The following are several basic trading strategies by which day traders attempt to make profits. In addition, some day traders also use contrarian investing strategies (more commonly seen in algorithmic trading) to trade specifically against irrational behavior from day traders using the approaches below. It is important for a trader to remain flexible and adjust techniques to match changing market conditions.
Spreads are bonuses as well as costs - Stock Markets operate on a bid and ask based system. The numerical difference between the bid and ask prices is referred to as the spread between them. The ask prices are immediate execution (market) prices for quick buyers (ask takers); bid prices for quick sellers (bid takers). If a trade is executed at market prices, closing that trade immediately without queuing would not get you back the amount paid because of the bid/ask difference. The spread can be viewed as trading bonuses or costs according to different parties and different strategies. On one hand, traders who do NOT wish to queue their order, instead paying the market price, pay the spreads (costs). On the other hand, traders who wish to queue and wait for execution receive the spreads (bonuses). Some day trading strategies attempt to capture the spread as additional, or even the only, profits for successful trades.
The reason is because all too often the price can drop and you will end up giving up that profit. Instead, as soon as I’ve reached my first profit target (if I’m risking $100, then as soon as I’m up $100), I’ll sell 1/2 my position and set my stop at breakeven. This method of scaling out ensures small profits on all trades that move in your favor, giving you a better percentage of success.
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Your account will be designated as “day trader status” if you have 3 round trip trades (one round trip = an opening and closing transaction), in a rolling 5 business day period. If you have 4 round trip trades in a 5 day period, you will be restricted from day trading for 90 days. Your brokerage firm will probably allow you to buy a stock and hold it overnight before closing the position. If you have a second day trade violation, your account will either be restricted from trading or you can request your account be a non day trader status account and buy and then sell after 3 business days. This depends upon the specific brokerage firms rules for some of these details but they are getting very strict with enforcing these rules.
Commissions for direct-access brokers are calculated based on volume. The more shares traded, the cheaper the commission. The average commission per trade is roughly $5 per round trip (getting in and out of a position). While a retail broker might charge $7 or more per trade regardless of the trade size, a typical direct-access broker may charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.0002 per share traded (from $10 down to $.20 per 1000 shares), or $0.25 per futures contract. A scalper can cover such costs with even a minimal gain.
Mutual funds are off-limits for intraday trading. The design of these funds is for the long-term investor, and they can only be bought and sold through a broker or the fund's investment company. Also, a mutual fund's price posts only once, at the close of the trading day. This price is known as the net asset value (NAV) and reflects all of the intraday movement of the fund's assets, less its liabilities, calculated on a per-share basis.
This combination of factors has made day trading in stocks and stock derivatives (such as ETFs) possible. The low commission rates allow an individual or small firm to make a large number of trades during a single day. The liquidity and small spreads provided by ECNs allow an individual to make near-instantaneous trades and to get favorable pricing.
Successful traders have to move fast, but they don't have to think fast. Why? Because they've developed a trading strategy in advance, along with the discipline to stick to that strategy. It is important to follow your formula closely rather than try to chase profits. Don't let your emotions get the best of you and abandon your strategy. There's a mantra among day traders: "Plan your trade and trade your plan."