Trading on the West Coast

"Go West, young man" may have been sound advice in the mid-19th century, but is it still valid for a trader in the 21st century? Technological advances have leveled the playing field to such an extent that a trader could just as easily trade from a laptop on a California beach, as they could from a trading desk in a Manhattan office. Nevertheless, some certain benefits and drawbacks go with the territory when trading on the West Coast of North America.

Key Takeaways

  • West Coast traders may have time for more leisure activities because their workday can end as early as 1 p.m.
  • West Coast traders sit closer to Silicon Valley technology companies that are reshaping the economy and have a time zone more compatible with Asian market hours.
  • West Coast high-frequency traders are disadvantaged due to their geographic distance from large East Coast exchanges, such as the NYSE and Nasdaq.

Pros

Better Work-Life Balance

The laid-back atmosphere of the West Coast translates into a better work-life balance for a trader, compared to the hard-charging environment of the East Coast. In addition to eschewing pinstriped suits and Wingtips in favor of khakis and loafers, West Coast traders may have time for more leisure activities because their workday can end as early as 1 p.m. (which is equal to 4 p.m. on the East Coast). The relatively early break from work leaves enough time in the day for fun activities like picking up the kids from school, exercising, golf, barbecuing dinner for the family, and so on. The downside is that the West Coast trader also has to get to bed early, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Benjamin Franklin said that early to bed and early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise. East Coast traders, however, may think otherwise.

Higher Quality of Life

The younger cities of the West Coast also offer a higher quality of life than their East Coast counterparts. For proof, we turn to consulting firm Mercer's annual "Quality of Living" ranking that covers 230 cities worldwide. The cities rank for their quality of life based on a host of factors grouped into 10 categories—ranging from the economic environment and housing to recreation and the school system. In the 2019 rankings, San Francisco ranked number 34, while New York ranked number 44. Vancouver—a booming city on Canada's West Coast—was the highest-ranked city in North America at number three; Toronto (in eastern Canada, if not on the East Coast) ranked number 16. A city that offers a higher quality of life and a better work-life balance can make it less stressful to live in a big city, which is an important consideration for traders, given that their occupation is typically associated with elevated stress levels.

Proximity to Silicon Valley

West Coast traders are geographically in much closer proximity to Silicon Valley than their East Coast peers. Silicon Valley firms are reshaping not only the U.S. but also the global economy. The disruptive technologies pioneered by the likes of Apple Inc. (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT), and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) have already made these companies the biggest in the world (by market capitalization) within a couple of decades. The U.S. West Coast may not have the bulge bracket brokers and investment bankers of the East Coast, but it leads the country in terms of wealth creation, innovation, venture capital, and entrepreneurship. These traits may not provide any tangible benefits to traders in the short-term. However, in the long run, massive wealth creation should generate substantial demand for financial services such as wealth management and trading. 

Time Difference Works Better to Trade in Asia

Oddly enough, the greater time difference between the West Coast and Asia—compared to the time difference between the East Coast and Asia—works in favor of the West Coast. For instance, Tokyo is one of the biggest centers for trading foreign exchange and Japanese stocks. The Tokyo Stock Exchange is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Japan Standard Time; this translates into 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. a day earlier in New York, and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. in San Francisco. A trader would, therefore, find it more convenient to trade the Tokyo market in San Francisco rather than in New York. While New York traders have an edge in trading London and other European financial centers because the time difference is only five or six hours, the time differential between the influential Asian financial centers of Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai and the West Coast works in the latter's favor. 

Cons

Away from the Epicenter of the Trading Action

Let's face it; the trading volumes in New York and Toronto dwarf those in San Francisco and Vancouver, respectively. Additionally, technological advances may have leveled the playing field. However, they have also made it possible for major players such as high-frequency trading firms to access stock prices a fraction of a second before the rest of the investing public through co-location, which is the practice of physically locating their computers as close as possible to the exchange's computer servers. These strategies are not possible for West Coast firms situated thousands of kilometers away from the epicenter of the action.

Career Prospects May Be Limited

For the moment, career opportunities for a trader are limited in cities like San Francisco and Vancouver, as opposed to the job openings available in the traditional powerhouse financial centers of New York and Toronto, since the large east coast cities have exponentially more trading and financial service firms. This may change in the years ahead as West Coast trading firms benefit from the Silicon Valley surge.

Waking Up at Unearthly Hours

West Coast traders have to be in front of their trading desks at 6:30 a.m., in order to be ready for the 9:30 a.m. EST New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) market open—this means stumbling out of bed at 4 a.m. to catch up on the news, listening in on a conference call, and commuting to work.

Cost of Living May Be Higher

Since cities like Vancouver and San Francisco consistently rank as being among the most desirable cities to live in, the cost of living in these places may be higher than on the East Coast, largely because of surging real estate values and limited availability of rental units.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the trading day, a West Coast trader gets a better work-life balance and quality of life but gives up some career prospects and the chance to be at the center of the trading action. Whether that tradeoff is worth it is purely a matter of individual choice.