Fundamental trading is a method by which a trader focuses on company-specific events to determine which stock to buy and when to buy it. Trading on fundamentals is more closely associated with the buy-and-hold strategy of investing than with short-term trading. There are, however, specific instances in which trading on fundamentals can generate some nice profits in a short period. (You can read about momentum trading in "Introduction to Types of Trading: Momentum Traders.")

TUTORIAL: Investing 101

Reviewing Different Types of Traders

Before we focus on fundamental trading, let's review all the major styles of equity trading:

  • Scalping. The scalper is an individual who makes dozens or hundreds of trades per day, trying to "scalp" a small profit from each trade by exploiting the bid-ask spread. (You can read about scalping in "Introduction to Types of Trading: Scalpers.")
  • Momentum Trading. Momentum traders look to find stocks that are moving significantly in one direction on high volume and try to jump on board to ride the momentum train to a desired profit.
  • Technical Trading. Technical traders are obsessed with charts and graphs, watching lines on stock or index graphs for signs of convergence or divergence that might indicate buy or sell signals.
  • Fundamental Trading. Fundamentalists trade companies based on fundamental analysis, which examines things like corporate events such as actual or anticipated earnings reports, stock splits, reorganizations or acquisitions.
  • Swing Trading. Swing traders are really fundamental traders who hold their positions longer than a single day. Most fundamentalists are actually swing traders since changes in corporate fundamentals generally require several days or even weeks to produce a price movement sufficient enough for the trader to claim a reasonable profit. (You can read about swing trading in "Introduction to Types of Trading: Swing Traders.")

    Novice traders might experiment with each of these techniques, but they should ultimately settle on a single niche, matching their investing knowledge and experience with a style to which they feel they can devote further research, education and practice. (You can read about technical trading in "Introduction to Types of Trading: Technical Traders.")

    Let's begin our exploration of fundamental trading.

    Fundamental Data

    Most equity investors are aware of the most common financial data used in fundamental analysis: earnings per share, revenue and cash flow. These quantitative factors can include any figures found on a company's earnings report, cash-flow statement or balance sheet. They can also include the results of financial ratios such as return-on-equity and debt/equity. Fundamental traders may use such quantitative data to identify trading opportunities if, for example, a company issues earnings results that catch the market by surprise.

    Two of the most closely watched fundamental factors for traders and investors everywhere are earnings announcements and analyst upgrades and downgrades. Gaining an edge on such information, however, is very difficult since there are literally millions of eyes on Wall Street looking for that very same edge.

    Earnings Announcements

    The most important situation surrounding earnings announcements is the pre-announcement phase – the time during which a company issues a statement stating whether it will meet, exceed or fail to meet earnings expectations. A trader will want to trade immediately after such an announcement because a short-term momentum opportunity will likely be available.

    Analyst Upgrades and Downgrades

    Similarly, analyst upgrades and downgrades may present a short-term trading opportunity, particularly when a prominent analyst unexpectedly downgrades a stock. The price action in this situation can be similar to a rock dropping from a cliff, so the trader must be quick and nimble on his short-selling buttons.

    Earnings announcements and analyst ratings are also closely associated with momentum trading, as momentum traders look for unexpected events that cause a stock to trade a large volume of shares and move steadily either up or down.

    The fundamental trader is often more concerned with gaining an edge on information about speculative events that the rest of the market may lack. To stay one step ahead of the market, astute traders can often use their knowledge of historical trading patterns that occur during the advent of stock splits, acquisitions, takeovers and reorganizations.

    Stock Splits

    When a $20 stock splits 2-for-1, the company's market capitalization does not change, but the company now has double the number of shares outstanding, each at a $10 stock price. Many investors believe that, since investors will be more inclined to purchase a $10 stock than they would a $20 stock, a stock split will soon increase the company's market capitalization, (but remember that this fundamentally doesn't change the value of the company).

    To trade stock splits successfully, a trader must, above all, correctly identify the phase at which the stock is currently trading. Indeed, history has proven that a number of specific trading patterns occur before and after a split announcement: price appreciation and, therefore, short-term buying opportunities will generally occur in the pre-announcement phase and the pre-split run-up; and price depreciation (shorting opportunities) will occur in the post-announcement depression and post-split depression. By identifying these four phases correctly, a split trader can actually trade in and out of the same stock at least four separate times before and after the split, with perhaps many more intraday or even hour-by-hour trades.

    Acquisitions, Takeovers and Reorganizations

    The old adage "buy on rumor, sell on news," applies to trading on acquisitions, takeovers and reorganizations. In these cases, a stock will often experience extreme price increases in the speculation phase leading up to the event and significant declines immediately after the event is announced.

    That said, the old investor's adage "sell on news" needs to be qualified significantly for the astute trader. A trader's game is to be one step ahead of the market, so he or she is very unlikely to buy a stock in a speculative phase and hold it all the way to the actual announcement. The trader is concerned about capturing some of the momentum in the speculative phase and may trade in and out of the same stock several times as the rumor mongers work their magic. The trader may hold a long position in the morning and short in the afternoon, being ever watchful of charts and Level 2 data for signs of when to change position.

    And when the actual announcement is made, the trader will likely have the opportunity to short the stock of the acquiring company immediately after it issues news of its intent to acquire, thereby ending the speculative euphoria leading up to the announcement. Rarely is an acquisition announcement seen positively, so shorting a company that is doing the acquiring is a doubly sound strategy.

    By contrast, a corporate reorganization may very well be viewed positively if the market had not been expecting it, and if the stock had already been on a long-term slide due to internal corporate troubles. If a board of directors suddenly ousts an unpopular CEO, for example, a stock may exhibit short-term upward movement in celebration of the news.

    Trading the stock of a takeover target presents a special case since a takeover offer will have a price per share associated with it. A trader should be careful to avoid getting stuck holding stock at or near the offer price because shares will generally not move significantly in the short term once they find their narrow range near the target. Particularly in the case of a rumored takeover, the best trading opportunities will be in the speculative phase (or the time in which a rumored price per share for the takeover offer will drive actual price movement).

    Rumor and speculation are risky trading propositions, especially in the cases of acquisitions, takeovers and reorganizations, as such events may spawn extreme stock-price volatility. However, because of the potential for rapid price movements, these events also potentially serve as the most lucrative fundamental-trading opportunities available.

    The Bottom Line

    Many trading strategists have developed rather sophisticated models of trading opportunities associated with events leading up to and following earnings announcements, analyst upgrades and downgrades, stock splits, acquisitions, takeovers and reorganizations. These charts resemble the charts used in technical analysis but lack the mathematical sophistication. The charts are simple pattern charts. They display historical patterns of trading behaviors that occur close to these events, and these patterns are used as guides for making a prediction about short-term movement in the present.

    If fundamental traders are able to correctly identify the current position of stocks and subsequent price movements that are likely to occur, they stand a very good chance of executing successful trades. Trading on fundamentals may be risky in cases of euphoria and hype, but the astute trader is able to mitigate risk by making history his or her guide to short-term trading profits. In short, do your homework before jumping in.