Leverage: the 9th wonder of the world?

Albert Einstein was once asked what the most powerful force in the universe was. After a thoughtful pause and not without a sense of humour, he replied that it was compound interest, which he would later describe as being the world's eighth wonder.

If we were looking for a candidate to fill the number nine spot on that list, we could easily pick another innovation from the world of finance; leverage.

If we look at a dictionary definition for the term, we find the following.

"The use of credit to enhance one's speculative capacity"

The concept of financial leverage is probably most familiar to us in a mortgage loan, a loan secured against a property.

To secure a mortgage, it’s normal for the buyer or buyers of the property to put down a deposit that acts as their “skin in the game”.

A bank or other lender finances the purchase price balance through a loan that runs over a fixed term, usually measured in 25-30 years.

This is made at a known or referenced rate of interest, which may be fixed or variable over the loan term. For example, the rate may be set at central bank base rates +X%.

The buyer of the property finances the loan through the payment of interest, which compounds over time to make the lender a healthy return on their loan, assuming all goes well.

The ever-present longevity of a mortgage and the nature of its commitment can be summed up through a literal translation of the word mortgage from the French, where it means “death pledge”.

Of course, that rather sombre definition only looks at the liability side of the transaction. It doesn’t take into account the opposite side of the coin, and that is the asset that the mortgage is taken out over.

All things being equal, the asset will have appreciated over the lifetime of the loan. And in modern times, it will have often done so to such an extent that its value now exceeds the loan's original value.

Under those circumstances, the death grip is loosened and may even be released completely if the property’s owners choose to sell it and repay the outstanding mortgage balance.

That’s all very interesting, but what has any of this got to do with trading and investing?

Well, just over 20 years ago, traders in London had the great idea to introduce leverage into OTC financial instruments such as CFDs and rolling spot FX.

This effectively democratised the availability of leverage in trading by providing it to the man in the street who could now gear up their trading account and speculate on the markets in a way that wasn’t possible before this point.

The availability of leverage in margin FX and CFD trading was a marketing team's dream. A whole new industry sprung up to offer these products (which had previously been the preserve of hedge funds) to retail traders.  

Eventually, competition for that business was such that brokers began to raise the levels of leverage that they offered to their customer base.

Put simply, that meant that traders could control an ever-larger parcel of stock, an equity index or FX pairs with a smaller and smaller deposit, which brings us to today.

It all sounds great. Because, of course, if your position was leveraged 500 times, then so was your P&L. A dollar profit became 500 dollars.

Well, not so fast because leverage is a two-way street that magnifies profits and losses.

And whilst leveraged positions in profits create equity in your account, leveraged positions that are in loss eat away at your account balance and ultimately undermine it completely.

Events in the spring of 2021 highlighted exactly why traders need to respect and control their use of leverage, and the consequences of not doing so could not be clearer.

Bill Hwang of Archegos Capital Management, a hedge fund turned family office with $20 billion in assets, effectively evaporated overnight thanks to a combination of risk concentration and excessive leverage.  

Put simply, the fund had too much money chasing too few positions.

You might have thought that having $20 billion to invest would mean that you wouldn’t need access to leverage, but Archegos Capitals strategy was to leverage that vast sum by as much as 7x times through a network of banks and brokers. The trick was that none of these banks knew just how much leverage the other parties had offered Archegos.

But no one, not even a hedge fund of that scale, is bigger than the markets, and when some of these positions fell in price and value, the fund’s brokers asked for additional margin to shore up its trading accounts.

By this stage, the banks were concerned about their own liabilities and whilst they were talking to each other about they should proceed, one or two of the banks started to try and close out the positions they held for the hedge fund.

Once word got out that this was happening, it became a free-for-all, and the stocks that Archegos held plummeted. And that, of course, created even larger margin calls that the fund had no hope of meeting.

Below is Archegos' biggest positions in their fund and how quickly things folded within a couple of days after the music stopped. ViacomCBS, a respected US media company, fell by over 50% in 2 trading sessions.

These events reinforced another lesson for traders - the one that says the end of the party is never pretty if everyone heads for the exit simultaneously.

It also reminded us of how an imbalance between supply and demand can influence prices (Gamestop or AMC, anyone?)

You probably haven’t got $20 billion, but you do have your nest egg and trading capital that you worked hard to build up. Please don’t blow it by leveraging and concentrating your risk in one or two big positions.

A disciplined approach to money management and risk is the key to successful trading and investing. When you don’t use that disciplined approach, it often goes horribly wrong, as the former Hedge Fund Archegos Capital found out.


June 2021 Holiday Hours

Due to a number of holidays coming up in the Australian and Hong Kong markets throughout the month, we thought we would let you know there will be some changes to our standard market hours during June. Some symbols that you trade may be closed for a period of time or open and close at unusual times, so please make sure you take the following changes into account.

Please note the following changes are based on MT4 server time (GMT+3)


What does this mean for you?

If you don't trade these particular markets where the hours are being changed, you can continue trading as per normal. However, please note that due to this holiday period, there will be reduced liquidity available, and spreads may widen on some products.

If you do trade these markets, please take note of the session changes so you can manage your position accordingly.

Do I need to do anything?
As mentioned above, there may be wider than usual spreads due to the reduced liquidity so please make sure that your account has been funded sufficiently. Log into your hub here to fund your account.

Don’t worry; we’ll still be working around the clock to answer any questions you may have.
Thanks for choosing to trade with us.


Why are we so terrible at selling?

That’s a question that has dogged professional investors for years.

Picking investments or trades to buy is one thing but when it comes to selling and in particular timing a sale its a whole different ball game.

In retail trading circles, this can cause us to snatch at profits and to run losing positions beyond the point where our money management rules tell us we should have closed the trade, with predictable results. It's a clear form of loss aversion (a cognitive bias that we should all be aware of) that stops us from making the rational call to close the trade.


Success in trading comes from running profits and cutting losses to grow our capital base and the ability to do this repeatedly, over as long a period as we can manage.


Having trouble selling isn’t confined to private investors, however. It’s a real issue among professional traders and money managers, unlike the science of buying or investing, which has been scrutinised to death by academics, analysts, traders and other financial markets participants. The science (or should that be the art of selling or divesting) has had precious little coverage in comparison.


The widely respected Barons magazine recently highlighted the asymmetry in professional money managers' selling ability and why professional can vastly underperform the market benchmark.


A research paper written by a mixture of US academics and specialists who measure investment performance or “skill “ as they like to call it, looked at 4 million trades made by money managers between 2000 and 2016 across 800 portfolios that on average contained more than USD 570 million of assets (aka "smart money").


The researchers found clear evidence of skill when entering trades or positions on the money managers' part, but it was a completely different story when it came to exiting trades.


In fact, the research found that the money managers were frankly shockingly poor when it came to timing sales, selecting what to sell and when to sell it. The researchers estimated that this lack of selling ability cost the managers returns of 2% per annum. Whilst that might not sound like much in insolation, if we consider the effects of compounding over decades that underperformance becomes hugely significant.]

That point is further reinforced by research by asset managers at JP Morgan Chase in 2014.

The fund managers looked at the lifecycle of 3000 US stocks dating back to 1980 what they found was striking as the quotes below show.


Risk of permanent impairment


“Using a universe of Russell 3000 companies since 1980, roughly 40% of all stocks have suffered a permanent 70%+ decline from their peak value.”


Negative lifetime returns vs the broad market.


“The return on the median stock since its inception vs an investment in the Russell 3000 Index was -54%. Two-thirds of all stocks underperformed the Russell 3000 Index, and for 40% of all stocks, their absolute returns were negative.”


Trades have a finite life cycle, and for the vast majority of stocks (or choose your asset class), they will often have their moment in the sun, get too close to it, and then fall away, never to return to those levels again. Identifying trades at their peak or going past their “sell-by dates" couldn’t be more important to an investment portfolio's performance.


In light of this knowledge, what can we do?

As with all the biases and psychological blackspots in trading that we discuss in our articles knowing and acknowledging that they exist half of the battle because we can modify behaviour accordingly once we have done that.


As traders in cash-settled margin products, we have an advantage over the money managers and asset owners described above. Simply because we are used to going both directions, e.g. shorting, on asset classes such as currencies and metals.


We take a 360 degree or holistic approach to the markets and the skills we use to decide to short USDJPY or the US 500 index can also be used to determine when a long position has run its course. Conversely, the skill set we use to identify a trading opportunity on the long side should also tell us when a short position is running out of steam.

Most traders we know of at Fusion do not hold their trades for more than a couple of days. Due to the power of leverage, they often don't need to since the gains can be enormous (but so can the losses we leave to run far longer than any positive P&L).

At the same time, why not make use of take profits or trailing stops to make sure you can squeeze that little bit extra out of the profit on the trade or set your levels and stick to them, without checking your phone or platform every minute of the day as we all do.


By adapting our mindset and the trading skills that we developed around opening trades, we can become better sellers or closers of positions and that will help us get the most out of the trades we make and the positions we take.

You don't have to suffer the same fate as the rest of the market - don't be a bad seller!


Anchors Away!

Or why we tend to rely heavily upon the first piece of information we receive.


Our minds can have an enormous impact on our trading and the returns that we generate from it. The way we think, act and behave when we trade or invest is at least as necessary if not more so than our trade selection, particularly in the kind of one-way markets that we have seen post the covid crash.  


A rising tide lifts all ships they say, and, in this case, the rising tide of the markets was provided by the printing presses of the major central banks along with the stimulus packages from national governments.


However, Central banks won't always be there to rescue us and we need to be aware of the kind of tricks that our brains can play on us if we are to avoid making the wrong trading decisions.


One of these tricks has a nautical moniker, anchoring, in which our brain subconsciously latches on to an idea, an assumption or a set of figures and uses that information in decision making, regardless of whether it's accurate or even relevant to the matter at hand.  


What's more, as humans, we tend to carry these impaired decision-making processes forward so that we end up using an inherently flawed system and often without realising it.


Behavioural psychologists have highlighted these tendencies in their experiments.  


In the case of anchoring American academic Professor Jay Edward Russo performed tests on 500 graduate students in which he asked them pairs of questions on history and general knowledge, but, unknown to the students, he had "salted "the questions with erroneous dates and figures.


The student's answers invariably reflected the incorrect numbers, which were varied across different groups of students within the experiment, highlighting a clear bias.


Professor Russo was effectively projecting those values into the student's subconscious, creating an anchor point.

When we become anchored to figures or a plan of action, we filter new information through that framework, which distorts our perception and decision making.  


This can even make us reluctant to change our plan or framework even if the situation calls for it.


There are few consequences if any when this happens in an experiment inside a university psychology department. Still, if it happens in the real world like in trading or investing, then there most certainly can be consequences.


Anchoring Bias has been described as one of the most robust effects in psychology, the fact that our decisions can be swayed by values not even relevant to the task (or trade) at hand.

Let's say we are negotiating the purchase of a house and I tell you it's worth $1,000,000, and I wouldn't sell it for less. You, as the willing buyer might have only had a price of $800,000 in your head. But all of a sudden, you now are anchored on my price. Not yours. The worst part is that the person who goes first in the negotiation tends to anchor the other party (remember this for the next salary negotiation you need to do with your boss!)


The studies even show that if you rolled a pair of two dice, gave the numbers (e.g. 10 and 19) to the study participant, that subconsciously, you would anchor them on these two numbers. Ask them what they would pay for a house, bottle of wine, or in one notorious study, the judges sentencing a criminal, these numbers are in and heavily influencing the participant's decisions whether they like it or not.


Anchoring always occurs in making our trading decisions, especially as it might help to explain our fixation with round numbers. E.g. EURUSD at 1.20. Gold at $2000/ounce. DJ30 - 30,000. Once we get hooked on the number, we always use it as a reference point in future, probably because it "feels right".  

Let's say in the past you might have successfully gone long EURUSD at 1.20 earlier in the year, and now whenever it comes back to that number, you will buy it again (the same thing happened to EURUSD at 1.10). You can't explain it, but you had past success with that number and you will gravitate towards it without understanding why.


Take a moment to consider some key support and resistance levels on your favourite instruments. Are they round numbers too? Why might that be? Could it be because people are anchored at Gold at $1900? And that every man and his dog has placed their buy orders at that level because it's "good value" or has spent time around that level in the past? Remember that the market is driven by sentiment and agreed upon narratives. Think what else could the crowd be anchored on that might be to your advantage knowing what you know now.

How do we avoid being anchored? 

Given that we don't completely understand the processes that cause anchoring to happen in the first place, we are unlikely to avoid it entirely.  


However, by being aware of its existence, we can revisit and retest our assumptions when making important decisions, to ensure that we are acting rationally and basing our decision on the situation at hand, not irrelevant inputs.


Perhaps the best way to avoid anchoring in trading is to treat every trade as an individual event and to judge a trading opportunity on its current merits. By doing this, you have a better chance to ignore any reference or prior interactions you have had with the instrument you are trading. It won't be easy to do at first, but it could prove to be a valuable discipline over time. As mentioned, this is crucial to comprehend for putting your stops and limits around key support and resistance levels.

Think about a time you have been fixated on a number. Was it buying a house? A pair of shoes? Trading? Now think whether that number could have been influenced by someone else, e.g. the seller, the shoe store etc.


Anchoring can certainly also play a part in other hidden biases and behaviours such as loss aversion (e.g. not wanting to close your open losing trade).


The next time that you are about to trade, take time to think about why you are fixated with that number for entering and exiting the trade, and how you reached the decision to pull the trigger. A few moments of reflection might make all the difference.


Would you rather be right or be rational?

In trading, as in life, we are faced with the need to assess complex situations and quickly make judgements or decisions. And in both cases, we can’t be certain what the outcome of those snap decisions will be. Though we have to deal with the consequences regardless, even if they don’t reveal themselves for some time.

I wonder how many of us look back at the choices we made and judge them solely by the outcome they achieved, be that good or bad, rather than looking at how we got to that endpoint?

Behavioural psychologists believe that if we look at events purely in terms of their results, we are under the influence of outcome bias and as such we are likely to have a flawed view on risk and reward.

That outlook has been famously summed up in the phrase “picking up dimes in front of a steam roller” which has been variously attributed to Nassim Taleb and or economists Martin Wolf/John Kay.

Whoever coined the term (no pun intended) got it just right, because if you are picking up those coins then yes you are acquiring money, but you can only afford to slip up once and then it will be game over, and in a very messy way.

Another renowned economist, John Maynard Keynes, wrote on the subject of risk-reward and outcomes, just over 100 hundred years ago, in his treatise on probability.

Where Keynes thinking differed from traditional schools of thought was that he believed that an event could be, what he called, objectively probable, even if it didn’t actually take place. And that it would remain so even if you were looking back at events at a future point in time.

For Keynes, it was more important to be rational in your decision making than to be right.

Keynes of course also famously said that “the markets can remain irrational for far longer than you can remain solvent “  

That is one of my favourite quotes on investing. It neatly sums up the practicalities of being rational versus being right, as far as a trader is concerned - Being right doesn’t necessarily make you money and in fact, even if you are right waiting for that to be proven could cost you a fortune.

Whereas being rational or pragmatic, and acknowledging that the market is “directionally right “ but for the wrong reasons (which is usually the sheer weight of money) is one thing. But then trading with the market until the point when the crowd realises their folly, is likely to be a more profitable approach in the long term.

After all, by adopting this approach you don’t have to time the market at all instead you just need to watch for the points at which the crowd turns. And to that, we can use momentum and sentiment indicators, which you can set up in advance.

In short, when it comes to trading at least, the process is more important than the outcome.

The British military has a saying which runs as follows: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

As a trader it’s hard to fault the logic in that statement, because if we believe that there is a symmetry between risk and reward, inputs and outputs, effort and results, and in trading where there must be a loser to offset every winner, why wouldn't you believe that?

Then if we don't prepare properly for each trade we make; we are not giving ourselves the best possible chance of making money.

We often say that a systemised approach to trading is the best one to adopt. What we mean is that we should have a framework of rules that we follow in each trade we make.

And we don't let our hearts rule our head or worst of all let our egos’ fools us into thinking that we have some special insight our secret trading sauce. Because in 99.9 times out of a hundred that won't be even remotely true.

Talent and luck will carry you only so far and many a sportsperson has built a successful career by recognising their own abilities and limitations, and then working hard to improve their technique and approach.

And in turn in recognising the weaknesses in their opponents game, which they can then exploit.

The opponents may still score against them but if they are reducing the rate at which they can score then they are doing something right, and they are slanting the odds of a positive outcome in their favour.

In trading, you won't win every contest but if you win more than you lose and have bigger wins and smaller loses, then, over the long term you will definitely come out on top.


A quick guide to the sentiment tools in the hub

A wonderful client of ours named Jimmy from up north in Indonesia wanted to learn a little more information about the sentiment tools that we have on offer.  We love helping traders grow and your feedback so figured it deserved its own post.

Because the sentiment is based on advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP), an advanced form of Artificial Intelligence, we know it might seem daunting to look at on first glance, so hopefully, you find the below Q&A interesting.  

What is the sentiment chart telling me? Is there any significance to the “wave” itself?  

The wave line is the sentiment score. The wave effect was created to show that contrary to prices on the particular asset class, the sentiment is not a precise measure. It is more a proxy than anything else.  

What is the sentiment score? How is that calculated?  

The machine learning model creates a sentiment score by scouring all of the words in the sources selected (e.g. nouns, pronouns, adjectives) within the articles it scans each day. In a simplified way, it is the difference of the score of the positive words (e.g. good, very good, great) minus the score of the negative words (e.g. bad, very bad, awful) embedded within the article.  

The calculation is made on a 24h rolling window with a recalculation latency of 15 minutes.  

The usefulness of the current sentiment the score is relatively short term (1-3 weeks).  


What is the subjectivity score? How did it arrive at this number? What happens if it goes higher or lower?  

The subjectivity is calculated on the difference between the factual words and the emotional words embedded within an article. If there are a lot of words that fall into the “fear” lexicon for instance compared to factual observation, then the gauge will be more inclined towards subjectivity or irrationality. At 0% the gauge would tell you there is no irrationality from the crowd and any article published is based on factual elements. If the gauge is above 50% and close to 100%, it means the crowd is a bit irrational about the asset and the price of the asset is not a reflection of its fundamental value. This is a great tool to detect bubbles in asset classes like equities.  


What is the confidence index?  

The confidence index is a relative index. It looks at the history of the volume of news and will scan over a period of 24 hours. If the volume of news is greater than the average of news published over the last 7 days, it would give you an indication about the quality of the sentiment score and how much trust you should have on it. e.g. if the sentient score is very positive but the confidence is low, you should be sceptical of the sentiment. In summary, the more sources and the more information, the more accurate the AI will be in providing its level of confidence.  

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