The price movements of any stock are posted throughout the trading day and summarized at the end of the trading day. For example, April 2, 2019, shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) opened at $191.09 and closed at $194.02. During the day, as indicated in the "day's range" listed to the right of the closing price, shares dropped as low as $191.05—the intraday low—and hit a peak of $194.46—the intraday high.
Individual traders often manage other people's money or simply trade with their own. Few of them have access to a trading desk, but they often have strong ties to a brokerage (due to the large amounts they spend on commissions) and access to other resources. However, the limited scope of these resources prevents them from competing directly with institutional day traders. Instead, they are forced to take more risks. Individual traders typically day trade using technical analysis and swing trades—combined with some leverage—to generate adequate profits on such small price movements in highly liquid stocks.
Swing trading is actually one of the best trading styles for the beginning trader to get his or her feet wet, but it still offers significant profit potential for intermediate and advanced traders. Swing traders receive sufficient feedback on their trades after a couple of days to keep them motivated, but their long and short positions of several days are of the duration that does not lead to distraction. By contrast, trend trading offers greater profit potential if a trader is able to catch a major market trend of weeks or months, but few are the traders with sufficient discipline to hold a position that long without getting distracted. On the other hand, trading dozens of stocks per day (day trading) may just prove too white-knuckle of a ride for some, making swing trading the perfect medium between the extremes.
Scalpers need to be disciplined and need to stick to their trading regimen very closely. Any decision that needs to be made should be done so with certainty. But scalpers should also be very flexible, because market conditions are very fluid and if a trade isn't going as expected, they'll need to fix the situation as quickly as possible without incurring too much of a loss.
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The ability for individuals to day trade coincided with the extreme bull market in technological issues from 1997 to early 2000, known as the dot-com bubble. From 1997 to 2000, the NASDAQ rose from 1200 to 5000. Many naive investors with little market experience made huge profits buying these stocks in the morning and selling them in the afternoon, at 400% margin rates.
As with any other style of trading, many different methods of scalping exist. The most well-known scalping technique is using the market's time and sales to determine when and where to make trades. Scalping using the time and sales is sometimes referred to as tape reading because the time and sales used to be displayed on the old-fashioned ticker tape, known as the tape.
Due to the increased leverage and quick returns, day trading can be extremely profitable. The downside is that if done incorrectly, it can also be extremely unprofitable. Due to the high volatility of day trading, some people have labeled Day Traders as gamblers or adrenaline junkies. However, many people make a very consistent and comfortable living from day trading. Some even make millions of dollars each year.
Day trading is not for everyone and involves significant risks. Moreover, it requires an in-depth understanding of how the markets work and various strategies for profiting in the short term. While we remember the success stories of those who struck it rich as a day trader, remember that most do not—many will fizzle out and many will just barely stay afloat. Furthermore, don't underestimate the role that luck and good timing play—while skill is certainly an element, a rout of bad luck can sink even the most experienced day trader.
Financial settlement periods used to be much longer: Before the early 1990s at the London Stock Exchange, for example, stock could be paid for up to 10 working days after it was bought, allowing traders to buy (or sell) shares at the beginning of a settlement period only to sell (or buy) them before the end of the period hoping for a rise in price. This activity was identical to modern day trading, but for the longer duration of the settlement period. But today, to reduce market risk, the settlement period is typically two working days. Reducing the settlement period reduces the likelihood of default, but was impossible before the advent of electronic ownership transfer.