At a recent trading conference several traders were talking about exit strategies at lunch and one noted that he ‘liked to hold positions for about a week’. When asked why, he had no reason for the decision; it just ‘felt right’ to him. Trading on tips, emotions, or what ‘just feels right’ is unlikely to produce good long term results. Trading should be based on the careful analysis and testing of each trading system that a trader uses. Testing does not eliminate risk or guarantee results, but it can help to give a good idea of how a system has actually performed.
In trading range market environments I generally exit a position if the stock approaches the upper Bollinger Band or a horizontal resistance point. I do not want to hold out for the last dime, I want to be taking profits as the stock approaches resistance. In a trading range market it is generally better to get out too early than too late. It is tough to go broke taking profits. By definition the market usually retraces at resistance. If the market usually retraces from resistance then I want to be out of the position before it does and use the funds for another trade that is just triggering and starting its run.
Eventually almost all resistance areas are broken, but if the stock usually retraces at resistance then I want to go with the odds and be positioned to profit if the stock does the normal thing and retraces. If it does retrace I have my profits and can use them in a new trade. If the stock breaks above resistance I still have my profits and can still take another trade. From a risk management standpoint I am better off to have taken the profits. I am always trying to position myself to profit if the market and my positions do the normal thing. When something unusual happens I may loose a few bucks, but by definition unusual things do not happen often. One of the keys to trading is learning what usually happens in a given situation and then being positioned to profit if it does.
The successful trader has a tool box with a variety of trading tools for use in different market conditions. The trader, like the carpenter, must go beyond just acquiring the tools. Traders must understand which tool to use for a specific task, and have a clear understanding of how the tool works, and what can and cannot be done with it. I have extensively tested several trading systems, the results of this testing on specific trading trading tools are outlined in ‘How to Take Money from the Markets’, and Money-Making Candlestick Patterns. The testing process helps us understand how stocks usually behave after forming a specific pattern such as being outside the Bollinger Bands, showing strong distribution or accumulation, or pulling back or retracing during a trend. Understanding what a stock is most likely to do forms the beginning of a trading strategy. Trading without this information is taking unknown risks.