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05. Risk Management

Risk/Reward Ratio Definition

What Is the Risk/Reward Ratio?

The risk/reward ratio marks the prospective reward an investor can earn for every dollar they risk on an investment. Many investors use risk/reward ratios to compare the expected returns of an investment with the amount of risk they must undertake to earn these returns. Consider the following example: an investment with a risk-reward ratio of 1:7 suggests that an investor is willing to risk $1, for the prospect of earning $7. Alternatively, a risk/reward ratio of 1:3 signals that an investor should expect to invest $1, for the prospect of earning $3 on their investment.

Traders often use this approach to plan which trades to take, and the ratio is calculated by dividing the amount a trader stands to lose if the price of an asset moves in an unexpected direction (the risk) by the amount of profit the trader expects to have made when the position is closed (the reward).Volume 75% 1:32

Risk/Reward Ratio

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The risk/reward ratio is used by traders and investors to manage their capital and risk of loss.
  • The ratio helps assess the expected return and risk of a given trade.
  • An appropriate risk reward ratio tends to be anything greater than 1:3.

How the Risk/Reward Ratio Works

In many cases, market strategists find the ideal risk/reward ratio for their investments to be approximately 1:3, or three units of expected return for every one unit of additional risk. Investors can manage risk/reward more directly through the use of stop-loss orders and derivatives such as put options.

The risk/reward ratio is often used as a measure when trading individual stocks. The optimal risk/reward ratio differs widely among various trading strategies. Some trial-and-error methods are usually required to determine which ratio is best for a given trading strategy, and many investors have a pre-specified risk/reward ratio for their investments.

What Does the Risk/Reward Ratio Tell You?

The risk/reward ratio helps investors manage their risk of losing money on trades. Even if a trader has some profitable trades, they will lose money over time if their win rate is below 50%. The risk/reward ratio measures the difference between a trade entry point to a stop-loss and a sell or take-profit order. Comparing these two provides the ratio of profit to loss, or reward to risk.

Investors often use stop-loss orders when trading individual stocks to help minimize losses and directly manage their investments with a risk/reward focus. A stop-loss order is a trading trigger placed on a stock that automates the selling of the stock from a portfolio if the stock reaches a specified low. Investors can automatically set stop-loss orders through brokerage accounts and typically do not require exorbitant additional trading costs.

Example of the Risk/Reward Ratio in Use

Consider this example: A trader purchases 100 shares of XYZ Company at $20 and places a stop-loss order at $15 to ensure that losses will not exceed $500. Also, assume that this trader believes that the price of XYZ will reach $30 in the next few months. In this case, the trader is willing to risk $5 per share to make an expected return of $10 per share after closing the position. Since the trader stands to make double the amount that they have risked, they would be said to have a 1:2 risk/reward ratio on that particular trade. Derivatives contracts such as put contracts, which give their owners the right to sell the underlying asset at a specified price, can be used to similar effect.

If an investor prefers to seek a 1:5 risk/reward ratio for a specified investment (five units of expected return for each additional unit of risk), then they can modify the stop-loss order and thus adjust the risk/reward ratio. But it is important to understand that by doing so the investors has changed the probability of success in their trade.

In the trading example noted above, suppose an investor set a stop-loss order at $18, instead of $15, and they continued to target a $30 profit-taking exit. By doing so they would certainly reduce the size of the potential loss (assuming no change to the number of shares), but they will have increased the likelihood that the price action will trigger their stop loss order. That’s because the stop order is proportionally much closer to the entry than the target price is. So although the investor may stand to make a proportionally larger gain (compared to the potential loss), they have a lower probability of receiving this outcome.

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05. Risk Management

Risk Management Techniques for Active Traders

Risk management helps cut down losses. It can also help protect traders’ accounts from losing all of its money. The risk occurs when traders suffer losses. If the risk can be managed, traders can open themselves up to making money in the market.

It is an essential but often overlooked prerequisite to successful active trading. After all, a trader who has generated substantial profits can lose it all in just one or two bad trades without a proper risk management strategy. So how do you develop the best techniques to curb the risks of the market?

This article will discuss some simple strategies that can be used to protect your trading profits.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Trading can be exciting and even profitable if you are able to stay focused, do due diligence, and keep emotions at bay.
  • Still, the best traders need to incorporate risk management practices to prevent losses from getting out of control.
  • Having a strategic and objective approach to cutting losses through stop orders, profit taking, and protective puts is a smart way to stay in the game.

Planning Your Trades

As Chinese military general Sun Tzu’s famously said: “Every battle is won before it is fought.” This phrase implies that planning and strategy—not the battles—win wars. Similarly, successful traders commonly quote the phrase: “Plan the trade and trade the plan.” Just like in war, planning ahead can often mean the difference between success and failure.

First, make sure your broker is right for frequent trading. Some brokers cater to customers who trade infrequently. They charge high commissions and don’t offer the right analytical tools for active traders.

Stop-loss (S/L) and take-profit (T/P) points represent two key ways in which traders can plan ahead when trading. Successful traders know what price they are willing to pay and at what price they are willing to sell. They can then measure the resulting returns against the probability of the stock hitting their goals. If the adjusted return is high enough, they execute the trade.

Conversely, unsuccessful traders often enter a trade without having any idea of the points at which they will sell at a profit or a loss. Like gamblers on a lucky—or unlucky streak—emotions begin to take over and dictate their trades. Losses often provoke people to hold on and hope to make their money back, while profits can entice traders to imprudently hold on for even more gains.

Consider the One-Percent Rule

A lot of day traders follow what’s called the one-percent rule. Basically, this rule of thumb suggests that you should never put more than 1% of your capital or your trading account into a single trade. So if you have $10,000 in your trading account, your position in any given instrument shouldn’t be more than $100.

This strategy is common for traders who have accounts of less than $100,000—some even go as high as 2% if they can afford it. Many traders whose accounts have higher balances may choose to go with a lower percentage. That’s because as the size of your account increases, so too does the position. The best way to keep your losses in check is to keep the rule below 2%—any more and you’ll be risking a substantial amount of your trading account.

Setting Stop-Loss and Take-Profit Points

A stop-loss point is the price at which a trader will sell a stock and take a loss on the trade. This often happens when a trade does not pan out the way a trader hoped. The points are designed to prevent the “it will come back” mentality and limit losses before they escalate. For example, if a stock breaks below a key support level, traders often sell as soon as possible.

On the other hand, a take-profit point is the price at which a trader will sell a stock and take a profit on the trade. This is when the additional upside is limited given the risks. For example, if a stock is approaching a key resistance level after a large move upward, traders may want to sell before a period of consolidation takes place.

How to More Effectively Set Stop-Loss Points

Setting stop-loss and take-profit points is often done using technical analysis, but fundamental analysis can also play a key role in timing. For example, if a trader is holding a stock ahead of earnings as excitement builds, they may want to sell before the news hits the market if expectations have become too high, regardless of whether the take-profit price has been hit.

Moving averages represent the most popular way to set these points, as they are easy to calculate and widely tracked by the market. Key moving averages include the 5-, 9-, 20-, 50-, 100- and 200-day averages. These are best set by applying them to a stock’s chart and determining whether the stock price has reacted to them in the past as either a support or resistance level.

Another great way to place stop-loss or take-profit levels is on support or resistance trend lines. These can be drawn by connecting previous highs or lows that occurred on significant, above-average volume. Like with moving averages, the key is determining levels at which the price reacts to the trend lines and, of course, on high volume.

When setting these points, here are some key considerations:

  • Use longer-term moving averages for more volatile stocks to reduce the chance that a meaningless price swing will trigger a stop-loss order to be executed.
  • Adjust the moving averages to match target price ranges. For example, longer targets should use larger moving averages to reduce the number of signals generated.
  • Stop losses should not be closer than 1.5-times the current high-to-low range (volatility), as it is too likely to get executed without reason.
  • Adjust the stop loss according to the market’s volatility. If the stock price isn’t moving too much, then the stop-loss points can be tightened.
  • Use known fundamental events such as earnings releases, as key time periods to be in or out of a trade as volatility and uncertainty can rise.

Calculating Expected Return

Setting stop-loss and take-profit points are also necessary to calculate the expected return. The importance of this calculation cannot be overstated, as it forces traders to think through their trades and rationalize them. As well, it gives them a systematic way to compare various trades and select only the most profitable ones.

This can be calculated using the following formula:

[(Probability of Gain) x (Take Profit % Gain)] + [(Probability of Loss) x (Stop-Loss % Loss)]

The result of this calculation is an expected return for the active trader, who will then measure it against other opportunities to determine which stocks to trade. The probability of gain or loss can be calculated by using historical breakouts and breakdowns from the support or resistance levels—or for experienced traders, by making an educated guess.

Diversify and Hedge

Making sure you make the most of your trading means never putting your eggs in one basket. If you put all your money in one stock or one instrument, you’re setting yourself up for a big loss. So remember to diversify your investments—across both industry sector as well as market capitalization and geographic region. Not only does this help you manage your risk, but it also opens you up to more opportunities.

You may also find yourself a time when you need to hedge your position. Consider a stock position when the results are due. You may consider taking the opposite position through options, which can help protect your position. When trading activity subsides, you can then unwind the hedge.

Downside Put Options

If you are approved for options trading, buying a downside put option, sometimes known as a protective put, can also be used as a hedge to stem losses from a trade that turns sour. A put option gives you the right, but not the obligation, to sell the underlying stock at a specified priced at or before the option expires. Therefore if you own XYZ stock from $100 and buy the 6-month $80 put for $1.00 per option in premium, then you will be effectively stopped out from any price drop below $79 ($80 strike minus the $1 premium paid).

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05. Risk Management

Market Risk

What Is Market Risk?

Market risk is the possibility that an individual or other entity will experience losses due to factors that affect the overall performance of investments in the financial markets.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Market risk, or systematic risk, affects the performance of the entire market simultaneously.
  • Market risk cannot be eliminated through diversification.
  • Specific risk, or unsystematic risk, involves the performance of a particular security and can be mitigated through diversification. 
  • Market risk may arise due to changes to interest rates, exchange rates, geopolitical events, or recessions.

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Market Risk

Understanding Market Risk

Market risk and specific risk (unsystematic) make up the two major categories of investment risk. Market risk, also called “systematic risk,” cannot be eliminated through diversification, though it can be hedged in other ways. Sources of market risk include recessions, political turmoil, changes in interest rates, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Systematic, or market risk, tends to influence the entire market at the same time.

This can be contrasted with unsystematic risk, which is unique to a specific company or industry. Also known as “nonsystematic risk,” “specific risk,” “diversifiable risk” or “residual risk,” in the context of an investment portfolio, unsystematic risk can be reduced through diversification.

Market risk exists because of price changes. The standard deviation of changes in the prices of stocks, currencies or commodities is referred to as price volatility. Volatility is rated in annualized terms and may be expressed as an absolute number, such as $10, or a percentage of the initial value, such as 10%.

Publicly traded companies in the United States are required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose how their productivity and results may be linked to the performance of the financial markets. This requirement is meant to detail a company’s exposure to financial risk.1 For example, a company providing derivative investments or foreign exchange futures may be more exposed to financial risk than companies that do not provide these types of investments. This information helps investors and traders make decisions based on their own risk management rules.

In contrast to market risk, specific risk or “unsystematic risk” is tied directly to the performance of a particular security and can be protected against through investment diversification. One example of unsystematic risk is a company declaring bankruptcy, thereby making its stock worthless to investors.

The most common types of market risks include interest rate risk, equity risk, currency risk and commodity risk.

  • Interest rate risk covers the volatility that may accompany interest rate fluctuations due to fundamental factors, such as central bank announcements related to changes in monetary policy. This risk is most relevant to investments in fixed-income securities, such as bonds. 
  • Equity risk is the risk involved in the changing prices of stock investments,
  • Commodity risk covers the changing prices of commodities such as crude oil and corn.
  • Currency risk, or exchange-rate risk, arises from the change in the price of one currency in relation to another. Investors or firms holding assets in another country are subject to currency risk.

Investors can utilize hedging strategies to protect against volatility and market risk. Targeting specific securities, investors can buy put options to protect against a downside move, and investors who want to hedge a large portfolio of stocks can utilize index options.

Measuring Market Risk

To measure market risk, investors and analysts use the value-at-risk (VaR) method. VaR modeling is a statistical risk management method that quantifies a stock or portfolio’s potential loss as well as the probability of that potential loss occurring. While well-known and widely utilized, the VaR method requires certain assumptions that limit its precision. For example, it assumes that the makeup and content of the portfolio being measured is unchanged over a specified period. Though this may be acceptable for short-term horizons, it may provide less accurate measurements for long-term investments.

Beta is another relevant risk metric, as it measures the volatility or market risk of a security or portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole. It is used in the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to calculate the expected return of an asset.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between Market Risk and Specific Risk?

Market risk and specific risk make up the two major categories of investment risk. Market risk, also called “systematic risk,” cannot be eliminated through diversification, though it can be hedged in other ways, and tends to influence the entire market at the same time. Specific risk, in contrast, is unique to a specific company or industry. Specific risk, also known as “unsystematic risk”, “diversifiable risk” or “residual risk,” can be reduced through diversification.

What Are Some Types of Market Risk?

The most common types of market risk include interest rate risk, equity risk, commodity risk, and currency risk. Interest rate risk covers the volatility that may accompany interest rate fluctuations and is most relevant to fixed-income investments. Equity risk is the risk involved in the changing prices of stock investments, and commodity risk covers the changing prices of commodities such as crude oil and corn. Currency risk, or exchange-rate risk, arises from the change in the price of one currency in relation to another. This may affect investors holding assets in another country.

How Is Market Risk Measured?

A widely used measure of market risk is the value-at-risk (VaR) method. VaR modeling is a statistical risk management method that quantifies a stock or portfolio’s potential loss as well as the probability of that potential loss occurring. While well-known, the VaR method requires certain assumptions that limit its precision. Beta is another relevant risk metric, as it measures the volatility or market risk of a security or portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole. It is used in the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to calculate the expected return of an asset.

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05. Risk Management

A Guide to Day Trading on Margin

Margin allows traders to amplify their purchasing power to leverage into larger positions than their cash positions would otherwise allow. By borrowing money from your broker to trade in larger sizes, traders can both amplify returns and potential losses.

Day trading involves buying and selling the same stocks multiple times during trading hours in hope of locking in quick profits from the movement in stock prices. Day trading is risky, as it’s dependent on the fluctuations in stock prices on one given day, and it can result in substantial losses in a very short period of time.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Trading on margin allows you to borrow funds from your broker in order to purchase more shares than the cash in your account would allow for on its own. Margin trading also allows for short-selling.
  • By using leverage, margin lets you amplify your potential returns – as well as your losses, making it a risky activity.
  • Margin calls and maintenance margin are required, which can add up losses in the event a trades go sour.

Margin and Day Trading

Buying on margin, on the other hand, is a tool that facilitates trading even for those who don’t have the requisite amount of cash on hand. Buying on margin enhances a trader’s buying power by allowing them to buy for a greater amount than they have cash for; the shortfall is filled by a brokerage firm at interest. When the two tools are combined in the form of day trading on margin, risks are accentuated. And going by the dictum, “the higher the risk, the higher the potential return,” the returns can be manyfold. But be warned: There are no guarantees.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules define a day trade as “The purchasing and selling or the selling and purchasing of the same security on the same day in a margin account.” The short-selling and purchases to cover the same security on the same day along with options also fall under the purview of a day trade.

When we talk about day trading, some may indulge in it only occasionally and would have different margin requirements from those who can be tagged as “pattern day traders.” Let’s understand these terms along with the margin rules and requirements by FINRA.

A term pattern day trader is used for someone who executes four or more day trades within five business days, provided one of two things: 1) The number of day trades is more than 6% of his total trades in the margin account during the same five-day period, or 2) The person indulges in two unmet day trade calls within a time span of 90 days. A non-pattern day trader’s account incurs day trading only occasionally.

However, if any of the above criteria are met, then a non-pattern day trader account will be designated as a pattern day trader account. But if a pattern day trader’s account has not carried out any day trades for 60 consecutive days, then its status is reversed to a non-pattern day trader account.

Margin Requirements

To trade on margin, investors must deposit enough cash or eligible securities that meet the initial margin requirement with a brokerage firm. According to the Fed’s Regulation T, investors can borrow up to 50% of the total cost of purchase on margin, with the remaining 50% deposited by the trader as the initial margin requirement.

The maintenance margin requirements for a pattern day trader are much higher than that for a non-pattern day trader. The minimum equity requirement for a pattern day trader is $25,000 (or 25% of the total market value of securities, whichever is higher) while that for a non-pattern day trader is $2,000. Every day trading account must meet this requirement independently and not through cross-guaranteeing different accounts. In situations when the account falls below this stipulated figure of $25,000, further trading is not permitted until the account is replenished.

Margin Calls

A margin call occurs if your account falls below the maintenance margin amount. A margin call is a demand from your brokerage for you to add money to your account or close out positions to bring your account back to the required level. If you do not meet the margin call, your brokerage firm can close out any open positions in order to bring the account back up to the minimum value. Your brokerage firm can do this without your approval and can choose which position(s) to liquidate. In addition, your brokerage firm can charge you a commission for the transaction(s). You are responsible for any losses sustained during this process, and your brokerage firm may liquidate enough shares or contracts to exceed the initial margin requirement.

Margin Buying Power

The buying power for a pattern day trader is four times the excess of the maintenance margin as of the closing of business of the previous day (say an account has $35,000 after the previous day’s trade, then the excess here is $10,000 as this amount is over and above the minimum requirement of $25,000. This would give a buying power of $40,000 (4 x $10,000). If this is exceeded, then the trader will receive a day trading margin call issued by the brokerage firm. There is a time span of five business days to meet the margin call. During this period, the day trading buying power is restricted to two times the maintenance margin excess. In case of failure to meet the margin during the stipulated time period, further trading is only allowed on a cash available basis for 90 days, or until the call is met.

Example of Trading on Margin

Assume that a trader has $20,000 more than the maintenance margin amount. This will provide the trader with a day trading buying power of $80,000 (4 x $20,000). If the trader indulges in buying $80,000 of PQR Corp at 9:45 a.m. followed by $60,000 of XYZ Corp. at 10.05 a.m. on the same day, then he has exceeded his buying power limit. Even if he subsequently sells both during the afternoon trade, he will receive a day trading margin call the next day. However, the trader could have avoided the margin call by selling off PQR Corp before buying XYZ Corp.

Note: Though the brokers must operate within the parameters issued by the regulatory authorities, they do have the discretion to make minor amendments in the laid requirements called “house requirements.” A broker-dealer may classify a customer as a pattern day trader by bringing them under their broader definition of a pattern day trader. Also, brokerage firms may impose higher margin requirements or restrict buying power. Thus, there can be variations depending upon the broker-dealer you choose to trade with.