Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stop-Loss Trading Strategy

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Many traders face a question what strategy to use in order to protect portfolio from big losses. In most cases this question is narrowed to a selection of a stop-loss strategy. A stop-loss strategy choice is very important, yet, is very confusing and can put even an experienced trader in a corner. The problem is that there is no straight answer on what system to use. A stop-loss selection completely depends on a selected trading vehicle, a personal trading style, risk tolerance, invested money and in addition it depends on the stock market itself.

I will try to go through some of the factors that may affect the stop-loss strategy.

1. Selected Trading Vehicle: Depending on what you trade, a stop-loss would be different. If you are buying and selling stocks 2-5% stop-loss could be sufficient for your trading system. However if you are buying options then 2-5% stop level could be hit very easily and you could be willing to look for 20-50% stop-level. If you trade uncovered options you could even think about setting stop-loss above 100% of the premium received. Even if you are trading stocks the stop-loss level could greatly differ from stock to stock. More volatile stocks would require bigger-stop-loss than the less volatile stocks.

2. Personal Trading Style: There are different trading system and different trading styles. Some traders are buying equities for long-term investments of pension funds and they make one trade per one-two years. These traders could be ready to set stop-loss to 10% and above. On the other hand a short-term trader who makes 5 trades per week may not be willing to risk setting stop-loss bigger than 1%.

3. Risk Tolerance: Twenty years old trader may lose everything and he/she still will have time to make some money and come back to trading and investing. However if you are close to retirement you should know the edge when it is better to get out of a game. If you are seventy years old you could be willing to set tighter stop-loss than.

4. Invested Money: If you have only $2,200 on your account and you invest all of them on margin ($4,400) in one trade, your stop-loss should be below 5%. Otherwise you risk losing more than $200 in a single trade and you may lose your ability of trading on margin. At the same time a trader who invest a $1,000 into a trade and who has $100K on the account could be ready to lose all 100% of the invested money (all $1,000).

5. Stock Market: The market condition is the most important factor that many traders skip. The market has periods of different volatility. During a steady uptrend, as a rule, the market is less volatile than during a recession and the market is extremely volatile during a stock market crash. It is logical to adjust a stop-loss trading strategy to the market volatility. It is unusual situation when the long-term uptrend (when market is less volatile) to see bigger than 2% DJI index moves within a single session. Furthermore, a short-term DJI trader would be looking for tighter than 2% stop-loss. At the same time, during a recession when market is more volatile the odds are very good for bigger than 2% DJI moves up and down within a single session and the same short-term trader, who is brave enough to trade in volatile market, could be willing to consider less tight stop-loss.

As you see stop-loss selection is not as easy as it seems from the first view. A lot of factors should be considered and there is no straight answer. Each trader has to find it out by him/herself. A trader should not copy any other trader - what works well for one trader does not necessary will be good for another trader. You can and you should look what other traders do, but not mimic them. If you decided to use somebody's style, learn it first and then use your knowledge to build your own trading strategy or adjust existing one to you personal trading needs. Do your own homework and do not think that your trading system is invincible and you will never have a negative trade.

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