Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review of Curtis Faith's Way Of The Turtle

Curtis Faith's Way of the Turtle is a significant contribution to the trading literature. It works on several levels: It is an engagingly written first-person narrative of one of the most interesting experiments in trading, but it is also a thoughtful presentation of the various ingredients of trading success.

Faith spells out the Turtle trading method in detail, providing a template for a more general approach known as trend following. Most helpful is the way he breaks down the method into components: entry criteria, criteria for adding to positions, position sizing, stops, and exits. A particularly interesting chapter draws upon his Trading Blox software to update trend following research and illustrate the results of several systems in recent markets. One of the impressive--and sobering--conclusions from this exercise is that one must weather large drawdowns on the way to large profits. The research results hammer this home, and the book weaves the psychological implications.

If I had to identify a single theme for the book, it might be this: Relatively simple trading systems can provide a tradable edge, but it is psychologically difficult for traders to follow these systems and exploit that edge. Faith illustrates this with the variability in the results among the Turtle trainees (despite the fact that all of them were given the same system rules). He also provides a detailed accounting of the psychological biases that make it difficult to follow systems that ride relatively few big winning trades for an overall positive expectancy. Among the gems provided by Way of the Turtle is a discussion of stop loss criteria and surprising research about what works and doesn't; a concluding chapter that lays out the Turtle rules in manual form, along with execution tactics; and an insightful presentation of the reasons most traders do not succeed in trading.

Faith questions both discretionary trading--trading without systematically testing one's trading ideas--and the notion that trading systems eliminate emotions from trading. He makes it very clear that traders need an objective edge in the marketplace *and* the psychological fortitude to ride out inevitable drawdowns on route to exploiting that edge. Rigor in defining rules and consistency in following them emerge as keys to success. I particularly liked Faith's presentation of optimization (finding the best rules) vs. curve fitting, and his clear differentiation of the two.

I don't think it's necessary that one be a dedicated trend follower to greatly benefit from this book. Besides being a fun and interesting read, it is an excellent introduction to the various components of trading methods and how they impact outcomes. It is also a first-rate integration of the psychology and techniques of trading. Perhaps most important of all, Way of the Turtle is an illuminating presentation of risk management, a major contributor to market success. Readers will greatly benefit from Faith's clear examples of the ways of measuring risk and performance, as well as the Turtle rules for managing risk.

There are no glaring weaknesses to the book that I can detect. Personally, I would have enjoyed a discussion of the pros and cons of trend following at shorter time frames. I also would have liked a discussion of the capital required to properly implement the Turtle approach, given that success derives from holding a diversified portfolio. Those, however, are small quibbles when compared to the book's strengths. The author's chapter elaborating the Turtle method as a life philosophy is, by itself, worth the price of the text.

In short, Curtis Faith has written the definitive book on the Turtle experience and way of trading. It's hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not coming away from the experience impressed with the blend of research and psychological strength that goes into trading success. Readers interested in Faith's work might also check out his blog. See also my take on the psychology of Turtle trading, which dovetails nicely with Faith's.