By John A. Jagerson | January 8, 2018
NinjaTrader offers a platform for automated trading systems, backtesting, and analysis for active futures traders. It can be accessed through a futures brokerage account, but the firm also markets itself as a broker for beginners.
NinjaTrader offers an advanced trading platform, NinjaTrader-8, for futures traders. Investors can deploy advanced automated strategies, manual order entry or combinations in between through the trading technology. Investors without a futures brokerage account (or in need of another one) can open an account with Dorman Trading or Phillip Capital with NinjaTrader acting as an introducing broker. The trading platform is also available to investors with accounts at TD Ameritrade, Interactive Brokers, Gain Capital and others. NinjaTrader-8 includes excellent charts, indicators, order management, and market depth information. Investors can build and test automated trading strategies or use plugins and systems created by other users and professionals through a large community "ecosystem". We were pleased to see that traders can try NinjaTrader-8 for free through a demo account.
NinjaTrader acts as an introducing broker for two Futures Commission Merchants (FCMs) and two additional Forex dealers. If an investor decides to engage with NinjaTrader through an introducing broker relationship, the trading costs will vary depending on the instrument traded, and the software license. Alternatively, investors can use NinjaTrader through another broker like TD Ameritrade or Interactive Brokers. For this review we have assumed that a user has licensed the NinjaTrader platform but is using a TD Ameritrade account. The trading costs will be the same as with a normal TD Ameritrade account plus the fee for licensing the NinjaTrader software, which ranges from $999 for a lifetime license to $180 per quarter for a subscription.
**This is the all-in cost assuming a lifetime subscription to NinjaTrader-8
NinjaTrader must be evaluated as two different kinds of companies. First, as a software company that creates and markets an excellent trading platform targeted towards very active futures traders. And second, as a futures broker. NinjaTrader is registered with The National Futures Association as an introducing broker. This isn't the same as acting as the primary FCM, but NinjaTrader is still subject to oversight by the FCMs they work with. Because we have assumed for this review that an investor is using NinjaTrader through a TD Ameritrade account then the account security and other trust details should be identical to just trading through TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim platform.
Because NinjaTrader is an introducing broker, traders who open a brokerage account should be most concerned with the protection provided by the FCM they select during their account setup process. Alternatively, traders using the NinjaTrader software through a separate brokerage account are subject to that brokerage's account protection features and insurance.
The NinjaTrader-8 trading platform is extremely robust and provides investors with access to top of the line charts and trade execution technology as well as backtesting, system design, and auto trading. The community of professional and amateur developers in the NinjaTrader ecosystem have created thousands of plugins, systems, tools, and other add-ons that should meet most imaginable needs for technically oriented traders.
NinjaTrader's most impressive special feature is the ability to install thousands of customized indicators, trading systems, and tools from the community or so-called "ecosystem." Some add-ons and extensions are available for free or free to try. Its developer API allows users to build software tools for NinjaTrader-8 which only further its depth. Overall there is a plethora of tools and instruments to experiment with and find your best strategy.
The NinjaTrader platform is robust and will require an extensive learning curve before new users will be comfortable using the software. Once familiar with the software, users should find order entry, system management, charting, and analysis very streamlined and with few compromises. If a user is focused exclusively on actively trading futures, they are not likely to find anything missing from the platform. Traders looking for an all-inclusive platform to manage stocks, options, and bonds in addition to futures will be disappointed.
The NinjaTrader-8 platform is designed for very efficient programmatic or manual order entry for futures traders. The charts are extremely flexible and robust, and other analytical tools are easy to find and use. The platform is designed to use a windowing format that can be resized and customized into multi-monitor layouts of virtually any configuration. Investors focused on a very narrow range of futures trading products should find that the desktop software meets virtually all their trading needs.
NinjaTrader-8 does not include options functionality - not even for futures options - and there are no tools for fundamental analysis. The application's windows are 'undocked' from the platform, which can be a little annoying if traders are used to being able to minimize their entire trading application with a single click.
NinjaTrader is currently focused on building and enhancing their latest release (version 8) and have no current plans for a mobile or web-based platform.
Support is available in some fashion nearly 24/7; however, we found response times to be somewhat slow, even during market hours. Traders with technical questions over the weekend have some support available, but access is limited during non-business hours. There is a 24-hour emergency trade support hotline for investors using NinjaTrader as a broker.
Support for the platform is initially directed to chat or email, but a phone number is also available. The 24-hour emergency trade support line is only available for investors with a brokerage account through NinjaTrader. We found support requests to be handled slowly, but we got correct and courteous answers.
Besides charting and market depth tools there were limited resources for research or insights within the default platform. Tools for developing and testing trading strategies from the community's ecosystem and within the default platform are excellent but are almost exclusively focused on technical trading signals.
As we have already noted, NinjaTrader is oriented towards a niche of investors focused on very active futures trading. From that perspective, the NinjaTrader-8 platform has all the tools and features needed to be successful. The platform, indicators, and other features can be customized at a very granular level, which is important for active or professional traders.
There were almost no fundamental tools available. Financial statements, news, and economic data that might be found in other professional platforms were missing. While the technical data was comprehensive, the lack of non-price information is a gap that will have to be filled by other resources.
NinjaTrader and the community's ecosystem has an extensive array of educational videos, webinars, and documentation. Much of the education was provided by vendors and included promotional material for their systems, add-ons, or plugins; but we didn't see this as a negative. The existence of a robust ecosystem of other users and professional developers will likely keep the flow of education and ideas fresh.
Most of the education was in the form of webinars and recorded videos. We think this is a plus, but it requires a time commitment to weed through the material to find what you are looking for. There wasn't any structure to the education so new investors will likely struggle. NinjaTrader's target niche is likely much more experienced so the unformatted structure of the documentation and video archives shouldn't prove to be much of an obstacle.
NinjaTrader does not have banking features. Assuming an investor is accessing the platform through a broker like TD Ameritrade, the banking features will be associated with their actual bank account and not available through NinjaTrader itself.
John has worked in the capital markets and private equity for most of his career—including investing, writing, education and money management. John has a B.S. in Business Administration from Utah Valley University and completed the PLD at Harvard Business School. John is the coauthor of three books published by McGraw Hill on investing and portfolio management. As a co-founder of Learning Markets, LLC, John has developed financial education used by thousands of brokerage clients to become better investors. His firm also develops professional-grade stock screening and analytical tools for individual investors.
John earned his bachelor's degree in accounting and business management at Utah Valley University.
John is a Charted Financial Analyst (CFA) and a Chartered Market Technician (CMT).
"Individual investors have goals and objectives beyond wealth accumulation. Investing is only one tool they use to achieve truly great things in their life. I am passionate about helping investors because their success means more than just a larger account balance."
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