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.
Order execution: A novice needs to master the art of efficient order execution. A delayed or bad order can wipe out what little profit was earned and even result in a loss. Since the profit margin per trade is limited, the order execution has to be accurate. As mentioned above, this requires supporting systems such as Direct Access Trading and Level 2 quotations.
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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.
This trading strategy used to be defined as spread trading where you would take profits where small gaps expanded and contracted between the bid and the ask price for a stock. This strategy has now evolved to include technical indicators, support/resistance levels, and volume spikes to make round-trip trades lasting seconds to a few minutes. The basic idea of scalping is to take advantage of market inefficiencies using speed and high trading volume to create quick profits. Click here for more information on scalping.
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.
Assess how much capital you're willing to risk on each trade. Many successful day traders risk less than 1% to 2% of their account per trade. If you have a $40,000 trading account and are willing to risk 0.5% of your capital on each trade, your maximum loss per trade is $200 (0.005 x $40,000). Set aside a surplus amount of funds you can trade with and you're prepared to lose. Remember, it may or may not happen.