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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.
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.
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.
Software and gimmicky products that promise riches overnight typically have a very short shelf life. They may work for a little while, but ultimately they will fail you unless you know how to make adjustments to the software yourself. Instead of getting suckered into trading product scams you're much better off spending your time and money on your own education.
Buying on margin can greatly increase your gains or losses. Brokerages usually allow a bigger margin percentage for a day trading account but reduce the amount of margin available for positions held overnight. Normally a day trading account must have a minimum of $25,000 and can buy on margin at a rate of 4 to 1 giving you $100,000 in buying power, which is called day trader buying power. That number drops to 2 to 1 for positions held overnight, which can be called overnight margin buying power. That means that if you have 100% of your margin being used during the day, you must exit at least half of your positions before the close of the trading day.
These developments heralded the appearance of "market makers": the NASDAQ equivalent of a NYSE specialist. A market maker has an inventory of stocks to buy and sell, and simultaneously offers to buy and sell the same stock. Obviously, it will offer to sell stock at a higher price than the price at which it offers to buy. This difference is known as the "spread". The market maker is indifferent as to whether the stock goes up or down, it simply tries to constantly buy for less than it sells. A persistent trend in one direction will result in a loss for the market maker, but the strategy is overall positive (otherwise they would exit the business). Today there are about 500 firms who participate as market makers on ECNs, each generally making a market in four to forty different stocks. Without any legal obligations, market makers were free to offer smaller spreads on electronic communication networks than on the NASDAQ. A small investor might have to pay a $0.25 spread (e.g. he might have to pay $10.50 to buy a share of stock but could only get $10.25 for selling it), while an institution would only pay a $0.05 spread (buying at $10.40 and selling at $10.35).
Tactics used to take advantage of the uptrend can also be applied to trade the downtrend. Again, since it’s very difficult to predict exactly how long a bear rally, or “counter trend” may last, you should enter a bearish swing trade only after it seems that the stock has continued downwards. To do this, examine the bear rally very closely. If the stock heads lower than the counter trend’s previous day’s low, the swing trader could enter a bearish position.
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.
Once you have a specific set of entry rules, scan through more charts to see if those conditions are generated each day (assuming you want to day trade every day) and more often than not produce a price move in the anticipated direction. If so, you have a potential entry point for a strategy. You'll then need to assess how to exit, or sell, those trades.