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Trend Following vs. Counter-Trend

If there’s one trading dilemma that tends to inspire the most heated discussions among professionals and novices alike, it would have to be the one dealing with the decision to trade “with the trend” or “against the trend”. Countless books have been written on the subject, and although there are no definitive answers, I’ve decided to set the record straight in regards to the realities of these two approaches and the proper way to handle each.

First of all, let’s define these two approaches for greater clarity. For our purposes, we’ll consider “trend following” any strategy looking to take advantage of a directional move in the context of an existing trend within the timeframe in question. This requires that we make sure that there is an existing trend and then looking for tradable patterns to take advantage of a continuation of said trend. Technical traders learn to recognize the parameters that define a trend, and then look to “cherry pick” among the healthiest trends available (Ref. Trading the Pristine Method® (TPM) and Advanced Technical Strategies (ATS) seminars). On the other hand, “counter-trend” strategies revolve around taking advantage of perceived “excesses” in the directional move of a trend, looking to capture the retracements toward some form of “median” or “support/resistance” area. Although I’m obviously biased toward one of these styles (Trend following), allow me to discuss the pros and cons of each and the way to use each style to obtain the best results within a given trading environment.

Trend-following styles base their approach on a simple principle: The trend displays the direction of the group in control (Buyers or sellers) and thus, trend-following traders will want to take positions using reliable patterns to try and take advantage of this potential continuation of the current direction, at least until the trend changes. These traders have developed “objective” ways to define a trend, its quality and odds of continuation. The idea is a rather simple one…trend-followers want to swim with the current. Whenever there’s an established trend, the group in control (buyers for uptrends and sellers for downtrends) tends to push prices in the direction of the trend, at least until the imbalance of supply/demand created ceases to exist. Such imbalances create “momentum” that helps them achieve larger moves when they’re right. How long can any given trend last? That’s anyone’s guess, although the analysis of supply/demand levels (Ref. Pristine’s ATS seminar) can sometimes help determine that with great precision. There will be a time when trading in the direction of a given trend becomes higher risk, because the trend could be “extended” or nearing support/resistance areas. In the end, these traders will have confidence in the trend at hand as long as the objective conditions that created and fuel the trend remain in place, looking to trade the patterns included in their respective Trading Plans within the trend. When said trend changes, they’ll reevaluate the trading direction and use a new set of tactics better suited to the new trend.

Counter-trend traders try to capitalize from those “retracements” toward the median price that typically take place within a trend. If you take any given chart displaying a decent trend, you’ll notice that these “retracement” moves do happen, but when compared with the usual moves in the direction of a trend, they tend to be smaller in size and shorter in time. Execution also tends to be an issue when dealing with “counter-trend” trades, as the act of swimming “against the current” makes for greater levels of “slippage” when stops are hit (In many cases the “stop” of a counter-trend trader will be the entry signal of a trend-follower” and since the trend is in the opposite direction…). That’s not to say they’re not tradable, but the clues mentioned above should set the stage for the way in which a Pristine Trained Trader should normally handle these (Usually as short-term “scalp” trades instead of looking for holding periods similar to those that usually are expected when taking a “trend-following” position). The Pristine Method® seminar series teaches traders very specific parameters to trade some of these “counter-trend” events, looking for just those with the greater odds of producing a decent move.

In the end, I’m a trend-following trader for most of my trades, looking to focus on the direction created by the stronger group of traders. Then I’ll apply the strategies I learned in my Pristine education to profit from these trends, and when the trend changes I’ll have the necessary objectivity to change with it. That’s the professional way.

Trade Well!