Each quarter the US forex brokers who fall under the regulation of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) - which is most of them – report profitability figures (see the most recent tallies posted by Forex Magnates here). This has been going on since 2010, with reported figures back to 2009. On average, these reports have shown that just about 30% of active accounts (those doing at least 1 trade) make money in any given quarter. The CFTC put this reporting requirement in to provide a bit of transparency as to the reality of performance among traders, but in some ways they have actually muddled things a bit. Let me explain.
First of all, the broker-reported figures are for accounts, not traders. Granted, for most people that is the same thing. As I discussed in a recent post, however, some traders have multiple accounts and the evidence suggests that these are among the better performers. If that is indeed the case, then the broker-reported figures actually overstate how many traders make money each quarter. It’s not likely by a huge factor (probably just a couple percentage points at most), but it is one way these figures belie reality.
The second, and to my mind more significant, problem with these quarterly figures is they provide no indication of whether there is any consistency of profitability. As I documented in Starting to detail forex profitability data, this is something very important to keep in mind because the reality is that most traders don’t get the job done consistently.
According to my research, only about half of all accounts (keeping to the comment measurement of the broker-reported figures) had at least 1 winning quarter during the 3+ year period of my study. Of those who had at least 1 profitable quarter, only about 43% were able to follow that up with another winning quarter in the next three month period. That means we need to take the 30% figure mentioned above and cut it in half (and then some) to get at some sense of reality where consistent profitability is concerned.
Taking it a step further, less than half of those who were able to generate multiple winning quarters were able to produce back-to-back winners more than 50% of the time. That means even among those who are part of the about 15% able showing back-to-back winning performance there is very little consistency of performance.
If we were to continue extending the consistency question to include higher levels of repeat performance we would see lower and lower percentages. In other words, it’s only a small fraction of active forex traders who consistently make money. It’s a hard game to win. Keep that in mind as you decide on how you will approach it.