There Is No Holy Grail In Trading

I wanted to respond to a couple of observations from our readers:

The first:

“If you’re talking a pure technical (trend-following or countertrend based on indicators) system on highly liquid vehicles like QQQ, “getting a real world system to work” is insanely difficult….I’m looking forward to this series, skeptical though I am.”

And the second:

“It’s simple enough to create a system that back tests to show gains. It would take me about 10 minutes on TradeStation. How do you get a real world system to work? That’s the $64,000 question.”

I completely agree that anyone can spend a few minutes to get good results on a single asset in a single timeframe under a single set of market condition, and that leads us to the subject of developing a robust system. In order to be robust, it must meet all the following criteria:

1)      It must perform well across asset classes.

2)      It must perform well with an arbitrary list of stocks, currency pairs, commodities, and so forth.

3)      It must perform well in multiple time frames.

4)      It must perform well in all market conditions.

And that takes more than 10 minutes of TradeStation work. It is not easy—insanely difficult, possibly—but definitely not easy. Our primary trading system finds its roots in a paper we wrote over ten years ago, and after major enhancements in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again just a few months ago, we have a system that meets all the criteria of a robust system. And while the results are good, we work every day to make them even better, while at the same time testing new ideas that are completely different from our existing systems.

I guess you could say we are seeking the Holy Grail, but we know we will never find it, so think about this as you start down the road towards building a robust system:

1)      It all starts with an idea. It might derive from your personal trading, or an idea from a blog, or taking an existing system and making it better.

2)      The next step is turning your ideas into rules, and the key is to have a platform such as TradeStation, MultiCharts, eSignal, TradeSim, Ninja, or a long list of other platforms that give you the basic tools to build a system and to test it AND which does all the data handing for you so you can focus on just one thing—translating your ideas into a trading system.

3)      But then comes the testing. And it is far beyond just seeing if your idea is profitable—it must also be robust, and consider draw downs, win/loss ratios, frequency of trades, and on and on. Most importantly it has to fit your personal style. If you can’t suffer ten losers in a row, then a system that has lots of small losses with a few home runs isn’t going to work for you.

4)      There is no grading on the curve here—it is a PASS/FAIL for every test you do. If it fails by any of the criteria you have established right up front, then move on to the next idea. If it passes, then we MIGHT have the beginnings of a trading system that COULD be robust.

And that’s what we will be talking about over the next many weeks—how to turn an idea into a set of rules; how to decide which parameters we should test; how to avoid curve fitting; what to look for in a test; how to use stops/targets to improve a system, and many more things that will get you ready to take on the insanely difficult world of trading systems. And it will be fun because we are building our own personal casino one brick at a time, and then we will have the house odds on our side of the table.

Rick Martin

For more information or answers to your questions, email Rick at [email protected]

Hypothetical computer simulated performance results are believed to be accurately presented. However, they are not guaranteed as to accuracy or completeness and are subject to change without any notice. Hypothetical or simulated performance results have certain inherent limitations. Unlike an actual performance record, simulated results do not represent actual trading. Since, also, the trades have not actually been executed; the results may have been under or over compensated for the impact, if any, of certain market factors such as liquidity. Simulated trading programs in general are also subject to the fact that they are designed with the benefit of hindsight. No representation is being made that any portfolio will, or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to those shown. All investments and trades carry risks.

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