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By now, everyone should be familiar with the Pareto distribution. Named after an Italian economist from the late 19th century it is colloquially known as the “80-20 rule”. In many disciplines in life, 80% of results come from 20% of factors.
Pareto first noticed the phenomenon with respect to land ownership in Italy where 80% of the land was owned by just 20% of the population. The distribution is not always exact but it is a good general approximation for how things work in real life. The Pareto principle shows up in phenomena as diverse as geography (80% of the population lives in 20% of cities in the US) software (80% of all computer errors in Microsoft products was caused by 20% of bugs) to of course income distribution (where roughly 80% of all assets in the US are owned by 20% of the population).
The Pareto principle is part of the larger structure called power laws and love it or hate it is an inextricable part of life that we need to accept if we are to understand how the secret of success.
Nowhere is the Pareto principle more evident than in financial markets which are the very quintessence of power laws in action with most spoils going to the very few. In trading, the universal truth is that 80% of your profits will come from 20% of your trades, or conversely if you choose to trade like an insurance company 80% of your losses (more like 90% in real life) will come from just 10%-20% of your bets.
This is precisely what makes trading so challenging for most people. It is psychologically impossible to accept losing 8 out of 10 times only to make everything back on just 2 big bets. It’s especially so because after losing 3 or 4 times in a row most traders pass up on a setup – which inevitably turns out to be the one trade that is the winner that pays for all the losers.
Essentially trading is the art of looking for lottery tickets – just read the history of any of the great traders from Soros to Tudor Jones to even Jesse Livermore and that fact become obvious.
So how do you create a money management system to accommodate the Pareto principle and at the same time make it psychologically palatable? The only way I know how to achieve that goal is with a short exit/long exit structure or as K and I always call it T1/T2. The idea is to always trade with 2 units. The exit on the 1st unit should be slightly less than the stop and in an ideal world allow you to win 60% of those trades. Then you move the stop on the 2nd unit to breakeven and aim for at least two times risk and maybe even three times risk on the second part of the trade.
This week in my coaching webinar we ran test after test of our trading strategy against a variety of major currency pairs looking at the past 100 trades in each. Inevitably the T2 target was hit between 19%-25% of the time, proving the Pareto principle right.
Although on the face of it such payout odds would seem to be a losing system (run 10 trades with 50 pip stops and 100 pip targets and only win 2 out of 10 times) the blended strategy actually proved to be very profitable.
The reason the T1/T2 strategy worked was that the short exit eliminated about 20% of additional losses. As Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger often say the key to their success is not picking winners, but avoiding as many losers are possible.
The T1/T2 structure offers two key benefits. First it skews the math in your favor making the overall results positive or far less negative because it minimizes the number of losses, but more importantly, it creates a much more human-friendly trading environment by increasing the total number of winning trades.
By the way one final note on our tests this week – only two out of ten currencies we tested produced positive results that were responsible for the vast majority of the overall pip profit, proving that the Pareto principle operates on the portfolio level just as it does on the single trade level.
There is nothing we can do about power laws in nature, but to accept their presence. But we can survive and thrive in the market environment if we start using the T1/T2 money management system to conquer both Mother Nature and our own behavioral biases.