The following article on Futures Trading ROI (return on investment) is the opinion of Optimus Futures.
There is a plethora of metrics you can use to measure almost every aspect of your futures trading. Too many, perhaps. You can measure volatility in a given market. You can even apply similar metrics to your trading performance and equity returns. You can measure risk-to-reward, profit factor, and even mathematical expectancy. You can use the sharpe ratio, sortino ratio, sterling ratio, and MAR ratio and more if you so choose. You can even find some way to assess your trading psychology for whatever that’s worth. Does any of it make a difference? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
At the end of the day, however, all that matters is how much more or less sits in your trading account.
Remember that trading is about making money, plain and simple. Let’s extend that definition a bit: trading is about consistently making money. If you’re making money on a consistent basis in your futures trading, you’re winning. Anything short of that is a losing scenario.
When it comes to all of the fancy ratios and sophisticated trading methodologies, how much you know often doesn’t matter. Countless traders know a lot (perhaps too much) and are still broke. Most so called “trading gurus” will argue that this statement is false. But remember: many trading gurus are inept at trading the markets but highly adept at marketing their trades.
It practically doesn’t matter what metrics you use if it has no positive effect on your trading. What matters is that you know just enough to make futures trading work for you. And the only criteria that matters is revealed to you by your daily statements.
However, it might help to know just how efficient your trading is. In other words, how much are you actually taking home in relation to how much you are spending? The answer to this question is what the Return On Investment, or ROI metric is designed to measure.
What Is Your Futures Trading ROI?
As we just mentioned, ROI aims to measure the efficiency of your investment (or in our case, trading results). To find your ROI, you need to determine two things: Net Profit and Net Cost.
ROI = Net Profit/Net Cost
What can make this tricky in terms of measuring your futures trading ROI is that you have to take into account your margin costs. Although your margin money is set aside, technically speaking, when you place a trade, it still factors into the total cost of your trades. Because if you don’t have enough margin, you can’t place a trade.
Let’s start with net cost. Suppose you trade the E-mini Dow Jones futures (YM). The value for each YM contract is $5 x the YM price.
- So if the YM is trading at 26,800, then the total value is $134,000 (or 26,800 x 5).
- Since you are buying a contract on day trading margin, say, $500 per contract, then you are “paying” $500 while the broker “loans” you $133,500.
- Let’s suppose you are also paying $5.50 in commission + fees on a round turn basis.
- Your net cost is $505.50.
- The total contract value of $134,000 increased to $134,050.
- $134,050 (your selling price) minus $134,000 (your buying price) = $50 profit.
- Your net profit is $50.
Your ROI on the trade is 9.89%
ROI Gets Slightly More Complicated if More Fees Are Added to the Mix
Let’s suppose you are subscribing to an automated system. Not only are your commissions higher (since the trades are being externally executed by a broker), but you may also be paying a bundle of subscription fees and technology-related fees.
Here’s your total hypothetical costs, and let’s suppose the system trades the YM:
- Subscription Fee: $100 per month
- Commissions and Fees: $15 per trade (per contract)
- Margin: $500 per trade (per contract)
If this were the only trade for the month, then your net cost would be $615 (subscription fee + commissions and fees + margin). And that would give you a total ROI of 16.26% (100/615 = 0.1626)
But let’s suppose that the system traded four times in one month, all generating a $100 profit for a total of $400 (we’re keeping it simple for the sake of this example).
At the end of the month, your net profit of $400 divided by your net cost of $2,160 ((515 * 4) +100) would give you a total monthly ROI of 18.51%.
As you can see, calculating your ROI can be rather simple as long as you are able to plug in all of your costs.
How to Establish Trading Performance Metrics Centered Around ROI
Assessing your total performance using ROI is fairly simple as long as you’re willing to do your calculations.
Let’s assume four scenarios–each one making an annual net profit of $5,000. The only cost in each scenario will be commissions and fees and margins (which will vary per trader/scenario).
You trade only one contract at a time.
Scenario 1 – Day Trader
You are a day trader who placed exactly 500 trades on the ES in one calendar year. You also pay a commission of $5.75 round turn and day trading margins of $500 per contract.
Net Profit: $5,000
Net Cost: $252,875 (5.75 * 500)
Calculation: 5,000 ÷ 252875 = 0.01977
Scenario 2 – Day Trader
The same scenario as above but you pay a lower commission and fee base of $1.75 round turn. Your day trading margins remain at $500 per contract.
Net Profit: $5,000
Net Cost: $250,875 (1.75 * 500)
Calculation: 5,000 ÷ 250875 = 0.0199
ROI: 1.99% Note that lower commissions hardly impacted your return on investment.
Scenario 3 – Swing Trader
In this scenario, you are a swing trader who holds positions beyond the market close. Because you traded less frequently than a day trader–let’s suppose you place one trade per week–you placed exactly 52 trades on the ES in one calendar year. Your commissions plus fees are set to $5.75 round turn and your day trading margins are higher (since you’re holding your contract “overnight”) at $6,930 per contract.
Net Profit: $5,000
Net Cost: $360.659 (6935.75 * 52)
Calculation: 5,000 ÷ 360.659 = 0.01386
ROI: 1.38% Note that your return on investment is lower due to the increase in margin costs.
Scenario 4 – Position Trader
In this scenario, you are a position trader, similar to a buy and hold (or sell and hold) “investor.” Let’s suppose you made only five trades for the entire year. Your commissions plus fees are set to $5.75 round turn and your day trading margins are higher (since you’re holding your contract “overnight”) at $6,930 per contract.
Net Profit: $5,000
Net Cost: $34,678.75 (6935.75 * 5)
Calculation: 5,000 ÷ 34,678.75 = 0.1441
ROI: 14.44% Your ROI just increased tremendously as compared with the other three scenarios above.
So does this mean that position trading is the way to go? No it doesn’t, as each scenario presents hidden risks that ROI can’t measure. Remember, ROI is about efficiency, and hardly anything else. And the implications of this efficiency will vary from one trader to the next.
- The Day Trader: the chances of competing in a high-frequency trading environment is very tough, so the risks you face have everything to do with the market’s noise level, your trading platform speed, and potential errors in decision and/or execution errors. These are things that ROI cannot reflect.
- The Swing Trader: this style of trading straddles the goals pursued by day traders and position traders. Though not as exposed to the market noise of intraday sessions, swing traders rely less on the long-term fundamentals that are the territory of the position trader. Plus, swing traders are not exposed to the kind of uneven profit/loss distributions that can prove discouraging for position traders (especially trend followers) who are subject to long drawdown periods. Between the three styles of trading, swing trading may be the most efficient way to trade while mitigating risk. The biggest risk, of course, is that of missing out on longer-term trends–opportunity cost–something that position traders can capture. But it also requires having lots of capital to put up margin money that can withstand drawdowns.
- The Position Trader: the biggest risk that a position trader faces is that of sustaining a losing trade after a long holding period. However, if position traders have enough capital to keep their losses at a small amount–for example, a $20,000 loss is only 2% of a $1 million account–then such losses may be manageable. Plus, they may be positioned to generate the strongest ROI among the three.
The Bottom Line
ROI may be an effective metric for trading efficiency, but it may not be the best way to evaluate trading performance. If you want to learn more about trading performance metrics, check out our discussion forum. In the end, what matters is how much you can take home versus how much you lose. That may be the most important metric of them all.
Please be advised that trading futures and options involves substantial risk of loss and is not suitable for all investors. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. This matter is intended as a solicitation to trade.