…I read a comment by a forum member on another site earlier today that suggested that every investor should back test their system for at least twenty years. I disagree and will now tell you why. Back testing and paper trading seem to be the most over emphasized techniques offered by market theorists, educational elite, market novices and/or market fakes. While learning the pure basics, I can see why a novice investor may want to paper trade; to see the results of the developing system but I will warn that these results are completely false. The results will not contain the emotional decisions that go along with risking your own cash. Anyone and I mean anyone can paper trade successfully. It’s simple, place a trade and hope it goes up and if it doesn’t, you have no worries because you can’t lose. The emotional imbalance that occurs when you really start to lose money is not present. Don’t fool yourself by believing the results of your paper trading or virtual simulation portfolio. These things may give you some confidence in your system but they don’t prove a damn thing in the real world. The real world, specifically the stock market, is run by emotional human beings. People make decisions that are irrational and base their trading decisions on fear and greed. Paper trading lacks fear and greed because there is no gain and no loss; therefore there is no consequence to deal with.
Don’t worry about back testing for 20 years because historical back testing is never very accurate. The most accurate testing is real time. If you can back test real trades (actual trades that you have made in the past), then this would be just as good as real time testing (or forward testing). Back testing can get you somewhat of an idea of how your system will perform but there is no emotional attachments to this type of testing so it is not realistically accurate. We all know emotions are tied to our decisions in the markets so we can only get accurate results through real testing. Learn to ignore the talking heads and the people on TV and that internet chat room that claim they are up over 1000% trading a fake account. What really makes me laugh is the person that sets up a virtual trading scenario and then allows each participant to trade $500,000 or more in their account. If you are going to trade a fake account, at least keep it real so you try to learn something, maybe money management.
I setup one virtual trading competition a few years back and I only allowed each participant to start with $10,000, a reasonable amount, an amount that most people start trading with. The competition was fun but it was not real for me or the others. I didn’t care what risks I took and I never had a problem pulling the trigger which does happen in real life. I did try to keep my trades in line with my real life account but it varied slightly. I witnessed other traders making 20 trades per day or 20-50 trades per week. This is not real because the commissions alone, even with a discount broker will wipe you out. I did allow margin because I use margin in my account but I saw other investors abusing the fake power of margin in their virtual account, again, playing the game for fun instead of learning something valuable. As a fellow investor, keep testing your system in real time and you will know what works and what doesn’t based on real trades, not simulations. Professors and the like teach theories while investors actually do the trading! Back testing may convince some people but I am only convinced with what works now, in real time. Besides, why would I waste my time playing for fake money when I can learn and do for real? Back testing may be good for some people but I have been testing my systems in real time since the day I started investing seriously. Currently, I am testing the $60-$100 theory using options in my newest account. I will not have concrete data on this system for another year or two, most likely two years down the road. I could back test the system but how will that help me realistically going forward? It won’t, it may show me some probabilities and the possible expectancy of the system but it won’t guarantee anything until I place a position for real.
If you want to test a system, open an account with real money, even a minimal amount and give it a try. Make sure you use enough money to allow emotions to be attached to your decisions. Without the emotional attachment, you are cheating yourself and your potential system.