Article: Professionals Trade People’s Psychology Not the Markets

This is the fourth of a series of four articles titled “Key Concepts to Correct Trading Behavior – A guide to relevant concepts for trading success in a market governed by High Frequency Trading (HFT) and Program Trading”,  focusing on the most important concepts any trader should internalize in order to show a correct trading behavior, in a world where the majority of trading volume is generated by computer programs.

I have written an introduction to the series and the first three parts of it, titled respectively “The Bandwagon Theory” and “The Dangers of Asking “Why?” and  “Facts and “Truth” Do Not Make Money“. This week I present the fourth and last part titled: “Professionals Trade People’s Psychology Not the Markets”. I will keep working on the other sections of the eBook. Notice that I am also working on the most important section that illustrates a practical application of  the Bandwagon Theory, using the daily chart of the EUR/USD forex cross (the section ‘The Psychology of Trading: the Bandwagon Theory illustrated’ will only be included in my free eBook that I will make available on this Blog). This series of articles is introduced here.

Trading-PsychologyIt should never be forgotten that professional traders  trade people not financial instruments. As strange as this sentence may sound, it represents a correct assessment and critical point novices and more experienced traders often fail to comprehend. The outcome is typically confusion as of the why a market often contradicts rationality and all sense of reason. Futures, forex and stocks financial instruments cannot do anything in and of themselves; their prices are determined by the perceptions of people which, in turn, are completely determined by emotions. It is these emotions, primarily greed and fear that often cause a market to extend too far upwards or downwards, well beyond reasonable levels. Financial instruments do not behave according to neat, simple mathematical measurements of value. Rather they oscillate frequently from over depressed states to overextended ones, without rest. This behavior is what creates opportunities in larger, as well as, smaller timeframes. This is what keeps new people coming in, and the old beaten ones leaving the markets.

The professional trader, understanding this behavior, builds his or her skills around knowing when one emotional state is about to give way to another. This is trading success in a nutshell. Success is not knowing what will a futures FX currency contract reaction be to a central bank announcement or trying to guess if and when a company will announce a new product. Trading is all about people and their emotions, that is why chart reading is so important. Fundamental data contained in balance sheets, income statements and other information sources represents elements from a picture of the past, a time to which market players have already emotionally reacted to. On the other hand, price and technical analysis serve as a living map, built trade by trade, of players’ current emotional state. These are important tools for the active short-term and swing trader or those who want to time position trades or even longer-term investments.

However not all Technical Analysis (TA) tools are useful to build a living map of players’ emotions. In the days of Program and Algorithmic Trading (AT) and High Frequency Trading (HFT) the majority of Technical Analysis tools are not adequate. When TA works it provides signals too late with a sensible lag, or it does not provide signals and setups at all. Besides the lag, trade setups indications from TA are more subject to stop-losses, as well. Moreover the majority of TA tools only provide a point in time when it seems reasonable to enter a trade, often not indicating where the stop-loss should be placed and, more importantly, where profits should be taken. Thus the construction of a complete trading plan would require the use of a coordinated set of TA techniques which often provide readings that are in contrast with one another.
The author’s belief that it is very difficult to make money with traditional TA is comforted by the fact that the majority of people (more than 95%) lose money in the markets. If you don’t want to be one of them and to be part of the 5% of consistent traders it is important and necessary to start thinking and doing things differently.

Most new traders are attracted into learning classical technical analysis (TA) but to make it work strong discipline and a rounded psychology are needed. Typically a trader will focus most of his/her time and resources on the trading method while seasoned traders know that TA requires a better grasp on money management and psychology. While psychology is probably the most important aspect of trading success, the trading method is probably the less important, although critical. Time learning a good trading method is well spent, but it is better to spend time on a method that works and helps the trader to build its emotional capital, i.e. allowing managing his/her emotional state with a sound trading psychology, while providing a complete trading plan. A good trading plan is made up of 8 to 10 different elements (depending on whether you trade one or more markets) which classical Technical Analysis (TA) is not able to identify without the need of resolving contrasting readings from different TA tools.

A trading method that helps avoiding this issue is the method of Measured Moves which helps modeling price structure without the need of using TA tools. This method limits the use of TA tools because it is based upon the observation of the effects of modern Program and Algorithmic Trading on price. Computerized programs do not have an emotional component, but repeat the trading rules continuously at every setup and opportunity. When Program Trading is active price dynamics are purely based on cause and effect, because trading rules themselves are based on price levels although, as already noticed, market news and other events can temporary modify price structure on the smaller timeframes.

Trading rules used by Program Trading were born and improved upon from the analysis and observation of price subdued to the actions provoked by human emotions (mainly fear and greed) and having the effect of dynamically altering the balance between demand and offer. Such rules became very efficient with time and, with the continuous rising of technology and computer-based trading in the stocks, forex and derivative markets, as well as, the increased trading volumes, they bring about price behavior that materializes in a truly self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens on the markets nowadays and it is somehow similar to what happens when price approaches some important moving average (like the 100-day or the 200-day moving averages), i.e. there is always some sort of reaction. When measured moves are applied backwards to price data going back to the last 100 years (for instance using Dow Jones end of day data) it is disconcerting to see how well the related trade setups work, offering valid entry and price target areas. This is a very significant fact because it shows that the logic of computerized programs, which was initially derived from the study of the psychological response to price dynamics of average traders’ groups, evolved in a direction that correctly manages money, risks and profits while taking the important psychological aspects into account. Moreover the application to market price of the method of Measured Moves (largely employed by Program Trading) shows that the basic rules implemented by computer algorithms nowadays worked before computer technology was even invented.

In conclusion, not only Professionals trade people’s psychology but nowadays also Program Trading does that. Program Trading and Algorithmic Trading (AT) along with High Frequency Trading (HFT), are conquering more and more volume on the stocks and futures markets. A recent research shows that more than 30% of the UK stocks market volume is traded by HFT; same figures reach more than 70% in the US markets.

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Filed under Articles, Program Trading, Trading Method, Trading Psychology

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