Larry’s note: Welcome to Trading with Larry Benedict, the brand new free daily eletter, designed and written to help you make sense of today’s markets. I’m glad you can join us.

My name is Larry Benedict. I’ve been trading the markets for over 30 years. I got my start in 1984, working in the Chicago Board Options Exchange. From there, I moved on to manage my own $800 million hedge fund, where I had 20 profitable years in a row. And, I’ve been featured in the book Market Wizards, alongside investors like Paul Tudor Jones.

But these days, rather than just trading for billionaires, I spend a large part of my time helping regular investors make money from the markets. My goal with these essays is to give you insight on the most interesting areas of the market for traders right now. Let’s get right into it…

Most investors know that setting stop losses is key to managing risk in the markets.

Without a stop loss, an investor doesn’t have a clear and concise way of knowing when to cut a position.

So, rather than exiting at a predetermined level, investors without stop losses often end up cutting a position based on pure emotion… Typically, when they can no longer bear the pain.

And that’s something that could end up costing them a lot of money.

However, when it comes to setting stop losses, it’s not always easy to know exactly where to place them…

Some investors stick with a simple fixed stop loss – a fixed percentage or dollar amount below the stock’s price.

But given its rigidity, it can be hard to get it right across different market conditions… like when a stock becomes volatile and starts swinging unpredictably.

However, one helpful method that offers a more nuanced solution is one that uses the Average True Range (ATR). The ATR calculates the average range of a stock (or index) over the preceding 14 days (some might use a longer time frame).

On average, it updates every day (or time period).

So, if volatility is steadily increasing, then so will the ATR (and vice versa). It’s useful because it reflects the current volatility of that stock (or index).

Since stocks typically fall more dramatically than they rise, the ATR usually increases during pullbacks.

Just take a look at the Microsoft (MSFT) chart below…

Microsoft (MSFT)


Source: eSignal

When MSFT’s stock price fell from ‘A’ to ‘B’, its ATR climbed from $4.50 to around $6… And when it it fell from ‘C’ to ‘D’, the ATR rose from approximately $5 to $7.

To give a stock enough room to move, typically an ATR-based stop is set as a multiple of the ATR… often three, four, or five times.

For example, if the ATR is $5 and a stock is trading at $100, a trader using a multiple of three times ATR will have a stop loss at $85 – $15 below the stock price.

Remember, the goal is to capture as much of the move as possible. The whole idea of setting a stop is to protect traders from a move in the opposite direction – without being stopped out unnecessarily.

If we set our stop too tight (too close to the current price action), then we run the risk of getting stopped out prematurely… Meaning, we could be giving up plenty of profits.

So how do you apply it?

Well, a big part of that comes back to your time frame. For instance, a short-term trader who wants to capture lots of little profits without risking too much might use a lower multiple (like two or three).

So, if the ATR in our Microsoft example is $6, they might only allow the stock price to fall $12 (using an ATR multiple of two) before they’re stopped out.

However, a long-term trader – one who wants to capture a move that may last for months or years – might use a much higher multiple (five or six). It should be enough to capture the full potential of an up move without getting stopped out by a quick pullback.

The key is to look at the price chart and work out what multiple suits your goal from the trade.

Like anything in the markets, it’s not a perfect solution. However, it certainly helps put the odds in your favor.

Using an ATR as part of a stop loss strategy helps fine tune your exit strategy.

Most importantly, it lets you have a defined exit point and gives the stock sufficient room to move so that you’re not stopped out prematurely.


Larry Benedict
Editor, Trading With Larry Benedict

Reader Mailbag

How do you determine your exit price? Do you think the ATR is a useful tool?

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