Managing positions with multiple trading systems

In our last Bulletin we presented our reasoning for using multiple systems in multiple markets in order to produce more consistent profits and to generate a smoother equity curve. In this Bulletin we will address some of the practical aspects of controlling our position sizes when employing this strategy.

When using multiple strategies/systems in one market we are inevitably faced with the question of how many positions to trade and what to do when long and short trades appear at the same time. Many potential problems can be reduced if the systems are designed to integrate well so that one type of system will be turning off just as a different type of system is turning on. It is certainly not that difficult to devise rules that will serve to eliminate most of the contradictory trading signals.

For example we can require that prices be above a specified moving average in order to initiate buy signals and below that same moving average to generate signals to sell short. Although such a rule might appear to avoid contradictory signals it is not foolproof. It is possible that an existing long position initiated at prices above the specified moving average might still be in place when a new entry is signalled in the opposite direction as a result of prices having drifted below the moving average. In this instance we have an open long position and a new signal to sell short.

Although it is theoretically possible to have two or more accounts and hold both long and short positions at the same time, the common solution is to simply trade the net position. Two longs and a short is a net position of one long. A long and a short is a net position of no contracts. The large CTAs who are trading multiple systems usually trade net positions and some of them easily operate 50 or more systems at a time.

Another possibility with the multiple position strategy is to operate with a limited exposure in terms of the maximum number of contracts traded at one time. For example, assume we wanted to trade all six of our bond systems and never have more than three contracts on at one time. For starters, the design of the bond systems makes it unlikely that we would ever have more than three positions in the same direction. But let’s assume that it does happen and we are holding three long positions and a fourth system kicks in and says to go long again. We could choose to operate on a first come basis and simply ignore the fourth signal. However, as the designer of these systems I believe there might be a better solution.

I would suggest trading on the basis of giving priority to the most recent signal. If we were long three contracts and got a signal to go long again, I would switch the oldest open position and trade it as though it were the new signal. Lets say that we are long on systems A, B, and C. Then system D gives a buy signal. No new trade is entered and we operate the exits as though we are long in systems B, C and D.

The reason I prefer this method is because I know the effort that is put into designing the pre-entry setups for each system. These pre-entry setups are designed to give us an accurate reading of market conditions just as we enter each trade. These pre-entry conditions not only tell us the direction (up, down or sideways) but often tell us the present strength of the directional trend and the best time frame to be trading right now. By switching from the old position in system “A” into the new position in system “D”, we will gain the benefit of using system “D’s exit strategy which is most likely to be in tune with current market conditions. I like to call this process “System Updating”. There is no order needed or entered with our broker to “Update” our systems. We simply stop placing exit orders for system A and commence placing exit orders for system D instead.

Another possibility is to limit our open positions to one long term strategy and one short term strategy so that we can monitor all six systems without having more than two positions on at one time. If we have one long term position on we will only enter a second position when it is a short term entry signal. All additional long term signals are ignored or we employ the “Updating” technique described above.

As you can see, trading six systems at once does not require that we ever have six positions on at any time. In fact the specific intent designed into the multiple bond strategies is to never have more than one or two positions on at one time unless we are in a strong bull market where trading is easy and usually very low risk. In that ideal market environment we want to have as many positions on as our capital and system signals will allow. If the systems operate as designed we might have as many as four open positions under these ideal conditions. Any more than that would be very unlikely and easily handled.

In summary, the systems themselves should take care of most of the position sizing automatically. But in case we want to limit our exposure or use other position sizing methods there are many ways of applying logical and creative strategies that will limit our open positions to whatever number we desire. We have only illustrated a few of the many possibilities.


Reprinted with permission by Chuck LeBeau at