We get a lot of questions about various complex money management (MM) formulas and our preferences. We don't comment on this subject very often because money management is such a personal issue that it would be impossible to give any universal advice that would be specific enough to have value. Everyone seems to have different goals and tolerances for risk, not to mention varying amounts of capital for trading.

However we do have some basic thoughts and opinions that might be helpful in picking a suitable MM strategy that will help you to become a winner.

Be careful about trying to use formulas that are designed to optimize the returns. In my experience I have found that the most successful traders, over the long run, are not seeking to maximize their returns. The best traders are always seeking to carefully control their risks and to achieve as much consistency as possible. They look for methods to achieve consistent returns with low drawdowns and they are willing to accept smaller returns in the process. My policy has always been to worry about the risk and the consistency first and then to accept whatever returns that prudent approach will allow. I'm sure I will never win any trading contests and I have never bothered to enter one. In my opinion, no one should ever trade like the winner of a trading contest. I apologize for getting off on a different subject here. Lets get back on track and talk about trading in the only contest that matters - the trading that you do every day.

In recent years the strategy of risking a small percentage of capital on each trade has become quite popular and deservedly so. This MM strategy, often referred to as fixed fractional trading, reduces our dollar amount of risk as we experience losses and increases our risk level as we earn profits. The possibility of ever going to zero with such a strategy is virtually nonexistent. However this strategy has an inherent weakness that tends to constantly work against us. If we assume an equal number of winners or losers in a sequence this popular strategy produces net losses if the winners are not larger than the losers. To keep things very simple lets just look at a series of five wins followed by five losses with the wins being equal to the amount we risk. Lets also keep the math really simple and begin with starting capital of 100 and risk 5% of our current capital on each trade. I think that most traders would assume that if they had five losers followed by five winners they would be even. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Here are the numbers: Risk is always 5% of current capital. (I'm going to round the numbers to two decimals.)

Capital $ Risk W/L Account balance

100.0 5.00 L 95.00

95.00 4.75 L 90.25

90.25 4.51 L 85.74

85.74 4.29 L 81.45

81.45 4.07 L 77.38

OK we are already tired of losing. Let's have five winners in a row and see if we can get our money back.

Capital $ Risk W/L Account balance

77.38 3.87 W 81.25

81.25 4.06 W 85.31

85.31 4.27 W 89.58

89.58 4.48 W 94.06

94.06 4.70 W 98.76

As you can see we had an equal number of winners and losers yet somehow we lost money. Perhaps it is because we had bad luck and got started in the wrong direction. Lets reverse the sequence of trades so that we start out on a winning streak instead of losing. Maybe that will help.

Capital $ Risk W/L Account balance

100.00 5.00 W 105.00

105.00 5.25 W 110.25

110.25 5.51 W 115.76

115.76 5.79 W 121.55

121.55 6.08 W 127.63

Looks good so far. Starting off with winners looks much better than starting with losses. But now we have five losers coming up.

Capital $ Risk W/L Account balance

127.63 6.38 L 121.25

121.25 6.06 L 115.19

115.19 5.76 L 109.43

109.43 5.47 L 103.96

103.96 5.20 L 98.76

Hmmm. It doesn't seem to matter if we start out with a string of winners or a string of losses. Somehow we wound up losing the same amount of money either way.

Obviously we don't have a very good system at work here but it is not a losing system. With the proper MM strategy we should break even. Our winning trades are only equal to our risk and to have a winning system the winners need to be bigger than the losers. We are winning on only half of our trades and we would be profitable if we could win on more than half. Even though our system is not a good one you would think that it would at least be a breakeven proposition (we haven't included any costs) because the winners are always equal to the amount at risk and we win 50% of the time. That sounds like a breakeven system, doesn't it? But if we employ the popular money management strategy of risking a fixed percentage of our current capital we manage to turn the system into a loser. However, if we risked a fixed dollar amount on each trade the system results would improve and we would break even.

The fixed percentage of risk approach to MM is a good one because it keeps us from going broke and it compounds our profits rapidly. Both of those are desirable characteristics but we need to be aware that they come at a price. We should realize that our recovery from drawdowns might not be as fast as we would like and that we can give back profits even faster than we made them.

One strategy that can help solve the problem of giving back the profits too rapidly is to periodically sweep some of the profits out of the account and place them in some other place where they are adding to our diversification and reducing our risk. Now and then we should take some of the profits out and spend them on something that improves our quality of life. This important step gives the dollars at stake a new meaning and boosts our morale tremendously. What is the point of winning and losing and accumulating profits only to give them back at some later date? If we make it a practice to routinely sweep some of the profits our account will continue to grow but it will be compounding at a slower rate than if we left our profits at risk. However if we stumble into a losing streak we will be glad that we took out some of the profits and reduced our bet size.

If we are good traders and we make it a practice to withdraw some of our profits on a regular basis we will eventually reach the point where we have taken out more than we started with. There are very few traders, particularly in futures, who can claim that they have truly beaten the market. Until you have taken out more than you started with the market can still beat you. Trading futures is a zero sum game and winners are few and far between. Taking out profits now and then rather than getting carried away trying to optimize the gains to infinity is contrary to what is being taught these days. Everyone is obsessed with finding formulas to optimize the returns. We need to remember that the trader who has the optimum gains today could easily be tomorrow's biggest loser. That is a game we don't need to play.

I think we all need to take a step or two back and look at the big picture. Trading is not really just a game. The money is real. Lets make sure that we are true winners and not just habitual players. Take some profits now and then and put them out of harms way. When we have done this I can assure you that the game is a lot more fun and our trading will improve. Nothing builds confidence like knowing for sure that you are indeed a winner.

Good Luck and Good Trading

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