA is the strongest MA, followed by the 50-day MA. The 200-day MA is not only the strongest, but the most important long-term MA. These MA's guide the trend of the market for years, and even decades. The 50-day MA is the strongest and most important intermediate-term MA, guiding the market for months to years. Always know where they are located in relation to the market.

14) Therefore, don't be buying toward or short into an MA. (includes the 20/30-day MAs). They are strong and reliable points of support or resistance. For the short-term, you want to focus on the 20 and 30-day MA's. Additionally, add the 10 and 15-day MA's if you are long and the 5-day MA if you are short. Many stocks use their own "custom" MA's, but many stocks follow the ones listed here.

15) Track the pivot points. Make note of prior highs and lows because there is a force at these points that caused at least a short-term reversal against the prevailing trend. If you are constantly wondering why a stock bounces at a certain point and pulls back at another, then you might want to note the pivot points. Pivots don't happen just because a stock "feels like doing it".

16) Make note of every gap and identify them (area, breakaway, continuation, exhaustion, etc.). Learn what all the gaps are, how to identify them, how to trade them. Gaps also mark major support and resistance levels, especially force gaps
on Spikers.

17) Massive volume at a pivot will kill the existing trend...and it will start a completely new one. Volume shows conviction, enthusiasm, and in most cases, institutional support. Don't trade against money that immediately stopped the existing trend and broke away to form a new one.

18) Bottoms take longer to form than tops because accumulation takes long than distribution. Classic greed vs. fear. People have a tendency to sell out of fear faster than buy into greed. This is why shorting stock yields profits 40-70% faster than if you were going long.

19) Stop rapidly trading during consolidation periods. What is the hell is the matter with you? The "Chop Zone" is specifically designed to chop up suckers.

20) Use multiple time frames for entry & exit signals. I like to use the 1-min, 5-min, 1-day, 5 day, 10-day, 1-month, and 4-6-month time frames on a single stock. Your reason for entering and staying in a trade will be confirmed on all time frames if the trade is still working.


John said...

Thanks, this article had a lot of ideas in it that will help me write my 2009 plan, really late in the year and I've just be kinda winging it when it comes to a plan..

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