A day trader often closes all trades before the end of the trading day, so not to hold open positions overnight. A day traders' effectiveness may be limited by the bid-ask spread, trading commissions, as well as expenses for real-time news feeds and analytics software. Successful day trading requires extensive knowledge and experience. Day traders employ a variety of methods to make trading decisions. Some traders employ computer trading models that use technical analysis to calculate favorable probabilities, while some trade on their instinct.
Suppose a trader employs scalping to profit off price movements for a stock ABC trading for $10. The trader will buy and sell a massive tranche of ABC shares, say 50,000, and sell them during opportune price movements of small amounts. For example, they might choose to buy and sell in price increments of $0.05, making small profits that add up at the end of the day because they are making the purchase and sale in bulk.
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Retail investors are prone to psychological biases that make day trading difficult. They tend to sell winners too early and hold losers too long, what some call “picking the flowers and watering the weeds.” That’s easy to do when you get a shot of adrenaline for closing out a profitable trade. Investors engage in myopic loss aversion, which renders them too afraid to buy when a stock declines because they fear it might fall further.
Aside from a risk/reward, the trader could also utilize other exit methods, such as waiting for the price to make a new low. With this method, an exit signal wasn't given until $216.46, when the price dropped below the prior pullback low. This method would have resulted in a profit of $23.76 per share. Thought of another way: a 12% profit in exchange for less than 3% risk. This swing trade took approximately two months.
The first 9 successful trades produce $900 in profit. On the 10th trade, when the position is down $50, instead of except the loss the untrained trader purchases more shares at a lower price to reduce his cost basis. Once he is down $100, he continues to hold and is unsure of whether to hold or sell. The trader finally takes the loss when he is down $1,000.
Futures are a contract that match up a buyer and seller at a specific price, with the buyer agreeing to pay that price for the asset when the contract expires in the future. The seller is agreeing to deliver the asset, like oil for example, to the buyer when the contract expires. Day traders are never required to deliver or pay for the actual asset, because all positions are opened and closed within the day (no open obligations). Profits are losses are based on the prices the contract is opened and closed at.
Range trading, or range-bound trading, is a trading style in which stocks are watched that have either been rising off a support price or falling off a resistance price. That is, every time the stock hits a high, it falls back to the low, and vice versa. Such a stock is said to be "trading in a range", which is the opposite of trending. The range trader therefore buys the stock at or near the low price, and sells (and possibly short sells) at the high. A related approach to range trading is looking for moves outside of an established range, called a breakout (price moves up) or a breakdown (price moves down), and assume that once the range has been broken prices will continue in that direction for some time.
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Swing trading refers to the practice of trying to profit from market swings of a minimum of one day and as long as several weeks. In contrast to swing traders, day traders usually are in and out of the market in one day and trend traders often hold positions for several months. So, in terms of length of holding a trade, swing traders are in between day traders and trend traders.
Price volatility and average day range are critical to a day trader. A security must have sufficient price movement for a day trader to achieve a profit. Volume and liquidity are also crucial because entering and exiting trades quickly is vital to capturing small profits per trade. Securities with a small daily range or light daily volume would not be of interest to a day trader.
This trading strategy used to be defined as spread trading where you would take profits where small gaps expanded and contracted between the bid and the ask price for a stock. This strategy has now evolved to include technical indicators, support/resistance levels, and volume spikes to make round-trip trades lasting seconds to a few minutes. The basic idea of scalping is to take advantage of market inefficiencies using speed and high trading volume to create quick profits. Click here for more information on scalping.
Following the 1987 stock market crash, the SEC adopted "Order Handling Rules" which required market makers to publish their best bid and ask on the NASDAQ. Another reform made was the "Small-order execution system", or "SOES", which required market makers to buy or sell, immediately, small orders (up to 1000 shares) at the market maker's listed bid or ask. The design of the system gave rise to arbitrage by a small group of traders known as the "SOES bandits", who made sizable profits buying and selling small orders to market makers by anticipating price moves before they were reflected in the published inside bid/ask prices. The SOES system ultimately led to trading facilitated by software instead of market makers via ECNs.
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."