The bid–ask spread is two sides of the same coin. 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.
Years ago, when stocks were quoted in fractions, there was a standard spread of 1/16 of a dollar or a "teenie". This spread allowed scalp traders to buy a stock at the bid and immediately sell at the ask. Hence the teenie presented clear entry and exit levels for scalp traders. The scalp trading game took a turn for the worst when the market converted to the decimal system. The decimal system closed the "teenie" often times to within 1 penny for high volume stocks. This overnight shifted the strategy for scalp traders. A scalp trader now had to rely more on their instincts, level II, and the time and sales window.
First, find the lowest point of the pullback to determine the “stop out” point. If the stock declines lower than this point, you should exit the trade in order to limit losses. Then find highest point of the recent uptrend. This becomes the profit target. If the stock hits your target price or higher, you should consider exiting at least a portion of your position, to lock in some gains.
Retail day traders are competing with professionals. Pros know the tricks and traps. They have expensive trading technology, data subscriptions and personal connections. They’re perfectly outfitted to succeed, and even then they often fail. Among these pros are high-frequency traders, who are looking to skim pennies or fractions of pennies — the day trader’s profit — off every trade. It’s a crowded field, and the pros love to have inexperienced investors join the fray. That helps them profit.
So, swing traders are not looking to hit the home run with a single trade – they are not concerned with the perfect time to buy a stock exactly at its bottom and sell exactly at its top (or vice versa). In a perfect trading environment, they wait for the stock to hit its baseline and confirm its direction before they make their moves. The story gets more complicated when a stronger uptrend or downtrend is at play: the trader may paradoxically go long when the stock dips below its EMA and wait for the stock to go back up in an uptrend, or he or she may short a stock that has stabbed above the EMA and wait for it to drop if the longer trend is down.
This often means trading shares of companies that have just released breaking news, reported earnings, or have another fundamental catalyst that is resulting in above average retail interest. The type of stocks a day trader will focus on are typically much different from what a long term investor would look for. Day traders acknowledge the high levels of risk associated with trading volatile markets and they mitigate those risks by holding positions for very short periods of time.
The key to scalping while using short time frames is to identify price changes before the rest of the market has had the chance to act. You should also be willing to accept very low profit margins—gaining less than 1% on a given action will still usually be in your best interest. Because of this, many scalpers may implement tight stop-loss and stop-limit orders over time.
ECN/Level 2 quotes: ECNs, or electronic communication networks, are computer-based systems that display the best available bid and ask quotes from multiple market participants and then automatically match and execute orders. Level 2 is a subscription-based service that provides real-time access to the Nasdaq order book composed of price quotes from market makers registering every Nasdaq-listed and OTC Bulletin Board security. Together, they can give you a sense of orders being executed in real time.