Automated trading system

An Automated Trading System (Auto Pilot) is a computer program that creates orders and automatically submits them to a market center or exchange. The program will automatically generate orders based on predefined set of rules using a trading strategy which is often based on technical analysis but can also be based on input from other electronic sources. Traders and investors can turn precise entry, exit and money management rules into automated trading systems that allow computers to execute and monitor the trades. One of the biggest attractions of strategy automation is that it can take some of the emotion out of trading since trades are automatically placed once certain criteria are met.

Automated trading systems, also referred to as mechanical trading systems, algorithmic trading, automated trading or system trading, allow traders to establish specific rules for both trade entries and exits that, once programmed, can be automatically executed via a computer. The trade entry and exit rules can be based on simple conditions such as a moving average crossover, or can be complicated strategies that require a comprehensive understanding of the programming language specific to the user's trading platform, or the expertise of a qualified programmer.

Some trading platforms have strategy building "wizards" that allow users to make selections from a list of commonly available technical indicators to build a set of rules that can then be automatically traded. The user could establish, for example, that a long trade will be entered once the 50-day moving average crosses above the 200-day moving average on a five-minute chart of a particular trading instrument. Users can also input the type of order (market or limit, for instance) and when the trade will be triggered (for example, at the close of the bar or open of the next bar), or use the platform's default inputs. Many traders, however, choose to program their own custom indicators and strategies or work closely with a programmer to develop the system. While this typically requires more effort than using the platform's wizard, it allows a much greater degree of flexibility and the results can be more rewarding.

Once the rules have been established, the computer can monitor the markets to find buy or sell opportunities based on the trading strategy specifications. Depending on the specific rules, as soon as a trade is entered, any orders for protective stop losses, trailing stops and profit targets will automatically be generated. In fast moving markets, this instantaneous order entry can mean the difference between a small loss and a catastrophic loss in the event the trade moves against the trader.

Advantages of Automated Trading Systems, Automated trading systems minimize emotions throughout the trading process. By keeping emotions in check, traders typically have an easier time sticking to the plan. Since trade orders are executed automatically once the trade rules have been met, automated trading can curb those who are apt to overtrade – buying and selling at every perceived opportunity.

Use in trading

Auto Pilots can be designed to trade stocks, options, futures and foreign exchange products based on a predefined set of rules which determine when to enter an order, when to exit a position and how much money to invest in each trading product. Trading strategies differ; some are designed to pick market tops and bottoms, others to follow a trend, and others involve complex strategies including randomizing orders to make them less visible in the marketplace.

Ability to Backtest. Backtesting applies trading rules to historical market data to determine the viability of the idea. When designing a system for automated trading, all rules need to be absolute, with no room for interpretation (the computer cannot make guesses – it has to be told exactly what to do). Traders can take these precise sets of rules and test them on historical data before risking money in live trading. Careful backtesting allows traders to evaluate and fine-tune a trading idea, and to determine the system's expectancy – the average amount that a trader can expect to win (or lose) per unit of risk. Backtesting of a trading system involves programmers running the program using historical market data in order to determine whether the underlying algorithm guiding the system may produce the expected results. Developers can create backtesting software to enable a trading system designer to develop and test their trading systems using historical market data to optimize the results obtained with the historical data. Although backtesting of automated trading systems cannot accurately determine future results, an automated trading system can be backtested using historical prices to see how the system theoretically would have performed if it had been active in a past market environment.

Forward testing of an algorithm can also be achieved using simulated trading with real-time market data to help confirm the effectiveness of the trading strategy in the current market and may be used to reveal issues inherent in the computer code.
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