Day traders are attuned to events that cause short-term market moves. Trading the news is a popular technique. Scheduled announcements such as economic statistics, corporate earnings or interest rates are subject to market expectations and market psychology. Markets react when those expectations are not met or are exceeded, usually with sudden, significant moves, which can benefit day traders.
Commissions for direct-access brokers are calculated based on volume. The more shares traded, the cheaper the commission. The average commission per trade is roughly $5 per round trip (getting in and out of a position). While a retail broker might charge $7 or more per trade regardless of the trade size, a typical direct-access broker may charge anywhere from $0.01 to $0.0002 per share traded (from $10 down to $.20 per 1000 shares), or $0.25 per futures contract. A scalper can cover such costs with even a minimal gain.
In parallel to stock trading, starting at the end of the 1990s, several new market maker firms provided foreign exchange and derivative day trading through electronic trading platforms. These allowed day traders to have instant access to decentralised markets such as forex and global markets through derivatives such as contracts for difference. Most of these firms were based in the UK and later in less restrictive jurisdictions, this was in part due to the regulations in the US prohibiting this type of over-the-counter trading. These firms typically provide trading on margin allowing day traders to take large position with relatively small capital, but with the associated increase in risk. The retail foreign exchange trading became popular to day trade due to its liquidity and the 24-hour nature of the market.
With low barriers to entry in the trading world, the number of people trying their hands at day trading and other strategies such as scalping has increased. Newcomers to scalping need to make sure the trading style suits their personality because it requires a disciplined approach. Traders need to make quick decisions, spot opportunities and constantly monitor the screen. Those who are impatient and feel gratified by picking small successful trades are perfect for scalping.
A day trader often closes all trades before the end of the trading day, so not to hold open positions overnight. A day traders' effectiveness may be limited by the bid-ask spread, trading commissions, as well as expenses for real-time news feeds and analytics software. Successful day trading requires extensive knowledge and experience. Day traders employ a variety of methods to make trading decisions. Some traders employ computer trading models that use technical analysis to calculate favorable probabilities, while some trade on their instinct.
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).
It is estimated that more than 75% of stock trades in United States are generated by algorithmic trading or high-frequency trading. The increased use of algorithms and quantitative techniques has led to more competition and smaller profits. Algorithmic trading is used by banks and hedge funds as well as retail traders. Retail traders can choose to buy a commercially available Automated trading systems or to develop their own automatic trading software.
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.
In addition to knowledge of basic trading procedures, day traders need to keep up on the latest stock market news and events that affect stocks—the Fed's interest rate plans, the economic outlook, etc. So do your homework. Make a wish list of stocks you'd like to trade and keep yourself informed about the selected companies and general markets. Scan business news and visit reliable financial websites.