#Swing #Trading #Tips For Beginners

So you want to be a swing trader. Get in line, because a lot of other folks have exactly the same idea. In fact, thousands of new traders try their hand at the market casino each year. Unfortunately, most walk away a little poorer and a lot wiser. But things could turn out better for you if you get it right from the get-go.

I’ve complied a list of the best questions submitted to me by new traders. I hope my answers will shorten your learning curve and get you on the road to profitability as quickly as possible. But good advice goes only so far when it comes to trading longevity. So slow down, take your time and make this intense discipline a lifelong quest.

Question: My goal is to trade for a living, and I’ll soon have the money needed for my account. I spent the last 13 months just watching the markets, paper trading and gaining the experience needed to avoid beginner’s drawdown. What else can I do?

Answer: Pre-trading preparation takes you only so far, because there’s a degree of risk-avoidance in the process. Paper trading lets you game and consider all the angles without actually losing money. But realize you will draw down, and you will lose money with real trades. You need to get used to that idea right now.

The problem is there’s a lot about trading you won’t understand until you place yourself at risk. So you have no choice but to jump in and learn the hard way. In fact, it’s the nature of risk that determines your ultimate success or failure in the markets. I always recommend that new traders expose themselves to real losses as soon as possible, so they can get past the book learning of technical analysis and Trading 101-type lessons.

You’ll find your losses have a much greater impact on your thinking and strategic planning than you can imagine or believe right now. In fact, they’ll make you tone deaf and give you 10 thumbs. The trick is to survive long enough to wrestle that beast to the ground.

Question: What is a good average return for swing trading? What percentage of my portfolio should I put to work on any trade?

Answer: No two traders are alike, nor do they approach the markets in the same way. Some folks do this part time and risk very small percentages of capital. Others do it full time and place a high percentage of equity at risk in each trade. Some have $5,000 discount brokerage accounts, while others manage large hedge funds.

Swing trading isn’t an exact science or a system. It’s a way to get an edge so you can profit from trades. Every swing trader chooses to enter and exit the market in a slightly different way. So the average returns are all over the map, from those who double their money every six months to those who can’t beat the interest rates in their checking accounts.

Question: Do you recommend a 1% or 2% limit on capital risked per swing trade? Is 5% too aggressive?

Answer: If you’re an experienced and profitable trader, using a percentage of capital is a good way to manage risk. But if you’re a new, semi-new or struggling trader, this isn’t the best way to approach position sizing. Each trade setup has a size that’s right for your risk tolerance. This is independent of your account size. Newer traders routinely take positions that are too large for their risk or knowledge level. In fact, their overall performance suffers when they take larger trades, because (a) they get so jumpy that good trades are exited too soon, or (b) they hold positions too long because they panic watching the wider swings and get the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.

Question: Is it realistic for a new trader to grow an account by 5% to 10% a month?

Answer: Returns of 5% to 10% a month are completely unrealistic for new traders. The question actually reflects a larger issue. New traders need to focus on the dynamics that generate price movement and not worry about making money. These processes take a very long time to understand. Trying to make money interferes with trading education, because it creates all types of performance anxiety issues. Learn to trade well, and the money will eventually follow.

Question: How would you recommend trading an account size of $150,000?

Answer:You don’t need all that money in your account to trade. In fact, it’s more of a liability than a benefit for a new trader. You probably don’t need any more than $35,000 maximum at your stage of development. All the extra money will do is demand you trade it and raise your risk above an acceptable level. As for how you allocate the money in your account, the answer right now should be “mostly cash.”

Question: Could you comment on what to look for on the ticker tape when taking a long or short position?

Answer: The bottom line is you’re looking for convergence. Each trade strategy has unique characteristics that identify it on the price chart. The ticker tape adds another type of signature, and what you see should match the chart most of the time. In narrow range situations, there’s really nothing to look at, because you’re entering a dead market. In pullbacks, look for panic or overexcitement and a thin bid-ask. In breakouts or breakdowns, the tape should print lots and lots of volume, with price pulling away from support or resistance in a hurry.

Question: How can I interpret the changing spreads I’m watching on Nasdaq Level II? How can understanding this tool help my trading?

Answer: I don’t believe you can predict direction from Level II quotes (these show you all bid/ask spreads from market makers, not just the narrowest). The best thing you can do is to predict interest and liquidity. Different stocks have different personalities on the tape. Some stocks trade very wide price ranges for their float. The spread changes during different times of the year, as average volume fluctuates. Realize you’re not seeing true supply and demand on Level II. Most exchanges and ECNs have ways to hide order size, so you’re actually seeing a lie. The best way to use Level II is to trade against its directional movement, as long as it’s approaching a key level on your setup chart.

Question: I want to be a full-time trader. I understand it’s feasible to make $500 to $1,000 a week for every $10,000 in the trading account. Is this accurate?

Answer: This is a very unrealistic and dangerous assumption. If you can make a 100% return on your capital in a year, you will be in a very elite group indeed. Sure, you can make $1,000 in a week on a $10,000 account, but at that risk level you’ll wash out of the market quickly because of bad or unexpected losses.

New traders should start with very small positions and continue to trade small until they put together a decent track record. Then they should increase risk and exposure until their stomachs tell them they’re trading too big. Don’t worry about making money for a long time. Instead, worry about trading well. The biggest problem new traders face is the urge to trade. They jump in too quickly and get crushed.

Thousands of other traders out there have been doing this for years. These folks like to feed on new traders and their naivete. Your job is to survive until you can become one of them. Their level of dedication is almost fanatical. Many pros spend more than 70 hours a week involved in the markets, one way or the other.

Question: How can I tell if I’m suited to a career in trading?

Answer: To begin with, you have to be very talented and motivated. You also need to realize the goal is as tough as graduating from an elite school with a degree in hand. No one is printing money, and all the technical analysis in the world is just an introduction to real-life trading. You’ll lose a lot of money before you learn to trade profitably. That’s just the way it is. Most folks underestimate their reaction to losses until they’re faced with big positions moving against them. This emotional hurdle is often the most difficult obstacle to a successful career in trading.

Question: You said “newer traders suffer with larger positions because (a) they get so jumpy that good trades are exited too soon, or (b) they hold positions too long because they panic and get deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.” Can you elaborate?

Answer: New traders don’t really understand why stocks go up or down, so it’s hard to make good decisions when their positions move against them. Of course, they’re taught all kinds of risk-control methods, but that goes out the window as soon as they watch red ink growing in their equity curve. This confusion is reinforced over time, because they stop out of many positions just as they reverse. A tendency builds up to let price move past their stops. The end result is a lot more confusion and even bigger losses.

Question: Should new traders paper trade first?

Answer: Paper trading is a good idea for beginners, but it has a built-in flaw. Real-life trading is far more complicated and stokes the emotional fires. Paper trading naturally gives you the best prices and the cleanest profits. The markets give you the exact opposite most of the time.

Question: I’m a new trader and am having trouble using trailing stops. Can you help me?

Answer: I think using trailing stops is an advanced trading skill. New traders may be better off taking single direct moves, building up their equity, and dealing with trailing stops at a later date. Try to get one thing right when you start out, and take your profits quickly. Then worry about making more money as you gain experience.

Question: How much time should a new trader spend looking at a chart? I believe you said if you have to look too hard, it isn’t there.

Answer: I can spend less than a second looking at a chart for a trading opportunity. If I see something, the rest of the analysis takes only a minute or two longer. But newer traders shouldn’t expect this kind of speed for many years. It is true that a good setup will engage both sides of your brain and elicit an emotional response immediately. That either happens very quickly or it doesn’t happen at all.

Question: Is the holding period flexible once I choose one for my swing trades?

Answer: Don’t let a holding period be a noose around your neck, but realize the market is a 3-D chessboard. It’s best to pick one holding period and learn to play it well before moving on to another.

Here’s the problem: You adjust your time frame in midstream. It pays off. The next trade comes along, and you’re now conditioned to change the holding period if things don’t work out, so you start losing money and don’t take your loss. Now you’re in a lot of trouble.

Question: Would you define sector rotation and how it impacts the daily trading environment?

Answer: Money chases opportunity in the markets. But there’s only so much money to go around. Broad trading strategies take money out of sectors that reach price targets or achieve goals, and put it in new sectors as they come into vogue. Sometimes this is based on valuation; other times it’s based on the technicals. In fact, there are as many reasons for sector rotation as there are institutions and traders. Again, “rotation” means money is being removed from one area of the market and placed into another.

Intraday leadership influences how sector rotation impacts the trading environment. The market searches for leadership each morning and can latch onto a variety of internal or external forces. Different sectors can rise to the surface at any time and become the leaders or laggards for that session. Quite often, market leadership affects sectors indirectly. Different types of leadership tell traders and institutions what’s hot that day, and what’s not.

Question: What type of stop would you use when shorting a stock?

Answer: Don’t differentiate between long and short positions when considering stops. Exit the position at the price where your reason for being in the trade has changed or been proven wrong. This “failure target” should be part of your initial trade analysis, based on support and resistance. Your stop-loss should then change as price action evolves. Keep a failure stop, a break-even stop and a profit-protection stop in mind, depending on how the market moves away from your entry. Personally, I don’t like using either a flat stop-loss or a percentage stop-loss. There’s no logic with either of them, as far as I’m concerned.

Question: How do you manage market sentiment?

Answer: I start with a bias and then let the market show me what it wants to do. If price action supports my bias, I get more aggressive. If it’s opposing my bias, I slow down and reconsider my point of view. You have to be careful with knee-jerk reactions to external events, such as “the market will probably go down today due to the earnings warnings.” You have to consider the time period, intraday reversals, triple-witching effects, oversold conditions, etc.

Other traders hope you confine your analysis to just “up” or “down” for the day without considering all the twists and turns. If your opinions are rigid, professionals will position themselves against you, because you’re unprepared to deal with an adverse outcome. To avoid this fate, use a continuous feedback mechanism that lets you adjust your expectations as soon as market conditions change.

Question: You’ve written that it’s impossible to make money using technical analysis. Isn’t that what your column, book and seminars are all about?

Answer: There’s an important distinction here. Swing trading and technical analysis are two different disciplines. Many folks are great at TA but terrible at trading. Everyone is an armchair technician, and this takes little effort or commitment. But putting your money on the line every day is another story entirely. I like to think I teach traders, not technicians.

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