What Is a Trading Session?

A trading session is a period of time that matches the primary daytime trading hours for a given locale. This phrase will refer to different hours, depending on the markets and locations being discussed. Generally a single day of business in the local financial market, from that market’s opening bell to its closing bell, is the trading session that the individual investor or trader will reference.

The markets for forex, futures, stocks, and bonds all have different characteristics that define their respective trading sessions for a given day, and the primary trading hours naturally differ from one country to another due to contrasting time zones.

Key Takeaways

  • A trading session is the primary trading hours and locale for a given asset.
  • Regular trading in U.S. stocks has a clearly defined trading session from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET).
  • The working hours of the NYSE also mark the most active period for trading within a 24-hour time period.
  • Different markets may each have their own working hours, with forex markets encompassing many overlapping sessions across different world time zones.

How a Trading Session Works

Trading session hours can vary by asset class and country. The regular trading session for U.S. stocks starts at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) on weekdays (holidays excepted). These times are primarily driven by the working hours of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), which closes early at 1:00 p.m. ET on several occasions throughout the year associated with holidays.

The regular weekday trading session for the U.S. bond market is 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET. Futures markets, meanwhile, have different trading hours, depending upon the exchange and the type of commodity being traded.

Traders should be aware of trading session hours for any securities and derivatives that they’re interested in trading beforehand to prevent any unexpected problems from arising.

In addition to regular trading hours, some markets may have pre-market or after-hours trading sessions. Other markets even have 24-hour trading sessions.

Pre-Market and After-Hours Trading Sessions

Pre-market trading for U.S. stocks occurs between 4:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. ET on weekdays. After-hours trading, on the other hand, is from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET on weekdays, although these times may vary slightly by exchange.

Pre-market and after-hours trading is a compelling way to capitalize on important news announcements or other factors that occur outside of regular trading hours. With that in mind, here are a number of factors that investors should be mindful of when trading outside of regular hours. In particular, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) notes eight such risk factors:

  1. Inability to See or Act on Quotes: Some brokers only allow investors to view quotes from their own trading system rather than other electronic communication networks (ECNs).
  2. Lack of Liquidity: There are fewer traders involved with after-hours trading, so there’s typically a lot less liquidity than during regular trading sessions.
  3. Larger Quote Spreads: Less trading activity often translates to wider bid-ask spreads, which could make order execution difficult.
  4. Price Volatility: There may be greater fluctuations than during regular hours, particularly if there’s a breaking news story with significant market repercussions.
  5. Uncertain Prices: The price of stocks traded after-hours may differ from those traded during regular trading sessions.
  6. Bias Toward Limit Orders: Many ECNs only accept limit orders rather than market orders during after-hours sessions.
  7. Competition with Professional Traders: Many after-hours traders are professionals with large institutions that have access to more information.
  8. Computer Delays: There is less technical support available during pre-market or after-hours trading sessions, so you could encounter trade execution delays.

24-Hour Trading Sessions

There are some markets with a 24-hour trading session. Among the most notable is the global foreign exchange (forex) market, in which currencies are traded. The forex market is the largest, most liquid market in the world.

Unlike the equity market, the forex market has no physical exchange. Rather, it consists of a number of large banks and brokerage firms that trade currencies with themselves. The forex market is open 24 hours a day, five days per week, from Sunday evening until Friday night.

major forex trading session, GMT
Forex Sessions, in GMT.


Regular Trading Sessions Around the World

Below are the 20 largest stock exchanges on Earth by market cap, which have been further grouped by continent.

Trading Sessions