The Cocoa Conundrum: A Classic Trend Follower’s Perspective on Risk


Cocoa’s recent performance has been an impressive demonstration of a profitable market trend. Despite this, some traders have critiqued Classic Trend Followers for what they consider excessive exposure to such a volatile single market, labeling it as overly “risky.” They recommend spreading this risk across a broader range of less concentrated markets to enhance diversification. However, we have several reasons to confidently stand by our focused approach.

Firstly, not all markets offer the same potential for returns. The unique opportunities that cocoa presents right now are not readily found in other markets. In the world of investment, returns—and accordingly, risks—are not uniformly distributed across all times and places. Serial correlation, the statistical concept that underpins the momentum behind market trends, varies significantly across different markets. Cocoa’s current trend is supported by strong underlying momentum, making it an outstanding candidate for focused investment.

Massive trends, by their very nature, are unpredictable and can defy conventional expectations. When we identify a trend with such robust momentum as cocoa currently has, our strategy as Classic Trend Followers is to maintain our position firmly. Redistributing our investment to chase lesser trends would not only dilute the potential returns but could also increase our exposure to less predictable risks.

The dynamic nature of real-world financial markets means that trending opportunities do not present themselves consistently. As complex adaptive systems, markets fluctuate, waxing and waning in their generation of substantial trends. Therefore, our classic trend-following strategies must be opportunistic, ready to capitalize on significant trends when they do emerge Once we identify and latch onto a material trend, our approach involves a commitment to maintaining or even increasing our exposure rather than scaling back with the assumption that another similar opportunity will soon present itself. This strategy stems from an understanding that each trend is unique, and comparable opportunities might not be forthcoming in the near term. We focus on maximizing the potential of the current trend, extracting as much value as possible before it dissipates. This disciplined approach to trend following ensures we are fully engaged when conditions are most favorable, rather than diluting our efforts across less promising prospects.

The essence of trend following lies in the understanding that when you’re riding a massive trend with clear, strong momentum, you stick with it. This isn’t about reckless exposure but about a calculated decision to exploit a rare opportunity to its fullest. Our commitment to cocoa reflects a strategic choice to maximize returns from a powerful trend, rather than spreading our risk thinly over less promising markets.

Our perspective on risk fundamentally differs from that of many other traders that might try to smooth the ride using volatility targeting. This blog post aims to elucidate why we, as Classic Trend Followers, don’t view our exposure to cocoa as excessively risky, but rather as a calculated and strategic decision.

Understanding Risk Through the Lens of a Trend Follower

At the core of the Classic Trend Follower’s approach to investing is a strategic principle: ride the waves of market trends until there is a clear shift in momentum. This philosophy is deeply entrenched in a sophisticated understanding of market dynamics, particularly the concept of serial correlation. Serial correlation posits that past price movements are not isolated events but can provide valuable indicators of future market directions.

Unlike volatility targeters, who focus on minimizing risk by maintaining a consistent exposure across all market conditions, Classic Trend Followers adopt a more dynamic approach. They tailor their exposure based on the strength and continuity of the trends they observe, rather than applying a uniform strategy. This adaptive method allows them to increase their market involvement during times when trends demonstrate greater strength and reliability, maximizing potential returns. They employ a trailing stop strategy that kicks in when trends begin to show signs of weakening or reversing. However, Classic Trend Followers do not typically reduce their position sizes simply because a trend appears to weaken temporarily. They recognize that serial correlation can behave unpredictably, much like the aftershocks of an earthquake, not always clustering within a predictable timeframe.

This strategy requires a keen sense of timing and a robust analytical framework to effectively discern the strength of trends. Classic Trend Followers rely heavily on technical analysis tools and statistical measures to gauge the momentum behind market movements. By focusing on trends with strong and persistent momentum, they position themselves to capitalize on the opportunities these trends present, often achieving significant gains.

Furthermore, this strategy equips Classic Trend Followers with the flexibility to be highly responsive to evolving market conditions. They are not restricted to a fixed level of exposure; instead, they adjust their involvement as trends intensify and become more pronounced. This capability to scale up their investment as the likelihood of a trend’s persistence increases is a critical advantage in volatile markets. Here, the ability to swiftly adapt strategies can dramatically alter outcomes, turning modest gains into substantial victories.

Understanding Volatility’s Dual Nature

Classic Trend Followers and Volatility Targeters represent two distinct camps with fundamentally different approaches to volatility.

Classic Trend Followers possess a sophisticated grasp of market volatility, which they classify into two distinct categories: beneficial and adverse. Beneficial volatility involves market movements that follow identifiable patterns or established trends, offering opportunities for significant profits due to the exploitable directional momentum. Classic Trend Followers deploy various tools and strategies to determine when a trend is robust and likely to persist, enabling them to capitalize on these movements effectively.

Conversely, adverse volatility encompasses unpredictable or extreme market fluctuations that arise without clear patterns, often triggered by unexpected events or news. This form of volatility introduces risk and uncertainty. Although it is impossible to completely avoid, Classic Trend Followers mitigate these risks through extensive diversification across many small bets and the strategic use of stop-loss orders. These measures help manage their exposure, allowing them to maximize returns by exploiting the beneficial asymmetry of market movements.

Volatility Targeters view volatility primarily as a risk factor that should be minimized, regardless of its nature. Their main goal is to secure stable returns by managing and reducing volatility through diversification and other risk management techniques. This approach often involves maintaining a uniform level of exposure across various assets to even out the impact of market fluctuations.

In their approach to volatility, Volatility Targeters resemble the Sharpe ratio’s neutral perspective—it doesn’t matter whether volatility is up or down; the focus is on reducing its overall impact on the portfolio’s returns. For Volatility Targeters, volatility is something to be mitigated, not exploited, irrespective of whether it might lead to gains or losses. Their primary aim is to achieve consistent returns by strategically reallocating risk across their portfolio to dampen the effects of market volatility.

Due to their commitment to reducing overall volatility, Volatility Targeters might fail to recognize the difference between beneficial and adverse volatility. They tend to miss out on the high returns that beneficial volatility can offer because their strategies are not designed to leverage significant directional market movements. Instead, their focus lies on shielding the portfolio from the potential downsides of volatility, with a strong emphasis on capital preservation over the pursuit of potentially higher profits.

Classic Trend Followers thrive on beneficial volatility. They see it as the lever that can generate massive potential returns. By embracing and strategically exploiting periods of market momentum, Trend Followers position themselves to make substantial profits. This approach requires a deep understanding of market dynamics, a robust analytical framework, and the courage to make significant bets when they believe the odds are in their favor.

For example, if a Classic Trend Follower identifies a strong upward trend in the price of gold due to market conditions suggesting continued demand and limited supply, they might increase their exposure significantly. By doing so, they capitalize on the trend’s momentum, which is seen as beneficial volatility. This calculated approach allows them to maximize returns during such trends, contrasting sharply with the more conservative, spread-out exposure that a Volatility Targeter would typically maintain.

Realized vs. Unrealized Capital in Cocoa Investments

For Classic Trend Followers, managing realized capital and unrealized equity is akin to employing a barbell approach to risk management. This strategy is particularly suited to navigating unpredictable market environments, such as those often encountered with commodities like cocoa, balancing the mitigation of adverse volatility with the exploitation of emerging opportunities.

Realized capital represents the foundational funds that must be preserved to ensure financial stability and operational integrity. Similar to the principal amount initially invested in any financial venture, this capital serves as one end of the barbell, focusing on absorbing shocks and providing a safety net during downturns. The commitment to protecting this capital ensures that the core of our financial resources remains secure against market volatility, especially important in turbulent markets like those of cocoa, known for their swift price changes.

On the other end of the barbell lies unrealized equity, which consists of gains or profits accrued beyond the initial investment. This portion of our resources is allocated for risk-taking in pursuit of higher returns, allowing us to capitalize on favorable market conditions. For example, when the cocoa market exhibits a robust upward trend, we strategically utilize unrealized equity to increase our exposure to this trend. By reinvesting profits derived from previous cocoa trades, we aggressively pursue additional gains without endangering our foundational capital.

Central to the barbell approach in investment strategy is the understanding that achieving high returns often necessitates taking risks. However, these risks are deliberately confined to unrealized equity—the portion of capital representing gains above the initial investment. This is the equity we can afford to lose without compromising the financial foundation of our portfolio.

This barbell strategy facilitates a balanced approach to risk management in the volatile cocoa market. While the preservation end of the barbell safeguards our initial capital, ensuring that we are protected during market downturns, the opportunity end allows us to leverage upward market trends for significant profit potential. By carefully segregating funds into realized capital and unrealized equity, we limit our exposure to potential losses to only the previously secured gains, thus protecting our principal investment.

In employing this strategy, we not only safeguard against the inherent risks of the cocoa market but also position ourselves to take full advantage of its lucrative trends. This dual focus ensures that we remain robust in the face of volatility while actively pursuing the substantial returns that cocoa’s periodic surges can offer. This methodical approach to capital management ensures that Classic Trend Followers can effectively navigate the extremes of commodity markets, minimizing risks while maximizing potential returns.

Casino Analogy: Alex’s Use of “House Money”

The concept of realized capital versus unrealized equity can be illustrated through a gambling analogy, as seen in the strategies employed by a fictitious Alex at the casino.

When Alex enters the casino with $200, this amount represents his realized capital. It’s the foundation of his financial strategy, the initial stake that he meticulously aims to protect. This money is essential for his continued participation in the game, acting as a safety net that ensures he doesn’t exit early due to losses. Alex’s first priority is the preservation of this capital, reflecting a disciplined approach to managing his resources.

As Alex’s night progresses and he accumulates winnings, his financial strategy evolves. The winnings transition from being part of his essential funds to becoming unrealized equity, or “house money.” This distinction is crucial; it allows Alex to shift his risk tolerance and employ a more aggressive betting strategy. With his realized capital secure, any additional funds — the unrealized equity — provide him with the freedom to pursue higher-stakes bets.

For example, once Alex’s total rises to $400, the additional $200 above his initial stake is categorized as unrealized equity. At this juncture, his card counting indicates that the odds are increasingly in his favor. Recognizing a favorable shift in the probability landscape, Alex sees an opportunity to strike big. This realization prompts him to place larger bets using his unrealized equity, aiming for substantial wins without risking his foundational $200.

Alex’s strategy in the casino mirrors his approach in trading, especially in volatile markets like cocoa. In his investment activities, he uses profits from initial conservative positions as a tool for further investment, rather than merely securing them back into his portfolio. This strategic use of unrealized equity allows him to capitalize on favorable market trends and potentially amplify his returns, without endangering his core financial resources.

This meticulous management of realized capital and unrealized equity allows Alex, as a Classic Trend Follower, to effectively navigate the complex balance between risk and reward. By carefully distinguishing between capital that must be protected and profits that can be risked, Alex ensures that he can engage in high-return opportunities without exposing his essential financial stability to undue risk.

Cocoa’s Massive Trend: Opportunity, Not Excess Risk

Cocoa’s market has shown a robust trend that, from our perspective, represents an opportunity rather than undue risk. The criticism from volatility targeters often stems from their focus on the potential impact on portfolio volatility. In contrast, Trend Followers like us see these fluctuations as natural parts of a larger trend cycle. We increase our exposure not when the market is calm, but precisely when we observe that cocoa exhibits strong trend characteristics.

The decision to invest heavily in a trending market like cocoa is based on the generation of rules from our backtests that apply to all liquid markets over extensive data history. It is not a reckless gamble but a deliberate strategy that has repeatedly proven its worth. When we analyse cocoa, we are not deterred by its volatility. Instead, we are encouraged by our ability to predict its course with reasonable accuracy, thanks to our models that focus on long-term trends and not merely on avoiding short-term losses.

The Role of Serial Correlation in Managing Risk

A pivotal element that sets Classic Trend Followers apart from volatility targeters is our strategic reliance on serial correlation. This statistical principle underscores that when a market begins to trend in a certain direction, it is prone to continue in that trajectory for an extended period. By understanding and applying this concept, we effectively bet on the persistence of these trends.

By anticipating the continuation of a market trend, we strategically position our investments to take advantage of movements that might be deemed too risky by more conservative investors. This approach not only allows us to enhance potential returns but also plays a crucial role in our risk management strategy. By aligning our bets with established trends, we mitigate the risk of betting against the market’s momentum, thereby capitalizing on a deeper understanding of market dynamics that go beyond superficial price movements.

Addressing Concerns About Volatility and Timing Risk in Classic Trend Following

A common critique of Classic Trend Following is that the volatile nature of our returns introduces timing risk for investors, meaning that their exposure to the markets could coincide with unfavorable volatility. Critics argue that volatility targeting, which aims to smooth portfolio returns, allows investors to participate at all times without facing extreme fluctuations. However, this perspective overlooks critical aspects of how real markets operate and the long-term implications of such smoothing tactics.

In practice, real financial markets do not offer consistent, smooth opportunities for returns. Markets are inherently volatile and unpredictable, often characterized by phases of low returns interspersed with bursts of high returns. Volatility targeting attempts to moderate these fluctuations through diversification and other risk management techniques that ostensibly stabilize the investment portfolio.

However, the approach of smoothing returns can be misleading. While it may protect against the discomfort of short-term volatility, it often does so at the cost of sacrificing potentially higher long-term gains. By artificially dampening the natural fluctuations of the market, volatility targeting strategies may reduce the likelihood of experiencing low periods but also diminish the potential for capturing significant upward trends.

Classic Trend Following is predicated on the philosophy that investment is not a regular cashflow-generating exercise but a long-term wealth accumulation endeavor. Our strategy is designed to capitalize on substantial market movements, which, although infrequent, can significantly enhance an investor’s portfolio performance over time. This approach requires patience and a long-term perspective, as the benefits of trend following are realized through the strategic exploitation of these significant trends.

Investors looking for steady, cashflow-like returns may find the volatility inherent in Classic Trend Following unsuitable. Such investors might consider more conservative, income-focused strategies that aim for regular distributions, such as bonds or dividend-paying stocks. It is crucial for investors to align their investment choices with their risk tolerance, time horizon, and financial goals.

As Classic Trend Followers, we are committed to not compromising our long-term wealth objectives by employing window dressing tactics that merely smooth returns for aesthetic purposes. These tactics can create an illusion of stability but ultimately limit the portfolio’s growth potential by avoiding the natural high-return opportunities that markets occasionally offer.

A Different View on Risk and Reward

As Classic Trend Followers, our view on risk is intrinsically linked to potential rewards. We believe that the ability to exploit the full potential of beneficial trends, like those often seen in cocoa, outweighs the potential downside, especially when managed carefully through proven trend-following methodologies. While volatility targeters prioritize stability and modest, consistent returns, we embrace the possibility of substantial gains by understanding and leveraging market trends.

The criticism from volatility targeters underscores a fundamental difference in investment philosophy. For us, the massive trend in cocoa isn’t a sign of danger but a beacon of opportunity, guiding us towards potential profits that could not be achieved through a more conservative approach. In the world of investment, as in life, different strategies suit different goals and temperaments. Our strategy is tailored for those who are prepared to manage significant market movements, turning what some perceive as high risk into high reward.

Trade well and Prosper

The ATS mob

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