The best way to reason about a trading strategy’s performance, that is valuing it, is as an option.
Or perhaps as a collection or portfolio of them.
I have to assume that people reading this have a working idea of what an option is, so I’m not going to provide definitions that can be readily found elsewhere. I will note that my favorite book on the trading of options is by Allen Jan Baird.
Let’s consider the three illustrative trading strategies we’ve looked at up until now. The trend-following strategy suffered many little losses and then enjoyed a big win. Sounds like buying options. The mean-reverting strategy made lots of little profits and then risked getting clobbered with a big loss. Sounds like someone who’s writing options. And the first strategy we looked at, the morning range breakout, had a payoff which looked like a long straddle or strangle where the break-evens were near the observed high and lows for the session (where we set our entry stops).
Now, there’s obvious differences between the trading strategies’ payoff structures as compared to the similar options strategies. There’s no premium, for instance, and that’s clearly significant. The morning range breakout seems to exhibit a sort of knockout effect when a position has been entered but then the market reverses and you’re “knocked-out” of your position. You just take a loss and do not collect even if the market turns back in your direction. With a straddle you don’t have this behavior. There are differences and they are worth keeping in mind. But the reasons for viewing trading strategies as options portfolios are many and compelling.
The superficial reason, as I mentioned, is that the basic payout structures are potentially similar. The deep reason is that ultimately the problems are the same – how to value complex instruments with engineered payouts. And the pragmatic reason is that many many very smart people have applied their considerable brains and diverse skill-sets to advancing options pricing techniques. There’s also a great deal of high quality software available out there which can be used to adapt these time-proven techniques to your own algorithmic trading strategy valuations.
The techniques which we’ve seen up until now, back-testing and parameter optimization, are sort of weak cousins of a family of techniques long used for options pricing: Monte-Carlo (MC) methods. MC simulation can clearly be used to assess a trading strategy’s performance.
In subsequent posts, we’ll talk about some of the details of each of these techniques and about some of their respective trade-offs. That should keep my pump primed for a bit, but in the meanwhile I leave you with a parting inquiry: what other options pricing techniques might we apply to our algorithmic trading practices?