What is Swing trading?

Investors approach the stock market with a variety of goals. Many invest for the long-term, seeking to build wealth over time, while others trade for short-term profits – and many people do both. There are a variety of strategies for trading, but one of the most accessible to newcomers is swing trading.

Unlike day trading, where trading is extremely fast paced, swing trading is slower. This strategy is a great way to understand market movements and dip your toe into technical analysis. Here’s what the curious trader should know.

What is swing trading?

Swing trading is a trading strategy where investors buy a stock or some other asset and hold it – known as holding a position – for a short period of time (usually between a few days and up to a several weeks) in the hopes of turning a profit.

The goal of the swing trader is to capture a portion of any potential price movement or “swing” in the market. Individual gains may be smaller as the trader focuses on short-term trends and seeks to cut losses quickly. However, small gains achieved consistently over time can add up to an attractive annual return.

How Swing Trades Works

Swing trading seeks to capitalize on the upward and downward “swings” in the price of a security. Traders hope to capture small moves within a larger overall trend. Swing traders aim to make a lot of small wins that add up to significant returns. For example, other traders may wait five months to earn a 25% profit, while swing traders may earn 5% gains weekly and exceed the other trader’s gains in the long run.

Most swing traders use daily charts (like 60 minutes, 24 hours, 48 hours, etc.) to choose the best entry or exit point. However, some may use shorter time frame charts, such as 4-hour or hourly charts.

 Swing trading methods

There are a variety of methodologies to capitalize on market swings. Some traders prefer to trade after the market has confirmed a change of direction and trade with the developing momentum. Others may choose to enter the market on the long side after the market has dropped to the lower band of its price channel—in other words, buying short-term weakness and selling short-term strength. Both approaches can be profitable if implemented with skill and discipline over time.

Here is an example of swing trading:

Identify a stock or ETF where the weekly trend is up and the bottoms on the daily bar chart tend to be short and sharp. Analyze how the stock or ETF has behaved since the beginning of the trend. If it has returned to the moving average 3 times and penetrated it by an average of 1.5% of its price, place a buy order approximately 1% of the instrument’s price below the moving average, a little more shallow than the previous declines.

After entering a swing trade, place a protective stop reasonably close to your entry point. Swing trading is a high-wire act, requiring a safety net. Stops and money management are essential for your survival and success.

Take profits near the upper channel line. If the market is strong, you can wait for the channel line to be hit. If it’s weak, grab your first profit while it’s still there. What if a strong swing overshoots the channel line? An experienced trader may shift his tactics and hold a little longer, perhaps until the day when the market fails to make a new high. A beginning trader is better advised to take profits after the channel line has been hit as it’s important to learn to take profits in accordance with one’s trading plan.

A trader can measure their performance as a percentage of the trading channel width. The perfect trade would be buying at the bottom channel line and selling at the top channel line, which would be a 100% performance. If a trader captured one-half of the channel, it would be a 50% performance. The goal is to continually increase the performance percentage of the average winning trade.

As mentioned, other methods can be used to profit from the market’s short-term swings. The important point is to develop a method that works for you; implement it consistently; adhere to explicit money management rules; and keep good records so you can track your progress as a trader.

Trading Strategies

Swing traders can use the following strategies to look for actionable trading opportunities:

 1. Fibonacci retracement

Traders can use a Fibonacci retracement indicator to identify support and resistance levels. Based on this indicator, they can find market reversal opportunities. The Fibonacci retracement levels of 61.8%, 38.2%, and 23.6% are believed to reveal possible reversal levels. A trader might enter a buy trade when the price is in a downward trend and seems to find support at the 61.8% retracement level from its previous high.

 2. T-line trading

Traders use the T-line on a chart to make a decision on the best time to enter or exit a trade. When a security closes above the T-line, it is an indication that the price will continue to rise. When the security closes below the T-line, it is an indication that the price will continue to fall.

 3. Japanese candlesticks

Most traders prefer using the Japanese candlestick charts since they are easier to understand and interpret. Traders use specific candlestick patterns to identify trading opportunities.

Swing trading strategies

Traders can deploy many strategies to determine when to buy and sell based on technical analysis, including:

  • Moving averages look for bullish or bearish crossover points
  • Support and resistance triggers
  • Moving Average Convergence/Divergence (MACD) crossovers
  • Using the Fibonacci retracement pattern, which identifies support and resistance levels and potential reversals
  • Traders also use moving averages to determine the support (lower) and resistance (upper) levels of a price range. While some use a simple moving average (SMA), an exponential moving average (EMA) places more emphasis on recent data points.

For example, a trader may use 9-, 13- and 50-day EMAs to look for crossover points. When the stock price moves above, or “crosses” the moving averages, this signals an upward trend in price. When a stock price falls below the EMAs, it’s a bearish signal and the trader should exit long positions and potentially put on shorts.

Market extremes make swing trading more challenging. In a bull or bear market, actively traded stocks do not exhibit the same up-and-down movements within a range as they do in more stable market conditions. Momentum will propel the market up or down for an extended period. “[Traders should] always trade in the direction of the trend, taking long positions in bull markets and shorts when the markets trend downward,” says Dombrowski.

The role of technical analysis

Swing traders use technical analysis, which is the study of statistical trends and patterns on a stock chart, to spot trading opportunities. It’s for this very reason that trading can be as intimidating as it is risky.

As such, technical analysis underpins swing trading as it holds that past trading activity and price movements can indicate future price movements. Swing traders rely on a wide variety of technical indicators and charts to gain insight into market psychology, analyzing multi-day patterns to determine the likely direction of a stock price.

Having cash in reserve allows you to add to the best-performing trades to help generate larger winners. As always, the key to swing trading is to minimize losses.” He also notes that a desirable reward/risk ratio is 3:1, or 3 times the amount at risk.

Stop-loss orders are a vital tool in managing risk. When a stock falls below the stop price (or rises above the stop price for a short position), the stop-loss order converts to a market order, which is executed at the market price. With stop losses in place, the trader knows exactly how much capital is at risk because the risk of each position is limited to the difference between the current price and the stop price.

A stop loss is an effective way to manage risk per trade

Swing Trades vs. Day Trading

Swing trading and day trading appear similar in some respects. The main factor differentiating the two techniques is the holding position time. While swing traders may hold stocks overnight to several weeks, day trades close within minutes or before the close of the market.

Day traders do not hold their positions overnight. It often means they avoid subjecting their positions to risks resulting from news announcements. Their more frequent trading results in higher transaction costs, which can substantially decrease their profits. They often trade with leverage in order to maximize profits from small price changes.

Swing traders are subjected to the unpredictability of overnight risks that may result in significant price movements. Swing traders can check their positions periodically and take action when critical points are reached. Unlike day trading, swing trading does not require constant monitoring since the trades last for several days or weeks.

The financial takeaway

Swing trading is an easy way for new traders to get their feet wet in the market, with traders typically starting with $5k-$10k, although less is acceptable. The cardinal rule though is that this capital should be money the investor can afford to lose. Even with the strictest risk management, the unexpected is always possible.

More importantly, swing trading doesn’t demand the same level of active attention as day trading, so the swing trader can start slowly and build the number of trades over time. But it does require the investor to take a deep dive into technical analysis, so an aptitude for charts and numbers is necessary.

For traders willing to spend time researching stocks and developing an understanding of technical analysis, swing trading offers the potential to accumulate attractive profits, slowly but steadily, over time.

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