Commentaries by Bruce Babcock for New and Experienced Traders

The Best Way to Trade with Limited Capital

One of the biggest swindles unscrupulous commodity vendors are pulling is to suggest that you can be a successful commodity trader with minimum capital. In order to sell their trading courses, they claim you can make a fortune starting with whatever amount you currently have available.

Most thoughtful experts agree that there is a minimum below which success is determined by luck. I set that amount at $10,000. Below that, it is nearly impossible to apply proper risk management principles. Studies have shown that success is directly proportional to the amount of capital you have. To maximize your chances of success, it is best to have at least $75,000.

My best mechanical system for small traders requires at minimum $15,000 for a conservative approach involving a five-market portfolio. Without a little luck, trading that system with limited capital may require extraordinary patience to wait for the system's statistical advantage to assert itself.

If I had to trade with less than $15,000, how would I do it in a way that would maximize my statistical advantage? My suggestion is to pick a few classical chart patterns and specialize in trading with them. You must have discipline and patience to wait for the patterns to develop correctly using only markets suitable for small accounts. Additionally, you must apply strict risk management and have great tenacity to let your profits run on the good trades.

Mid-America Exchange mini-contracts are a viable alternative for small accounts and highly recommended. Full-size contracts would occasionally be all right in such markets as Gold, Cotton, Soybean Meal, Soybean Oil and Oats.

A successful expert who uses chart patterns for entry is Steve Briese, publisher of the Bullish Review
(612-423-4900). This excellent newsletter reports on and analyzes the CFTC Commitments of Traders reports. Steve's personal trading approach is to concentrate on only two kinds of patterns. Here's how he described his method in an extensive, exclusive interview available from Reality Based Trading Company.

I continue to believe that using standard chart patterns is a very lucrative way to trade. I've gone back to look at what has worked and tried to reduce the chart patterns down to a manageable few. The first is a failure swing top or bottom, which may be a double top or bottom or the last part of a head and shoulders or triple top or bottom. These are reversal-type patterns.

The other one is a coil. That would include any type of triangle which is a consolidation. It is typically a continuation pattern, but it can also be a reversal pattern.

The problem with these patterns is that to trade a breakout and put your stop on the other side of the pattern usually creates more risk than I want to take and that most traders should take based on their account size. The typical approach to this would be to trade the breakout when it comes, but to put your stop at a money risk distance from the entry.

I take the opposite approach. First, I determine where my stop-loss should be based on the pattern. I want to put my stop at the point where the pattern fails. Then I determine how much I'm willing to risk on the trade. In my case I never risk more then $500 per contract on any trade. I don't trade the S&P, where that would be difficult.

After I've established my stop, I know what the exit point will be. Now I have to find the entry point that will keep my risk within the required amount. This will usually be at a point before a breakout verifies the pattern, still within the pattern. I use the Commitments of Traders data to forecast which way a pattern is going to complete.

The biggest problem in trading with a small account is finding reasonable stop-loss points and still keeping risk to an appropriate level in relation to your account size. Since strings of losses are inevitable regardless of your approach, you must control risk so you are not wiped out by consecutive losers. Experts agree that for proper risk management, you should limit risk to no more than about one percent of your account equity. This is impossible with a small account.

Steve Briese has been successful with stops under $500. You must be patient to wait for entries that qualify under your rules where you can place an intelligent stop at a point which will limit risk to less than $400-500. If the current volatility is too large to accomplish this, you must pass the trade.

While novice traders spend all their time working on entries, seasoned traders know that the really difficult decisions in trading involve exiting profitable positions. Letting profits run on good trades is absolutely essential to long-term success. I believe that judicious trailing stops are the best way to let profits run. On multiple contract positions Steve Briese uses a combination of trailing stops and volatility. While successfully trading commodities with limited capital presents the highest challenge in trading, you can do it if you recognize the problems and construct a trading plan to accommodate the realities.

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