Professional status as a forex trader takes years of commitment, backed up by clearly-defined strategies that show consistent profitability. But the rewards are worth the considerable effort, with high income and a lifestyle that most folks can only dream about. Opportunities abound for these full-time players, who can choose to work for international banks, hedge funds or just put on their pajamas and trade out of a family home-office. (See related: How to Become a Successful Forex Trader).
Let’s look at a typical day in the life of a professional forex trader who manages private accounts that may include family funds and a share of other people’s money. These overachievers define the lofty goal for millions of at-home players who want to earn their livings by trading currencies, but without the restrictions of a more traditional forex workspace like an international desk.
In addition to goal setting, this over-the-shoulder view serves as a reality check, allowing at-home forex traders to examine current progress in creating their dream jobs within the worldwide flow of currency exchanges. It focuses on three areas of interest:
- Workflows that traders can use for morning preparation and end-of-day examination.
- Attitudes and strategies during the trading day that can impact performance.
- The personal side, including lifestyle choices that assist or undermine profitability.
Defining Market Hours
The professional forex trader specializes due to the currency market’s enormous complexity. This is a biological as well as logistical imperative because forex trades 24-hours a day, from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon in US time zones. This around-the-clock action makes it impossible to watch continuously in real time, encouraging a razor-like focus on specific time frames and forex pairs.
Most US professionals start with EUR/USD and USD/JPY, adding other pairs that fit into time frames dictated by these popular instruments. This often includes other euro and yen crosses as well as Australian and Canadian dollar crosses. They choose wisely, often swapping out closely-watched pairs over time, understanding that tracking too many markets will dilute the reliability of their strategies.
Euro price action picks up between 1 am and 3 am on the U.S. East Coast, encouraging local pros to get up earlier than equity or futures traders. This timing takes many of these folks out of the game after the New York lunch hour, triggering a noticeable drop in forex volume and volatility during U.S. afternoons. This lifestyle works perfectly in conjunction with timing of key economic reports in Europe and the United States but fails to capture Asian developments, which can move world currency markets for months at a time.
This leaves two other specialization choices:
- Match market hours with other U.S. traders, aligning activities with the New York stock markets and Chicago futures exchanges.
- Bend the sleep cycles further, awakening for the Asian session and completing the market days early after the U.S. sunrise.
In all specialties, professionals focus their efforts on currency pairs that provide the most profit potential for their strategies. This inevitably changes over time, forcing them to adjust market and sleep hours to manage profitability.
Trading screens are turned on soon after waking because currency markets are open and prices have been driven higher or lower during sleep hours. However, stress levels are low because well-trusted brokers are holding their capital while carefully placed stops are guarding against outliers, like China’s devaluation of the yuan in August 2015. In addition, they always review exposure at the end of the market day, to ensure that losses taken during the sleep cycle fall within the confines of their risk tolerance.
Forex professionals hold a deep interest in economic and central bank policies around the world, understanding how the Federal Reserve (FOMC), European Central Bank (ECB), Bank of Japan (BOJ) and Peoples Bank Of China (PBOC) impact currencies. They keep a detailed calendar of economic releases and central bank meetings that will impact their strategies, often foregoing sleep when a key meeting is set outside of their normal market viewing hours.
They examine the latest economic releases while having their first cup of coffee, adjusting stops and exiting positions if needed. Time frame now comes into play because many professionals hold a large core of smaller-sized positions for longer holding periods. This allows them to keep stops loose and away from predatory algorithms, which dominate modern markets. These efficient robot-traders predict price zones where retail stops are clustered and hit those levels during less active trading hours or in response to economic releases.
Market day activity depends on the current strategies. Pros who manage a core of longer-term positions may be surprisingly inactive in a typical session, waiting for key price zones to come into play. It’s a different story for day trading strategies that demand fast and furious participation. Even so, these positions cluster around the hours of major economic and central bank releases, with the balance of the session set to observation rather than action mode. (See related: Anticipation vs. Confirmation for Today's Forex Trader.)
Professionals choose specific times to end their market days rather than letting circumstances and price action make those determinations. A 24-hour environment changes continuously and there’s no good time to walk away, but humans require other activities to maintain balance. The New York lunch hour offers the most popular choice for local professionals because it also marks the close of trading on the European stock exchanges.
The trading day ends with a performance and session review, noting characteristics that may impact future strategies and outcomes. Pros also take note of economic releases scheduled for their off hours, adjusting stops to account for the greater risk. Finally, they take a last look at forex pairs not closely watched that day, checking for trading opportunities they may have missed.
The 24-hour forex grind can be tedious and proper lifestyle choices are needed to build discipline and focus, in turn improving the bottom line. As a result, the forex pro takes as much time working on relaxation and personal health issues as watching world markets. These folks also know how to have fun, taking regular time to get away from their trading screens and unwinding with friends and family.
Many pros take physical and mental conditioning even further, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol use and maintaining a healthy diet that keeps weight under control and the mind in an alert state. They also understand that problems with interpersonal relationships can translate immediately into performance shortfalls, so adequate time is taken to deal with spouses, parents and children.
The Bottom Line
Professional forex traders become lifetime students of worldwide economic and central bank policy, understanding that currency trends can turn on a dime when central banks shift direction, as they have many times since the 2008 economic collapse. They live an affluent lifestyle but pay the price with many hours of research and market watching. Sleep deprivation is common for these individuals until they build the trust required to allow their trading strategies and risk management to work without constant monitoring.