Screen Information, Trader Activity, and Bid-Ask Spreads in a Limit Order Market

A key focus of empirical work on limit order markets is the relative importance of individual pieces of information in characterizing order submission and trade execution.

We enlarge this focus to include an examination of pricing behavior, using data on index futures trading in a pure electronic limit order book market. A theoretical link between order, trade, and cancellation arrival rates, and the distribution of bid-ask spreads is empirically implemented.

Evaluation of models across different information sets is based on relative ability to predict market activity and pricing out-of-sample. A main finding of the paper is the importance and superiority of information embodied in continuous individual traders’ actions in characterizing order submission behavior and the structure of pricing.

The book information on chararcteristics of resting orders alone cannot explain subsequent order submission, trade, or pricing behavior, and has little impact on the shape of the spread distribution.

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Hidden Divergence (by Barbara Star, Ph.D)

Hidden Divergence

Divergence, which is a term that techni- cians use when two or more averages or indices fail to show confirming trends, is one of the mainstays of technical analysis. Here’s a new way to use oscil- lators and divergence as well as meth- ods to locate entry levels during a trend.
Most technical indicators mirror or confirm price movement. When price moves up, the indicator moves up; when price moves down, the indicator moves down. When prices peak, the indicator peaks; and when prices bottom, the indi- cator bottoms. Sometimes, however, a discrepancy occurs between price and indicator movement. That discrepancy is known as nonconfirmation and can be seen most clearly on overbought or over- sold indicators as well as on indicators that move above or below a zero line. Many traders only learn to recognize the type of nonconfirmation that occurs at market tops and bottoms, which is the classic divergence. But there are other forms of nonconfirmation I call hidden divergence (HD) that, when present, offer additional profit potential.


Commodity Futures Trading for Beginners (By Bruce Babcock)


Many people have become very rich in the commodity markets. It is one of a few investment areas where an individual with limited capital can make extraordinary profits in a relatively short period of time. For example, Richard Dennis borrowed $1,600 and turned it into a $200 million fortune in about ten years.
Nevertheless, because most people lose money, commodity trading has a bad reputation as being too risky for the average individual. The truth is that commodity trading is only as risky as you want to make it.

Those who treat trading as a get-rich-quick scheme are likely to lose because they have to take big risks. If you act prudently, treat your trading like a business instead of a giant gambling casino and are willing to settle for a reasonable return, the risks are acceptable. The probability of success is excellent.

The process of trading commodities is also known as futures trading. Unlike other kinds of investments, such as stocks and bonds, when you trade futures, you do not actually buy anything or own anything. You are speculating on the future direction of the price in the commodity you are trading. This is like a bet on future price direction. The terms “buy” and “sell” merely indicate the direction you expect future prices will take.

If, for instance, you were speculating in corn, you would buy a futures contract if you thought the price would be going up in the future. You would sell a futures contract if you thought the price would go down. For every trade, there is always a buyer and a seller. Neither person has to own any corn to participate. He must only deposit sufficient capital with a brokerage firm to insure that he will be able to pay the losses if his trades lose money.

In addition to speculators, both the commodity’s commercial producers and commercial consumers also participate. The principal economic purpose of the futures markets is for these commercial participants to eliminate their risk from changing prices.

On one side of a transaction may be a producer like a farmer. He has a field full of corn growing on his farm. It won’t be ready for harvest for another three months. If he is worried about the price going down during that time, he can sell futures contracts equivalent to the size of his crop and deliver his corn to fulfill his obligation under the contract. Regardless of how the price of corn changes in the three months until his crop will be ready for delivery, he is guaranteed to be paid the current price.

On the other side of the transaction might be a producer such as a cereal manufacturer who needs to buy lots of corn. The manufacturer, such as Kellogg, may be concerned that in the next three months the price of corn will go up, and it will have to pay more than the current price. To protect against this, Kellogg can buy futures contracts at the current price. In three months Kellogg can fulfill its obligation under the contracts by taking delivery of the corn. This guarantees that regardless of how the price moves in the next three months, Kellogg will pay no more than the current price for its corn.

In addition to agricultural commodities, there are futures for financial instruments and intangibles such as currencies, bonds and stock market indexes. Each futures market has producers and consumers who need to hedge their risk from future price changes. The speculators, who do not actually deal in the physical commodities, are there to provide liquidity. This maintains an orderly market where price changes from one trade to the next are small.

Rather than taking delivery or making delivery, the speculator merely offsets his position at some time before the date set for future delivery. If price has moved in the right direction, he will profit. If not, he will lose.

In his book The Futures Game, Professor Richard Teweles explains the functions of the futures markets: “In addition to reducing the costs of production, marketing and processing, futures markets provide continuous, accurate, well-publicized price information and continuous liquid markets. Futures trading is [thus] beneficial to the public which ultimately consumes the goods traded in the futures markets. Without the speculator futures markets could not function.”

Since speculators perform the valuable functions of providing liquidity and assuming the risk of price fluctuation, they can earn substantial returns. The potentially large profits are available precisely because there is also a risk of substantial loss.


Identifying Budding Trends with Bollinger Bands

Bollinger Bands are among the most commonly found technical indicators these days. Even the most basic of charting applications include them among the available offerings. There are many ways the Bands can be incorporated in to one’s market analysis and trading methods (see Bollinger Bands – The Basic Rules for a discussion. This article focuses on how they can be used to find markets in the early stages of significant directional moves.
The process of trend identification using Bollinger Bands starts with evaluating the width of the Bands. This is done using the Band Width Indicator (BWI), which is calculated as follows:

BWI = ( UB – LB ) / MB

Where UB is the Upper Band, LB is the Lower Band, and MB is the Middle Band. Using the common default setting of 20-periods, that means the MB is the 20-period moving average. That default will be the one used in the examples provided herein, though it is by no means necessarily the best option.
The formula above will express the width between the Bands as a percentage of the moving average being used. It could be multiplied through by 100 to provide an integer value (as done on the sample charts). The average (MB) is used rather than current price because it is the central point in the Bands, whereas price could be anywhere within (or even outside) them.

The reason for calculating BWI is that it gives us a normalized reading of how wide the Bands are for comparative purposes. A 100 point band width on the S&P 500, for example, is relatively different when the index is at 900 than when it’s at 1500. The chart below provides an example of BWI. It is a daily chart of S&P 500 e-mini futures (continuous contract) with the Bollinger Bands plotted along with price in the upper portion and BWI as the secondary plot below.
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The basics of trading with candlesticks charts

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Even as you read this, the candlestick charting technique, with its origins in Japan, is being absorbed into the ways of Western technical analysis. Here’s how candlestick charting can be used for a typically Western technical analysis strategy…

Managing Option Directional Trades

Options provide great position management and risk control potential when using them to trade the market directionally. This goes beyond the simple fact that a long position in a call or put option has an absolute maximum risk equal to the cost of the option (plus commissions, of course). That, in and of itself, is a very useful thing. What this article discusses, however, are a couple of handy little things one can do while holding an option position to maximize the return and keep the risk well constrained.

◊ Roll Up/Down
Most traders are familiar with the concept of a trailing stop whereby one moves their protective exit as the market moves in favor of the trade. This is used to lock in profits. The same thing can be accomplished when one is trading options rather than the underlying. This is done by rolling one’s position up or down strike prices depending on whether the trade is a long using calls or short employing put options.

Here’s a recent example from the author’s own trading.

A long position in Seagate Technology (STX) was initiated when the stock was trading at around 21.50 using the March 22.50 call options. They were purchased for $0.80. The market rallied over the next few weeks, eventually moving up above $24. At that point, a roll-up was executed by selling the March 22.50 calls at $2.60 and purchasing the March 25 calls at $1.40. This action served two purposes. The first is that it took $1.20 off the table, reducing the portfolio exposure and freeing up cash for use elsewhere. It also locked in a profit of $0.40 ($2.60 sales price minus the $0.80 purchase price for the 22.50 calls minus the $1.40 purchase price for the new 25 calls). At the same time, it had no effect on the remaining upside potential for the trade. The two strikes would probably profit about the same from any further appreciation in the price of STX shares.

If the portfolio exposure was deemed acceptable at $2.60, an alternate course of action would have been to sell the March 22.50 calls and not take any money out, but rather roll it all in to the March 25 calls. For example, if the position was 10 options, selling the 22.50s would net $2600. That cash could have been used to purchase 18 of the 25 calls ($2600/$140 = 18.57). By doing so, one actually increases the upside potential for the trade substantially. Of course, the full position is at risk, meaning one could theoretically lose the whole $2600 invested, which is more than could have been lost when the trade was first initiated.

◊ Roll Forward
One of the issues with options is the limited duration they provide for holding trades. If one is an intermediate to longer-term trader, this can be an important hurdle. That said, however, in a manner similar to the roll up/down, if one wants to extend the holding period of a position it can be done by rolling forward the expiration month.

Continuing with the STX example, we can look at rolling forward. That would be accomplished by going from the March contract to the June one. As of this writing, the March 25s are trading at $2.40 and the June 25s are at $3.60. There’s the rub, though. Because of the longer time to expiration, the June contract is priced significantly higher. That is why a roll forward is often best accomplished with a roll up/down.

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Realized vs. Unrealized Returns

Traders deal with two different kinds of returns when they speak of profits and losses made in the markets. Realized returns, often referred to as “booked”, are those which come about as the result of a position which has been closed out. Unrealized, or “paper”, gains and losses are those which involve open positions. An example of a paper return would be when one buys a stock at $100 and it rises to $110, but the trade remains open. In this case the trader has an unrealized gain of $10. Were the trade to be closed out at that price, that $10 gain would become a realized, or booked, profit.

While it may seem a fairly trivial point, the concept of paper vs. booked returns is an important one in the realm of trading and money management. Debates are often had as to whether paper losses are real, or whether they only become real when actualized. This is a key distinction which can play a major role in how one trades, depending on the market in question.

Where one is trading primarily in cash terms in a market like stocks, the differentiation between paper and booked returns is not very important. No matter how much the market moves either in favor or against a trader’s open position, it does not impact her/his ability to enter further trades. Imagine, for example, a trader has a $10,000 account, and buys 100 shares of XYZ at $50. That leaves $5000 remaining in the account ($10,000 – $50 x 100, not accounting for transaction fees). It matters not at all whether XYZ rises or falls. The trader will still have $5000 available to enter new positions. This only changes when the XYZ shares are sold and the profit or loss booked.
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