Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lessons in Trading and Psychology - 4: Volatility

When we understand what is going on in the market, it gives us a psychological sense of clarity and control.  Much of our worst, reactive trading occurs when we feel out of control.  Looking closely at how the market is moving can provide us with understanding--and that can be tremendously helpful not only to our trading, but also to our trading psychology.

In hearing from many traders recently, I'm finding that they are having a difficult time adapting to the market's shifting volatility.  With volatility declining--and the volatility of volatility waning--we get choppier market conditions.  With volatility expanding--and greater vol of vol--we see momentum moves.  Many times, traders are zigging when they should be zagging because they are misreading--or *not* reading--market volatility.

Above is a tool I created in about 40 minutes from historical data via the e-Signal platform.  Here we're looking at the volatility (high/low range) in each five minute bar in SPY relative to the average range for that same time bar over the prior five trading sessions.  So, for example, we're seeing how today's 9:30 - 9:35 AM EST bar compares in size to the average 9:30 - 9:35 AM EST bar for the prior five trading sessions.

Note how, from the very start of trading yesterday, we were seeing relative ratios below 1.0.  That means we're getting less movement in each time period than we've seen over the past week of trading.  Very quickly that can alert you to the fact that this is not likely to be a high momentum market.  In the lower volatility environment, moves are less likely to extend and we want to be more selective about taking trades and opportunistic about taking profits.

Note also how it would be easy to create this relative volatility measure for any stock or index you're following.  We typically look closely at price movements and trends; we're less likely to examine how volatility is trending.  Adapting our trading to the market environment allows us to recognize when we should be trading moves and when we should be fading them.  That can eliminate a helluva lot of frustration!

Further Reading: