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Former investment bank FX trader: news trading and second order thinking

Former investment bank FX trader: news trading and second order thinking
Thanks to everyone who responded to the previous pieces on risk management. We ended up with nearly 2,000 upvotes and I'm delighted so many of you found it useful.
This time we're going to focus on a new area: reacting to and trading around news and fundamental developments.
A lot of people get this totally wrong and the main reason is that they trade the news at face value, without considering what the market had already priced in. If you've ever seen what you consider to be "good" or "better than forecast" news come out and yet been confused as the pair did nothing or moved in the opposite direction to expected, read on...
We are going to do this in two parts.
Part I
  • Introduction
  • Why use an economic calendar
  • How to read the calendar
  • Knowing what's priced in
  • Surveys
  • Rates decisions
  • First order thinking vs second order thinking

Introduction

Knowing how to use and benefit from the economic calendar is key for all traders - not just news traders.
In this chapter we are going to take a practical look at how to use the economic calendar. We are also going to look at how to interpret news using second order thinking.
The key concept is learning what has already been ‘priced in’ by the market so we can estimate how the market price might react to the new information.

Why use an economic calendar

The economic calendar contains all the scheduled economic releases for that day and week. Even if you purely trade based on technical analysis, you still must know what is in store.

https://preview.redd.it/20xdiq6gq4k51.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=6cd47186db1039be7df4d7ad6782de36da48f1db
Why? Three main reasons.
Firstly, releases can help provide direction. They create trends. For example if GBPUSD has been fluctuating aimlessly within a range and suddenly the Bank of England starts raising rates you better believe the British Pound will start to move. Big news events often start long-term trends which you can trade around.
Secondly, a lot of the volatility occurs around these events. This is because these events give the market new information. Prior to a big scheduled release like the US Non Farm Payrolls you might find no one wants to take a big position. After it is released the market may move violently and potentially not just in a single direction - often prices may overshoot and come back down. Even without a trend this volatility provides lots of trading opportunities for the day trader.

https://preview.redd.it/u17iwbhiq4k51.png?width=1200&format=png&auto=webp&s=98ea8ed154c9468cb62037668c38e7387f2435af
Finally, these releases can change trends. Going into a huge release because of a technical indicator makes little sense. Everything could reverse and stop you out in a moment. You need to be aware of which events are likely to influence the positions you have on so you can decide whether to keep the positions or flatten exposure before the binary event for which you have no edge.
Most traders will therefore ‘scan’ the calendar for the week ahead, noting what the big events are and when they will occur. Then you can focus on each day at a time.

Reading the economic calendar


Most calendars show events cut by trading day. Helpfully they adjust the time of each release to your own timezone. For example we can see that the Bank of Japan Interest Rate decision is happening at 4am local time for this particular London-based trader.

https://preview.redd.it/lmx0q9qoq4k51.jpg?width=1200&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=c6e9e1533b1ba236e51296de8db3be55dfa78ba1

Note that some events do not happen at a specific time. Think of a Central Banker’s speech for example - this can go on for an hour. It is not like an economic statistic that gets released at a precise time. Clicking the finger emoji will open up additional information on each event.

Event importance

How do you define importance? Well, some events are always unimportant. With the greatest of respect to Italian farmers, nobody cares about mundane releases like Italian farm productivity figures.
Other events always seem to be important. That means, markets consistently react to them and prices move. Interest rate decisions are an example of consistently high importance events.
So the Medium and High can be thought of as guides to how much each event typically affects markets. They are not perfect guides, however, as different events are more or less important depending on the circumstances.
For example, imagine the UK economy was undergoing a consumer-led recovery. The Central Bank has said it would raise interest rates (making GBPUSD move higher) if they feel the consumer is confident.
Consumer confidence data would suddenly become an extremely important event. At other times, when the Central Bank has not said it is focused on the consumer, this release might be near irrelevant.

Knowing what's priced in

Next to each piece of economic data you can normally see three figures. Actual, Forecast, and Previous.
  • Actual refers to the number as it is released.
  • Forecast refers to the consensus estimate from analysts.
  • Previous is what it was last time.
We are going to look at this in a bit more detail later but what you care about is when numbers are better or worse than expected. Whether a number is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ really does not matter much. Yes, really.

Once you understand that markets move based on the news vs expectations, you will be less confused by price action around events

This is a common misunderstanding. Say everyone is expecting ‘great’ economic data and it comes out as ‘good’. Does the price go up?
You might think it should. After all, the economic data was good. However, everyone expected it to be great and it was just … good. The great release was ‘priced in’ by the market already. Most likely the price will be disappointed and go down.
By priced in we simply mean that the market expected it and already bought or sold. The information was already in the price before the announcement.
Incidentally the official forecasts can be pretty stale and might not accurately capture what active traders in the market expect. See the following example.

An example of pricing in

For example, let’s say the market is focused on the number of Tesla deliveries. Analysts think it’ll be 100,000 this quarter. But Elon Musk tweets something that hints he’s really, really, really looking forward to the analyst call. Tesla’s price ticks higher after the tweet as traders put on positions, reflecting the sentiment that Tesla is likely to massively beat the 100,000. (This example is not a real one - it just serves to illustrate the concept.)

Tesla deliveries are up hugely vs last quarter ... but they are disappointing vs market expectations ... what do you think will happen to the stock?

On the day it turns out Tesla hit 101,000. A better than the officially forecasted result - sure - but only marginally. Way below what readers of Musk's twitter account might have thought. Disappointed traders may sell their longs and close out the positions. The stock might go down on ‘good’ results because the market had priced in something even better. (This example is not a real one - it just serves to illustrate the concept.)

Surveys

It can be a little hard to know what the market really expects. Often the published forecasts are stale and do not reflect what actual traders and investors are looking for.
One of the most effective ways is a simple survey of investors. Something like a Twitter poll like this one from CNBC is freely available and not a bad barometer.
CNBC, Bloomberg and other business TV stations often have polls on their Twitter accounts that let you know what others are expecting

Interest rates decisions

We know that interest rates heavily affect currency prices.
For major interest rate decisions there’s a great tool on the CME’s website that you can use.

See the link for a demo

This gives you a % probability of each interest rate level, implied by traded prices in the bond futures market. For example, in the case above the market thinks there’s a 20% chance the Fed will cut rates to 75-100bp.
Obviously this is far more accurate than analyst estimates because it uses actual bond prices where market participants are directly taking risk and placing bets. It basically looks at what interest rate traders are willing to lend at just before/after the date of the central bank meeting to imply the odds that the market ascribes to a change on that date.
Always try to estimate what the market has priced in. That way you have some context for whether the release really was better or worse than expected.

Second order thinking

You have to know what the market expects to try and guess how it’ll react. This is referred to by Howard Marks of Oaktree as second-level thinking. His explanation is so clear I am going to quote extensively.
It really is hard to improve on this clarity of thought:
First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it (a bad sign for anything involving an attempt at superiority). All the first-level thinker needs is an opinion about the future, as in “The outlook for the company is favorable, meaning the stock will go up.” Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.
Howard Marks
He explains first-level thinking:
The first-level thinker simply looks for the highest quality company, the best product, the fastest earnings growth or the lowest p/e ratio. He’s ignorant of the very existence of a second level at which to think, and of the need to pursue it.
Howard Marks
The above describes the guy who sees a 101,000 result and buys Tesla stock because - hey, this beat expectations. Marks goes on to describe second-level thinking:
The second-level thinker goes through a much more complex process when thinking about buying an asset. Is it good? Do others think it’s as good as I think it is? Is it really as good as I think it is? Is it as good as others think it is? Is it as good as others think others think it is? How will it change? How do others think it will change? How is it priced given: its current condition; how do I think its conditions will change; how others think it will change; and how others think others think it will change? And that’s just the beginning. No, this isn’t easy.
Howard Marks
In this version of events you are always thinking about the market’s response to Tesla results.
What do you think they’ll announce? What has the market priced in? Is Musk reliable? Are the people who bought because of his tweet likely to hold on if he disappoints or exit immediately? If it goes up at which price will they take profit? How big a number is now considered ‘wow’ by the market?
As Marks says: not easy. However, you need to start getting into the habit of thinking like this if you want to beat the market. You can make gameplans in advance for various scenarios.
Here are some examples from Marks to illustrate the difference between first order and second order thinking.

Some further examples
Trying to react fast to headlines is impossible in today’s market of ultra fast computers. You will never win on speed. Therefore you have to out-think the average participant.

Coming up in part II

Now that we have a basic understanding of concepts such as expectations and what the market has priced in, we can look at some interesting trading techniques and tools.
Part II
  • Preparing for quantitative and qualitative releases
  • Data surprise index
  • Using recent events to predict future reactions
  • Buy the rumour, sell the fact
  • The trimming position effect
  • Reversals
  • Some key FX releases
Hope you enjoyed this note. As always, please reply with any questions/feedback - it is fun to hear from you.
***
Disclaimer:This content is not investment advice and you should not place any reliance on it. The views expressed are the author's own and should not be attributed to any other person, including their employer.
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