Monday, October 6, 2008

Paper Trading = Waste of Time?

Jules has recently posted an excellent thread regarding the controversy of paper trading vs. real trading. Too many times I have heard other traders state that simulated or paper trading is worthless.

Essentially, these folks are telling us that aspiring surgeons should just go operate on someone without dissecting a frog brain first. Or that an aspiring pilot should just hop on a 747 and learn while endangering hundreds of passengers. Or that an engineer shouldn’t prototype a new design of spacecraft. I think you get the point. Doing this sort of thing is madness.

And yet people really think that trading a live account with no defined edge and no experience will yield different results. That somehow these aspiring traders won’t blow up their account? What exactly are these folks thinking? I guess they aren’t.

Also, I would like to differentiate the people who utilize simulated and paper trading as a training tool and those who are playing around. Obviously anyone can cut open a dead frog. However, only in a training environment and with the proper dedication can one learn anything valuable out of cutting open a dead frog. If I just go in there and use a meat cleaver and don’t really identify what I’m cutting open and haven’t read my biology text book then I would learn exactly nothing. Similarly, I could go into a simulated account/paper account and trade at 100:1 leverage, average my losers and essentially “play around” with my paper account. This is significantly different than researching a definable, quantitative edge, challenging all of my assumptions, and testing that edge in a controlled and realistic environment while practicing sound money management and risk principles.

Lastly, I would like to state that yes there are definite differences between paper/simulated trading and live trading. Psychology does play a role. However, I don’t care if you have the psychological prowess of a Zen Master – if you can’t quantify and test what you are doing then you have no chance in trading well - None.

Given the recent economic climate, it should be pretty obvious that there are a lot of so called Masters of Wallstreet that do not know what they are doing. Maybe they should have done some realistic simulations/paper trading before taking their accounts live?


Solfest said...

Well said, I agree with you and Jules completely. Other than the emotion factor a IB/BT sim trade looks just like a cash trade.

Sim trading works as long as you treat it exactly like you would with real $$.

That includes record keeping, as this should be the start of your statistical data base that forms the basis of your whole trading plan.

It’s a lot wiser to find your “edge” via sim trading rather than losing your trading capital.

Jules said...

you said the magic words - losing capital :-)
I used to wonder why people would want to squander their hard earned money this way...then it hit me that they are just impatient - they want to MAKE REAL MONEY as soon as they can. D always tells me this after I close my paper trades: if only it's real money!! :-)

uncertainfutures said...

We are lucky in the UK to have the spread-betting option. Although the spread betting companies have a lot of faults, it is a great way to 'semi-paper' trade. At as little as £0.5/pt (FTSE,DOW, FX...) then nobody is going to break the bank. But the small amount of psychological pain losing even small amounts of money adds a surprisingly useful dose of realism.