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Ilan Levy-Mayer is the vice president of Cannon Trading Company and chief trader for LEVEX Capital Management Inc., a commodity trading advisor. Levy-Mayer specializes in futures and commodities trading using technical analysis and algo trading. He oversees trading systems, risk and online marketing at Cannon while also running a trading program with LEVEX. A former professional basketball player, Levy-Mayer has been in the futures industry since 1998.

You have an interesting background. How did you get involved in trading, and how has your prior experience as a professional athlete helped you as a trader?

Ilan: Athletics and trading are not so dissimilar. Learning that practice makes perfect and that spending hours in the gym would help my basketball game translated into me spending hours in front of the machine, watching markets and market patterns, trying to perfect my game.

I actually became involved in trading after becoming a broker. At the time, the online trading business just got started and I was watching too many self-directed online traders lose money way too quickly. This was when I decided I needed to start trading and take that experience to try helping my clients. My thinking going into this was, “How hard can it be?” Right? Very soon, I found out that trading is one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced, and that being a coach in this business is much easier than being a player.

Initially, I tried trading while watching the screen, while at the same time covering my duties as broker and service provider as well as vice president of Cannon Trading Company. I tried limiting my day-trading commitment to two hours a day. It worked well some of the time, but not all the time.

This was when I decided to focus on swing trading, end-of-day trading and options trading. It was also the basis for an article I wrote several years back which is still very relevant, Trading for Your Blood Type. By taking this approach, I was able to focus on taking care of my clients during the active market hours, then do my homework on the markets right after the markets closed as well as for the first 30 minutes of the following day’s regular session openings. This has worked well for me. This management of time helped to cultivate our overall approach to what we call “full service” for our clients, who are those who look for advice, feedback or both.

With all this said, the appeal of day trading was always there, and eventually, it morphed into an involvement in automated/algorithmic trading, which became the basis for LEVEX.

Do you trade for clients or do you trade for yourself?

Ilan: I only trade for clients at this point. I trade accounts that I manage; I trade for broker-assisted accounts and I also occasionally assist self-directed/online trading clients who sometimes look for feedback and help. I feel that if I trade my own money, it would take too much of my energy and time. That being said, I plan on including myself in some of the trading systems I developed in the near future (as soon as the wife says we are caught up with projects around the house and I can use some risk capital for trading).

What are your top three requirements in a trading platform?

Ilan: Customization, excellent charting, speed.

I should qualify that by saying I don’t think those three requirements are enough. I need to add reliability, ease of use and ease of monitoring orders, positions, etc. I would also include the availability to access support when you need it.

Do you have a specific trading event or date on the calendar that you remember because of a big winner or a big drawdown? Were there any particular lessons learned from that event?

Ilan: When I first started automated trading, I found out that one of my biggest challenges was to stay disciplined and not interfere or second guess the system I built. Now days, it is not even an issue for me. I have rules and automated trading, and I let the systems I created run according to the rules. There are certain days that certain systems are turned off. For example, I steer clear of trading on the days the FOMC makes announcements. That was difficult at first. Systems are dummies. They don’t have memories of that certain day eight years ago. That was an occasion when I was trading a crude oil system and the market was moving in both directions rapidly, my trades were getting stopped out one after the other, albeit with relatively small losses. But, I got very frustrated and decided to turn off the system. As the day continued to unfold, the market was flying in all directions, and I plowed ahead and started trading discretionarily–and emotionally. It became one of the worst losing days I had experienced. Now days, I understand and accept the advantages and disadvantages of trading systems, the good and the bad, and I let them run.

What advice would you like to share with anyone starting in trading today?

Ilan: Along with a short article I wrote few years back, Eight Steps for Successful Day Trading, I have a few pieces of advice I like to emphasize:

  • Do your research; do your homework. Steer clear of any solicitation of “valuable” advice. It’s really a truism that if something sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • Once you decide that trading futures is for you, analyze your schedule, asses your risk capital, step outside yourself and take a measure of your personality. Incorporate all this to decide HOW you plan to trade futures.
  • Create a model/trading philosophy (it will evolve over time) that will serve as the foundation of your approach. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but find one that suits you and to which you can add some spices of your own.
  • Start slowly.
  • Learn to accept losing days.
  • Keep a trading journal.
  • Be realistic in your expectations.

Disclaimer from Cannon Trading Company: Trading futures, options on futures and retail off-exchange foreign currency transactions involves substantial risk of loss and is not suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. You should carefully consider whether trading is suitable for you in light of your circumstances, knowledge, and financial resources. You may lose all or more of your initial investment. Opinions, market data, and recommendations are subject to change at any time.