Scalping is a fast-paced activity for nimble traders. It requires precision timing and execution. Scalpers use day trading buying power of four to one margin to maximize profits with the most shares in the shortest amount of holding time. This requires focusing on the smaller time frame interval charts such as the one-minute and five-minute candlestick charts. Momentum indicators such as stochastic, moving average convergence divergence (MACD) and relative strength index (RSI) are commonly used. Price chart indicators such as moving averages, Bollinger bands and pivot points are used as reference points for price support and resistance levels.
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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.
The price movements of any stock are posted throughout the trading day and summarized at the end of the trading day. For example, April 2, 2019, shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) opened at $191.09 and closed at $194.02. During the day, as indicated in the "day's range" listed to the right of the closing price, shares dropped as low as $191.05—the intraday low—and hit a peak of $194.46—the intraday high.
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The profit potential of day trading is perhaps one of the most debated and misunderstood topics on Wall Street. Internet day trading scams have lured amateurs by promising enormous returns in a short period. The idea that this kind of trading is a get-rich-quick scheme persists. Some people day trade without sufficient knowledge. But there are day traders who make a successful living despite—or perhaps because of—the risks.
Scalping utilizes larger position sizes for smaller price gains in the smallest period of holding time. It is performed intraday. The main goal is to buy or sell a number of shares at the bid — or ask — price and then quickly sell them a few cents higher or lower for a profit. The holding times can vary from seconds to minutes, and in some cases up to several hours. The position is closed before the end of the total market trading session, which can extend to 8 p.m. EST.
ECNs and exchanges are usually known to traders by a three- or four-letter designators, which identify the ECN or exchange on Level II stock screens. The first of these was Instinet (or "inet"), which was founded in 1969 as a way for major institutions to bypass the increasingly cumbersome and expensive NYSE, and to allow them to trade during hours when the exchanges were closed. Early ECNs such as Instinet were very unfriendly to small investors, because they tended to give large institutions better prices than were available to the public. This resulted in a fragmented and sometimes illiquid market.
It needs sheer dedication, hard work, patience, quick wit and immense knowledge to be successful in intraday trading. Successful intraday trading involves 90% waiting and 10% execution. So, yes, it can make a trader rich in a relatively short period of time if the correct processes are followed, and yes, it is possible to hold on to the profits in the long-term if the correct strategies are followed.
Each type of trading has its advantages and disadvantages. The appeal of swing trading is that it provides plenty of opportunities to trade; the dollar risk per trade is lower than with trend trading because of closer stops; it provides greater profit opportunity per trade than day trading; and quick rewards provide emotional satisfaction. The downside of swing trading is that you must work hard all the time to manage trades; you are quite likely to miss major moves where huge profits can be made; and frequent trading results in higher commission costs.
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.
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.
The systems by which stocks are traded have also evolved, the second half of the twentieth century having seen the advent of electronic communication networks (ECNs). These are essentially large proprietary computer networks on which brokers can list a certain amount of securities to sell at a certain price (the asking price or "ask") or offer to buy a certain amount of securities at a certain price (the "bid").
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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.