A recent article by Mark Hulbert in the NYTimes talked about the Value Line's rankings, and how this system is under-performing the market index in recent years. Mr. Hulbert asked Professor David Aronson of Baruch College whether this drop in performance means that the system has stopped working. Prof. Aronson says no: he believes that it takes 10 or more years [my emphasis] of under-performance of this strategy before one can say that it has stopped working! This statement, if taken out-of-context, is so manifestly untrue that it warrants some elaboration.
To evaluate whether a strategy has failed bears a lot of resemblance to evaluating whether a particular trade has failed. In my previous article on stop-loss, I outlined a method to determine how long it takes before we should exit a losing trade. This has to do with the historical average holding period of similar trades. This kind of thinking can also be applied to a strategy as a whole. If your strategy, like the Value Line system, holds a position for months or even years before replacing it with others, then yes, it may take many years to find out if the system has finally stopped working. On the other hand, if your system holds a position for just hours, or maybe just minutes, then no, it takes only a few months to find out! Why? Those who are well-versed in statistics know that the larger the sample size (in this case, the number of trades), the smaller the percent deviation from the mean return.
Which brings me to day-trading. In the popular press, day-trading has been given a bad-name. Everyone seems to think that those people who sit in sordid offices buying and selling stocks every minute and never holding over-night positions are no better than gamblers. And we all know how gamblers end up, right? Let me tell you a little secret: in my years working for hedge funds and prop-trading groups in investment banks, I have seen all kinds of trading strategies. In 100% of the cases, traders who have achieved spectacularly high Sharpe ratio (like 6 or higher), with minimal drawdown, are day-traders.