Over the past few years, a predictable trend has dominated earnings season. Analysts lower their profit forecasts in the weeks and months ahead of quarterly results, and then companies manage to slightly exceed the lowered set of expectations. It's happening again.
According to FactSet Research, on an aggregate basis, analysts lowered Q3 profit forecast by 4.2%, slightly above the typical 2.7% downward revision of the prior 20 quarters. In theory, lowering the bar further should boost the chances that companies manage to exceed current consensus forecasts.
But the typical "cut and beat" game may not be the key theme this time around. As third quarter earnings season gets underway later this week (as Alcoa (NYSE: AA) weighs in on Wednesday, October 8), a range of cross-currents promise to make this one of the more unpredictable earnings seasons in quite some time. Both positive and negative factors are likely to keep analysts and investors on their toes. This is not time to take a casual approach to earnings season. After rising 6% in the first six months of 2013, the SP 500 rose less than 1% in the third quarter.
Crucial but often overlooked, money management practices can mean the difference between winning and losing in the markets.
-Amount Of Money To Risk- It's difficult to come up with hard and fast money to risk on different markets and trades. For our purpose, though, it's best to think conservatively. Although some studies suggest initially allocating equity in broad terms of original margin (40% to 50% of total equity committed to the markets at a given time in the form of original margin, 15% to a particular market, 5% to a single trade, etc.), many traders consider these percentages too high, and do not consider the market to be a accurate measure of risk or a sound basis on which to allocate funds, because a trader can always, technically, lose more than the margin amount. These traders find it more beneficial to think in terms of the actual money amount they are willing to lose on any particular trade or trades, determined by their stop level or through some other calculation.
Although in specific circumstances professional traders may actually risk comparable or even greater percentages of total equity than those listed previously, on average they risk much less-perhaps 12% to 20% of total capital at a time, and 2% - 4% per trade. Depending on the size of your trading account, these levels might seem overly strict, but again, the idea is to conserve money for the long haul.
In developing your trading goal, determine how much you could accept losing on a trade, both financially and psychologically. Based on total capital and the number of markets in which you are active, allocate your equity proportionally between individual trade, market group and total trading activity levels.
These guidelines protect you from dangers of extreme leverage in the futures markets. Though it may seen attractive to have the change to make big money on a small initial investment, the risk of loss is just as great.
-Determining Reward/Risk Ratios- Another common rule in trading is never to put on a position unless your possible profits outweigh your possible losses by a ratio of 3 to 1, or at the very least 2 to 1. So, if a particular trade has the potential of losing $100, the profit potential should be at least $200 to $300. This is not a bad rule, but like so many aspects of trading, it is somewhat intangible. Once you have formed an opinion of a market, determined your entry point and calculated the maximum amounts you could win or lose on a trade, you still are left with the uncertainty of the probability of your trade winning or losing, and unfortunately there is not secret formula for removing this uncertainty.
Some traders don't consider probabilities valid at all. The most any trader can do is perform his or her best analysis of the market, and, along with experience and intuition, come up with some rough idea of the probability of success for a given trade. This probability can then be weighed against the reward / risk ratio in selecting trades. For example, would it be better to put on a trade where the reward / risk ratio is four to one and the probability of success is 30%, or would it be advisable to put on a trade where the reward / risk ratio is only two to one but the probability of success is 75%? Using this rule, you'll be ahead of the game by directing resources to the trades with the greatest chance of success.