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The Order Of Things Matters

Every now and again I get sent a magic trading system complete with equity curve, generally these are some sort of magic system someone is flogging that promises massive returns and never has a drawdown. They are the sort of quit your job with $10,000 and intra-day trade FX and make $10,000 per week. If you have been around markets long enough you will have seen this sort of thing – I have to give them some credit because at least they include and equity curve as opposed to simply quoting some mythical average return like fund managers do. Equity curves do convey a lot of information – they tell you about the trajectory of funds that have been invested. You can get a sense of how bumpy the journey might be and whether you could stomach the trip. However, the thing they do not tell you is the role of luck in achieving those particular returns. The returns a trading system generates and in turn its equity curve are uniquely sensitive to luck – not so much in the sense that the trader may have gotten lucky and run into the largest bull market in history which is entirely possible. But rather they are completely dependent upon the order in which the returns where generated.

To give you a simple example of this consider the chart below. In this chart I map the value of $1 invested in the All Ordinaries and $1 invested in the All Ordinaries but with the returns reversed so the return for 2015 becomes the return for 1900 and so on.

True Vs Reversed

I have plotted these on a log scale so you can get a sense of the journey – you can instantly see how simply reversing the returns changes the track of the curve. The reversed values lag behind the true values for 2/3 of the time, it lags for the first 30 odd years, catches up and then begins to lag again from the mid 1970s’. The true returns have a terminal value of $437,097.87 whereas the reversed values top out at $420,087.87. Simply changing the order costs the system $16,941.77

The same is true small changes in return – in the true return the years 1985 and 1986 were power years. They were the high point of the 1980’s bull run in terms of absolute returns with a return of 44% and 52% respectively but in looking at returns the question needs to be asked as to what the curve would look like if these were just average years of 9% return. Traders tend to spend too much time thinking about all the ways it is going to go right but very little time is spent on what could go wrong.


The true values have the same terminal value of $437,097.87 wheres the changing of 1985/86 to average years drops the return to  $264,251.37 – a difference of $172,846.50. Whilst this does make for an interesting through experiment it also has practical implications. Trend following systems are built upon the outlier years – this is what generates their returns. If you miss these outliers then your returns over time will be ordinary. Traders do have a habit of missing these years simply because they are either caught in someone else’s narrative and miss market moves, they dont believe the move when it happens because they have a preconceived view of how much an instrument/position is worth or they are caught by the limiting belief that you can never go broke taking a profit. I lost count of people in the mid 1990’s who thought that COH was overvalued at $3.00. Granted its path to $157 has not been linear but its move to $45 was as close as you can get. This move is gone forever for such traders and will never return.

The same situation applies to the random reordering of returns. The chart below is the true returns compare to a randomly reordered sample of the same returns.


The randomly reordered returns show almost a century of relative under performance including a substantial initial drawdown. So when you look at an equity dont take it as gospel, think  of the ways in which the journey could have changed with a few simple alterations or slip ups along the way. The overall aim of any form of system design is to produce a system that is incredibly robust and which shows profitability over a wide range of conditions and events.  In trading you need a little luck but you do not want to be dependent upon it.

ETF’s that ate the world

Interesting graphic from the Investment Company Institute showing the flows of cash into index ETF’s and out of actively managed funds.


Even when they’re profitable every day, high-frequency traders aren’t making much money

Virtu Financial—one of the world’s largest computerized trading firms—made money every trading day last quarter. The problem is that it made less of it than in the past, as volatility in the financial markets has dried up in recent months. Big price swings are good for high-frequency trading strategies, as machines can swoop in and take advantage of market shifts.

While many high-frequency trading shops are secretive about their results and plans, Virtu is listed in New York, so its required updates provide a view into the state of the industry. The company’s profit from trading fell in just about every category last quarter, with net income from currencies and commodities taking the biggest hit, each declining some 30% versus the same quarter last year. The company’s share price fell by 8% in early trading.

More here – Quartz

YTD Performance

As we sail past the half way point of the year I thought I look in the rear view mirror might be interesting to see how a few select markets have performed. There are no prizes for guessing that the local market has been shit.



The Scientific Method & Investment Management


Apparently Its All Over For Commodities

Commodities form an important part of my trading universe, in fact as a I par back my universe of instruments they form a more and more integral part of what I do. This pivotal role occurs for a few reasons ranging from ease of trading, price discovery and familiarity. The first trade I ever did was on a gold stock and the interest has stuck with me for decades.  You would therefore expect that I take an interest in the market so I had more than a passing interest when this article dropped into my news feed. There are a few points I want to dissect. However before doing that it has been my experience that there are two interesting phases in the life of any market. The first is when people start to tell me this time its different. Etched indelibly into my brain are the words of Irving Fisher who could be considered one of the worlds first celebrity economists who days before the 1929 crash uttered the immortal phrase stocks have reached a permanently high plateau. The second phase is that when someone tells you that a given instrument is stuffed beyond repair and will never go up again. Neither sentiment is reflective of either the cyclic nature of markets nor the psychology of traders.

Point 1 – Firms leaving the business.

This is an interesting point because it points to the number of prop firms leaving the business. However the number of retail investors exposed to commodities via ETF’s has grown dramatically so there has been a shift in the markets demographic away from wholesale to retail. The five largest commodity ETF’s managed almost $6 billion in assets.

Point 2 – Low Volatility

This point highlights one of my enormous bug bears it is the confusion between volatility and trend – the two are not the same and one doe not rely upon the other. I thought I would take a further look at this and just have a look at the distribution of volatility within the gold market. The first thing I did was simply look at the average 15 day volatility for a given number of years ranging from 15 years to the YTD and the results are shown below.


Depending upon the look back period you can make a point that there has been a drop off over time in volatility . However volatility is relative concept and the current volatility in the gold market is sitting at 11.8% which is just below the average volatility for the YTD. Yet price has trended from around $1,000 to $1,350 and then back down to around $1,000. Looking at short term volatility tells us nothing about the trend. When looking at volatility I thought I might be missing something so I broke the look back period into five year blocks to get a sense of how it might have changed over time and the results are below.


When volatility is broken into blocks you can see that over time volatility has increased and then tapered off a little. The so called halcyon days of two decades ago that every longs for actually had markedly lower volatility than recent times.

I should also point out that volatility in the crude oil market regularly spikes to beyond 60% so i am not sure where this missing volatility has ended up. Again it is probably the perennial confusion between trend and volatility.

Point 3 – Correlation

This point always interests me because people very rarely make it clear whether they are talking about price correlation or returns correlation. Most people when they talk about correlation talk about price without meaning to. The correct measure in such situations is the correlation between the returns across asset classes. True diversification is generated when you generate uncorrelated returns. Te first chart below looks at the daily performance correlation for gold, S&P 500 and crude oil.


There is what appears to be an emerging positive correlation between gold and the S&P 500 and this surprised me a bit and I was suspicious that it was an artefact in the data so I generated a new series of data that looked back to the beginning of the century because my suspicion was that what I was seeing was actually the stagnation in gold and the rise of the US market post the GFC.


Looking at the data over much longer term gives a clearer picture of what is actually happening. As US markets collapsed gold recovered and as US markets recovered gold suffered so to my eye the emerging correlation is somewhat of an artefact in the data. Much is implied in the article about how good commodities trading was in the past but it needs to be remembered that gold took 31 years to surpass its 1980 highs. That’s a long time between drinks if you are a long only trader as many commodities firms were. Commodities are the magic swing through mutli hundred dollar range tools that people think they are.

Point 4 – Leverage

An irrelevant point if you know what you are doing. Leverage has been a function of commodities markets from day one and is the staple of FX markets and they dont seem to have any problem coping.

Point 5- Liquidity –

I am not certain what the point is here since volume in the majority of commodity markets has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Point 6- Regulation

This is an old catch cry – if you dont know what you are doing blame the regulator. In some ways this is the same as football coaches who blame the umpire for their team being rubbish.

Point 7 – Its downright difficult

There is a particular sentence here I want to highlight –

For one, their idiosyncratic characteristics can make price forecasting practically impossible.

Price forecasting for all instruments is impossible. For those who need a quick refresher on how stupid this sort of thing is I give you Jon Boormans wonderful, regularly update guru predictions chart.


Any attempt to predict price in any instrument is an exercise in delusional stupidity of the highest order.

The upshot of all of this is that the majority of things written about markets that have any sort of predictive narrative about the trajectory of a given market or markets is largely irrelevant and that includes this piece. The simple fact of all markets is that they are cyclical in both tone and the level of investor involvement. If I can defer momentarily to a local example. If you were to look at a comparison between housing and equities as an investment choice you would say that equities are dead. Yet funds continue to invest in them and prices continue to go up and down and some prices go up a lot.  The same is true for commodities and I doubt it will ever stop being true.



Sovereign Wealth

I do hold a more than passing fascination with the idea of Sovereign Wealth Funds – I find the idea of a nation being a custodian of the wealth of the nation to be intriguing. I am also interested ( read fucken appalled) in how badly managed our resources are. For example in 2021 it is estimated that Australia and Qatar will ship roughly the same quantity of liquefied natural gas (about 100 billion cubic metres) For which Qatar will receive $26.6B in royalties whilst we will collect $800M. A staggering disparity – you could say that our incompetence has cost us $25.8B. Alternatively you could say our government has given away this amount of money to someone else for whatever reason. The rationale for governments doing this is up to others to decide.

When thinking about such funds I wanted to see what the latest league table looked like and Google was very helpful and I assembled the following table. I extend it to the 15 largest funds to include our domestic fund.

SW Raw

As you would expect the rising might of China sees it in first place whilst we sit at 13. I decided to re rank this table according to population to get a measure of efficiency and to actually see how much benefit per citizen the funds generate.



China slips from number one to number 13 – so much money but also so many people. Adjusting for population size only moves us up three places. The absolute superstar of such funds is Norway who have an enviable record of managing their North Sea oil and gas revenues. We can only dream of what the size of our fund would have been if the countries resources has been properly managed

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