Bible of Trend Following
I just shared this piece from David Druz….Trend following is extremely challenging….Psychology is the key…
The Bible of Trend Following
I’ve been trading for investors for over 30 years. My first fund, Tactical Commodity Fund started in mid-1981. Tactical’s current program began in 1993 as an offshoot of that first fund but with lower leverage and some evolutionary changes. I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve seen a lot of markets, a lot of bull moves, a lot of bear moves. And I can tell you I wish I had read this book 30 years ago. I would have made more money, especially near the beginning. Do yourself a favor. Read it. Now.
My trading-for-investors career began not long after gold peaked around 870 and a bit over a year before the S&P bottomed near 100. I subsequently watched gold drop more than 70% over 19 years and then rally over 700% in the next 12. I watched the stock market rally for over 17 years with just one big, brief pullback along the way only to witness two retracements greater than 50% in the next 10 years.
I’ve seen almost too numerous to remember booms and busts in the commodity, currency and interest rate markets. I’ve seen things happen that everyone said never would and watched as things didn’t happen that everyone said were inevitable. I’ve traded and held positions in these markets nearly every single day since mid-1981.
Tactical was one of the first systematic, computerized fund managers. We started out on a Radio Shack TRS 80, before the first Apple. Historical data that costs pennies now took months to type in by hand. We ran Fourier transforms and proved there were in fact no repeatable hidden cycles in the markets while everyone else was still talking about them. We tested all the market lore to see what was true and what wasn’t. We tested the early mechanical systems that were touted and found most of them didn’t hold up. Indicators that people still use today we learned years ago don’t really give you a statistical advantage.
I wrote my own back testing software and tested everything I could think of. When personal computers advanced we bought the latest. For a number of years we had two Sun workstations running 24/7 doing systems testing when those were state of the art. Of course now you can do the same things much faster on a laptop. But that was then and this is now. We kept testing. We kept learning.
I read every book I could get my hands on about trading. I listened to the old traders. When I worked during summer breaks in college at a brokerage firm at the Chicago Board of Trade I kept my ears open as the old timers related their adventures, their successes, their failures. I tried to understand the psychology of the winners and how it differed from the losers. I got the idea that the psychology of the trader was as important if not more important than anything in success or failure.
I spent a lot of time learning things the hard way, a lot of trial and error, a lot of hard knocks. Trading is still a lot of hard knocks. Drawdowns can go on seemingly forever. You can have days, weeks, even months on end without much in the way of profits. It can feel like you are a punching bag or a movie double who takes all the hits. But that’s the nature of the game, of the business.
Even after you’ve learned how to do it, you still take your hits. To succeed you just need to stand up every time you get knocked down. You need to have the confidence that standing up is the right thing to do. You need to know when to stand back up and how. And just by standing up again and again and staying standing as long as you can before you get hit again, well, you can actually make more money than you lose over the long run in trend trading. It’s quite the amazing process.
Very few people succeed in this process. The learning curve is too steep and the correct psychology is too hard to implement. If you have any attachment to making money, and who doesn’t, it is very tough to trade correctly.
This brings me to the book you hold in your hands. To reiterate: I surely wish I had it 30 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of work. And I would have made more money, especially in the early years. More specifically I would have lost less money and that would have put me farther ahead today. Andy Abraham has written a gem. His writing style is enjoyable, clear and entertaining. He covers all the main ingredients needed for successful trend trading. He tells the truth.
What impresses me most about Andy’s writing is his honesty. He doesn’t sugar coat things. He doesn’t tell you it’s easy to make money. He tells you that you need patience and discipline. (By the way “Patience and Discipline” has been Tactical’s slogan since its inception.) Andy tells you drawdowns and losses are part of the business. He presents a track record of one of his own programs that he started just a few years ago that has not made new highs in 17 months. That’s exactly how it works sometimes. What is so refreshing is Andy’s honesty about it. The man has integrity.
A characteristic of those traders who have been successful over many years is honesty with respect to their trading. You need to understand your own psychology, where you are mentally strong and weak, how you deal with baser emotions, particularly fear and greed. If you lack honesty with yourself you will almost certainly fail. Andy’s honesty, more than anything, tells me he understands trading psychology and gives me confidence he is qualified to teach others what he knows. I have yet to run across a trading book that emphasizes the psychological aspect of trading better than this one.
This book is not a cookbook. It does not outline a mechanical system. It explains the psychology needed to succeed in trend trading, gives some examples of traders who have applied it and sets out the underlying principles which should be followed for success— trade the best markets, trade with the trend, bet small, use stoplosses, cut losses, ride winners, don’t overtrade, be patient, be disciplined.
As a bonus, Andy gives you the scaffolding for a particular methodology that works for him as an example of everything he sets out in the basic rules. Just as you would never think of moving into a new house that has been framed but before the roof, walls and interior are finished you cannot and should not attempt to trade Andy’s “system” without doing all the finishing carpentry. You need to do your own back testing—doable these days with off the shelf software he describes—to fill in the parameter values and to learn how his trade-the-best market portfolio ranker shuffles which market signals you take. For those who don’t have a clue where to begin Andy gives you his exact pattern to follow. Your own back testing fills in the parameter blanks.
Andy advises everyone that they must trade a style that fits their personality. I believe very strongly he is absolutely correct. You will not follow a system that does not suit you. In his wisdom Andy thus does not give you all the parameter values for the formulas in his personal trading scaffold. He wants you to do your own back testing, to find a methodology that you are comfortable with yourself and have confidence in. When all is said and done your approach may be identical to his with your own parameter values. It may be significantly different. Regardless, you cannot develop the confidence to pull the trigger after multiple losses in a row without having done the work yourself. Guaranteed.
It’s a fair bet to say that any trend following methodology likely to succeed over time will employ the general psychological and fundamental trading rules Andy outlines. The specifics of everyone’s approach will vary, but the broad principles outlined here will be present in one form or another in virtually all robustly successful trend following approaches. People say that markets have changed and new rules are needed for the new game. I’ve heard that for over 30 years. The markets do change but the underlying fundamental rules for success don’t seem to. They are all outlined here. How great.
You are lucky to have picked up this book. If you are a seasoned trader, reviewing the basic elements of winning psychology makes this book worth perusing cover to cover. We can all use reminders, yours truly always. If you are new to trading this book can save you years of trial and error and monetary losses. This book is now on my short list of recommended reading material for traders. I sincerely thank Andy for having written it. Have fun reading it. I wish you all the best in your trading.
Tactical Investment Management
CTA / CPO since 1981