Day Trading Futures: Risk Averse need not Apply

 

Counter Trend Futures Trading

Based on observations made during my years of being a futures broker, it seems as though most day trading futures strategies are very simple; identify an intraday trend and "ride" it until it ends.  It sounds easy enough; but is it?  I will be the first to admit that day trading is not my forte.  Nevertheless, through the scrutiny of the futures trading practices of others, compliments of my profession as a futures broker, I strongly believe that intra-day trend trading is much more difficult than one would imagine. 

The problem with a futures market trend is it is only your "friend" until it ends.  By the time many trend trading methods provide confirmation to execute a futures trade, the market move has already been missed.   Psychologically, I have a difficult time buying a futures contract that has already risen considerably.  Likewise, selling a futures contract after it has already established a down-trend may simply be too late.  After all, the overall objective is to buy low and sell high.  Buying high and selling higher may work at times, but the common theory that commodity markets spend a majority of their time range-bound seems to work against intraday-trend trading in the long run. Only during times of exceptional market moves will it be possible for a futures day trader to ride a trend long enough to recoup what may have been lost on false signals and failed break-outs of the range. 

Patient day traders might find that they fare better by looking to take advantage of extreme intraday futures price moves in hopes of a temporary recovery to a more sustainable level.  Doing so may provide less profit potential and if done correctly less trading opportunities but may pose better odds of success.

Identify Extreme Futures Market Prices

Futures market prices have a tendency to overshoot realistic valuations, only to eventually come back to an equilibrium price.  Emotion plays a big factor in this phenomenon but the running of stop loss orders are also a primary driving force.  Traders often place sell stop orders under known areas of support and buy stop orders above known areas of resistance.  As you can imagine, there are often several stop loss orders placed on futures contracts with identical or similar prices.  Once these orders are triggered, a swift move in prices in the direction of the stop orders takes place but often has a difficult time sustaining itself.  Understanding that stop running can artificially move a market quicker, and in a larger magnitude, than what would have transpired without the stop orders, a trader could attempt to take advantage of the subsequent rebalancing in price. 

For example, an e-mini S&P trader may notice the market drop five handles in a very quick fashion with little fundamental news to drive the move.  This type of trade may be the result of a market that has simply triggered a batch of sell stops.  As the futures stop loss orders were filled, the buying didn't keep up with the selling and the futures price dropped accordingly.  However, if our assumption was correct and the move was based on sell stop execution, instead of fresh (legitimate) short selling, it is practical to believe that the futures market will rebound some, if not all, of the losses artificially sustained.  A futures day trader may look at this as an opportunity to buy the futures contract in an attempt to capitalize on a partial or full retracement of the drop. 

wheat futures stop running1

Figure 3 : Intraday Wheat Futures Chart - Extreme market moves followed by a retracement to an equilibrium level are common as stop loss orders are triggered creating large commodity price spikes.

Naturally, before entering a futures day trade some technical confirmation must be made.  After all, the theory that a market drop was the result of sell stop running was an assumption not a fact.  Overbought and oversold technical indicators such as Slow Stochastics, Relative Strength Index (RSI), and W%R (Williams Percent R), might be helpful in determining whether or not prices were pushed to a level extreme enough to encourage buying. 

Most of the available technical analysis oscillators were developed with the intention of identifying overbought and oversold conditions.  In their simplest forms, both overbought and oversold markets are the result of prices overshooting their equilibrium price.  

Most technical analysis indicators represent extreme prices relatively well.  Thus, traders looking to buy on dips may find them helpful, but shouldn't expect them to be fool proof by any means.  Computer generated oscillators are great tools but they aren't a guarantee.  They can tell you what the market has done, but only you will be able to translate that into what the market may do next. 

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