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.
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.
Unlike a number of day trading strategies where you can have a win/loss ratio of less than 50% and still make money, scalp traders must have a high win/loss ratio. This is due to the fact that losing and winning trades are generally equal in size. The necessity of being right is the primary factor scalp trading is such a challenging method of making money in the market.
Risk management - Rather than looking for one big trade, the way a trend trader might, the scalper looks for hundreds of small profits throughout the day. In this process the scalper might also take hundreds of small losses during the same time period. For this reason a scalper must have very strict risk management never allowing a loss to accumulate.
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.
There is no special qualification required to become a day trader. Instead day traders are classified based on the frequency of their trading. FINRA and NYSE classify day traders based on whether he or she trades four or more times during a five-day span, provided the number of day trades is more than 6% of the customer's total trading activity during that period or the brokerage/investment firm where he or she has opened an account considers him a day trader. Day traders are subject to capital and margin maintenance requirements.
Day traders generally use margin leverage; in the United States, Regulation T permits an initial maximum leverage of 2:1, but many brokers will permit 4:1 leverage as long as the leverage is reduced to 2:1 or less by the end of the trading day. In the United States, people who make more than 4 day trades per week are termed pattern day traders and are required to maintain $25,000 in equity in their accounts. Since margin interest is typically only charged on overnight balances, the trader may pay no interest fees for the margin benefit, though still running the risk of a margin call. Margin interest rates are usually based on the broker's call.
Liquidity - The liquidity of a market affects the performance of scalping. Each product within the market receives different spread, due to popularity differentials. The more liquid the markets and the products are, the tighter the spreads are. Some scalpers like to trade in a more liquid market since they can move in and out of large positions easily without adverse market impact. Other scalpers like to trade in less liquid markets, which typically have significantly larger bid-ask spreads. Whereas a scalper in a highly liquid market (for example, a market maintaining a one-penny spread) may take 10,000 shares to make a 3 cent gain ($300), a scalper in an illiquid market (for example, a market with a 25 cent spread) may take 500 shares for a 60 cent gain ($300). While there is theoretically more profit potential in a liquid market, it is also a "poker game" with many more professional players which can make it more difficult to anticipate future price action.