Swing trading is one of the most popular forms of active trading, where traders look for intermediate-term opportunities using various forms of technical analysis. If you're interested in swing trading, you should be intimately familiar with technical analysis. Investopedia's Technical Analysis Course provides a comprehensive overview of the subject with over five hours of on-demand video, exercises, and interactive content cover both basic and advanced techniques.
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.
Scalping in this sense is the practice of purchasing a security for one's own account shortly before recommending that security for long-term investment and then immediately selling the security at a profit upon the rise in the market price following the recommendation. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that scalping by an investment adviser operates as a fraud or deceit upon any client or prospective client and is a violation of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The prohibition on scalping has been applied against persons who are not registered investment advisers, and it has been ruled that scalping is also a violation of Rule 10b-5 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 if the scalper has a relationship of trust and confidence with the persons to whom the recommendation is made. The Securities and Exchange Commission has stated that it is committed to stamping out scalping schemes.
Day trading was once an activity that was exclusive to financial firms and professional speculators. Many day traders are bank or investment firm employees working as specialists in equity investment and fund management. Day trading gained popularity after the deregulation of commissions in the United States in 1975, the advent of electronic trading platforms in the 1990s, and with the stock price volatility during the dot-com bubble.
Swing traders should select their candidates from the most actively traded stocks and ETFs that show a tendency to swing within broad well-defined channels. Virtually all trading platforms provide a function to enter channel lines on a price chart. The trader should keep a list of stocks and ETFs to monitor on a daily basis and become familiar with the price action of their selected candidates.
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.
There is a lot of hype around day trading. Some websites promote it as a way to get rich quick (it isn't), and others say it is impossible (also not true). There are lots of day traders around the world who find success and make a living off the markets, so the truth lies somewhere in between those two extremes. If you've thought about day trading, it's worth your time to read through and understand the concepts discussed below, so you'll be better prepared for what to expect if you decide to proceed.
Before day trading, if someone wanted to trade a stock, they needed to call a stock broker to place their order, who would then route the order through a specialist on the floor of the exchange. The specialist would match the buyer with a seller and write up a physical ticket that would transfer the stock and send that confirmation back to both brokers. Commissions were charged at a flat rate of 1% of the total amount of the trade. That means that to buy $10,000 worth of stock, it would cost you an additional $100 in commissions. In 1975, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) made fixed commission rates illegal opening up the markets to the first of the discount brokers competing for business by lowering their commissions and making short term trading much more profitable.
The following are several basic trading strategies by which day traders attempt to make profits. In addition, some day traders also use contrarian investing strategies (more commonly seen in algorithmic trading) to trade specifically against irrational behavior from day traders using the approaches below. It is important for a trader to remain flexible and adjust techniques to match changing market conditions.
If the strategy is within your risk limit, then testing begins. Manually go through historical charts to find your entries, noting whether your stop loss or target would have been hit. Paper trade in this way for at least 50 to 100 trades, noting whether the strategy was profitable and if it meets your expectations. If it does, proceed to trading the strategy in a demo account in real time. If it's profitable over the course of two months or more in a simulated environment, proceed with day trading the strategy with real capital. If the strategy isn't profitable, start over.