What is a 'Trading Strategy'

A trading strategy is method of buying and selling in markets that is based on predefined rules used to make trading decisions.

BREAKING DOWN 'Trading Strategy'

A trading strategy includes a well-considered investing and trading plan that specifies investing objectives, risk tolerance, time horizon and tax implications. Ideas and best practices need to be researched and adopted then adhered to. Planning for trading includes developing methods that include buying or selling stocks, bonds, ETFs or other investments and may extend to more complex trades such as options or futures. Placing trades means working with a broker or broker dealer and identifying and managing trading costs including spreads, commissions and fees. Once executed, trading positions are monitored and managed, including adjusting or closing them as needed. Risk and return are measured as well as portfolio impacts of trades. The longer term tax results of trading are a major factor and may encompass capital gains or tax-loss harvesting strategies to offset gains with losses.

Developing a Trading Strategy

There are many types of trading strategies, but they are based largely on either technicals or fundamentals. The common thread is that both rely on quantifiable information that can be back tested for accuracy. Technical trading strategies rely on technical indicators to generate trading signals. For example, a simple trading strategy may be a moving average crossover whereby a short-term moving average crosses above or below a long-term moving average. Fundamental trading strategies take fundamental factors into account. For instance, an investor may have a set of screening criteria to generate a list of opportunities. These criteria are developed by analyzing factors such as revenue growth and profitability.

Trading strategies are employed to avoid behavioral finance biases and ensure consistent results. For example, traders following rules governing when to exit a trade would be less likely to succumb to the disposition effect, which causes investors to hold on to stocks that have lost value and sell those that rise in value. Trading strategies can be stress tested under varying market conditions to measure consistency.

Profitable trading strategies are difficult to develop, however, and there is a risk of becoming over-reliant on a strategy. For instance, a trader may curve fit a trading strategy to specific back testing data, which may engender false confidence. The strategy may have worked well in theory based on past market data, but past performance does not guarantee future success in real time market conditions, which may vary significantly from the test period.

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