Rules for Picking Stocks When Intraday Trading

There are thousands of equities to choose from, and day traders can pick virtually any stocks they want. A day trader executes a relatively large volume of short and long trades in a single day to capitalize on intraday market price action. Their goal is to profit from very short-term price movements. So the first step for a day trader is to figure out what to trade. 

Key Takeaways

  • Day traders who execute intraday strategies attempt to profit off price changes for a given asset using a wide variety of techniques.
  • Day traders should select stocks that have ample liquidity, midrange to high volatility, and sector or index group followers.
  • Identifying the right stocks for intraday trading involves isolating the current market trend from any surrounding noise and then capitalizing on that trend.

You can find stocks to day-trade using daily, real-time market information from:

  • Most online brokerage sites
  • Google Finance
  • Yahoo Finance

Once you have this information, though, you will still need to understand the characteristics of these stocks, particularly their liquidity and volatility, to select the best ones to trade. Once a trading opportunity has been identified (one stock, multiple stocks, or exchange-traded funds, known as ETFs, etc.), the next step is coming up with some ways to profit from them.


How To Choose Stocks For Day Trading

How to Select Stocks for Intraday Trading


Liquid stocks tend to have high trading volume. This allows for larger quantities to be purchased and sold without significantly affecting the price. Because intraday trading strategies depend on speed and precise timing, a high degree of volume makes getting into and out of trades easier.

Depth is also critical because it shows you how much liquidity a stock has at various price levels above—or below—the current market bid and offer.

Medium to High Volatility

Day traders require price movement in order to make money. Day traders can choose stocks that tend to move a lot, either in dollar terms or percentage terms. These two filters will often produce different results.

Be aware that when volatility spikes, it may be possible to generate above-average profits, but you also face the risk of losing more capital in a relatively shorter period of time.

Group Followers

While there are those who specialize in contrarian plays, most traders look for equities that move in correlation with their sector and index group. This means that, when the index or the sector ticks upward, the individual stock's price also increases. This is important if the trader wants to be trading the strongest or weakest stocks every day. If a trader opts to trade the same stock every day, it is wise to focus on that one stock; there is no need to worry about whether it is correlated with anything else.

Entry and Exit Strategies

You may have picked the sweetest stock in the world, but profiting from it will rely on following specific strategies. While there are numerous intraday strategies, the important thing is to stick to certain established guidelines. By looking for certain intraday trading signals, you are more likely to succeed.

Trade Only with the Current Intraday Trend

The market always moves in waves, and it is the trader's job to ride those waves. During an uptrend, focus on taking long positions. During a downtrend, focus on taking short positions. Intraday trends don't continue indefinitely, but one or two trades (or sometimes more) can be made before a reversal occurs. When the dominant trend shifts, begin trading with the new trend.

Isolating the trend can be the difficult part. Trendlines provide a simple and useful entry and stop-loss strategy. The following chart of the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) shows several short-term trends during a typical day.

 SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) chart showing several short-term trends

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2023

More trendlines can be drawn while trading in real time to see the varying degrees of each trend. Drawing in more trendlines may provide more signals and may also give greater insight into the changing market dynamics.

Trade Strong Stocks in an Uptrend, Weak Stocks in a Downtrend

To choose the best stocks for intraday trading, most traders will find it beneficial to look at equities or ETFs that have at least a moderate to high correlation with the S&P 500 or Nasdaq indexes. Then, isolate those stocks that are relatively weak or strong compared with the index. This creates an opportunity for the day trader, because a strong stock may move up 2% when the index moves up 1%. There is more opportunity in the stock that moves more.

When the indexes and market futures are moving higher, traders should look to buy stocks that are moving up more aggressively than the futures. When the futures pull back, a strong stock won't pull back as much (or may not even pull back at all). These are the stocks to trade in an uptrend because they tend to lead the market higher and, thus, provide more profit potential.

When the indexes and market futures are dropping, it can be profitable to short-sell stocks that drop more than the market. When the futures move higher within the downtrend, a weak stock won't move up as much (or won't move up at all). Weak stocks provide greater profit potential when the market is falling.

The stocks and ETFs that are stronger or weaker than the market may change daily, although certain sectors may be relatively strong or weak for weeks at a time.

The following chart compares the SPDR S&P 500 to the SPDR Select Technology Fund (XLK). The blue line, XLK, was relatively strong compared with SPY. Both ETFs moved higher throughout the day, but because XLK had such large gains on rallies and slightly smaller declines on pullbacks, it was a market leader and outperformed SPY on a relative basis. If you are going to buy something, choose the investment that is the strongest.

Index trends chart

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2023

The same is true for short trades. Short sellers should isolate stocks or ETFs that are relatively weak. In this way, when prices fall, you are likely to be in stocks or ETFs that will fall the most, thus increasing the profit potential of the trade.

Be Patient and Wait for the Pullback

Trendlines are simply an approximate visual guide for where price waves will begin and end. Therefore, when you are selecting stocks for intraday trading, traders can use a trendline for early entry into the next price wave in the direction of the trend.

When entering a long position, buy after the price moves down toward the trendline and then moves back higher. To draw an upward trendline, a price low and then a higher price low is needed. The line is drawn connecting these two points and then extended out to the right. On the chart below, the price bounces off the trendline a couple of times before the price falls through it the third time. 

Trendline example

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2023

Short selling in a downtrend would be similar. You should wait until the price moves up to the downward-sloping trendline. Then, when the stock begins to move back down, you use this as a trading signal to make your entry.

By being patient, these two long trades provide a low-risk entry. The purchase is made close to the stop-loss level, which would be placed a few cents below the trendline or the most recent price low made just prior to entry. As mentioned, trends don't continue indefinitely, so there will be losing trades. But as long as an overall profit is made, even with the losses, that is what matters.

Take Regular Profits

Day traders have limited time to capture profits and must, therefore, spend as little time as possible in trades that are losing money or moving in the wrong direction.

Here are two simple guidelines that can be used to take profits when trading with trends:

  • In an uptrend or long position, take profits at or slightly above the former price high in the current trend.
  • In a downtrend or short position, take profits at or slightly below the former price low in the current trend.

In the chart below, entries and exits are marked. The chart shows that, as the trend continues higher, the price pushes through past highs. This provides an exit for each respective long position taken. The same method can be applied to downtrends; profits are taken at or slightly below the prior price low in the trend.

Long-position exit and entry point chart

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2023

When the Market Stalls, Don't Play

Markets don't always trend. Sometimes, intraday trends reverse so often that an overriding direction is hard to establish. If major highs and lows aren't being made, make sure the intraday movements are large enough for the potential reward to exceed the risk. For example, if risking 10 cents per share, the stock or ETF should be moving enough to give you at least a 15 cents to 20 cents in profit using the guidelines above.

If the price is moving in a range (not trending), switch to a range-bound trading strategy. During a range, our drawn lines will be horizontal, not angled. However, the same general concepts apply: Buy when the price moves to the lower horizontal area, support, and then starts moving higher. Short sell when the price reaches the upper horizontal line, resistance, and starts to move lower again.

When buying as a day trader, look to exit near the top of the range but not right at the top. When shorting, look to exit in the lower portion of the range but not right at the bottom. The potential reward should be greater than the risk.

Place a stop-loss just below the most recent low prior to entry on a buy signal, or just above the most recent high prior to entry on a short signal.

It can be hard for many traders to alternate between trend trading and range trading. Therefore, many traders opt to do one or the other. If trend trading, step aside when markets are ranging and focus on trading stocks or ETFs that tend to trend. When range trading, avoid trading during trends and focus on trading stocks or ETFs that tend to range.

What are the Types of Strategies Day Traders Use?

There are several strategies that day traders use to profit from their activities. The techniques include: scalping, momentum trading, breakout trading, trend trading, contrarian trading, and news trading.

  • Scalping: This approach entails taking advantage of small price movements by having multiple positions during stock market trading. The goal is to accumulate the small profits over time.
  • Momentum Trading: Day traders identify stocks that are trending up or down and will ride that consistent price move over the day, hour or even minute. Day traders assume that the momentum will continue, allowing them to profit.
  • Breakout Trading: This involves looking at stocks that are trading within a range and entering a position when it is assumed that the range that the stock is trading in is no longer maintained.
  • Trend Trading: This approach entails the use of moving averages, momentum indicators, trendlines, and chart patterns to determine whether the stock will continue to go higher or lower. The day trader will trade in the same direction of the trend until the trend reverses.
  • Contrarian Trading: Day traders also apply contrarian investing techniques to intraday trading. This involves taking a position that is opposite to the prevailing market sentiment. For example, if the current market sentiment is bearish, the day trader will be monitoring to buy stocks. Conversely, if the current market sentiment is bullish, the day trader will be monitoring to sell stocks short.
  • News Trading: This involves analyzing financial and economic calendars and determining what news and events will affect a stock's price. The day trader will then trade the respective stocks before, during, and after the news or event.

How Do Day Traders Determine the Liquidity of a Stock?

The depth and liquidity of a stock are essential metrics that day traders use when they are trading. There are several techniques to determine stock depth and liquidity. They are: trading volume, bid-ask spreads, order books, time and sales, and market depth.

  • Trading Volume: Day traders use the amounts of shares traded to determine a stock's depth and liquidity. A higher trading volume shows that there are more market participants and this increases the likelihood of entering and exiting a stock position.
  • Bid-Ask Spread: This term is simply the difference between the price that market participants are willing to buy and sell a stock. A tighter or narrower bid-ask spread signifies that the stock is more liquid. On the other hand, a wider bid-ask spread indicates that the stock is less liquid.
  • Order Book: This tool provides all the buy and sell orders for a particular stock. Also, the price and volume are attached to each order. By analyzing the order book, the day trader can attain additional insight into the liquidity, depth, and overall demand and supply for the stock.
  • Time and Sales: This tool shows the price and volume of every trade executed for a stock. Similar to the order book, the time and sales tool gives the day trader additional insight into the liquidity, depth, and overall demand and supply for the stock.
  • Market Depth: The phrase "market depth" is a reference to a market's ability to absorb large amounts of orders. In the case of a stock market, a market depth report shows the number of shares available at each price level in the order book. A high level of market depth indicates that the stock is very liquid.

How Do Day Traders Determine the Volatility of a Stock?

The volatility of a stock is the amount of movement in the stock's price over a certain timeframe. If the price changes or price swings are more frequent, the stock is considered more volatile. There are several metrics that day traders use to figure out the volatility of a stock, including: historical volatility, implied volatility, beta, average true range, and Bollinger Bands.

How Do Day Traders Determine the Correlation of a Stock?

The correlation of a stock estimates the proportion at which a stock moves in line with another stock or even a stock market index. A stock's correlation is determined by the following: correlation coefficient, scatter plot, rolling correlation, and regression analysis.

How Do Day Traders Figure Out Where to Exit Winning and Losing Positions?

Day traders think it critical to determine when to exit winning and losing positions. This is done through deciding the stop-loss and profit-taking levels. Day traders use various techniques for figuring out these levels, including: technical analysis, volatility, the risk-reward ratio, and the average true range.

The Bottom Line

Identifying the right stocks for intraday trading involves isolating the current market trend from the surrounding noise. Then a trader's task is to capitalize on that trend. Certain features—liquidity, volatility, and correlation—characterize the best potential intraday trading stocks. But it's also important to apply the right entry and exit strategies.

Studying trendlines and charting price waves can aid in this endeavor. There are many ways to trade, but none of them works all the time. If the conditions aren't providing a good environment for deploying your strategies, save your money and wait for when they are.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
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  2. Charles Schwab. “How Traders Can Take Advantage of Volatile Markets.”

  3. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Stock Purchases and Sales: Long and Short.”

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