Tag Archives: russell 2000 stock index

Trading’s Gut Check

Actively participating in the markets comes with the understanding that the trader’s gut will be checked frequently and deeply. The primary cause of this is the trader’s degree of certainty in an uncertain world. It’s been proven over and over again that once an individual feels that they have enough information to make a decision, they will. Additional information provided after the fact typically raises the degree of certainty that the correct decision was made, rather than raising the degree of accuracy. So, I sit in front of the Federal Reserve Board’s announcement this afternoon involved up to my eyeballs in the US Dollar, Euro currency, 10-year Treasury Notes and the Russell 2000 stock index.

Each one of these positions is the result of mechanical trading programs that I’ve developed, tested and traded. Therefore, there are no arbitrary decisions or adjustments to be made. This leaves me in front of the screens sitting on pins and needles waiting for a range of possibilities to materialize. Given my experience with the markets, I expect the outcome to be somewhere in the middle. Rarely does it turn out one sided either positively or, negatively.

Let’s review the possible outcomes and the gut wrenching turmoil that comes with sitting on several large positions as I try to close out the books for 2013. My oldest position on the books is short the Euro FX. I stand to profit if the Euro currency weakens against the US Dollar. I’m short the market near the top of its range based on my research into the Commitment of Traders Reports. I know that there’s about a 60% chance the Euro will back off these highs by about a penny and a half. However, the market’s continuing consolidation near these highs puts me in a position where I could be stopped out of the market with a loss even before the Fed announces its decision this afternoon. The market’s proximity to my stop loss order contributes greatly to my angst.

The opposing position to the Euro is my long US Dollar Index position. Again, I’m long the US Dollar Index against a basket of currencies, which is dominated by the Euro. If the Fed suggests that they will begin to taper quickly, the Dollar should rally. Pulling stimulus out of the economy will place fewer Dollars in future circulation thus, increasing the value of the Dollars already in the market. The Dollar would rally and the Euro would fall. Both of my currency positions would be profitable.

Tapering by the Fed would most likely crush my 10-year Note position. Frankly, the discretionary trader in me can create the strongest case for owning 10-year Notes and betting against taper talk. Based on my analysis of the commercial traders in the 10-year Note I fully expect any decline in Treasury prices to be short lived. Commercial traders have accumulated their largest net long position in the 10-year Note since April of 2005. Commercial traders have dominated the big moves in the Treasuries with uncanny accuracy. If they’re right about no taper talk this afternoon, Treasuries will rally substantially and I’ll profit from my position….while losing on my currency trades.

This leads to my final position. I use a pretty fancy program for developing my day trading systems. Whereas my swing-trading program is based on the fundamental data inferred from the collective positions of the markets’ participants, my day trading programs are strictly technical. Knowing that the markets will unfailingly put a man to the test, it should come as no surprise that my day trading programs now have me long two units of the Russell 2000 stock index heading into this afternoon’s announcement. Furthermore, while I have some expectations of how the currencies and Treasuries will react to the Fed’s decision, the stock market’s reaction is far less predictable. If the Fed tapers, the stock market may rally further based on the assumption of a strong economy leading to further gains. However, the collective reaction could very well be violently lower as tapering could signal the end of the free money that many believe has fueled the rally to this point.

Discretionary traders face conflicting data like this all of the time and pick and choose which markets they’re in and when they’re in them. Systematic traders follow the signals generated by their programs without question. The cruelest aspect of trading is the market’s uncanny ability to seek out a traders’ weak spot and twist agony’s knife. I’ve been actively trading for more than 20 years and the trepidation of a pending report never goes away. This is where the classic line, “Plan your trade. Trade your plan” has the most value. Remember, additional information acquired after the fact doesn’t increase the odds of being right, it simply tricks the mind into greater certainty of the existing thought pattern.

The AP Hack Crash Facts

The first article of mine that was picked up by the Sandusky Register was written in the late afternoon on May 6th, 2010 as I put together the notes for our clients explaining the “Flash Crash,” what and how it had happened. Tuesday afternoon the Twitter account of the Associated Press was hacked and the following tweet was sent from their account, “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” The stock market plunged one percent in less than three minutes. Within five minutes, it had returned to its previous level. Let’s take a look at some of the issues this brings to the trading table.

The market is always the boss. Traders at their desks can employ a thousand models suggesting the market should move in a certain direction. However, anyone sitting at a trading desk or on the trading floors will tell you, when you’re in the market, you’re playing the market’s game on the market’s terms. Therefore, when prices move rapidly and unexpectedly against a trader’s position self-preservation kicks in and the trader exits the position – THEN searches for the catalyst that suddenly turned the market against them. Rule number one in trading is self-preservation.

This mentality is best evidenced by protective stop loss orders that automatically trigger when a market moves beyond the trader’s loss threshold. Meanwhile, another group of traders prefers to exercise their own orders in which case, they’ll manually enter their order as the market exceeds their pain tolerance. These two groups were the ones hit with losses as they raced each other to the bottom in an attempt to unload their positions. For the record, our protective sell stops were also hit on the way down. Think of it as a bank run. There’s always enough cash to cover the withdrawals of those at the front of the line.

The traders most deeply affected by the sudden downdraft and ensuing return to normalcy were the day traders and the high frequency traders. Our position in the Russell 2000 stock index yesterday was a day trade on the long side of the market based on follow through from Monday’s outside day. Monday’s outside day is defined by falling through Friday’s low only to turn around and close above Friday’s high. This is a very bullish signal when coming at the extreme of a recent move. This outside bar combined with some other analysis put us on the long side. Protective stops had been placed and adjusted throughout the trade leading to a small win. In this case, not placing a protective stop would’ve been much more profitable but, what if the Associated Press had been right?

Once the market began to sell off, high frequency traders joined in the game. High frequency trading is day trading without the human input. Humans write the computer programs and the programs being fed the live data stream automatically executes the trades at the exchange. These programs have replaced the scalpers you’re used to seeing on TV in the trading pits yelling at each other. High frequency trading gets a bad rap for increasing market volatility but gets no credit for providing market liquidity. Liquidity is THE most important aspect of U.S. financial markets. Liquidity is why we are the global financial capital. Without liquidity there is no one to take the other side of the trade. Without liquidity there is no market.

Finally, let’s put it all together. The market was quietly trading up about half a percent on light volume when the AP’s tweet was posted. Volume exploded by a factor of 10 as the market declined. The volume surge that was taking day traders and tightly placed protective stops out of the market was being replaced by high frequency trading programs that are ALWAYS called to action by volatility and volume. Ironically, the same high frequency trades that made a killing during the flash crash actually got burnt by the, “Hack Crash” as the market returned to normal faster than newly initiated short positions could be covered at a profit.

There is little predictive value in the events of the, “Hack Crash.” However, there are some key takeaways for traders. First is the importance of protective stops. One never knows what could happen next. Second, verify news reports. I have the AP’s iPhone app, which alerts me to breaking news and had no mention of the tweet until after the fact. Therefore, the corporate disconnect between Twitter and their app was my first clue it was bogus. Finally, cut the high frequency traders some slack. Their programs are based on risk and reward just like our own and the liquidity they provide in times of dramatic events is exactly what allows us to get out of the market and keep some powder dry until the smoke clears.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.