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Trading Book Reviews

Book Review: Currency Trading in the Forex and Futures Markets

[easyazon-link asin=”0132931370″][/easyazon-link]I’ve just finished going through [easyazon-link asin=”0132931370″]Currency Trading in the Forex and Futures Markets[/easyazon-link] by Carley Garner. This is the second of Carley’s books I have read following A Trader’s First Book on Commodities. That book, and her regular article writing, motivated me to include Carley as a contributor to my Trading FAQs book and to do an interview with her in support of that. As you will soon find out, this existing relationship has little bearing on my objectivity where this new book is concerned.

On the plus side, this book does a pretty good job of outlining the different ways one can trade the currency market (spot, futures, options, ETFs). There are good explanations of the mechanics of forex trading in its different forms, as well as the primary methods used in the analysis of the market. This includes an in-depth discussion of the Commitment of Traders (COT) report as well as a limited section on forex seasonals.

My major issue with the book is the author’s bias. She is a futures broker, which puts a major lean in her perspective. This is not unexpected, but the blatantly manipulative fashion in which she casts retail spot trading in a negative light is something I find distasteful. She does it repeatedly in the early parts of the book by presenting some of the often-discussed concerns that have come up in the spot arena over the years (mainly related to forms of potential dealing-desk broker manipulations) with full commentary about how and why this could be a risk for someone getting into the market. Then, at the very end, after ratcheting up the reader’s fear level, she finishes with a line something like, “But that almost never happens.” This is the sort of thing I come to expect from politicians, not from book authors.

The casting of spot forex in a negative light, either directly or specifically relative to futures, happens throughout the conversation. I don’t mind that she has a preference, but I’d like to see a more objective discussion with less of an outright attempt to influence the reader. (I personally have traded forex through all the markets she discusses and continue to do so in different ways based on what I’m trying to do in the markets)

There’s also something of an error of omission in the comparison of spot and futures in terms of interest rates. The author rightly comments on the whole roll-over, interest carry mechanism that takes place in the spot market at the end of each trading day. She fails (as far as I saw) to note that the interest rate differential is also a factor in the futures market as it is priced in.

For me the negatives outweigh the positives, so I’m not inclined to recommend this book, though I did like her previous one.

Make sure to check out all my trading book reviews.

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Reader Questions Answered

What’s going on with volatility?

Yesterday Michael Covel posted a reader question on his blog:

“As i am going through my different portfolios i am wondering what’s up with Eurodollar, seems to have extremely low volatility, much lower than another futures. Any idea whats going on?”

Covel, of course, is a big proponent of trend trading, having written Trend Following and also The Complete Turtle Trader, which is a look at the Turtles, who were very much trend traders. As a result, his fairly predictable response was “Who cares?”.

My own response to Covel would be that volatility was specifically included in the Turtle system, so it definitely matters. To the extent that someone could anticipate changes in volatility they can better manage risk.

Going beyond that, though, is simple market reality. I don’t know whether the person asking the question was referring to Eurodollars or EUR/USD (the Eurodollar term is sometimes wrongly used to refer to the currency exchange rate when it’s supposed to refer to US dollars on deposit outside the US). It doesn’t really matter, though. As my comparative volatility analysis shows, on a relative volatility scale, those two markets are low readings. So the answer to the question above is “That’s almost always the case”.

To address things from a fundamental view, if the questioner is indeed talking about Eurodollars, then it’s simple. US interest rate policy has been very stable for quite some time now (ZIRP), so there’s been no reason for short-maturity fixed income markets to show much volatility.

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The Basics

The Cost of Trading

Last week I wrote a post for the Currensee blog addressing a recent SmartMoney article attacking forex trading from the perspective of costs. The article was full of misinformation of the sort I’m coming to expect from those writing about forex (and trading in general) from a journalistic point of view. I wasn’t shy about taking the author and her editor(s) to task for the piece’s short-comings.

One of the core elements of the discussion in my post was the impact of spreads on one’s trading. In the spot forex market spreads are readily visible because that’s how the market presents price feeds. In exchange-traded markets, however, spreads are often quite opaque because it’s traded prices that are the dominant presented part of prices feeds. The fact of the matter is, however, that bid/ask spreads exist in all markets.

Over the last couple days I’ve been collecting spread indications from a wide array of markets at random 15-30 minute intervals during the NYSE trading day (to ensure that all markets involved are open and active rather than including pre-market and other non-primary sessions). Here is the result of the study including some of the most actively traded market instruments.

The equity instruments were selected based on regular inclusion among the most actively traded securities (on a shares basis), so the list includes a couple of index ETFs as well has high profile individual stocks. The Treasuries list includes the current on-the-run securities, meaning the ones most recently auctioned. The futures prices are for the standard contracts except where specifically noted. Prices for the noted forex exchange rates are from the EBS dealing system. All of the above information was derived from real-time prices. (Keep in mind that markets less active than the ones presented here will tend to have wider spreads.)

The Data
I’ve a couple of primary sets of information in the above table. One is the spread. In order to standardize the comparison, I’ve expressed that in terms of the dollar value of the spread relative to a $100,000 trade. Obviously, these securities trade in a wide array of different contract and position sizes, so this isn’t meant to indicate some real-world fixed contract value. The $100,000 was just selected to make the spread values as expressed in dollar terms easy to understand and compare side-by-side. The “Avg $ Sprd/$100k” column shows what the average spread was based on about 30 intraday observations, with the “$ Sprd Rng” column indicating the range of spreads observed.

On the right side of the table I’ve incorporated broker commission estimates to provide a second set of comparative information by way of total trading cost. I’ve used $7.95 per side for the equity trades and $7.95 per round turn for the futures contracts. Brokers often will do commission-free transactions for Treasury trades, so no commission is factored in there. Similarly, zero-commisson trading is readily available for retail forex trading, so no commission is factored in there either. Obviously, the reader can replace what I’ve listed with their own numbers for a more personal comparison.

And the winner is…
If you want lowest cost trading then you want to stick to the short-term interest rate market. Spreads on 2yr and 5yr Treasury Notes are under $10 for a $100k trade, and they average under $3 for 3mo Eurodollar futures (note that this is Eurodollar, not the EUR/USD exchange rate). It’s worth noting that these are the very same markets where my volatility comparison between markets shows the lowest levels of volatility.

Beyond the short-term rates securities, the all-in cost of trading for the major forex pairs holds a modest edge over most of the other instruments included in the study. The futures markets, however, are mostly fairly close. It’s in the individual stocks where we start to see the total costs extend away from the overall group average, largely because of the broker commissions.

Market maker’s dream
Of course the one figure jumping off the page is the spread cost of Citi (C) stock. The bid/ask spread is $0.01, and the stock is (at this writing) trading below $5. That means the spread value is quite a bit higher than the same spread for the Qs trading in the $50s. Now consider that 350-400mln shares of C traded during the period of the study. That’s better than $1.7bln worth of volume. At about $205/$100,000 we’re talking about something around $3.5mln in spread differential per day!

It’s good to be a market maker in Citi shares these days!

Factoring in leverage
Note that in now way is leveraged trading factored into the figures above. They only reflect costs per $100,000 traded. That means costs as related to the value of one’s account is going to depend on how much leverage is being applied. For example, someone trading $100,000 worth of EUR/USD on a $10,000 account (10:1 leverage) will have a cost of about 0.1% ($11.10/$10,000). Similarly, someone trading $100,000 of the SPY on a $25,000 account (4:1 leverage) would have a cost of about 0.09% ($23.14/$25,000). To fairly judge the cost comparison between markets, one needs to do so on the basis of how much leverage is being applied and how frequently trades are being done.

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Trading News

Expanding Margin Rates in Silver

The CME Group yesterday announced that it would be bumping the margin on the silver futures contract from $5000 to $6500 effective today. That’s a 30% bump, which no doubt has impacted some traders. In making this move, the exchange increased the margin from about 3.6% (at current prices as I write this) to about 4.7% (a silver contract being 5000 troy ounces). The chart below explains the move.

Silver prices have jumped about 50% since the end of August. Back then, the $5000 margin was about 5.4%. Volatility was also significantly lower. Now we’re looking at a much higher price and significantly higher volatility. The futures exchanges will make adjustments to margins based on both factors as they see fit. It’s interesting in this case, though, that they haven’t bumped it up to the approximate level it was before.

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Reader Questions Answered

What about the Forex Market?

Frequent emailer Rod is back with another worthwhile question.

Hi John,

I know you are a position trader in the stock market, using a variation of CANSLIM. You are a day trader in ES, using Market Profile. I think these are great ways to approach these markets. That’s why I would like to know how do you approach the Forex market:

– Are you a position trader? If so, do you scale-in or pyramid to build large size or do you difersify as much as possible?

– I know you use weekly Bollinger Bands and forex seasonals, but is that enough to time your entries or do you use other tools or analyses?

Thank you.

Rod

Before I talk about my forex trading, let me back fill a bit for those who haven’t followed my work. The strategy for the individual stock trading I do – which Rod correctly notes has CANSLIM as it’s foundation – can be found in an appendix to by book The Essentials of Trading. It is a strategy which combines technicals and fundamentals, and I figure on holding positions for 8 weeks when I put on a trade. The ES (mini S&P 500 futures) trading I do definitely utilizes a Market Profile approach, though I wouldn’t strictly call it day trading because I do sometimes carry positions overnight.

Now, as for forex, I do like being more of a position trader, holding trades for weeks or even months to catch good-sized trends. Sometimes I also play more swing time frame trades. Regardless of the time frame, though, my approach is basically the same. I use the Bollingers to find situations where a new trend looks likely to develop, pretty straightforward chart analysis to identify entry and exit points, and the attractor ideas from Market Profile to identify likely target points.

As for the forex seasonals, I use those to bias or filter my trading, especially the more swing oriented positions. For example, if a pair I like to trade is biased higher in September I’ll look for good long entry opportunities. I’m also planning some research into more mechanical strategies there.

In terms of scaling in and things of that nature, my history has been mixed. I’ve definitely had some times where I’ve added to positions as a trend unfolded in my direction. Other times I’ve just gone the all-in route from the start. I’m not a diversifier specifically. I do look to avoid getting overweight in any specific risk area (like being too long or short a particular currency), but because I tend to focus on one position, or at most a small number of them, at a time it really isn’t an issue very often.

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Trading News

CFTC expanding its COT reporting this week

I’ve posted on the subject of the Commitment of Traders report a few times on this blog as being a useful tool (Commitment of Traders: A Weekly Report Worth Viewing). As part of a general move toward more market transparency, the CFTC, which produces the weekly report, has been working on making it more useful. To that end, they are coming out with a more detailed report for the financials starting this week. Here’s the story from Reuters.

 By Nick Olivari and Christopher Doering
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Thursday it will provide more information on positions held by large traders in financial futures markets, part of its push to boost transparency.

The new data, to be released weekly starting on Friday, “will provide the public with a better view into the financial futures marketplace,” said CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler.

The report will cover about 30 markets, a CFTC official said, including interest rates, foreign currency and debt.

Nearly all U.S. financial futures are traded at the CME Group <CME.O>. In the second quarter, CME handled 12.16 million contracts a day, 9.2 million of which were financial futures.

The new data will be a companion to the CFTC’s weekly commitment of traders report, published each Friday, which breaks down open interest by broad commercial and noncommercial categories.
The new report will show open interest by held by four categories of large traders:
– sell-side dealers, including large banks
– buy-side asset managers and institutional investors, including pension funds, endowments, insurance companies, mutual funds
– leveraged funds, including hedge funds and other money managers
– other traders who mainly use market to hedge risk, such as corporate treasuries, central banks, smaller banks and mortgage originators

The CFTC began issuing similar expanded trader reports for commodity and energy futures last September.
CFTC said similar to this report, the new data will provide a breakdown of each Tuesday’s open interest for markets in which 20 or more traders hold positions equal to or above the reporting levels established by the CFTC.

A CFTC official said the agency analyzed almost 4,000 traders across the markets using its “Form 40” and other data to determine which of the four categories a trader belongs to, and will soon upgrade its form to provide better data.

The CFTC said it also will make available four years of historical data dating back to June 13, 2006 in a couple of weeks.

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Reader Questions Answered

Adding on to The Essentials of Trading

Hi John,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Lee Rush and I’ve just purchased The Essentials of Trading and I’m loving it. I noticed that you also have a few tutorial DVD’s that accompany the book which I am interested in. Would your tutorial ‘Jump Start to Forex’ give me anything that the book/course wouldnt? I really am at ground level at the moment and I’m just trying to fill myself with as much info as possible!

Thanks again,

Lee R.
Manchester, UK

This is actually a message left for me a while back on Trade2Win. Sorry that I didn’t see it sooner Lee! Glad you like the book, though. 🙂

To answer Lee’s question about the “Jump Start”, no. That video, which I don’t really promote anymore, is something covered quite well in the early part of the Essentials book and the course. If you’ve got either one you’re good to go.