Welcome to “Shoot-out in Main Street”
(also called “Hop-a-long Cassidy and Forex Kid live at EST 08:30”)
I want to explain to you how so-called News Trading is the latest method devised by the marketing wizards to take your money.
The more subtle marketing wizards package it very scientifically. They use impressive looking historical statistics to show how price action unfolded immediately after certain economic data releases. See the pattern, they trumpet, and make money from it.
The less subtle approach explains how to beat the gun with proprietary data feeds on supposedly important data releases. In reality, most of these data releases have never had any significant impact on the forex market before, but despite this, the marketing wizards invite you to join them in the shoot-out by paying a monthly subscription in the belief that this will help you beat the market makers.
Before I go any further in showing you how to really lose your money, your mind and your interest in this most lucrative market, let me just tell you why I think you can pay attention to what I have to say on the topic. Apart from the fact that I describe in my book, Bird Watching in Lion Country – Retail Forex Trading Explained (BWILC), the absolute necessity of real-time analysis and the folly of basing a trading strategy for the long-term on very short-term technical analysis indicators – or other illusionary patterns – I also explain a term which I coined: “relational analysis”. This simply means that, if you are trading forex, you have to relate three things all the time: price, time and events.
News trading as a concept has mainly to do with “events” and specifically with those anticipated events that cause prices to move more than usual, but only briefly – brief even in terms of short-term trading. News trading as offered by the marketing wizards takes this concept and then distorts it to rob you of your money.
Non-farm payrolls: March 1998
My mentor is an institutional bond trader who has a simple view on technical analysis: “if the prices are high, it may be time to sell and if the prices are low it may be a time to buy”. (He amusingly referred to traders’ screens filled with every conceivable squiggle, line and indicator as Playboys – dirty pictures.)
The point he was making is that trading decisions were not made based on technical analysis other than for the basic positioning it could give you as regards where the price is now, relative to where it has been recently. If you are closely monitoring the market you will have a feel for this anyway, but charts are helpful for a quick snapshot picture.
Noting and being acutely aware of upcoming economic data releases was one of the main elements of his analysis and approach to understanding the market and price action. This is what he based his trading decisions on. At the time I started trading in 1998 I was only vaguely aware of things like CPI, PPI, trade balance, money supply, and unemployment – all the things that give economists and analysts that warm and fuzzy feeling – but I quickly acquired an interest, figured out what each of them meant and started using the Sunday papers’ business section to monitor releases and follow the comments.
At this stage I was trading bonds on margin here in South Africa.
I had no live real-time price feed, nor a charting service. After a few months I got a pager-based informational price feed which was about as real-time as you could get. In addition to price changes it also informed me of economic data releases. If you saw a price change occour that made you to want to trade, you used the phone to call the broker – who wasn’t in the primary business of fielding these sorts of calls – and so, if you were lucky you got through to someone who was willing to help, and that help usually took the form of discussing how stupid your anticipated trade was.
My dumbest trading idea ever – reborn: Class of 2006 News Traders
The idea of doing something on News Trading came to me after I had launched my Bird Watching Newsletter in August 2006. The first two newsletters covered the topic of leverage. I didn’t know what I was going to do for the third. And then it came to me as a flash-back to my days as an early bond trader, how I was going to beat the market. Dumb idea, the dumbest I have ever had. That was then, now it is 2006, but history is repeating itself. There are a lot of newbies thinking they are sitting on the best idea since sliced bread, but as they’ll find out, they are just being plain dumb.
I cottoned on to the revival of the “dumbest trading idea ever” (2006 version) when one of my clients who was trading a live account contacted me on the Instant Messenger, with an ominous “what’s happening here?” “Here” was the market and a recent data release, and “what was happening” was basically nothing. Yet my client was bothered. Why? (As background I should perhaps just mention that my main source of real-time information and analysis is CNBC Europe. All economic data releases are discussed beforehand, flashed instantaneously, and analysed afterwards. My television is near me, either with the sound on (not very often), or with the sound way down, which allows me to see the ticker and news flashes.)
So for a moment I was taken aback by the client’s question because as far as I knew nothing had happened and, the way I had anticipated it, nothing was supposed to happen. It was some minor data release in the US of no real consequence for forex and the release was basically as expected. However, zooming in on my very short-term charts I saw there had been a flurry of price action around this mundane data release and a relatively significant spike and then a reversal but, all said, no big deal, yet my client was anxious. Why?
And then the penny dropped. News Trading had become the big new thing. I should have picked it up, the signs were all around me. Marketing wizards were punting it. Bird Watching affiliates had become big on “News Trading” recently. I checked and sure enough, there had been a number of recent referrals from those sites. New clients increasingly had “News Trading” in their vocabulary. I should have seen it earlier, but there it was, the new manifestation of my old dearest and dumbest trading idea ever, the News Traders of 2006.
And where News Trading is present, sorrow, loss and confusion is never far behind. It was all so familiar. Of course it was much sexier now with instant information, many different feeds to choose from, analysts by the dozen, gurus by the bagful, and those exhilarating 1 minute and 5 minute tick charts tracking the rising and falling account equity of 1 minute-a-day News Trading “millionaires”, but the results were the same: people losing money.
Hop-a-long Cassidy and the Forex Kid
At school I read cowboy books. The only author I can remember now is the legendary Louis L’Amour.
Crossfire Trail; Showdown at Yellow Butte; Last Stand at Papago Wells; The First Fast Draw; The Quick and the Dead; The Sacketts; Hanging Woman’s Creek and many more.
If you haven’t read the books I am sure you would have at least seen a traditional western movie. The plot is pretty simple. There are cowboys and there are crooks. The crooks come to town and cause havoc. In ride the cowboys and you know the shooting is about to start. All the decent folk get out of the way, mothers grab children off the street, stores close, windows are boarded, old people get off the boardwalk, someone peeks from behind a curtain. There is danger in the air, and before you can say “shoot-out”, Main Street is cleared. The action starts, guns blaze, the bad guys turn tail. And sometimes there is an interesting sub-plot – some testosterone driven wannabe Kid with a gun joins in. He’s been told beforehand not to, but he can’t be dissuaded. He reckons he’s slick with a fast draw but he’s just an amateur. He comes up against the pros and the result is a dead Kid.
One of L’Amour’s books is called The Daybreakers … sounds a bit like The Day Traders.
The Class of 2006 News Traders know when there will be a shoot-out, they know it is going to be ugly, but they can’t be talked out of it. They’re the wannabe Kid. Don’t join the shoot-out, the greybeards tell them, but no, they know better.
The problem with shoot-outs is that so much can happen and there is a lot that can go wrong. For instance, the other guy can be faster on the draw. But he can also have a back-up man somewhere behind you, just in case. Crooks come in pairs (as do currencies). Shoot-outs are unpredictable, lead flying in all directions, and the only guy who benefits is the funeral parlour owner (the forex broker?).
News Trading 2006 version
As far as I can see there are two main strategies used by the Class of 2006 News Traders.
Strategy 1 – The fast draw
This dumb strategy asserts that by being quicker than the broker who gives you the prices to trade on, you can actually make money on a variety of data releases.
This can’t be done consistently, but people fool themselves into thinking it can with one or two text book examples, and using the perfect science of hindsight.
Strategy 2 – follow the leader
This strategy, equally unsuccessful, believes that if the prices go in one direction after the news release they will in the vast majority of cases continue to do so. This, despite good evidence that price action following data release is pretty much a random walk. Of course, this is not enough to deter Hop-a-long Cassidy and the Forex Kid, and they will grimly hang in there until the last bit of life blood is drained from their account.
Slick marketing wizardry shows technicolour examples of fantastic big directional moves on news releases according to the classic News Trading models, ie, the straight forward shootout. Recently however the reviews of their trades are punctuated, with “classical reversals” (being shot in the back?), exceptions to the rule, and other qualifications – only the traders using the professional services offered at a price (like opening and funding a live trading account) are privy to this “inside info”. In other words, simplistic marketing is used to lure Forex Kid to the shoot-out and the moment he arrives he is caught in a deadly crossfire. Doesn’t this sound ominously like the intra-day technical analysis models touted by the self-same forex marketing wizards?
Why do Hop-a-long Cassidy and Forex Kid keep ending up in the mortuary?
It is simply a fact, based on statistical probabilities, that when there is more than a certain amount of lead flying about, you will be hit.
When the shoot-out of data releases starts, the wise old men of Forex Town, sitting on the veranda’s day in and day out watching the daily lives of Forex Town’s folks, vacate Main Street. That is why they are old – remember the adage: there are old traders and there are bold traders but there are no old bold traders.
Many readers (at least all those who have read Bird Watching in Lion Country) know that one of the major delusions of retail forex created by the marketing wizards is that the forex market is ideal for technical analysis. Every marketing wizard trick was initially built on this illusion. People with a deep understanding of technical analysis, which most starry-eyed newbies in the forex market don’t have, know that one of the pillars of technical analysis is accurate volume information. If a move occours on high volume it is much more meaningful than a move on low volume (because a move supported by volume is likely to continue and not peter out in a false break).
Where’s the volume control?
In the spot forex market there is no reliable real-time volume information available, particularly on the retail level. Notwithstanding this, extreme importance is given to technical analysis by the marketing wizards and volume was simply substituted by fast price moves, which, I might tell you, is a wholly inadequate replacement. In other words, a relatively large / fast intra-day price move is seen as extremely important – it must have been on large volume, the argument goes. This, however, is bogus. A large, fast move in the forex market can be caused by almost anything.
Believing it is volume just because the price is moving fast and far, will cost you dearly.
On an intra-day level, fast and relatively large price moves are usually caused by a lack of liquidity. In fact it is a situation of lower, not higher volume and the pros actually don’t like trading if they feel the liquidity is thin and they are not getting the prices they want.
Volume in the currency market can come from two sources: either very large single transactions by a single or handful of participants with the same objectives, or many participants with smaller transactions with the same objectives at any given time. If you for one moment think a number of rational, professional money managers, traders or executing agents will use an erratic data release to do large transactions, you will seriously have to rethink even your most basic assumptions about the forex market. Since 2001 there has been an explosion in general forex market volumes and a large portion of this increase was due to the growth in the numbers of hedge funds and smaller money managers like Commodity Trading Advisors (CTA). It is certainly fair to assume that this large increase in the number of participants contributed to both better liquidity and larger volatility across all time frames in the FX market.
Nobody in his right mind, with his business or bonus at stake, is going to do highly leveraged trades and take undue risks when price movements are random. You have to understand that this is simply not how professional investors or traders, responsible for other people’s money, trade. Highly leveraged gambles on intra-day events are just not part of their repertoire. These guys are pros, and if it is not part of their repertoire, it should not be part of yours.
Don’t trust your mother, but trust your forex counter party
Because the forex market is not a centralized exchange regulated by exchange rules which assure participants that their transaction will be honoured, you have to trust your counter party. What makes this dynamic so interesting is that your counter party also has to trust you and that if this mutual trust is violated someone is going to come short.
Unfortunately retail traders are prone to seek opportunities to exploit the perceived faults in their counter parties’ armour. The moment that this threatens the sustained profitability of the counter party these schemes fall flat – they always have and they always will.
Scalper arbitrage was probably the first of these schemes. As marketing wizards competed to lure more clients, they decreased spreads and margin requirements which opened opportunities for arbitrage pip scalpers to enter the fray using a variety of tricks at the expense of their counter party – the market maker. The pip scalpers had fantastic demo account track records. Things changed the moment the market makers’ (real) money was on the table. This was probably the first fight that the retail traders (the pip scalpers) lost hands down against the market makers, who simply instructed their dealers to identify the pip scalpers who didn’t heed the warnings, and take them out. Problem solved.
The second one was straddling news releases. The thing the retail traders tried to exploit was marketing wizards luring clients with guaranteed fixed spreads and guaranteed stops. It was basically just the US non-farm payrolls that really attracted this group a few years ago. They would place entry orders on both sides of the market just before the data release. Apparently a win-win scenario. So what did the market makers do? They refused to guarantee that they would execute your price on the level you had entered it. As a result they could enter you at a bad price and then take you out on the stop on the retracement and even if you then made money on the other leg of the straddle, it was hardly enough for you to cover your loss on the first stopped-out leg.
However, systemic risk for the market maker remained a problem. If a few hundred or thousand retail traders take 100:1 and 200:1 bets on a data release, the market maker became seriously exposed. Market makers are there to make money, not to run the risk of blowing up on one economic data release.
The problem was that they had to cover themselves against the positions taken by the non-farm payroll straddlers by hedging their exposure at their own clearing houses. Now you try to convince a big bank dealer to take a huge position one minute before non-farm payrolls release. He will send you packing. So the market makers couldn’t off-set their risk and thus had to carry the risk of huge and highly leveraged positions themselves. One bit of bad luck and a whole month’s profits could be wiped out.
The market maker makes the rules
There was a particular non-farm payrolls day a few years ago during which, just before the release, the market was run up about 60 or 70 points and on the data release it was run down about 150 points. Blood flowed on “Forex Street”. The shoot-out was rigged. Rumours abounded that a large futures company caused this outrageous price movement. The market makers had had enough and changed the rules of the game to restore order and prevent news release straddles that could harm them.
How did they do this? Well, they made adjustments to their business practices and their contractual arrangements with clients. Spreads are fixed under normal market conditions and so stops will be honoured under normal market conditions, but not under abnormal market conditions – market makers were free to widen their spreads and thereby pass the risk on to the trader. Sometimes they simply wouldn’t allow traders from entering orders shortly before keenly watched data releases. And the decision as to what constitutes normal and abnormal market conditions rests exclusively with the retail forex market maker. Problem solved.
The Class of 2006 News Traders vs Market Makers
Straddling is no longer an option, so News Traders do the next best thing. They try to beat the gun by guessing the direction of the market’s first move, and then they try to benefit with highly leveraged positions.
There are a few challenges, however:
Being fastest on the draw. This means you need to get a good price close to the pre-release price and before your market maker removes the arbitrage opportunity (initial price spike according to News Trading theory) in an instant.
Being fastest on the draw also means you have to draw faster than the rest of the mob trying the same thing. The risk of them jumping the gun enters the equation.
Before you can actually start drawing to shoot, you have to decide what this data release actually means and how all those who react after you, will react to the data release. What will have the main and immediate affect, the headline or the details?
In other words you must take a guess if this data release will indeed cause a large enough move for you to risk taking the highly leveraged position and secondly, you have to guess correctly the direction of this move vis-à-vis the US dollar.
Opportunists who can see what is going on don’t try to jump the gun but jump in counter the first spike, causing more erratic price movements.
Here is a challenge for anybody who thinks he is going to make a living by consistently beating the odds in a well-publicised shootout with the ever-evolving dynamics I have described above.
Let’s assume you will be able to beat the gun and regularly get an extremely good fill on your news trade. All you will be dependent on then is to analyse the market correctly to understand if the first spike will be up or down (let’s look at it from a USD perspective).
How do you determine that? Well that’s the question, and it doesn’t have a simple answer, despite what the News Trading gurus, analysts and TV talking heads say. There are simply too many factors playing a role: the history of this particular data release, expectations, how far expectations are off or might be off, the actual figures of the data release, the expectations’ reaction to its own expectations, the expectations reaction to the data, it just goes on and on until the final result is just another bout of randomness.
If you don’t believe me try tossing a coin over a period long enough to get a representative sample and then compare your results with that of your guru’s.
News Traders – architects of their own demise.
Let’s look at the dynamic the Class of 2006 News Traders cause in the FX market:
They don’t straddle the market beforehand. They jump in the market on the data release mostly in the same direction (there aren’t many gurus promoting this loony method to lose money). What happens? They cause a sudden great demand for a currency, let’s say euro. As a result euro’s price spikes up – I am talking a few seconds. Our news traders’ orders get filled usually at a worse price than they had hoped for but nevertheless they are in the market and then two things happen – this is before most professionals, still looking at the details of the release, even paid attention to the immediate price action. First this sudden demand just vanishes, so there is no upwards momentum to cause the follow-through the news traders hope will give them their measly pip target on their highly leveraged position. Secondly the weak “highly leveraged” hands with a few pips profit decide to get out, and in a wink there is suddenly euro supply and a turnaround materialises.
During all of this you have a market maker trying to make a decent market for decent clients and now having to manage this crazy action in a traditionally illiquid market. It took a very prominent forex market maker specialist – in fact the one currently with the highest net capital according to the CFTC reporting – about two months to figure out that they have a bunch of hooligan traders on their hands that could cause them serious damage. Their response, as I mentioned above, was to start fooling around with the spreads in order to discourage and chase away News Traders.
Fixed and floating spreads are a topic of a future newsletter, but understand this: widening spreads, thus increasing the cost and the risk to deal, is a basic protection mechanism of the forex market. In the week following 9/11 the New York Stock Exchange was closed as a protective measure against market meltdown. The forex market increased the spreads to 30 – 40 pips on the most popular pairs and 80 – 100 pips on the less liquid pairs.
News Trading is fundamentally an arbitrage opportunity, but like all arbitrage opportunities it will vanish very quickly if the market catches on. There is already evidence that this is happening and this evidence is clear from the reporting of the sudden change in fortunes of some of the gurus now selling this as a subscription opportunity. Whereas past records are reportedly flawless, recent records are certainly not.
In this case, just as with the initial pip scalpers, the arbitrage is basically a duel between the mob of retail traders and their market maker. There will only be one winner.
The death knell for News Trading as a popular strategy
Why do people latch on to News Trading? Because they buy the pitch sold to them by marketing wizards that News Trading is the new way to become a consistent winner. There is no other reason. Unfortunately marketing wizards have already realized that News Trading can make good money for them (but not for you). Here is the proof:
One of the biggest forex marketing wizard companies is behind the popularisation of the 2006 News Trading fad. You must understand that News Trading only makes sense if it is done highly leveraged and very regularly. According to this specific crowd you must push the leverage and you must, wait for this, “place close stops”, because “it will be suicide to use the high leverage without close stops”. (And this is true, but it is only a half-truth, and as with all half-truths it is the other half that kills you.) If this strategy were to be put forward by an individual he would appear foolish. But touted and encouraged by a market maker and their introducing brokers it appears legitimate and savvy.
I downloaded a free report some two years ago from a company. The report gave statistical evidence regarding very short-term price behaviour and supports my contention that it is basically random and that there is no edge to be derived from searching for repetitive linear patterns in these very short-time frames. This company has now changed its view on the randomness of short-term price behaviour. Needless to say they now push News Trading. Unlike some outfits who ask subscription fees for their services (guessing which way the market will go after data releases) everything is free, but you must open a trading account to use their automated News Trading service at the big marketing wizards mentioned above. Even documentation prepared by the big marketing wizards above is provided by this company.
It is pretty clear who sits behind the current popularisation of News Trading. The beneficiaries of regular highly-leveraged-tight-stop trading strategies are the market makers and their marketing agents who promote the viability of this kind of hair-brained trading.
(I again want to point out that while professionals may even play along and have a punt on some data releases it will never be a consistent feature of their professional strategy to expose themselves to any great degree. Yet this is what you are encouraged do: take all your trading capital, gear it up like crazy and take a punt on what is essentially an event with a 50 / 50 probability of satisfying your highly leveraged bet. The placement of a close stop practically ensures that in every instance you do not make money, the market maker gets a nice pay out in addition to whatever he made on the spread.)
And that is why I say you can bet your bottom dollar that most fools who try News Trading will lose. Different game, but the same people are selling it. Here is an example of why you should be very afraid.
A prominent and respected analyst at one of the largest market makers (and marketing wizards) wrote an article on News Trading in which the technical analysis approach to intra-day trading is debunked. Now this should make your ears prick up because they were (and still are) the very ones punting it – to take your money. Ever innovative, they have come up with News Trading as the big new thing, though in this research article news trading in the spot forex market is discouraged.
So what is the solution – can retail traders win?
Yes they can win. They can win if they first of all do not fall for the tricks of marketing wizards. In order to be able to do that you must understand the market very well. Secondly you need to have a strategy that is, or has aspects of it, used by professionals. Thirdly, and this is very important – you must not catch the unwanted attention of a market maker. Do not violate the trust relationship that is supposed to exist by trying to exploit weaknesses in the system and create a scenario where your market maker can only lose. He holds the aces because he can change the rules of the game. If you have a strategy that offers a winning edge, you will be able to negotiate this market and make money without resorting to any fundamentally flawed concepts and tactics which attract the sort of attention from your counter party that will end up costing you money.
There is more than one way to make money trading any market and there are a myriad of factors playing a role in being successful, including having a scientific edge, being a master of relevant analysis and working through the constant changes in the markets. Success as a trader does not come cheaply, it does not come overnight and it does not come from running after every fad touted by marketing wizards. Success is hard earned, requiring application of, and dedication to, sound trading and business principles. Bird Watching in Lion Country – Retail Forex Trading Explained is a thorough introduction to what you need in this regard and it explains in sufficient details my strategy and methodology that have served me and my clients well.
Love them, hate them but don’t mess with them: My take on forex brokers.
Dirk D. du Toit
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