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Ask most traders what are the possible outcomes of a trade and they will inevitably give you a binary answer.
You either win or lose.
But if we think about it for a second, there is actually a third choice. You can neither win nor lose. In short, you can basically not lose and close the trade out for even. If we go over our many trades, there are countless examples of trades that may have started out badly only to rally to breakeven and then ultimately fall apart.
The art of NOT losing is perhaps the most underappreciated skill in day trading. It is, in fact, the foundational strategy of high probability businesses like insurance and casinos. Insurance companies are of course notorious for eliminating any possibility of large payouts. They are in the business of collecting premiums but the moment a client presents any type of collectible risk they move swiftly to cancel the policy. The insurance companies much like casinos will make sure to rig the rules so that customer has virtually no chance at collecting a payout.
So in Las Vegas, they will stop you from counting cards in blackjack and in Hartford they will make sure to exclude all coverage of any malady you may already have. Indeed, the current debate on pre-existing conditions in Trump-care is simply an attempt by insurance companies to collect as much premium as possible while providing the absolute minimum coverage necessary to satisfy the contract. Indeed, as my wife just pointed out to me under Trump-care pregnancy will be considered a pre-existing condition and could cost insurance buyers as much as $17,000 in out of pocket expenses even if the woman has full coverage.
Now we can all lament the evils of the insurance business, but it has a lot to teach us about trading. The more I trade the more I realize that there are really only two viable models of making money. The low frequency, high-profit model where your wins are very few but are massively larger than your losses and the high-frequency high probability model where the losses are very rare.
We are all familiar with the fact that throughout the whole history of the stock market all of the gains have come from only 20% of all publicly traded companies. Fully 80% of stocks are long term losers. And even amongst the 20% of winners, it is only a handful of equities that are responsible for almost all the stock market returns.
That’s why index investing is so hard to beat. When you buy the index you are essentially buying the whole lottery pot and betting that you will capture the few jackpots that will pay for all the losing tickets. Little wonder then that the hedge funds have been getting killed looking for the diamonds in the ruff amidst a pile of garbage.
But there are other actors in the market that actually play a very different game. HFT (High-Frequency Trading) funds have gotten a bad rap for being nothing more that digital “front runners”, but in reality, they employ a wide array of strategies almost all of them focused on mitigating risk. In fact, HFTs are the kings of the “not lose” trade as they break even on as much as 50% of their positions per day and yet make money almost every single day. Big firms like Virtu have lost money only on one day in six years.
If we are day-trading, the insurance model is the way to go and the “not lose” trade should be studied much more seriously. It is the hidden key to long-term trading success.