On September 16, 1992, Soros’ fund sold short more than $10 billion in pounds, profiting from the UK government’s reluctance to either raise its interest rates to levels comparable to those of other European Exchange Rate Mechanism countries or to float its currency.
Finally, the UK withdrew from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, devaluing the pound. Soros’s profit on the bet was estimated at over $1 billion. He was dubbed “the man who broke the Bank of England”.
Stanley Druckenmiller, who traded under Soros, was the genius behind the idea. Soros just pushed him to take a bigger size. In this case, the bigger size was one of the reasons why this trade worked. What is more important here is to highlight their position size. They risked their entire YTD gain (they were up 12%).
Just to give you a perspective of how ballsy it is to risk 12% of your capital on one trade, consider the following simplified example:
Let’s assume that your trading capital is 200k and you want to buy a stock at $50 with a stop at 47; hence you risk $3 per share.
Risking 12% of your capital, means 12% * 200k = 24,000.
Divide 24,000 by the amount you risk per share ($3) to get the total number of shares you could afford to buy, which in this case is 8000 shares.
8000 shares * Current Market price of $50 = 400k. You would have to take on a 100% margin in order to risk 12% of your capital.
It is said that concentration creates wealth, diversification helps to protect it. The reality is that big returns are often just the opposite coin’s side of big drawdowns. Trading big position sizes is not for most market participants. If you still want to do it, you could learn a lot from people that have actually done it for a living. What are the four lessons from Soros’ s adventure with the British Pound:
1. Size matters.
When you manage billions of dollars, there are only a few great, high-liquid opportunities each year that will allow you to achieve substantial returns. The only way to achieve those bigger returns is to take on a bigger position size. The smaller your capital base, the more great trading opportunities you have in the market and you won’t have to risk big on any one of them.
2. Earn the “right” to trade Big first
They were up 12% for the year. It wasn’t an incredible return, but it wasn’t bad either. In their eyes, they were able to afford the luxury to trade big. Here’s what Stanley Druckenmiller says on the subject:
It’s my philosophy, which has been reinforced by Mr. Soros, that when you earn the right to be aggressive, you should be aggressive. The years that you start off with a large gain are the times that you should go for it.
The way to build long-term returns is through preservation of capital and home runs. You can be far more aggressive when you’re making good profits. Many managers, once they’re up 30 or 40 percent, will book their year [i.e., trade very cautiously for the remainder of the year so as not to jeopardize the very good return that has already been realized]. The way to attain truly superior long-term returns is to grind it out until you’re up 30 or 40 percent, and then if you have the convictions, go for a 100 percent year. If you can put together a few near-100 percent years and avoid down years, then you can achieve really outstanding long-term returns.
3. Proper Timing is Everything when you Trade Big
A good entry point allows you to go through normal market reactions. An amazing entry point allows to use tighter stop and therefore bigger position size. Here’s hedge fund manager Scott Bessent on Stan Druckenmiller:
One of the things that I learned from Stan Druckenmiller is how to enter a trade. The great thing about Stan is that he can be wrong, but he rarely loses money because his entry point is so good.
4. Have a contingency plan
They were prepared for the worse case scenario. Despite their conviction, they knew that they might lose money, so they had an exit plan. They made sure that they could afford the loss and stay in business.
Soros is also the best loss taker I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t care whether he wins or loses on a trade. If a trade doesn’t work, he’s confident enough about his ability to win on other trades that he can easily walk away from the position. There are a lot of shoes on the shelf; wear only the ones that fit. If you’re extremely confident, taking a loss doesn’t bother you.