Best of TTU – The History of Trend Following

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The concept of Trend Following has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until a few years back, that the Bible on Trend Following was written by Kathryn Kaminski and Alex Greyserman.  Today, I am delighted to share some of the interesting lessons, insights, and key things that Kathryn Kaminski took away from the long road to publishing this book. I hope you enjoy reading this, and if you would like to listen to the full conversation, just go to Top Traders Unplugged Episode 41 and Episode 42.
Examples of Trend Following from 800 Years of Historical Data
Katy:  I think if I go back, for just a second, this concept of Trend Following is something that has been passed on throughout the ages. I think we start our book by saying find a trend and follow it, is a common adage that has been passed on throughout the centuries. This is quite, sort of, one of the points that we begin the book with, is that people have been using and following the curve, following the crowd for as long as anybody ever has imagined. Essentially trend following is simply following a trend that you may see. If you look across history, this particular approach, if done the right way, can actually be very stable over time. That’s what we see in the beginning of the book, is there’s an 800 year analysis. Granted that any of these analysis are not empirically hardcore research, but they give us some perspective on, “wait a minute, is this something that I could have done throughout the ages?” I think if you take that, and you think about what trend following is about: trend following is about following something that looks like it’s going up and cutting your losses when you think it’s not. It’s very simple. Granted the way that we do it today is much more sophisticated, and much more systematic and sophisticated, but the concept is really simple.

Niels:  Sure. I think that, in a sense, that’s quite interesting to me because I think sometimes managers over complicate the message of trend following because they want to sound like that what they do is really sophisticated, but in reality it’s not that hard.

Katy:  Definitely not. I think I spent a lot of my research time thinking about stop loss, and why do people use stopping rules, for example? There’s a lot of behavioral reasons for this, and trend following is exactly the same. You create some systematic rules to help you control your behavior – to help you make decisions. So for something like stop loss, as an example, we use a stop loss because we know that we may not be able to get ourselves to stop the loss without making the decision a priority. Trend following strategies, and the concept of trend following is about creating a simple set of rules – a simple heuristic for how do you actually profit from moves – up or down? If they exist, how do you handle them? So when we started our book, actually, one of the interesting graphs… the first graph that we have is actually performance of the S&P 500 for the last twenty odd years, and then performance of trend following. If you just look at that graph, there clearly are trends. Long trends that exist in history and different markets. So if we have that approach, there may be some ways to develop heuristics to help us to handle the ups and the downs over time.

“What if I was the type of person that just said: if I see things that are going up in the last 12 months, I buy.  If I see things are going down, I sell.  Modern day Trend Following is much more complicated, but the concepts are the same.”

Niels:  I want to try and stay with the theme of the history and trend following and just ask you how did you find evidence of trend following taking place going back so many years? We obviously, many of us remember the last five, ten, twenty years, but once you get past that and for most investors we’re not in the markets fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago, how did you observe or identify signs of trend following back then?

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