Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Ultimate Risk Management - Position Limits

Preservation of the Trading Capital.
Money Management and Position Limiting.

Jungle Rules
Have you ever heard the rules of the jungle? 

If you haven't heard them, here are the rules. 

( Well if you have heard them, please bear with me, here is a repeat! )

Rule No. 1 : There are no rules.
Rule No. 2 : There are no more rules.

Well, I have just now described the trading arena. It seems that  most of the individual traders are  the ardent followers of the jungle rules. If you are not one of them, hats off to you!                                            

                                      The Trading Jungle

Trading is not as easy and risk free as it is being portrayed by the tipsters, charlatans, gurus, astrologers, 
sell side analysts and dealers ( brokerages ) and the analysts from the TV and the print media. That's why all of them including this author are in the business of doling out  the big disclaimers always! Have you ever seen any other business where the disclaimers are used so extensively? 

The business of trading is inherently risky. Since leveraged trading of the futures and options is the most riskiest and unpredictable business on the face of the earth, the long term survival of any trader requires a sound set of rules of the business. 

Fundamental Rules of Derivatives Trading

There are only three simple rules here. And they are:

Rule No. 1 : Preserve the Trading Capital;
Rule No. 2 : Preserve the Trading Capital; and
Rule No. 3 : Preserve the Trading Capital.

The above is not a typo. If it seems like a mistake, it is purely intentional. 

If a trader loses 10 % of his capital, he needs to make a return of 11.11 % on his capital to reach the original capital. If he loses 25% of his capital, the rate of return required to reach the original capital is 33.33 %. In case of a 50 % loss, the rate of return required goes up to 100 %. It is near impossible  for a trader who has lost a significant part of his capital to continue to trade profitably because of  the psychological  or other  issues involved. It isn't impossible, but nearly impossible.

That is why a trader requires a prudent set of rules to preserve the capital to ensure  his long term survival in the trading jungle. These rules have generally many names, and some of these names are risk management, money management, position limits, position sizing etc. The term risk management includes all the later named concepts, but the term money management does not involve the process of  position limits or position sizing.
The terms position limits and position sizing  are one and the same.

Money Management - Putting Your Eggs in Different Baskets.

Money management is the process of allocating the risk or loss capital to each trade. Under this process the allocation is always made as a proportion of the trading capital. It can be allocated on the basis of a fixed  unit method or a proportional method. 

Dividing the capital in to twenty units and allocating each unit to a trade is an example of the fixed unit method. It may also be noted that the total capital  is sufficient to cover just twenty trades in this case. It is learned that even in a fair coin toss situation, a continuous toss of  ten straight heads or tails is possible in one thousand tosses.  Under this fixed fraction scheme of things, allocation of risk capital rises as a proportion of the capital after sustaining losses and falls after the capital increases by substantial profits. 

Therefore, the proportional capital method, which allocates capital as a fixed proportion ( %) of the trading capital always is the preferred method. This method solves the above two deficiencies of the fixed fraction  system. In the proportional capital method, the amount allocated is reduced in case of losses and it rises where profits are available. For example, if a trader with a capital of Rs.1,000,000 loses it's 50 % and if he is allocating risk on the basis of a fixed proportion of 2 %, his allocation to each trade falls to Rs10,000 from the original  Rs.20,000. Similarly, if he has made a profit of 50 % and his capital has risen to Rs1,500,000, his risk tolerance for each trade rises to 2 % of the increased capital which is Rs30,000 now.

The concept of money management has just been explained and understood. The next step is to match the allocated capital to each trade and that process is called position limiting / sizing.

Position Limit - Matching the Risk Capital with a Trade 

In order to understand the concept, let us go back to our trade dated 20the January, 2010. The Nifty futures chart as on the day of the sell signal is shown below.

Nifty Future as on 20th Jan. 2010 

The discussion of the applicable stop loss is  repeated here verbatim. "The suggested stop loss points for this trade is the minimum of (a) previous minor high, (b) previous two bar high excluding the entry bar or (c) 2.5 % of the of the futures closing price added to the closing price.  If we examine the trade setup we can observe the following:

  1. The previous minor high was formed at 5290.
  2. The two bar high excluding the entry bar is also the minor high at 5290.
  3. The entry price of 5214 plus 2.5 % of the entry value is  4319.
Therefore the minimum of the above, that is 5290 can be chosen as the stop loss point. The stop loss point is higher by 76 points and this is about 1.46 % of the entry price."
Since we have fixed the market determined stop loss as 76 points or 1.46% of the entry price ,  the question is,  how  we can  match the risk points with our allocated risk capital. Let us assume that our trader is having Rs1,000,000 as capital and he has accepted a money management allocation of 3 % of the capital as risk capital for each trade. Therefore, the risk allocation for the trade is 3 % of the capital and that is Rs.30,000. 

Now, let us find out how many Nifty futures can be sold with the total risk allocation being limited to Rs.30,000 and stop loss being limited to 76 points per Nifty future. This figure can be arrived at by dividing the total risk capital allocated ( i.e. Rs.30,000. ) with the expected per future loss of Rs.76. 30,000/76 gives us a figure of  394 units. Nifty futures are being traded in lots of 50 units and it's multiples. Therefore, we need to divide the allowable 394 units with number of  units of futures in a single lot ( i.e. 50 )  to find the number of lots which can be traded. The answer is 7.88 lots. ( i.e. 394/50 = 7.88 ). This can be approximated either  to  the nearest whole number of 8 lots or to the lower number of lots i.e. to 7 lots. 

We have just learned the process of position limiting. Therefore, position limiting is the process through which a trader finds out the optimum number of the futures or shares to be traded  while keeping  the trade  subject to (a) a market determined stop loss and (b) the money management based risk allocation.

Points to Remember:

  • Allocate risk or loss capital as a percent of your total trading capital.
  • Find out a reasonable market determined stop loss.
  • Find out the number of units or lots of the instrument which can be traded under the above two parameters.
You may not calculate the position limits manually. We have an online solution and you are welcome to use the free Position Limit Calculator uploaded by this blog and hosted by Google Docs by clicking the link below.You are also free to download The Position Limit Calculator. For download instructions please visit the download page.

Mometumsignal's Position Limit Calculator - A Snapshot

The online Position Limit Calculator requires just four data points, namely (a) Trading Capital, (b) Risk Allocation in %, (c) Entry Price and (d) Estimated Stop Loss in points. Just enter the four parameters in the respective fields ( marked by arrows in the picture above ) and press the enter key. The calculator now gives out the number of units of the instrument allowed in the trade in the last field
( marked in the picture as output field )

Cheers and Prosperous Investing and Trading!!!

You can use the free online Position Limit Calculator from here.

You can also checkout the five year history of The Momentum Signal Spreadsheet from here.

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