Saturday, April 15, 2017

How Tough Has Trading Been?

Thanks to a savvy trader for this graphic of the Soc Gen Short Term Trading Index, which is the composite results of the largest diversified futures funds holding positions for less than 10 days.  Even the longer track record is net negative.  Interestingly, hedge fund performance was positive for the first quarter of 2017, but the performance of CTAs was negative over that same period.  These results mirror my own experience working with trading firms:  those trading short-term and those trading in a momentum/trend style have been performing worst.  Those performing best in Q1 were ones focused on Asia, as well as activist funds and funds trading volatility strategies.

In other words, those market participants with specialized strategies have been outperforming the generalists.  Working at a number of funds as a performance coach, I can tell you that--on average--those placing directional bets on interest rates in Q1 greatly underperformed those trading relative value strategies.  Even among day trading firms, uniqueness of strategy has been an important predictor of success thus far in 2017.  Those traders day trading big liquid instruments have underperformed those finding unique opportunities in carefully selected individual stocks.

I'm not so sure this is all that different from the dynamics in the broader business world.  If new participants enter a crowded space, they are less likely to be successful than if they find unique niches.  This is an important challenge for those aspiring to trading success.  The risk tolerance of most trading firms does not permit long holding periods for directional positions.  This tends to throw everyone in the short-term camp depicted above.  You're not going to win by playing the same game as everyone else, just as you're not likely to find gold if you prospect the hills that have been well picked over by previous miners.

It's not enough to learn how to trade; it's critical to trade uniquely.  It's not enough to trade with rules and discipline; one must also find opportunity creatively.  The firms achieving the results depicted above are trading trends in liquid markets in a disciplined fashion.  A great approach to success would be to research strategies that made money during months when those other participants were performing worst.  There is no guarantee that future returns will mirror backtested ones, but digging for gold in well-mined fields is a poor risk/reward proposition.

Further Reading:  Creativity and Innovation in Trading