Lessons in Money Management

Money management is the process of analyzing trades for risk and potential
profits, determining how much risk, if any, is acceptable and managing a trade
position (if taken) to control risk and maximize profitability.

Many traders pay lip service to money management while spending the bulk of
their time and energy trying to find the perfect (read: imaginary) trading
or entry method. But traders ignore money management at their own peril.

The story of three not-so-wise men

I know of one gentleman who invested about $5,000 on options on a hot stock.
Each time the stock rose and the options neared expiration, he would pyramid his
position, plowing his profits back into more options. His stake continued to
grow so large that he quit his day job.

As he approached the million-dollar mark, I asked him, “Why don’t you
diversify to protect some of that capital?” He answered that he was going to
keep pyramiding his money into the same stock options until he reached three to
four million dollars, at which point he would retire and buy a sailboat.

I recently met a second gentleman at a dinner party. He told me that six
months ago he began day trading hot stocks. It was so profitable, he said, that
he quit a flourishing law practice to trade full time. Amazed at his success, I
asked him, “How much do you risk per trade, a half point, one point?” He
replied, “Oh no, I don’t like to take a loss.”

A third gentleman was making his fortune buying the hottest stock(s) on the
momentum list(s). He, too, was on the verge of quitting a successful business.
When asked about his exit strategy, he replied “I just wait for them to go up.”
When asked, “What if they go down?” his reply was, “Oh, they always come back.”

What ever happened to these “traders?” Gentleman number one is now homeless,
and the other two are about to be. They are on the verge of financial
devastation and the emotional devastation that goes along with it. This is the
cold, hard reality of ignoring risk. How do we avoid following in the footsteps
of these foolhardy traders? Three things will prevent this from happening: 1)
money management, 2) money management, and 3) money management.

The importance of money management can best be shown through drawdown


Drawdown is simply the amount of money you lose trading, expressed as a
percentage of your total trading equity. If all your trades were profitable, you
would never experience a drawdown. Drawdown does not measure overall
performance, only the money lost while achieving that performance. Its
calculation begins only with a losing trade and continues as long as the account
hits new equity lows.

Suppose you begin with an account of $10,000 and lose $2,000. Your drawdown
would be 20%. On the $8,000 that remains, if you subsequently make $1,000, then
lose $2,000, you now have a drawdown of 30% ($8,000 + $1,000 – $2,000 = $7,000,
a 30% loss on the original equity stake of $10,000). But, if you made $4,000
after the initial $2,000 loss (increasing your account equity to $12,000), then
lost another $3,000, your drawdown would be 25% ($12,000 – $3,000 = $9,000, a
25% drop from the new equity high of $12,000).

Maximum drawdown is the largest percentage drop in your account between
equity peaks. In other words, it’s how much money you lose until you get back to
breakeven. If you began with $10,000 and lost $4,000 before getting back to
breakeven, your maximum drawdown would be 40%. Keep in mind that no matter how
much you are up in your account at any given time–100%, 200%, 300%–a 100%
drawdown will wipe out your trading account. This leads us to our next topic:
the difficulty of recovering from drawdowns.

Drawdown recovery The best illustration of the importance of money management
is the percent gain necessary to recover from a drawdown. Many think that if you
lose 10% of your money all you have to do is make a 10% gain to recoup your
loss. Unfortunately, this is not true.

Suppose you start with $10,000 and lose 10% ($1,000), which leaves you with
$9,000. To get back to breakeven, you would need to make a return of 11.11% on
this new account balance, not 10% (10% of $9,000 is only $900–you have to make
11.11% on the $9,000 to recoup the $1,000 lost).

Even worse is that as the drawdowns deepen, the recovery percentage begins to
grow geometrically. For example, a 50% loss requires a 100% return just to get
back to break even (see Table 1 and Figure 1 for details).

Professional traders and money mangers are well aware of how difficult it is
to recover from drawdowns. Those who succeed long term have the utmost respect
for risk. They get on top and stay on top, not by being gunslingers and taking
huge risks, but by controlling risk through proper money management. Sure, we
all like to read about famous traders who parlay small sums into fortunes, but
what these stories fail to mention is that many such traders, through lack of
respect for risk, are eventually wiped out.


Money management involves analyzing the risk/reward of trades on an
individual and portfolio basis. Drawdown refers to how much money you’ve lost
between hitting new equity peaks in your account. As drawdowns increase in size,
it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to recover the equity.
Traders may have phenomenal short-term success by taking undue risk, but sooner
or later these risks will catch up with them and destroy their accounts.
Professional traders with long-term track records fully understand this and
control risk through proper money management.

Dave Landry is principal of Sentive Trading, a
money management firm, and a principal of Harvest Capital Management. Mr. Landry
is the author of two top selling books, “Dave Landry’s 10 Best Swing Trader
Patterns And Strategies” and “Dave Landry
On Swing Trading.” His website is www.davelandry.com.

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