Overcoming Common Challenges in Algorithmic Trading

In this article, we will discuss

Algorithmic trading, also known as algo trading, has revolutionised the financial markets. It has enabled traders to use advanced statistical models and algorithms to execute trades faster than humanly possible with better precision.

Although algo trading has been in use among institutional traders for years, its adoption is now gradually spreading to retail investors, including those in India. This shift is driven primarily by stockbrokers who have now begun offering access to user-friendly algo trading platforms.

As algorithmic trading continues to gain traction in India, it is essential to first recognise the various risks and challenges that it presents. This will allow you to better navigate the complexities associated with this trading approach and overcome the various challenges more effectively.

What is Algorithmic Trading?

Algorithmic trading involves using computer programs, known as algorithms, to automate the trading process. The programs use a set of predefined rules and mathematical models to purchase and sell financial securities.

Algorithms can be designed to identify trading opportunities by analysing various technical indicators, such as candlestick patterns, price movement indicators and volume indications. Once an opportunity is identified, the algorithm executes trades at a speed and frequency that far surpasses human capability.

For example, you can program an algorithm to purchase a specified quantity of a particular asset if its MACD line crosses over the signal line from below, which is often viewed as a sign of reversal.

Algorithmic trading has four major core components that you need to be aware of. Here is a quick overview of what they are.

  • Trading Strategy

Trading strategies are one of the most important components of algo trading since they essentially define the criteria under which trades are executed. These strategies can range from simple rules, such as the one explained above, to more complex statistical arbitrage models.

  • Market Data

For algorithmic trading to work as intended, it requires accurate real-time and historical market data. Without proper data sets, you cannot run algorithms or even backtest them with historical data.

  • Execution System

The execution system is the infrastructure that connects algo trading platforms to exchanges and executes trades as per the algorithm’s instructions. An execution system with low latency is essential for success.

  • Risk Management

Another crucial component of algo trading is risk management. Since the approach involves executing trades automatically and often very quickly, implementing protocols and measures to mitigate potential losses and managing exposure is very important.

What are the Various Challenges with Algorithmic Trading and How to Overcome Them?

Algorithmic trading has its own set of risks and challenges. Understanding what they are and implementing trading strategies to overcome them is crucial for success. Here are some key challenges you might face with algo trading.

  • Quality and Integrity of Data

One of the major challenges you are likely to encounter with algorithmic trading is the quality and integrity of the data being used. Missing data, inaccurate data, delayed data feeds and poor-quality data can all lead to incorrect analysis and faulty trading decisions, ultimately affecting your trading performance adversely.

Solution:

Since the success of an algorithmic strategy relies heavily on it, you must ensure that you supply the algorithm with high-quality and accurate data sets. One of the best ways to ensure the quality and integrity of the data is to use reliable sources. You could also consider using data validation techniques to preprocess the data before feeding it into the algorithms to maintain integrity.

  • Non-Optimised Algorithms

Developing a trading algorithm that performs well in different market conditions is easier said than done. In some cases, algorithms may work well during backtesting but may fail when deployed during live market sessions. One of the major reasons for this is overfitting.

Overfitting occurs when an algorithm is closely tuned to work with the training or historical data. This essentially prevents the algorithm from making accurate predictions and conclusions when new data is presented.

Solution:

Fortunately, overcoming the risks and challenges associated with overfitting of data is easy. Through the usage of diverse data sets and rigorous backtesting, you can optimise algorithms to work well under different market conditions. You can also use out-of-sample testing to see how it performs with new data. It is also advisable to regularly update and refine your algorithm to adapt to changing market dynamics and prevent overfitting.

  • Latency and Execution Speed

When it comes to algorithmic trading, the margin for error is so small that even milliseconds can be the difference between a profit and a loss. Latency is one of the biggest risks and challenges you as an algo trader must overcome to be successful.

Latency can be defined as the delay between the time your algorithm receives data and the time it executes the trade. High latency during any part of the algorithmic trading process, be it when receiving real-time market data, during processing or executing trades could result in missed trading opportunities.

In some cases, the delay could lead to increased slippage, leading to losses or reduced profits. Slippage is when the price at which a trade is executed is different from the price at which you intend it to be executed.

Solution:

One of the best ways to minimise latency is to use a low-latency network provider and fast data feeds. You could also reduce delays in execution speed by implementing efficient and optimised algorithms.

Most large-scale institutional traders deal with latency and execution speed by using co-location services provided by the exchanges. Here, the trading servers of the institutional traders are kept close to the exchange’s servers, resulting in faster data transmission and little to no latency.

  • Risk Management

Algorithmic trading can lead to significant losses if it is not properly managed. For instance, there is always the risk of algorithms malfunctioning or behaving unexpectedly. Alternatively, the market could move against you quickly, not giving enough time for your algorithm to adapt to the changing conditions. Such situations may lead to the creation of unintended trading positions and exposure to large risks.

Solution:

Overcoming these risks and challenges requires implementing robust risk management measures. Some of the measures you can implement include setting strict stop-loss and take-profit points, limiting position sizes to prevent excessive exposure and monitoring positions in real time. You must also conduct regular stress testing to understand how your algorithms perform under extreme market conditions.

  • Market Impact and Liquidity

Algorithmic trades, especially large trades, can significantly impact asset prices. In some cases, it could also result in a spike in market volatility, leading to unfavourable execution prices and slippage. The impact tends to be more pronounced in the case of assets where liquidity is low. As an algo trader, knowing how to overcome these risks and challenges is crucial and could potentially improve your trading outcomes.

Solution:

Fortunately, there is a simple way to reduce the market impact of algorithmic trading. All you need to do is use smart order routing and execution algorithms that break large orders into smaller chunks and execute them over time. You can also consider using trading strategies based on Volume-Weighted Average Price (VWAP) and Time-Weighted Average Price (TWAP) to minimise the impact on market prices.

  • Human Errors

Despite bringing a sophisticated level of automation to the table, algorithmic trading can still suffer from human errors. From an incomplete understanding of algorithms to manual intervention due to fear or greed, there are many errors that can creep in, which can lead to sub-optimal trading results.

Solution:

Recognising the various human errors and establishing protocols that can prevent or limit them is the best way to deal with these types of risks and challenges. Establishing a disciplined approach to algorithmic trading, continuous education and psychological training can help you manage your emotions better and stick to the predefined trading strategies.

  • Technical Glitches and Failures

Although most algo trading platforms are robust, you may occasionally encounter technical issues such as software bugs, connectivity problems, system failures or unresponsive servers. These glitches can completely disrupt your trading operations and could result in significant financial losses.

Solution:

To mitigate these risks and challenges, you must ensure that you opt for robust and fault-tolerant algo trading platforms. Some of the other measures you can use include using redundant systems, keeping the software updated at all times and carrying out extensive stress testing before deploying new or modified algorithms. If the platform supports it, you could also consider implementing real-time monitoring and alerting systems that can detect issues promptly so that you can take corrective measures quickly.

  • Complexity

Not all algorithms are simple and easy to understand. Some of them, especially those related to multi-leg options strategies, can be very complex and challenging to implement. However, there are multiple ways to overcome this particular challenge.

Solution:

Adopting a step-by-step approach is often the best way to overcome complex algorithms. Instead of looking at the bigger picture, consider breaking the algorithm down into multiple segments. Then, backtest each segment with historical data to determine their effectiveness over different market conditions. Once you have validated each segment of the algorithm, backtest the entire algorithm to check its performance. If you encounter any glitches, you can easily make changes to the trading rules before deploying them in live market situations.

What are the Advantages of Algorithmic Trading?

Despite the various risks and challenges associated with algorithmic trading, the various benefits that it offers are undeniable. Here are some of the key advantages of algo trading that make it an attractive proposition for both institutional and retail traders.

  • Speed and Efficiency

Algorithms can read and process data much faster than humanly possible. In addition to arriving at conclusions within seconds, it can also execute trades at super-fast speeds. The high speed and efficiency of algo trading lets you capitalise on minor market inefficiencies and price discrepancies that are often short-lived.

  • Accuracy

Since algorithmic trading automates the entire trading process from data processing to execution, it reduces human errors and psychological biases significantly. With carefully designed algorithms, you can essentially ensure trades are executed exactly as planned. That said, to maintain the accuracy of algo trading, it is important to exercise discipline and refrain from manually intervening due to fear or greed.

  • Consistency

Once the parameters and trading rules are programmed, algorithms do not stray away from their intended objective irrespective of the market situation. This helps maintain a consistent approach to trading that is difficult for humans to achieve over long periods.

  • Backtesting

The algorithms and trading strategies that you formulate can be extensively backtested using historical data to evaluate their performance before using them in live market situations. This enables you to identify potential flaws and improve the strategy.

  • Better Profitability

With algorithmic trading, you can execute trades at the optimum time, which can not only reduce your costs but also improve your profitability. Using algo trading consistently over a period of time could potentially lead to better trading outcomes and returns.

  • Market Liquidity

Institutional investors use algorithmic trading to profit from the bid-ask spread. They do this by placing multiple buy and sell trades. Such an action contributes to market liquidity, making it easier to enter and exit positions without significantly impacting prices.

Conclusion

When implemented right, algorithmic trading offers significant advantages over manual trading. This makes it an attractive option for both institutional and retail investors. However, as with any kind of trading approach, it also comes with its fair share of risks and challenges. As a trader, if you are planning to deploy algo trading, it is important to first understand what these challenges are. Only once you have fully understood the complexities involved with the approach can you properly overcome them.


Furthermore, algorithmic trading in India is subject to stringent regulatory requirements. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has issued several guidelines concerning algo trading. As someone who plans to use the approach, it is advisable to thoroughly read through the various rules and regulations and ensure that you comply with them.

Disclaimer: INVESTMENT IN SECURITIES MARKET ARE SUBJECT TO MARKET RISKS, READ ALL THE RELATED DOCUMENTS CAREFULLY BEFORE INVESTING. The asset classes and securities quoted in the film are exemplary and are not recommendatory. SAMCO Securities Limited (Formerly known as Samruddhi Stock Brokers Limited): BSE: 935 | NSE: 12135 | MSEI- 31600 | SEBI Reg. No.: INZ000002535 | AMFI Reg. No. 120121 | Depository Participant: CDSL: IN-DP-CDSL-443-2008 CIN No.: U67120MH2004PLC146183 | SAMCO Commodities Limited (Formerly known as Samruddhi Tradecom India Limited) | MCX- 55190 | SEBI Reg. No.: INZ000013932 Registered Address: Samco Securities Limited, 1004 - A, 10th Floor, Naman Midtown - A Wing, Senapati Bapat Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai - 400 013, Maharashtra, India. For any complaints Email - grievances@samco.in Research Analysts -SEBI Reg.No.-INHO0O0005847

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