Active trading is the act of buying and selling securities based on short-term movements to profit from the price movements on a short-term stock chart. The mentality associated with an active trading strategy differs from the long-term, buy-and-hold strategy found among passive or indexed investors. Active traders believe that short-term movements and capturing the market trend are where the profits are made.
There are various methods used to accomplish an active trading strategy, each with appropriate market environments and risks inherent in the strategy. Here are four of the most common active trading strategies and the built-in costs of each strategy.
- Active trading is a strategy that involves 'beating the market' through identifying and timing profitable trades, often for short holding periods.
- Day trading entails opening and closing positions within the same trading day and is among the most exciting strategies.
- Position trading requires investors to hold securities slightly longer, requiring patience as the trade develops.
- Swing trading relies heavily on technical analysis to identify when to enter and exit a position.
- Scalping takes advantage of pricing discrepancies, though it often requires larger amounts of upfront capital to make larger profit.
4 Common Active Trading Strategies
1. Day Trading
Day trading is perhaps the most well-known active trading style. It's often considered a pseudonym for active trading itself. Day trading, as its name implies, is the method of buying and selling securities within the same day.
When day trading, positions are closed out within the same day they are taken, and no position is held overnight. Traditionally, day trading is done by professional traders such as specialists or market makers. However, electronic trading has opened up this practice to novice traders.
Seize immediate volatility opportunities in the market
Do not have capital at risk by holding overnight subject to post-market or pre-market pricing
Among the most exciting, fast-paced methods of trading
More likely to pay multiple transaction fees due to higher amounts of orders
Requires more time and attention to execute
More likely to result in smaller incremental profits as opposed to bigger wins
2. Position Trading
Some actually consider position trading to be a buy-and-hold strategy and not active trading. However, position trading, when done by an advanced trader, can be a form of active trading.
Position trading uses longer term charts – anywhere from daily to monthly – in combination with other methods to determine the trend of the current market direction. This type of trade may last for several days to several weeks and sometimes longer, depending on the trend.
Trend traders look for successive higher highs or lower highs to determine the trend of a security. By jumping on and riding the "wave," trend traders aim to benefit from both the up and downside of market movements. Trend traders look to determine the direction of the market, but they do not try to forecast any price levels.
Typically, trend traders jump on the trend after it has established itself, and when the trend breaks, they usually exit the position. This means that in periods of high market volatility, trend trading is more difficult and its positions are generally reduced.
Often less stressful than other methods of active trading
Easy to implement strategies even with low leverage
Widely supported through technical analysis tools that indicate trading signals
Requires strong technical analysis background
Often requires patience to recognize long-term change in security price
May result in small fluctuations that result in profits turning to losses
3. Swing Trading
When a trend breaks, swing traders typically get in the game. At the end of a trend, there is usually some price volatility as the new trend tries to establish itself. Swing traders buy or sell as that price volatility sets in. Swing trades are usually held for more than a day but for a shorter time than trend trades. Swing traders often create a set of trading rules based on technical or fundamental analysis.
These trading rules or algorithms are designed to identify when to buy and sell a security. While a swing-trading algorithm does not have to be exact and predict the peak or valley of a price move, it does need a market that moves in one direction or another. A range-bound or sideways market is a risk for swing traders.
Often requires less time and attention than day trading
Has higher potential for larger returns per trade
May be able to trade while the markets are closed
May miss out on greater profits while chasing part of trends
Has higher potential for larger losses per trade
More centralized holdings; open fewer, more concentrated positions
Scalping is one of the quickest strategies employed by active traders. Essentially, it entails identifying and exploiting bid-ask spreads that are a little wider or narrower than normal due to temporary imbalances in supply and demand.
A scalper does not attempt to exploit large moves or transact high volumes. Rather, they seek to capitalize on small moves that occur frequently, with measured transaction volumes.
Since the level of profit per trade is small, scalpers look for relatively liquid markets to increase the frequency of their trades. Unlike swing traders, scalpers prefer quiet markets that aren't prone to sudden price movements.
Often do not need to have strong technical background
Generally has less market risk as trades can be done on less volatile assets
Can still earn profit, even with small price variations
Typically requires a high amount of orders resulting in higher transaction fees
Often requires high upfront capital to generate even modest returns (due to the small amount of profit per trade
Among the most time-consuming strategies
Costs Inherent With Trading Strategies
There's a reason active trading strategies were once only employed by professional traders. Not only does having an in-house brokerage house reduce the costs associated with high-frequency trading, but it also ensures better trade execution. Lower commissions and better execution are two elements that improve the profit potential of the strategies.
Significant hardware and software purchases are typically required to successfully implement these strategies. In addition to real-time market data, these costs make active trading somewhat prohibitive for the individual trader, although not altogether unachievable.
This is why passive and indexed strategies that take a buy-and-hold stance offer lower fees and trading costs. In addition, passive investing typically results in lower taxable events in the event of selling a profitable position. Still, passive strategies cannot beat the market since they hold the broad market index. Active traders seek alpha in hopes that trading profits will exceed costs and make for a successful long-term strategy.
How Do I Start Active Trading?
There are various strategies when actively trading securities. Some require a highly analytical and technically sound background; others rely heavier on computing set-ups and a large dedication of time. Across all strategies, you must have sufficient capital on hand to enter into positions large enough to begin earning potential gains.
Is Day Trading Profitable?
Day trading isn't for everyone, and for many, it is not the most profitable strategy of investing. However, day trading is among the most exciting strategies when buying and selling securities. In addition, there is no long-term risk when day trading as positions are often closed by the end of the trading day. Day trading can be profitable but like many other forms of investing, success is never guaranteed.
How Do I Swing Trade?
Swing trading relies heavily on discovering trends within financial markets based on technical analysis. Upon buying a security, a swing trader often holds that asset for a short period of time until the asset has increased in value to the trader's target sale price. The entrance and exit points are both pre-determined in advance of the trade based on historical price action.
The Bottom Line
Active traders can employ one or many of the aforementioned strategies. However, before deciding on engaging in these strategies, the risks and costs associated with each should be considered.