Why Swing Trade?
Swing Trading is a strategy that focuses on taking smaller gains in short term trends and cutting losses quicker. The gains might be smaller, but done consistently over time they can compound into excellent annual returns. Swing Trading positions are usually held a few days to a couple of weeks, but can be held longer.
Swing Trading Strategy
Let's start with the basics of a swing trading strategy. Rather than targeting 20% to 25% profits for most of your stocks, the profit goal is a more modest 10%, or even just 5% in tougher markets.
Those types of gains might not seem to be the life-changing rewards typically sought in the stock market, but this is where the time factor comes in.
The swing trader's focus isn't on gains developing over weeks or months; the average length of a trade is more like 5 to 10 days. In this way, you can make a lot of small wins, which will add up to big overall returns. If you are happy with a 20% gain over a month or more, 5% to 10% gains every week or two can add up to significant profits.
Of course, you still have to factor in losses. Smaller gains can only produce growth in your portfolio if losses are kept small. Rather than the normal 7% to 8% stop loss, take losses quicker at a maximum of 3% to 4%. This will keep you at a 3-to-1 profit-to-loss ratio, a sound portfolio management rule for success. It's a critical component of the whole system since an outsized loss can quickly wipe away a lot of progress made with smaller gains.
Swing trading can still deliver larger gains on individual trades. A stock may exhibit enough initial strength that it can be held for a bigger gain, or partial profits can be taken while giving the remaining position room to run.
Swing Trading vs. Day Trading
Swing trading and day trading may seem like similar practices, but the major differences between the two have a common theme: time.
First, the time frames for holding a trade are different. Day traders are in and out of trades within minutes or hours. Swing trading is generally over days or weeks.
Day traders' shorter time frame means they don't generally hold positions overnight. As a result, they avoid the risk of gaps from news announcements coming in after hours and causing a big move against them. Meanwhile, swing traders have to be wary that a stock could open significantly different from how it closed the day before.
But there is an added risk with the shorter time frame. A wide spread between the bid, the ask and commissions can eat too large a portion of your profits. Swing traders can struggle with this too, but the effect is amplified for the day trader. Day traders can find themselves doing all the work, and the market makers and brokers reap the benefits.
To offset this, day traders are often offered the "opportunity" to leverage their portfolios with more margin, four times the buying power rather than double. Taking larger leveraged positions can increase percentage gains to offset costs. The problem is that no one is right all the time. A lack of focus, discipline, or just plain bad luck can lead to a trade that goes against you in a big way. A bad trade, or string of bad trades, can blow up your account, where the loss to the portfolio is so great the chances of recovery are slim. For a swing trader, a string of losses or a big loss can still have a dramatic effect, but the lower leverage reduces the likelihood that the results wipe out your portfolio.
That leads to another time related difference: the time commitment. Proper day trading requires focus and attention on numerous positions and constantly looking for new potential opportunities throughout the day to replace exited positions. That means it isn't a side job; day trading is your only job.
The extra time commitment of day trading comes with its own risk. Not having a steady paycheck makes a day trader's income reliant on trading success. That can add an extra level of stress and emotions to trading, and more emotions in trading lead to poor decisions.
A swing trading style, by contrast, may have a few transactions some days and nothing on others. Positions can be checked periodically or handled with alerts when critical price points are reached rather than the need for constant monitoring. This allows swing traders to diversify their investments and keep a level head while investing.