What Is Forex Scalping?

Forex scalping is a trading style used by forex traders to buy or sell a currency pair and then hold it for a short period of time in an attempt to make a profit. A forex scalper looks to make a large number of trades, taking advantage of the small price movements which are common throughout the day. While scalping attempts to capture small gains, such as 5 to 20 pips per trade, the profit on these trades can be magnified by increasing the position size.

Forex scalpers will typically hold trades for seconds to minutes, and open and close multiple positions within a single day.

Key Takeaways

  • Forex scalping involves buying and selling currencies, typically with a brief holding time and with multiple trades taken each day.
  • Forex scalpers keep risk small in an attempt to capture small price movements for a profit. The small price movements can become significant amounts of money with leverage and large position sizes.
  • Forex scalpers typically use ECN forex accounts, as using a normal account will put them at a disadvantage.
  • Leverage, spreads, fees, and slippage are all risks that the scalper needs to control, manage, and account for as much as possible.

Understanding Forex Scalping

Forex scalpers typically utilize leverage, which allows for larger position sizes, so that a small change in price equals a respectable profit. For example, a five pip profit in the EUR/USD on a $10,000 position (mini lot) is $5, while on a $100,000 position (standard lot) that five pip movement equates to $50.

Forex scalping strategies can be manual or automated. A manual system involves a trader sitting at the computer screen, looking for signals and interpreting whether to buy or sell. In an automated trading system, programs are used to tell the trading software when to buy and sell based on inputted parameters. 

Scalping is popular in the moments after important data releases such as the U.S. employment report and interest rate announcements. This is because these types of high-impact news releases cause significant price moves in a short amount of time. This is ideal for the scalper who wants to get into and out of trades quickly. Due to the increased volatility, position sizes may be scaled down to reduce risk. While a trader may attempt to usually make 10 pips on a trade, in the aftermath of a major news announcement they may be able to capture 20 pips or more, for example. 

Forex Scalping Risks

Forex scalping has risk, like all styles of trading. While profits can accumulate quickly if lots of profitable trades are taken, losses can also mount quickly if the trader doesn't know what they are doing or are using a flawed system. Even if risking a small amount per trade, taking many trades could mean a significant drawdown if many of those trades end up being losers.

Leverage and scaled up position sizes can also pose a risk. Assume a trader has $10,000 in their account but is using a $100,000 position size. This equates to 10:1 leverage. Assume the trader is willing to risk five pips on each trade, and tries to get out when they have a 10 pip profit.

This is a viable system, but sometimes the trader won't be able to get out for a five pip loss. The market may gap through their stop loss point, and they end up getting out with a 20 pip loss. This scenario, known as slippage, is common around major news announcements. Therefore, they lose four times as much as they expected. A few of these slippage scenarios can deplete an account quickly.

Forex scalpers require a trading account with small spreads, low commissions, and the ability to post orders at any price. All these features are typically only offered in ECN forex accounts. These are accounts that allow the trader to act like a market maker who can, if they choose, buy at the bid price and sell at the offer price. Typical forex trading accounts require retail clients to buy at the offer and sell at the bid. Typical forex accounts also discourage or do not allow scalping.

If the spread or commissions are too high, or the price at which a trader can trade is too restricted, the chances of the forex scalper succeeding are greatly diminished.

Forex Scalping Strategies

There are countless trading strategies, although they will typically fall into a few broad categories.

Trend trading strategies involve entering in the direction of the trend, attempting to capture a profit if the trend continues.

Countertrend trading is more difficult for a scalper, but involves taking a position in the opposite direction of the trend. Such trades would be taken when the trader expects the trend to reverse or pullback.

Range strategies identify support and resistance areas and then the trader attempts to buy near support and sell near resistance. The trader is profiting from oscillating price action.

Statistical traders look for patterns or anomalies that tend to occur given specific conditions. This might include buying/selling and holding the position for five minutes if a certain chart pattern appears at a certain time of day, for example. Statistical forex scalping strategies are often based on time, price, day of the week, or chart patterns.

An Example of Scalping the EUR/USD

Assume a forex scalper trades the EUR/USD using a trend trading strategy. They identify the recent trend, wait for a pullback, and then buy when the price starts moving back in the trending direction.

Depending on volatility, the trader typically risks four pips and takes profit at eight pips. The reward is twice the risk, which is a favorable risk/reward. If volatility is higher than usual, the trader will risk more pips, and try to make a larger profit, but the position size will be smaller than with the four pip stop loss.

Assume the trader has a $10,000 account and is willing to risk 0.5% of their account per trade. That means they can lose $50 per trade. They are risking four pips. Each standard lot ($100,000) equates to $10 in profit or loss per pip. Since the trader is risking four pips, they can trade 1.25 standard lots ($50 / (4 pips x $10)). If they lose four pips on 1.25 standard lots, they will lose $50 which is their maximum risk per trade. Their profit is double, so if they make eight pips, they will earn $100.

The account has $10,000 in it, yet they are using a $100,000 position size. This is 10:1 leverage.

The following chart shows three trades, based on the recent trend direction. The first trade is a winner for eight pips, or $100. The second trade is a loss for four pips or $50. The next two trades are winners for eight pips, or $100 each.

EUR/USD One Minute Chart with Forex Scalping Trades
EUR/USD One Minute Chart with Forex Scalping Trades.  TradingView

The overall profit for the day is three winners ($300) minus one loser ($50), or $250. On a $10,000 account that is a 2.5% return for the day. This shows the compounding power of scalping. On the flip side, finding winning trades isn't easy, and even with risking 0.5% of the account per trade, if the trader doesn't have a sound method, losses can mount quickly.

The trades shown are for demonstration purposes only.