Three Simple Rules of Winning Forex Traders

11/28/2008 12:01 am EST


Boris Schlossberg

Managing Director of FX Strategy and Co-Founder of BKForex LLC, BK Asset Management

About two weeks ago, I went on CNBC and predicted that range will rule the currency markets for the foreseeable future. The price of EUR/USD at the time of broadcast? 1.2630. The price of EUR/USD at close of trade today? 1.2590. So range reigns in the currency market as every rally fails and every decline proves false, breaking the hearts of both bulls and bears, and that dynamic will probably last for the rest of this year. Thus, with little new to say and a holiday-shortened week ahead of us, I thought we'd change the format this week and skip the price action review, concentrating instead understanding the basic building blocks of successful trading.

This past week in Kuwait, I gave a presentation titled "3 M's that Drive the Currency Market." It showcased a simple analytical framework created by K and I to explain most of the price movement in currencies. The 3 M's stand for Macro, broad economic and political themes; Micro, day-to-day economic releases; and Monetary, for monetary policy of the G10 nations. The 3M's model, though relatively straightforward, does a very good job of encapsulating virtually all of the catalysts in the FX market.

As I was flying back to US, my thoughts drifted to the 3M idea, and I realized that trading itself can also be summarized in a three-variable model—a model I call the “Three Simple Rules of Winning Traders.”

Rule 1: Develop an Opinion

Whenever I hear traders tell me, "I don't have any opinion, I just trade price action," I always smile ruefully and think to myself that the trader is both an idiot and a liar. The fact of the matter is that every time you enter the market, you are implicitly rendering an opinion on the future movement of price. The difference between those traders who do so implicitly versus those who put forth an explicit reason for their trade is that the former have no clue of what they are doing, while the later at least try to figure out the story behind the trade.

It goes without saying that I have little respect for traders who mechanically follow price action like mindless robots. In trading, you get paid not for what is happening now, but for what will happen in the future, and if you cannot figure out what is likely to drive price towards your target, you are just a lemming in the market. Right or wrong, developing an opinion is the cornerstone of a winning strategy.

Rule 2: Let Price Confirm Your Thesis

To politely paraphrase a very crude Wall Street saying, opinions are like faces—everyone has one. Developing an opinion—even one that is ultimately correct—is utterly worthless if the market happens to disagree with your assessment. The history if trading is littered with brilliant analysts who were absolutely correct on their calls, and yet were bankrupted by the vagaries of price action before they were ever proven right. Your opinion may be dead on, but as traders it is price movement, not opinion, that we are trading. Until and unless price corroborates your opinion, you have no entry signal for your trade.

Rule 3: Manage Your Trade

More than anything else, great traders are good money managers. I've always believed that you can put two great traders on the opposite side of a position and often both of them will wind up making money. On the other hand, put two novices in the same spot and they will more than likely both lose. Trading is above all the art of managing the unknown. Let's say you own a sandwich shop in some strip mall in Nebraska. Most likely, you would know to within ten or 20 sandwiches how many customers you will have every single day of the year. Now imagine that sandwich shop was the FX market. The day-to-day variance would drive most sandwich shop owners insane. Some days you may sell 500 sandwiches, other days you may have to dump all your food supplies into the garbage as no business came through your door. That's why trading at its core is always about managing risk. Every time you trade, the operating principle is “Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.”
The only way we've been able to control risk and at the same time participate in the market is by always cutting our position in half once a short profit target is met. No matter what anyone tells you, there is simply no way to know a priori if any given trade will be successful. At BKT, we really believe that half a loaf is better than none. Success in trading is contingent not only on your analysis, but on your ability to properly manage your position. That is why the game is hard. To be a winning trader, you must be both a good analyst and an excellent risk manager.

Here for this week's video to show you what I mean:

By Boris Schlossberg of

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