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Kelly Criterion: The Vitamin of Money Management

In the world of trading, there are no certainties, only probabilities. Many of us have undoubtedly heard the famous Wall Street adage that “the trend is your friend,” but it comes with a critical caveat – the trend is your friend until it bends. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t provide a clear announcement when it decides to change course.

Similarly, the notion that markets trade within a range of approximately 70% of the time is another widely accepted truth. However, this knowledge offers little help to traders, as predicting breakouts from these ranges remains a complex and often futile task. In essence, traders cannot rely on trends or trendless markets; the only constant in every market, at all times, is change.

Recent market events have served as a vivid testimony to the unpredictability of change. What was once a bearish sentiment can quickly transform into a bullish one in just a few trading sessions. While none of us can accurately predict when trendless markets will shift into trending actions or when low volatility will give way to high volatility, one thing is certain: the longer a market displays either low or high volatility, the greater the likelihood it will shift to the opposite end of the volatility spectrum – the mean will catch up.

With this understanding, we must acknowledge that trading is ultimately a game of probability. The key to navigating this uncertain terrain lies in effective money management. One such technique, known as the Kelly Criterion, can play a pivotal role in achieving trading success.

The Kelly Criterion is a mathematical formula designed to help traders determine the optimal size of their positions. It takes into account two essential factors: winning probability (W) and the win/loss ratio (R). W represents the total number of winning trades divided by the total number of trades, while R is the average gain of winning trades divided by the average loss of losing trades.

To illustrate the application of the Kelly Criterion, let’s consider an example. Imagine Mr A, a trader, is focused solely on trading Reliance Industries stock. Over a series of trades, he records the following outcomes:

Trade No

Date of Trade Outcome Profit & Loss in Rs
1 Sep-01 Profit 4500
2 Sep-02 Profit 6500
3 Sep-03 Profit 2800
4 Sep-04 Loss -3200
5 Sep-05 Loss


Now, let’s calculate the components required for the Kelly Criterion. With 5 total trades and 3 profitable ones, W (winning probability) equals 3/5 or 0.6. R (win/loss ratio) is calculated as the average gain (4600) divided by the average loss (2950), resulting in a value of 1.56.

Applying these values to the Kelly Criterion formula: Kelly% = 0.6 – [(1 – 0.6) / 1.56] = 0.6 – 0.26 = 0.34. To convert this number into a percentage, simply multiply by 100, yielding 34%.

According to the Kelly Criterion, Mr. A should expose 34% of his capital in each trade. Following this approach can significantly impact the end results of a trader’s portfolio.

In conclusion, trading is a realm of uncertainty, where change is the only constant. While we cannot predict market shifts with absolute certainty, we can increase our odds of success by embracing probability and implementing effective money management strategies like the Kelly Criterion. By understanding and utilizing this tool, traders can better position themselves to thrive in the ever-evolving world of financial markets. Remember, in trading, embracing change and managing risk are your true allies.

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