All of trading is a compromise based upon what you want out of the market and what the market can give you at any given time. It is at this early point in my section that people begin to get frustrated because they become obsessed in part by the need for perfection. Trading is not a perfect endeavour – it can never be because we are dealing with both people en masse and our own failings. We, therefore, have to generate a mechanism whereby we navigate these imperfections and still move towards profitability.
The same is true for selecting things such as our set up, there is a line of thinking that one number must be better than another. The only perfect number you choose is the number you can stick to because it reflects both what you want out of the market and what you can actually do. For example, people become obsessed with the notion that they must trade something like FX and they must do so at the shortest time frame possible because this is what they have been told they should do. Yet such advice in no way reflects the reality of what can be done let alone what should be done.
The imperfection of trading can be seen in the fact that all trading systems throw up losing trades and all trading systems at times miss winning trades, this is simply the nature of the beast. There is no magic formula that guarantees instant trading success and to try and search for it is a fool’s errand. There are broad principles such as trade with the trend and not against it and control your losses but these are broad ideas. But it is their very generality that defeats people as they get sucked into the minutia of trading looking for more and more fidelity in the hope that this will overcome their own insecurities and offer them some form of guaranteed income. The markets can offer you none of these things because it is not a job – the market is not the old-style public service were you got a job for life and a regular pay check. You are a contractor who reapplies for their job at the beginning of every trading session and your success or failure relies upon your capacity to deal with this constant uncertainty.
The current movements in the market have left traders scrambling for all sorts of explanations as to why the market has gone down. Undoubtedly many will take it personally even asking the question why could the market do this to me. In doing so they have failed to understand a basic tenet of markets – they go up and they go down. The fact that occasionally they do go down should therefore not come as a surprise to anyone but apparently, it does. What is more intriguing is that it always comes as a surprise. This surprise may be a function fo simple optimism bias, I am in the market, therefore, it will go up which is much the same as I have a lottery ticket, therefore, I will win. In part, it is probably recency bias, for the lives of most investors, the US market has gone up. This is akin to the shock real estate agents had when they found out that house prices can actually go down. This was a shock to them because in their short careers house prices had only ever gone up and given that so few people are students of the markets they are actually involved in anything that departed from this preconceived notion must be a shock.
As a bit of a history lesson consider the words of Robert Watson-Watt, who was instrumental in developing Britains early warning system that gave the RAF an edge over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. He put forward the idea of the “cult of the imperfect”, which he stated as “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes”. The same can be said of trading systems, traders who sit around tweaking, optimising or seeking maximum efficiency never actually get around to trading whereas those with a few basic rules that recognise the true nature of the markets and not the noise actually get on with the job. Likewise, those who are consumed by narrative are always looking in the rearview mirror in an attempt to see what is right in front of them.