Seinfeld Shrinkage Scene George Jason Alexander

Size Matters to Traders, Too

By:Anton Kulikov

It is the decision that invariably determines your long term trading success

  • Size is the reason too many traders lose over time.
  • A trader can be right on direction most of the time and still lose if their size is too big.
  • Changing your average position size and dollars at risk too frequently can result in a near 100% chance of risking ruin.

The most important decision traders have to make is not whether to buy or sell, but rather how big the position is going to be and how many dollars will be at risk.

Your risk when buying or selling stocks or futures

Take a simple trade like scalping equity futures at the market open.

The volatility (on average) of a /ES contract after the open is roughly two times greater than the volatility of the same contract before the market open.

That means someone who is trading one contract of the /ES futures before the open could see the actual risk jump by 100% if they hold the trade through the opening bell. Why is this important?

If the trade is going in your favor before the opening bell, by holding the trade into the opening market session that means if you are wrong on the direction, you could see your position lose money even though you were right on direction before the opening bell.

In this example, you saw two periods, one with high volatility and one with low volatility. In both periods, the actual dollar value of the position remained the same, and your success rate in picking the direction was 50% (right before the open, wrong after the open). However, if you were wrong in the period where volatility was greater, you may be at a net loss even though your direction picking was 50%.

Another example of this phenomenon can be found at the blackjack table in Las Vegas. If you press your bets while playing, you automatically reduce your probability of walking away with money because you are increasing volatility after a win. Like in the last example, you could win 75% of your hands and still walk away a loser because the hands you lost cost more money than the hands than you won.

Keeping our win rate and sizing consistent

Have predefined stop losses and profit targets based on dollar amounts only, regardless of how volatile the market is.

It sounds intuitive, but staying disciplined in this area is the biggest differentiator between long-term winning and long-term losing traders. Setting predefined profit targets and stop losses not only keeps you discipled but also forces the win rate and size to be consistent over time no matter what happens in the markets.

As an example using a bracket order, if you set your profit target on a trade to be $100, and your stop loss to be $200, then you essentially force your win rate to be 67% and the volatility in your portfolio will remain the same because the amount you are willing to make or lose on any trade is the same regardless of what the market does.

Taking this one step can turn your unpredictable results into a much more consistent portfolio over the long term.

Anton Kulikov has a decade of trading experience. He leads research content creation at tastylive, appears on over 20 live shows including Futures Power Hour, Options Jive, and Research Specials LIVE co-authored bestselling investment strategy book Unlucky Investor’s Guide to Options Trading, and contributes research content for Luckbox Magazine 

For live daily programming, market news and commentary, visit tastylive or the YouTube channels tastylive (for options traders), and tastyliveTrending for stocks, futures, forex & macro.

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Options involve risk and are not suitable for all investors. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before deciding to invest in options.

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