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Robert Edwards
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Contrarian daytrading technician who specializes in locating high probability short term trades while predicting price movement directions with over 85% accuracy. Most of my trading involves either extremely short term micro scalping of stocks or commodities (using 1 minute bar charts), or swing... More
• ##### What Every Trader Must Understand Before They Trade Leveraged ETFs Like NUGT & DUST 19 comments
Sep 14, 2013 7:53 PM | about stocks: DUST, NUGT, GDX, GLD

Triple ETFS Have Horrendous Slippage!

Consider this example. Suppose one was trading a stock priced at \$100, and it falls 10% and then goes back up 10%. What would the price be? Not \$100 again, but only \$99. Falling 10% brought a price of \$90 and then taking 10% of \$90 you only add back \$9 so you end up with a price of \$99. Once anyone suffers a 10% loss, it will take a 11.1% gain to get their money back.

Now suppose one was trading a double leveraged, (2X) ETF. Starting at \$100, a 10% loss is doubled to \$20 instead of \$10 leaving a price of \$80. Then taking (10% X 2) 20% of \$80, you would gain back \$16 and end up with a price of \$96. To get the \$80 price back to \$100, it requires a gain of 12.5% in the base security to achieve the 25% gain in the 2X ETF from \$80 to \$100! Just a bit more than the 11.1% unleveraged. There is \$4 of slippage with the Double ETF compared to the unleveraged stock that only had \$1. To calculate slippage, a quick formula is to take the amount of leverage and square it. With (2X) ETFs you take 2 and square it (2X2) and you get \$4 of slippage. Using this same formula, to calculate the slippage of a triple ETF you take the square of 3 (3X3) and you get \$9 of slippage. To see if this is correct, lets do it the long way. \$100 priced Triple ETF losing 3X10% or 30% would drop to \$70. Then taking 30% gain on \$70 one would add \$21 which leaves \$91. Sure enough, \$9 of slippage. If you are in a triple ETF at the \$70 price, to get back \$30 to reach the \$100 original price, requires a gain of 42.9%, and an up move of 14.3% in the underlying entity. 14.3% is significantly more than 11.1%.

This illustration is only for a 10% loss and then a 10% recovery. Suppose we were talking about a large loss like 25%. As the loss percentage increases, the challenges of getting back even in a triple leveraged ETF are magnified! Without leverage, a drop from \$100 to \$75 (drop of 25%) would then require a move back up of 33% to get your money back. In a triple ETF though, losing 25% is multiplied by 3 to a loss of 75%, leaving only \$25. Now to get back to \$100, the triple ETF must rally \$75 (300%) or a move back of 100% in the underlying security. How often do you get a rally of 100% after a fall of 25%?!

Divide Your Money Up In Tranches & Average Down

Thus when trading triple ETFs one must never buy all in at one price, and if wanting to get long 100 shares, it is always better to buy 50 at one price, leaving money for 50 more should we dip lower, to average down. I allot \$20,000 to \$25,000 for day trading DUST, less with NUGT. With DUST around \$35, I can buy 100 shares as many as 6 times as we dip.

Take Partial Profits And Set Up Win/Win Scenarios!

Suppose we have a hard dip and I am fully invested at 600 shares, a somewhat rare occurrence on a single dip. As soon as I can break even on the bottom 300 shares, I take profits on those, and hold the top half of my position for more gains. This way I have taken partial profits and set up a win/win scenario. If we rally up more I have shares to take off at a profit. But if we dip again, I have funds freed up to buy more and average down lower. I try to never hang more than 200 shares when I am a 600 share day trader. If the market rallies a bit more but I can't quite get out at a profit on the high shares, I sell half of my remaining shares (150) at a loss and add the loss to the purchase price of the remaining 150 shares. Then as we dip down, I buy back 150 shares at the lowest price I can, leaving me 300 shares total and don't touch my remaining cash. I will usually never get any larger than these 300 shares until the 150 "hung" shares are free. If the day ends and I can sell the low 150 shares at a profit, I get those off, leaving only 150 "hung" shares to work out the next day. The next day I can use my free cash to buy 450 shares to quickly free up those final 150 shares and start over. By trading this aggressively, I almost always have my money back on losses with the stock never coming anywhere close to my original purchase price.

Good Rule To Follow: If Holding A Losing Position At The End Of The Day, Sell Out Half Of The Position At A Loss

Triple Leveraged ETFs Lose 10% Of Their Value Each Month

I could not get the chart to print, but if you go to Yahoo Finance you can punch up a chart of NUGT and then select the "Compare" tab and add "DUST" so that two charts are on top of each other. I just did a 3 month chart of this which clearly shows DUST has lost 20% of its value in the last 3 months, and NUGT has fallen 40%. That is an average loss of 30% over the three months, or 10% per month. There are 22 trading days in a month, so there is slippage of 0.455% daily, or 2.25% weekly. If day trading, one would never notice the slippage, and a week's worth of slippage at 2.25% is tolerable. But holding month after month, at 10% per month, is catastrophic.

You Just Can't Short Both ETFs For Guaranteed 10% Monthly Returns

The obvious question would be, "Why don't I go short NUGT with half my money, (in a margin account of course) and go short the other half in DUST". It would seem you would net a guaranteed average return of 10% per month or 120% per year, not counting compounding. If you got that same chart working that I described above, but changed the time frame to "1 year" you will see that a year ago, NUGT had a pre-split (2 reverse split) price of \$900.50 a year ago, while DUST was trading at \$11.85. While all your money was quickly lost in NUGT, in late June 2013, DUST had a 600% gain at the peak. Suppose you had \$100,000 invested with \$50,000 short NUGT and \$50,000 short DUST. At the worst spot, you would have earned \$50,000 in NUGT very quickly, doubling your money on that \$50,000. But you would be down \$300,000 on the DUST side for a net loss of \$250,000. So anyone shorting these vehicles remember to not do them long term and get out quick when losses begin to mount.

What Is The Optimum Time To Hold A Position In These Vehicles?

Don't Try And Get Cute Catching Turns

Although I have been quite fortunate in predicting recent price moves in DUST with uncanny accuracy, such predictions are not necessary to be a successful trader. What I really care about is knowing the current trend so I have the correct trading bias of bullish or bearish. This can change day to day and sometimes hour to hour.

Since you are not supposed to have all your money in a speculative instrument like NUGT or DUST, there is no advantage in playing these instruments unless you are day trading. The slippage for position traders in triple leveraged ETFs will destroy any hope for profits. Anyone who bought and held NUGT since the beginning of trading from December 2010 has lost all their money a couple times over and more. Thanks to multiple reverse splits, the effective issue price is now \$1855, down to a current price of \$56. It is down 97% since inception nearly 3 years ago!

Setting Up a Fun IRA Trading Account That Does Not Go Broke Playing DUST Or NUGT, Etc.

Suppose I had \$100,000 in my IRA. I would only use 40% of the funds for speculative plays like DUST or NUGT, or \$40,000. While trading DUST, of the \$40,000, I would put an initial \$20,000 in DUST and keep \$20,000 for backup. Why? Because DUST is triple leveraged. If GDX goes up 10%, then DUST falls 30%. If GDX has a rally of 33% straight up, then I would lose 99% of my investment in DUST. You cannot recover from that loss without adding more funds. The extra \$20,000 is there to bail you out.

What we soon forget when playing DUST or NUGT, is the fact that they are triple leveraged. So if you buy 100 shares of DUST or NUGT, you are going to gain or lose as if you owned 300 shares of GDX. Owning 500 shares equals 1500 shares of GDX. That is scary!

Conclusion: Play Small & You Will Have A Ball!

That statement says it all! Play small and you will have a ball. Be a pig and you will lose really big! Bank on it!

Stocks: DUST, NUGT, GDX, GLD
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• rodh7858
, contributor

Rob:
You said:
"After the day is completed, studying can be done to see if GDX should open up or down the next day. If there is an 85% chance GDX will open up, then buy NUGT for a good morning pop in the premarket."

Can you elaborate more on what parameters are you looking at to decide if GDX will open up or down? Thanks for a wonderful article.
15 Sep 2013, 03:25 PM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » Sorry but that is proprietary (private) information. It will be available to chat room members once I start my chat room. What I can say is that one thing I do look at is look at Japanese candlestick patterns. But I incorporate lots of data. You might want to check out americanbulls.com website and punch in DUST and see what they do. That gives you lots of education about candlestick patterns. I usually make 2 large overnight bets per week, sometimes 3.
15 Sep 2013, 03:34 PM Reply Like
• Namaste13
, contributor

What do you consider " long term"?
17 Sep 2013, 02:06 AM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » I don't know what you are referring to, but in the age of high frequency trading, trading long-term is electing to stay in a position over night.
17 Sep 2013, 07:27 AM Reply Like
• Namaste13
, contributor

Gotcha Robert! Thanks for the great articles!
17 Sep 2013, 08:42 AM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » Something I want to add to this account is the concept of trading from three accounts. In each of the three accounts I have \$100K funds and will devote \$20K to DUST or NUGT. Thus with NUGT trading around \$50, one can purchase up to 400 shares of NUGT in each of the accounts.

The first account is the Core account. When not in at all, I will first fill up the core trading account up to 400 shares if trading NUGT in 50s. These are held overnight and can last long-term of 1-2 weeks (swing trading). When trading account sells out all shares at a profit, the core position makes sure a few shares are owned to take advantage of further strength if market keeps rallying.

The 2nd account is the Trading account that buys on dips and sells on rallies and makes most of the money. Any losses are aggressively managed so that they are not held more than 24 to 48 hours. Starting the 2nd day of losses, share size cut in half on close each day to create a win/win. If drops the next day, can buy back sold shares cheaper to average down. If instead we rally, then try to recoup loss by adding loss to share price of remaining shares.

The 3rd Account is the Crazy account. This account buys when we are at crazy cheap prices and are liquidated quickly on the next small rally. They are almost never held overnight, especially if carrying a loss.

One first buys core shares in one account, then trading shares in the trading account, and finally crazy shares in the crazy account if deemed appropriate. Crazy shares are liquidated first, then trading shares and finally the core shares.
27 Sep 2013, 01:37 PM Reply Like
• Mhkhan_pid@yahoo.com
, contributor

Hey Robert:
I have a question which might be silly. Do you think NUGT can ever go back to \$300. What's your opinion on that.
Mehdi
29 Sep 2013, 10:06 PM Reply Like
• Mhkhan_pid@yahoo.com
, contributor

Hey Robert :
If gold price go back up to \$1500 per ounce. What might be the price of nugt...your guess.
Thanks
29 Sep 2013, 10:07 PM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » Hard to project a price since leveraged ETFs lose 10% per month so long term NUGT & DUST are heading to zero. \$1500 represents a 13% rally in gold metal so if GDX also went up 13% and did it within the next 30 days, NUGT would rally 39% which projects a price of about \$72. It will be very, very difficult to make it back to \$100 and statistically impossible to ever reach \$300 due to slippage.
29 Sep 2013, 10:22 PM Reply Like
• rhuffman101
, contributor

I am trying to follow your math with the 10% problem. What would the price of NUGT and DUST be if gold goes to \$10,000? Conversely, what would the price of NUGT and DUST be if gold goes to \$300?
Thinking long term and big moves. Why not buy \$10,000 worth of both ETFs in an IRA and wait for the BIG move? Gold either UP or DOWN. The big moves are where the profit is and I am not smart enough to know what or when a big move is coming, but this seems like an interesting approach. Bob
26 Nov 2013, 09:38 AM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » If a big move would occur in a reasonably short time, then it would be fine. Unfortunately, how many times have you seen gold go up really big in a short period of time. Not at the current time. Current bearishness keeps from moving up big, even at all. On the other hand, trading at or below cost of production, limited downside. Buying both would not be a good strategy for now, unless you maybe bot options way far in the distance in each but again, would wait till we r in a better environment.
26 Nov 2013, 09:49 AM Reply Like
• rhuffman101
, contributor

Your response kind of missed my point.
If today a person bought \$10,000 of both NUGT and DUST and held them both for 3 years. Gold up big or down big shouldn't make a difference. The losing trade can only go to \$0 but the winning trade has no limit! Where is this wrong?
26 Nov 2013, 04:52 PM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » 10 percent monthly decay will cause both to head to zero, even the side that should be a winner. Go to yahoo.com finance and chart out nugt and then add dust to the same chart and you will see exactly what I mean, going back 3 years. because the miners have been so weak, dust has given the illusion it is a big winner but when the miners bottom soon, it could be a major longterm bottom and dust becomes the bad performer and nugt is so badly beaten down, it can never recover.
27 Nov 2013, 07:58 AM Reply Like

In my view the best way to play leveraged ETFs like NUGT with limited cash and for somewhat more risk adverse traders is with options. Personally I sell puts 30 -45 days out and I can get pretty good premium not to mention lowering my downside risk. Although you don't reap the big gains, an average investor can still make directional bets and get a nice return. -C
3 Jan, 11:51 PM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » I agree. I like selling puts and selling 30 to 45 days before expiration sounds about right. Thanks for the reminder as I forget sometimes about put selling opportunities.
4 Jan, 06:15 AM Reply Like
• Robert Edwards
, contributor

Author’s reply » On Friday, 1/10/14, GDX closed at \$22.01, down just 3 cents from the \$22.04 close on the Friday 7 weeks back. According to my calculations, NUGT should have suffered about 10 percent slippage per month, or about 2.3% per week. Multiplying 2.3% times the 7 weeks, you get 16.2% slippage. But in fact, NUGT only fell from \$32.86 down to \$30.67, a drop of 6.65%, or about 0.95% slippage per week. Recent volatility has been subdued, greatly reducing the amount of slippage. During high volatility slippage can be as great as 2.3% or more per week, but during times of low volatility, slippage can be slowed down to only 1% per week, allowing traders a bit more time to maneuver in and out of their trades.
11 Jan, 01:04 PM Reply Like
• saeedco
, contributor

more reasons to sell in the money puts 45 days out, no change in 7 weeks, you cash in
25 Mar, 01:30 AM Reply Like
• saeedco
, contributor

more reasons to sell put in the money 45 days out
Saeed
25 Mar, 02:12 AM Reply Like
• Mac Strelioff
, contributor

Hey Robert,
Just wondering how your strategy has held up since this article. NUGT and DUST are both down a bit..

Also, have you considered a similar strategy for UVXY and SVXY or SPXL and SPXS?