Author Archives: JLTrader

Screening the DARWIN Providers

Following the discussion in the comments section of this blog post, I decided to  put my investor cap on and write an article on screening DARWINs. For those who don’t know already, Darwinex is an FCA (UK) regulated broker and asset manager where traders can have their strategies packaged into an investable product called DARWIN ( Dynamic Asset and Risk Weighted Investment). Darwinex takes care of all the regulatory and logistical issues; you’re left with doing the trading, and just like if you were running a CTA or hedge-fund, you’re compensated via a percentage (20%) of the quarterly profits you make for your investors.

At the time of this writing, there are already 521 DARWINs listed, that investors from all over the world (excluding US and Japan) can invest in, starting from $200.

There are three major red flags that I have identified when browsing through the DARWIN providers list and I think potential investors should be aware of them.

Firstly, the number of strategies a provider has: there is no limit here; it can be anywhere from one to a ridiculous 24 strategies. I’ve already mentioned how professional traders have built a career and are known for one style of trading or investing. The same thing is true for other fields such as law, medicine or sports. In order to excel at something, one has to specialize. How then can a person who most probably is trading part-time be on top of not 2 or 3 strategies, but 24 ? I’ve heard the following argument: they are run on EAs (robots) and therefore the requirement for human involvement is greatly reduced. My answer to this: someone must monitor and constantly reevaluate them. How can you keep an eye on 24 EAs when hedge-funds have one or more persons working full time on strategies executed pretty much automatically too ? Furthermore, why don’t you select the very best 2-3 of those 10-20 or whatever and only list them ? Or is it that you don’t really know/trust what you’re doing and just throw out there as many DARWINs as possible, hoping to get lucky on at least one of them ?

Secondly, the amount of capital that the trader backs his strategies with. There is an important proviso though: low capital doesn’t necessarily mean bad and high capital doesn’t necessarily mean good.

If all I have is ten dollars and I risk it, I am much braver than when I risk a million, if I have another million salted away. – Jesse Livermore

Having said that, what rational person would invest any money in a provider that has for instance $50 a piece on 10 DARWINs ? The minimum amount you can open an account with at Darwinex is $500. But there’s no threshold for opening a sub-account with a fraction of that amount and listing a DARWIN. Consequently you can find many DARWINS that are backed with less than $100 of the provider’s capital (those cases where the ‘trader’s risk’ is <$100 and VaR is close to 100).

Thirdly, many strategies are run on absurdly high VaRs – 50%, 70% even 100%. In other words, those strategies can lose a significant percentage of capital or blow-up in any given month. This type of trading is more often than not a sign of an amateur.  Now, because DARWINs are standardized for 20% VaR, investors are protected from a sudden blow-up. Some DARWINs will even be profitable, despite the fact that the underlying strategy is losing money. Notwithstanding these facts, why would an investor back with capital such reckless trading ?

I believe that only after eliminating those DARWINs that display the above red flags (usually if a DARWIN has one red flag, it will have all three of them), can we continue the due diligence process by looking at the strategy, performance metrics and so on. All this in future articles.

Past Performance Is Not Necessarily Indicative Of Future Results

Since I published Following Forex Trading Signals Is Dangerous To Your Wealth in November, I received a fair amount of criticism/abuse sparked by my comments on  SPM Capital Management. While I don’t expect too many of those people to reconsider their thinking, I do hope some will start looking beyond the surface when discussing performance track-records. I can summarize the message of my critics as follows:

  • SPM has a very good and consistent track-record – 145% over 15 months with only one down month (-5%)
  • you have only 2 months and you’re down -5% so you’re a bad trader
  • his performance is far superior and therefore you have no business criticizing

Now, let’s look again at the title I chose for this article. It’s not some meaningless, small-print disclaimer that money managers are legally required to display. It’s a very profound statement of fact. To wit: just because trader X has had good performance, it doesn’t mean he will have good performance going forward. The reverse is also true: poor performance up to the present time doesn’t necessarily indicate poor performance into the future. By looking ‘under the hood’ of the strategy/trader, or in other words, doing due diligence, a professional allocator will get a pretty good idea of how indicative the past performance is for future results.

I’ve already mentioned the problems I see with both the strategy and the trader behind SPM Capital Management, so I won’t go into that again here. What I want to drive home to you is the fact that by looking only at the return and draw-down numbers of a track-record, you’re getting a distorted and limited segment of the whole picture.

Some would argue that what I’m saying might be true for track-records that have only a few months, but not so for longer (+1 year) ones. Yes, the bigger the number of trades and length of market exposure the track-record covers, the more significant it becomes. However, we can’t use any arbitrary cut-off point (6, 12, 20 months and so on) to confidently say that because up to that point the hidden risk hasn’t materialized, it won’t ever do so in the future. Think about it: if you’ve driven under the influence/over the speed limit 10 times and got away without any accident or having your driving licence suspended, it doesn’t mean this is the safe and right course of action going forward.

Letting your losses run is one of the most common hidden risks (or time bombs, call it what you like) in trading. I’d say it’s as destructive for a trader as drink-driving is for a driver. Either one of them can use plenty of excuses of why they did it and how they are ‘special’ and won’t be affected by any negative consequence. In both situations, they can get away with it for quite some time. For a while, they can even look smart – think of the trader who cuts his losses and has a negative performance vs the one who waits for the market to come back until his positions are in the green again.

To conclude: high past returns might reflect excessive risk taking in a favorable market environment rather than trader’s skill. Understanding the source of returns – the logic behind the strategy – is critical to evaluate how relevant they are.

The Wandering Scammer – Marcello Arrambide

Marcello Arrambide, the guy behind and considers himself to be the luckiest person in the world: he has location freedom, time freedom and financial freedom. He has achieved all this through day trading the stock market. For a few thousand bucks, he can teach you how to be like him. Just let me clear my throat a moment. Ahem, BULLSHIT, cough.

Let’s start by having a look at how Marcello answers the question: how much can I make day trading:  trading stocks, he claims a huge 495% in six months, for which he offers a photo as proof. For S&P 500 e-mini futures trading, 1-2 hours a day are enough to make a full time income. With such results, no wonder he’s a carefree globetrotter. :)

The main issue is that none of the claims Marcello makes are supported by any facts: his day trading academy website has been up for 5 years now but we’re yet to see a third party verified track-record. Instead, we’re offered lots of worthless testimonials.

He was caught red handed when he tried to leave a positive review on posing as a client:

fake review by Marcello Arrambide

fake review by Marcello Arrambide

What really pissed me off and made me write this article was the following video he uploaded on YouTube: Why Day Trading Forex Is A Scam. It’s so full of BS, it is criminal.

So here we have a scammer who’s been selling dreams for 5 years calling the most liquid market in the world a scam. Say what ?! Any trader who knows the ABCs of trading Forex can tell that Arrambide doesn’t have a clue of what he’s talking about in that video.

He mentions brokers manipulating the market – yeah, maybe some bucket-shops registered in a Pacific island, only that their clients aren’t actually in the market at all. They trade against the broker, so it’s the data feed they get from the broker that gets manipulated.

He mentions Central Banks manipulating the Forex, without going into details. But if we consider QEs for instance to be acts of manipulation, the effects were propagated to all asset classes, including stocks and the S&P 500 that Marcello supposedly trades.

Apparently Forex is a zero-sum game where the money lost by retail traders goes to institutions, hedge-funds, banks. That’s a myth that I addressed before.

After insisting on how terrible the Forex market is for trading, Marcello recommends the futures market where according to him, you can make an average of $100 a day with a $1.000 account.

I’m just amazed of how he was able to compact so much BS and misinformation in under 3 minutes.

To conclude: Marcello Arrambide presents a well crafted illusion. All you have to do to see through it is to separate the facts (his travels) from the fiction (that he pays for them via day trading profits). Even if you’re only interested in traveling, I’d recommend you steer clear from such a dishonest person. There are plenty of legitimate travel blogs and sites out there for you to choose from.

Debunking Fantasy World Performance Simulations

Update February 2017

Tradeciety has officially entered into the Guru land, selling a Forex course for $497. Just remember who Rolf, the main man behind Tradeciety, is: by his own admission in the comments to this article, in 2013 he was a struggling student who couldn’t afford a live account and therefore dabbled with demos. 4 years and no track-record later, he’s a successful trader ‘passionate about giving back’. LOL.


Just stumbled upon an article today which left me wondering: was it written by a trader who was under the influence or by an internet marketer ? Some people falsely believe that only flashy sites with photos/videos of expensive cars and wads of cash are the mark of an internet marketer. But it’s long been an established fact that stuffing a professionally designed website with trading related materials doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a trader. Think Sasha Evdakov, who at least was honest about this.

The article, How To Grow A Small Trading Account Into A Big One, was written by Rolf, the guy behind and


Click to enlarge

We are presented with the above simulation, which considers a $250 account, a winrate of 60% and a risk/reward ratio of 1/1.2. These are called ‘relatively conservative statistics’. After 500 trades (approximately one year of trading) the simulated results range from $15k (60 times the initial amount) to $25k (100 times the initial amount). Again, these results were obtained by being conservative ! :)

Then we’re shown with a rectangle on the graph and also told that:

For the first 300 trades, the account barely does anything and it grew very, very slowly

Actually, it grew at least 4-fold during the period in which those 300 trades were taken.

300 trades with very little account growth can be hard to deal with and most traders will never get to the right side of the performance simulation

Now, any trader worth the title would instantly realize these trade statistics have nothing in common with reality.

But Rolf goes on: readers are advised that if they add money to the account, even as little as $50 per month, they will witness a significant growth. Yes, in a fantasy world. In the real one though, you’d have to live to be 400 years old to get the compounding benefits of an extra $600/year in your trading account.

My general impression is that the article is irresponsible at best, and clickbait to sell the Edgewonk software at worst.

If you’re interested to read some serious stuff about performance simulation, do have a look at the following piece by Peter Brandt:

Update 18/01/2016

Today I noticed that a comment I sent on the article discussed here wasn’t approved. Moreover, I got blocked on Twitter by both @Tradeciety and @Edgewonk


blocked by Tradeciety twitter account



blocked by Edgewonk twitter account

Conclusion: this behavior strongly suggests that Rolf is in the internet marketing business. His goal is to put out as much content as possible, in order to attract traffic and sell products and services. If what he writes actually makes sense appears not to matter too much. I have no doubt that if I were to peruse some more of his content, I would find similar nonsense – a trader will always spot someone who’s faking it.

Debunking A Dangerous Myth: 2015 – The Year No One Made Money

cnbcApparently, 2015 was the hardest year to make money in 78 years. If you watch the video, you can see the big subtitle – the year no one made money. There are a couple of big problems with this article. The first, and more obvious, is that this headline grabbing statement is patently false. Just because Warren Buffett had the worst year since 2008, Bill Ackman the worst since 2004 and the average hedge-fund is down -4%, it doesn’t mean no one made money. We’re presented here with just one face of the coin. Have a look at Managed Futures & CTA Program Performance (might require free registration): there are plenty of managers of +$100M funds that are positive for 2015. For instance, the famous trend-following firm Dunn Capital made 15.82%. ISAM Systematic Trend Fund, where the Market Wizard Larry Hite works, made 13.47%. Or how about Swiss based FX fund Quaesta Capital AG which had its best year since inception in 2007, with a 45.7% return.

The second problem, and this is where the danger lies, is the negative effect this kind of news can have on a trader, if taken at face value. I’m speaking from my own experience, because this thing happened to me 7 years ago. Perhaps you remember, or if not, look them up, the kind of headlines and stories that we were being bombarded with during late 2008 and early 2009 – everybody was losing money, managers with decades of experience were closing down their funds and so on. There was this atmosphere of collective sorrow, something like, let’s all join hands and see who lost the most the fastest, who was wronged the most by the worst market environment since 1929. The general message conveyed then, and it’s the same now: it’s not your fault that you lost money, it’s this damned market.

Of course, the behaviour of the markets will have an impact on your bottom line. No one makes money all the time and at the same rate in every kind of market. Quoting from Reminiscences of a Stock Operator:

We ran smack into a long money-less period; four mighty lean years. There was not a penny to be made. As Billy Henriquez once said, “It was the kind of market in which not even a skunk could make a scent.”

But, the results of the majority of market participants (be it positive like in the late ’90s or negative as in the above examples) should not stop you from making sure your own strategy is valid and robust. In other words, the fact that many people (high profile or not) are losing should not be used to justify your busted account. You might be losing because you have a bad strategy and/or poor risk management and instead of realising and correcting these issues, you’re just fooling yourself: oh, it’s the market, even Buffett is down.

The Profit Distribution in Trading

I recently finished reading the book Trading Risk: Enhanced Profitability through Risk Control by Kenneth Grant. It’s not an easy read, and several times I was reminded of this paragraph from Michael Marcus’ interview in Market Wizards:

For almost two years, I traded almost nothing but cocoa, because of the information and help I got from Helmut Weymar [the founder of Commodities Corporation]. Helmut was an incredible expert on cocoa. He wrote a book that was so deep I couldn’t understand the cover.

But hey, the author has managed portfolio risk for several of the world’s most elite traders, including Steve Cohen and Paul Tudor Jones, so he’s definitely a guy worth listening to.

One of the points made in the book, which I’m sure will come as a surprise to many, is about the 90/10 profitability concentration ratio. What this means: Ken Grant analyzed the trades from a large sample of portfolio managers (and remember, we’re talking real professionals here) and found that for nearly every account, the top 10% of all transactions ranked by profitability accounted for 100% of the P/L for the account. In many cases, the 100% threshold was crossed at 5% or lower. Furthermore, this pattern of profit distribution was consistent  across trading styles, asset classes, instrument classes, and market conditions.

This reminded me of a paragraph from Pit Bull, written by Market Wizard Marty Schwartz:

For two hundred days a year, I’d end up with reasonably small losses netted out with similar-sized gains. Lose $5,000 here, make $6,000 there, round after round, twenty, thirty, forty times a day. But I’d win the other fifty trading days by clear-cut unanimous decisions.

Ok, so we now have proof positive that a modified or extreme form of the Pareto principle is present in trading. What are the implications of being aware that 9 out of every 10 trades you make are likely to aggregate to produce profits of exactly zero ? Ken Grant says that most people will view it as a problem that needs correcting (ie, by reducing the number of trades, or in forum speak, take only A+ setups). And they would be wrong. The reality is that we need the 90 trades that amount to nothing in order to get the 10 really profitable ones. Why ? Because it is impossible for a trader to know in advance which trades are going to work for big returns and which are not.

Of course, we should only enter trades expecting to make money on them, but also be conscious of the fact that most of these trades won’t contribute appreciably to our bottom line. Consequently, we want to be in a situation to capitalize maximally on the 10% (for instance by letting the profit run or pyramiding) while ensuring that the trades in the 90% category won’t cause serious damage. And how do we do that ? By keeping the risk per trade constant (0.5% for instance) in relation to account equity.

Awareness of the 90/10 rule will also help us in better understanding and accepting the realities of trading. As any experienced trader knows, you go through weeks and months of difficulties in the markets before ultimately scoring meaningful gains. In these intervals, you might assume that the core fundamentals of your strategy have broken down and that drastic changes are needed.  It’s important during these moments to remember two things: first, that even the best traders are subject to profitability concentration and therefore they often have extended periods of under-performance. Second, that the markets do not offer large profit opportunities on a routine and continuous basis.

Provided that you can effectively apply risk management, time is on your side during these dry spells because over the longer haul, the market is bound to offer enough occasions from the 10% category.

How To Quickly Identify BS Traders & Trading Material

A reader of my site asked me if I’d ever heard of Arduino Schenato, an apparently successful Forex trader and coach from Italy. I said no, but that I’ll check him out.

My approach in cases involving traders who sell various services (signals, coaching, courses and so on) is to consider them guilty until proven innocent. In a field where over 95% of vendors are more or less frauds, this should come as no surprise.

The first thing I look for is some kind of accountability – for instance a third party verified track-record. The second thing is legitimacy: why should I spend time on this guy’s materials and eventually money too ? You can quickly gauge the honesty of the person by the manner in which he addresses these two issues. There’s usually no point in going through videos, or tens of articles and pages of web content if you’re being taken for a fool at this stage.

Today I’m going to use Arduino Schenato to showcase the kind of tricks these unscrupulous individuals use in relation to the aspects mentioned above. He belongs to the price action trading camp, but adds a personal touch (calling it ‘follow the winner’ (FTW) strategy). If you go to the signals page, you’ll see tables and graphs with performance (which of course can and for all we know is made up, as there is no actual verification of those numbers). In the YouTube channel you can find videos where a monthly account statement can be seen and again the results look great. But although Schenato takes some care to hide the account number, it can be seen clearly in the screenshots below that the track-record comes from a demo account:

ftw3 ftw2 ftw1

So not only we have the guy trading a demo account, but as if that wasn’t bad enough, we don’t even get to see a full year’s statement. All we’re shown are a few fragments of the whole puzzle.

To add insult to injury, Schenato has video testimonials too, in which a few guys scroll through Word documents or Excel tables purporting to show the gains they’ve made since buying Schenato’s coaching services.

As far as I’m concerned, these two facts are enough to put the guy on the list of ‘traders’ to be ignored because he failed both track-record and legitimacy tests and scored high on dishonesty scale.

If you use the approach I described in this article, you’ll not only save a lot of time you would otherwise waste on these pricks, but you’ll also keep your mind BS free and their hands out of your wallet.

Diagonal VS Horizontal Trading Patterns

Over the years I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of horizontal chart patterns in the detriment of the diagonal ones. It took some time until I was able to articulate to myself why the former are superior to the latter, but now it’s all crystal clear in my mind.

In books or on various websites, formations like symmetrical triangles, wedges, flags and so on look wonderful. Just buy the break-out of the diagonal resistance or support and more than likely you’ll hear the cash register ring. :) Well, in my experience, things are not as easy as they seem. I found the failure rate of such patterns to be inordinately high. To add insult to injury, in many cases, the price will just go far enough to take out your stop loss, consolidate a little bit, and then move without you in the correctly anticipated direction.

Nevertheless, some of my biggest winners (risk-return wise) have involved diagonal patterns, a fact which delayed my identifying the issues with them. But now, that I’ve carefully gone through a lot of my trades to research this aspect, I can say the following: in the majority of successful past trades involving a diagonal chart pattern, a horizontal pattern was also present. Only that for one reason or another, the trigger in those cases was represented by the diagonal formation.

Below is one of my most perfectly executed trades to date: a pyramid on EUR/USD in January 2013. While the most visible and the reason at that time for entering the second pyramid level was the break of the resistance (the first level was entered at the supporting trendline), there are two ‘hidden’ horizontal patterns here.


EUR/USD diagonal patterns

You can see in the picture below the double bottom (coinciding with the trendline) and the break out of the consolidation (coinciding with the break of the diagonal resistance)


EUR/USD horizontal patterns

I like to keep things simple in trading – I pay attention only to what the price does – the highs and lows of the price bars give you all the objective information there is about where the market has been. Anything else on the chart is either a derivative of the price (indicators for instance) or random lines (Fibonacci for instance). Now, here lies the big difference between diagonal and horizontal patterns:


Horizontal support/resistance on AUD/USD


Symmetrical triangle on EUR/AUD

We can see in the first picture how the support turned resistance and then support again is determined by the highs and lows of the price. In the second picture though, both trigger points (blue areas) are not created by the highs and lows of the price itself. In other words, we have only chart pattern confirmation, without price confirmation – this is a very important difference, hence the bold.  The price should have reached a point higher than the previous swing high and conversely a point lower than the previous swing low in order to confirm either move.

What I hope to make clear is that price is the most objective (although far from 100% correct) trade trigger there is. And in many cases, it gives different signals to what a diagonal formation might give. Ignoring the price in these instances will usually turn out to be a costly decision.

My Thoughts on AxiTrader’s Million Dollar Trader Competition

Million Dollar Trader is more of a chance for the next generation of talented traders to show what they’ve got, measure their performance against their fellow traders and, if they’re a top performer, get access to external funds that can help take their trading to a higher level. – AxiTrader General Manager Alex MacKinnon via LeapRate

If I were to make a parallel, I think this whole AxiTrader deal is like a rotten food product wrapped up in a nice, shiny box that just makes your mouth water. But when you open it up, the sight and the smell coming out of it leave you no choice other than to throw it in the trash can.

So here’s how the packaging looks like: open a minimum $5,000 account with Axi, trade for three months (February – April 2016) and if you have the highest return, you get to manage a $1 million account. There are also secondary prizes: $500k, $250k and 2 $100k accounts. You’ll get a 25% cut of all trading profits, paid quarterly, and subject to a high watermark. You’ll also be a part of what Axi calls ‘next generation of talented traders’ and receive a pathway to a career as a professional trader.

Now, the attentive observer has already noticed an important issue with this packaging, namely the assessment criteria – highest return over three months. If we go back to our food parallel, that’s like noticing on the box that it’s 6 months past its sell by date.

Why the content stinks: in a nutshell, because it’s just an advertising campaign masquerading as a search for talented traders. Going into more detail:

  • you can’t assess trading skill by measuring the highest return over a three month period. That’s a filter for leverage and luck, not talent. Someone using a martingale strategy for instance, where it’s just a matter of time till the account is ruined, might get lucky and win this competition.
  • the  draw-down limit on AxiSelect accounts (the ones with the prize money) is 10% (see terms-and-conditions) not 20% as shown on LeapRate and Million Dollar Competition page.
  • Axi will act as principal ( counter-party) on each client’s trade. In other words, they’re prepared to take the money of the over-leveraged, over-trading, EA running cowboys blinded by this offer.
  • The company risks 10% (draw-down limit mentioned above) of $1M + 500k + 250k + 200k = $195k. If we divide this by the minimum $5k needed to enter the competition we get 39. Axi needs just 39 guys to blow up their accounts in order to cover all the prizes. This part is the one that reeks the most to me. Here they are, deliberately misleading people that what it takes to be a talented trader and go professional is to score the highest return in a 3 month period. They know very well  that going for this goal in such a short period of time means over-leveraging and/or over-trading. And while you, with bleary eyes from that $1 million, deposit the $5k in an AxiTrader account, they’re laughing at you all the way to the bank.

Update May 2016: the winner has been announced, so I wrote a follow-up article.

Remove The Noise From Your Trading

I kept my business to myself. It was a one-man business, anyhow. It was my head, wasn’t it? Prices either were going the way I doped them out, without any help from friends or partners, or they were going the other way, and nobody could stop them out of kindness to me. I couldn’t see where I needed to tell my business to anybody else. I’ve got friends, of course, but my business has always been the same: a one-man affair. That is why I have always played a lone hand.

A man must believe in himself and his judgment if he expects to make a living at this game. That is why I don’t believe in tips. If I buy stocks on Smith’s tip I must sell those same stocks on Smith’s tip. I am depending on him. Suppose Smith is away on a holiday when the selling time comes around? No, sir, nobody can make big money on what someone else tells him to do. I know from experience that nobody can give me a tip or a series of tips that will make more money for me than my own judgment.

Jesse Livermore – Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Technology and the way we access the markets have changed a lot since 1923 when Reminiscences was first published. But the basic human characteristics like fear and greed, the driving forces behind market participants’ actions, have remained pretty much the same. A quick reminder for those who think that laptops and iPhones automatically make us more financial savvy : this month marks seven years since Bernie Madoff‘s Ponzi scheme unraveled. Madoff’s victims lost $18 billion, 53 times the $225 million (inflation adjusted) losses of Ponzi’s scheme. How’s that for evolution ? :)

Along with the trading volumes and the number of financial instruments available, the noise surrounding traders and investors has increased tremendously over the years. We now have 24/7 financial television like CNBC or Bloomberg, scores of websites with up to the minute news and frequently updated chart analyses and commentaries, forums and social trading platforms.

On the face of it, all these services should be very helpful. I mean, having access to the latest news, hearing the comments and analyses of various ‘experts’, interacting with fellow traders and following/copying ‘top traders’ – how can you go wrong ? Very easily. Most of the news are either irrelevant to the instruments you trade or are already priced in. The talking heads and the ‘experts’ on websites are not traders – they’re being paid to fill up air-time or webpages, not to deliver risk-adjusted trading performance. Good quality information in forums and social trading networks ? – that’s about as easy to find as a needle in a haystack.

There’s a very brief book (32 pages), Jesse Livermore’s Methods of Trading in Stocks, written by Richard Wyckoff. He describes how Livermore traded out of his private office in order to insulate himself from the distractions of the customers’ room in a large brokerage. The modern equivalents of those distractions have just been mentioned above. And once we recognize them for what they really are, nowadays it’s much easier to avoid them.