Success Rate of Trend

What is the Success Rate of Trend Following Trading Strategies

If you’re asking ‘what is the success rate of trend-following trading strategies,’ you’re looking for clear-cut numbers and straightforward facts. Trend following, a strategy built on capturing market momentum, does not have a one-size-fits-all success metric. Rather, its efficiency is reflected in risk-adjusted returns and the ability to achieve gains during various market conditions. While success rates are not commonly framed as a simple percentage, this strategy’s endurance over decades points towards its viability for those who can manage risk and stick to systematic rules. This article looks at the complexities behind calculating its success and offers insights into what traders can realistically expect.

Key Takeaways

  • Trend following strategies focus on long-term gains with strategies that thrive on momentum, risk management, and diversification, facing challenges like volatility, lower win ratios, and the necessity for psychological resilience.
  • Despite win ratios often being below 50%, trend following can be profitable by capturing significant movements in the market, with historical data showing adaptability and resilience across diverse market conditions and asset classes.
  • Risk-adjusted returns, measured by tools like the Sharpe and Sortino ratios, are often used for evaluating trend following strategies, emphasizing the importance of consistency over extended periods and the ability to withstand many small losses for eventual larger gains.

The Success Metrics of Trend-Following Strategies

Illustration of trend following strategies

Becoming a seasoned trend follower requires a clear understanding of the critical success metrics that defines the strategy. At the core of trend following lies the aim to capture significant moves in financial assets, aiming for substantial long-term gains (also short-term gains). These strategies aren’t about quick wins; they’re about the marathon, not the sprint.

Trend following strategies thrive on:

  • Momentum
  • Risk management
  • Diversification
  • Simplicity
  • Systematic rules that adjust to the ever-changing market conditions, making them effective trading systems.

Yet, trend following isn’t without its challenges. Trend followers must accept:

  • Volatility
  • Low win ratios
  • No loss aversion
  • Stamina
  • Many losers in a row
  • Significant drawdowns
  • The necessity for psychological resilience

Trend following win rate statistics (success rate)

Trend-following strategies, also known as divergent strategies, typically have a lower win rate but a higher payoff ratio than higher frequency trading strategies, such as convergent strategies, which usually achieve a high win rate but with a lower payoff ratio.

The win rate is defined as the percentage of winning trades. Typical win rates for trend-following strategies range from 20% to 40%, usually staying below 50%. Despite the lower win rate, trend-following strategies are highly profitable due to their high payoff ratio—the ratio of the average winning trade to the average losing trade.

This ratio is typically much greater than 1, often ranging from 2 to 10, or even higher. Conversely, convergent strategies generally have a win rate exceeding 50%, sometimes surpassing 70%, but their payoff ratio is lower, usually less than 1.

As a rule of thumb, the typical trend-following system has a win rate between 25 and 50%. Thus, you need to be willing and able to tolerate a large number of losses when following a trend trading system.

Understanding Win Ratios in Trend Following

Win ratios in trend following are often below 50%, but this is no cause for alarm. In fact, a typical win ratio might hover around 40%. What matters in trend following is not the frequency of wins but the magnitude of those that are successful. With wins significantly overshadowing losses, profitability is driven by the few trades that ride the long waves of market trends.

In short, a few winners should offset many small losers. This makes it very hard to trade.

Even with win rates between 25-50%, trend followers can reap profitability through large winning trades, which dwarf the size of their losing counterparts. It’s a strategic focus on the quality and size of successful trades over the quantity of wins that sets trend followers apart.

For example, our True Strength Index strategy for the gold price has only a win ratio of 37%, but it still performs well:

What is the Success Rate of Trend Following Trading Strategies
What is the Success Rate of Trend Following Trading Strategies

The strategy performs well because the average winner is three times higher than the average loser.

Risk-Adjusted Returns as a Performance Gauge

Risk-adjusted returns are where trend following performance is truly measured, showing the balance between risk and reward. While absolute returns can attract the eye, they often mask the hazards to achieve them. Metrics such as the Sharpe ratio, comparing returns relative to their risk-free counterparts, and the Sortino ratio, zeroing in on downside volatility, offer a more realistic measure of a strategy’s performance.

By factoring in the associated risks, these risk-adjusted measures provide a more accurate comparison across different risk profiles, underscoring the prudence of the trend following approach.

Another important metric is correlation risk. Trend following and mean reversion, for example, should complement each other well. You want to have an uncorrelated portfolio of trading strategies.

Consistency Over Time: The Real Test of Success

The true measure of success for trend following strategies is their ability to deliver consistency over extended periods. Missing out on just a few substantial trades can significantly impact the overall performance, emphasizing the need for unwavering commitment and a strategic long-term trading strategy. Trend following is a long-term commitment.

The psychological stamina to endure a series of losses while persisting with a strategy is paramount for a trend follower’s success. By focusing on the larger, more significant market moves, trend followers can create return distributions that are positively skewed, providing a cushion during extended market trends.

Opposite, mean reversion strategies tend to have a negative skew.

Unveiling Actual Success Rates in Trend Trading

Comparison between bullish and bearish markets

Historical data is a testament to the resilience of trend following strategies, revealing their capability to generate positive average returns across diverse market conditions and across every decade since 1880. Whether the markets are flourishing or floundering, trend following strategies have demonstrated an uncanny ability to adjust sails and navigate towards success.

Their performance is influenced by the prevailing market trends, market movements, and the specific asset classes engaged, showing that while the strategy is robust, its success rates can vary depending on the winds of the financial markets.

Trend Following in Bullish vs. Bearish Markets

Trend following strategies are not exclusive to bull markets; they are uniquely designed to capture profits in both rising and falling markets.

In bear markets, trend followers have a strategic edge as these markets often develop gradually before they crash, presenting ample opportunities to identify and profit from the downturn. However, every bear market is somewhat different from the last one.

Although they may not always shine brightest in bull markets, trend followers are equipped to ride the wave of any significant trend, regardless of direction.

How Commodity Futures and Equity Markets Affect Success

Trend following’s versatility shines through its effective application across both commodity markets and equity markets. During inflationary periods, commodities have historically delivered higher real returns, positively influencing the success rates of trend following strategies in these markets.

We believe that most trend followers operate in the commodity market and only to a lesser extent in the equity market. In the stock market, trend following tends to excel with single stocks that exhibit more pronounced trends than stock indices, especially over medium to long-term horizons.

Long-Term Trends vs. Short-Term Fluctuations

The success of trend-following strategies is closely tied to their alignment with long-term trends, which are the driving force behind the strategy’s positive skewness of returns. Trend following is about non-normality of market returns. You will never have, nor will you ever, produce returns that exhibit a normal distribution – it’s positively skewed. 

While short to medium-term horizons may see trend following underperform compared to the buy-and-hold approach, the true benefits of the strategy come to light when the focus is on the long haul.

Bullish stock market conditions offer a fertile ground for trend following strategies, capitalizing on sustained price increases, whereas bearish markets, also known as up or down markets, open up avenues for strategies like short-selling to profit from declining trends.

The Impact of Diversification on Trend Following Performance

Diversification in trend trading

Diversification is the keel that stabilizes the trend following ship, enhancing risk-adjusted performance and smoothing out the volatility of returns. By not putting all eggs in one basket, diversification across asset classes and markets can significantly improve the robustness of a trend following portfolio, leading to more consistent and reliable returns.

The beauty of this strategy lies in its low correlation with traditional asset classes, which further enriches its diversification benefits.

Asset Class Diversification in Trend Trading

Trend traders who diversify across a spectrum of asset classes, such as stocks, futures, and forex, unlock the ability to ride trends in various markets. This holistic approach to asset class diversification can lead to better performance outcomes by capitalizing on the strengths of each market segment.

Bonds and other asset classes further diversify the strategy, providing additional layers of protection against market volatility. You want to trade many assets due to diversification benefits.

Diversified Portfolio vs. Single Market Approach

A diversified portfolio approach in trend following is akin to sailing with multiple sails; it offers better risk-adjusted returns than a single market focus. By spreading the risk across different markets, trend followers can reap diversification, which should lead to more stable and robust performance outcomes.

Key Factors Influencing Trend Following Strategy Outcomes

Role of technical analysis in trend following

Trend following strategy outcomes is a mix of technical analysis, adherence to trading rules, and psychological resilience. Each element plays an integral role in the success of the strategy, influencing its effectiveness and adaptability to varying market conditions.

Technical analysis serves as the sextant, charting the course of trends, while disciplined adherence to trading rules and psychological fortitude are the anchors that ensure consistent application of the strategy.

That said, most trend followers are mechanical and systematic traders and use quantified trading rules. almost all is rule-based.

The Role of Technical Analysis in Identifying Trends

Technical analysis is the lighthouse for trend followers, illuminating the path to identifying market trends and potential reversals. By employing a range of indicators such as moving averages and other quantified indicators, trend followers can decipher the direction and strength of market momentum.

Adherence to Trading Rules: Discipline Equals Success

Discipline is perhaps the hardest part of trend following. Adhering to trading rules, particularly in risk management, enables traders to live through tumultuous markets without going belly up from large drawdowns.

The strategy’s emphasis on switching to cash positions following sell signals, as opposed to engaging in short selling, reflects the disciplined approach that leads to better performance.

Psychological Challenges for Trend Traders

Facing frequent ‘stops out’ and managing low win ratios require a mindset anchored in resilience and long-term vision. Embracing the philosophy of being open to being different and wrong, as Howard Marks emphasizes, is a testament to the psychological strength needed for trend following success.

Case Studies: Trend Following Success Stories

Case studies of trend following success

The annals of financial history are full of tales of trend following successes, with strategies delivering above-average performance for over seven decades. Resilience is a hallmark of these strategies, as evidenced by their positive performance during eight of the ten largest financial crises of the last century.

Real-world applications, such as those with Apple Inc. and Tesla Inc., showcase the effectiveness of simple trend following systems and their potential to continue thriving in the future, in line with existing market trends.

Misconceptions About Trend Following Trading Strategies

Despite the proven success of trend following strategies, misconceptions abound. Here are some common misconceptions about trend following strategies:

  1. They offer higher returns with lower risk – in reality, they typically yield lower returns but with lower associated risks.
  2. The type of moving average used is the most important factor – overemphasis on the type of moving average can skew perceptions of their true effectiveness.
  3. Transaction costs are not a significant factor – failure to account for transaction costs can also skew perceptions of their true effectiveness.

The irregular, substantial profits characteristic of trend following are often at odds with the human nature’s preference for steady gains, influencing how traders perceive the strategy’s success. Most humans have loss aversion!


Trend following is a game of having many small losers and a few large winners. Thus, trend following excludes many trades because most have loss aversion. It’s human nature to want to have many winners. Because of this, trend following is tough – very tough.

But the good thing is that trend following is perfect alongside mean reversion strategies. These two types of trading styles are not correlated – precisely what you want in a portfolio of trading strategies.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the significance of win ratios in trend following strategies?

The significance of win ratios in trend following strategies lies in the fact that they are more about the size of the wins rather than the frequency. A lower win ratio is acceptable because a few large wins can compensate for multiple small losses.

How do risk-adjusted returns differ from absolute returns in measuring trend following performance?

Risk-adjusted returns differ from absolute returns in measuring trend following performance because they consider gains in relation to the risks taken, providing a comprehensive performance measurement, while absolute returns only consider gains without accounting for risk, which can be misleading.

Can trend following strategies be successful in both bull and bear markets?

Yes, trend following strategies can be successful in both bull and bear markets as they are designed to profit from significant market trends, regardless of direction.

Why is diversification important in trend following?

Diversification is important in trend following because it reduces volatility and improves risk-adjusted performance by spreading the risk across different asset classes and markets, ultimately increasing portfolio stability.

What are some common misconceptions about trend following strategies?

A common misconception about trend following strategies is that they offer higher returns with lower risk, but in reality, they often provide lower returns with lower associated risks. Another misconception is the overemphasis on specific types of moving averages, which have minimal impact on a strategy’s profit-making capability.

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