How to Trade? - an overview of ways to trade

How to Trade? - an overview of ways to trade
How to Trade? - an overview of ways to trade
In this post I will give an overview of commonly used trading approaches. This is the second article in a series of articles I am writing to help anyone get started trading. If you haven't read my first article in this series yet, then read that one first at:


Why Trade? - the Question you need to Ask before you Start

I think it is important that you have a basic understanding of the different ways to trading. It will help build your understanding of how the markets and the participants work. And it will give you trading and investing avenues to explore as well. I will discuss the following:

  • Fundamental Trading
  • Technical Trading
  • Indicator based Trading
  • Price Action Trading
  • Discretionary Trading
  • Rule based Trading
  • Automated Trading
  • Algorithmic Trading
  • Quantitative Trading
  • High Frequency Trading

Fundamental Trading

Trading based on Fundamentals
Trading based on Fundamentals
Trading based on fundamentals is what is mostly discussed in the financial news shows. It is also what most people think of when they think of trading or investing. It is about things like company earnings figures effecting a certain stock or interest rates decision influencing currency rates. The idea is that information concerning the real economy or performance of a company or country will be reflected in the price of securities. This makes sense and there are many successful investors and traders that base there actions on fundamentals. An important question is: when will fundamental information be reflected in the price? Sometimes information is already reflected in the price, or "priced in" at the time information is released. This means the price will not move or even move in the opposite direction of what the information implies. This is why some people prefer to look only at price itself to base decisions on, which is technical trading.

Technical Trading

Technical Trading is trading based on price information only. It is build on the idea that all information that could influence a price is already reflected in the price, or priced in. The idea is also that all market participant have more or less the same information at the same time. This is called the efficient market hypothesis. Technical traders usually look at price charts and use technical analysis to come to their decisions on whether to buy or sell a security.

Indicator based Technical Trading

Indicator based Trading
Indicator based Trading
There are many books written on the topic of technical analysis and many of them involve the use of indicators. Indicators are statistical derivatives of price (series). Indicators give a different perspective on past prices and as such they can be used to indicate what is likely to happen to price next. so it is always a statistical value indicating some probability of a future event to happen. There are still many people looking for something traders call the holy grail. They believe that there is a magic combination of indicators that will show them the future price with almost 100% probability. They just haven't found the right combination yet. Well, let me tell you this: if there is a holy grail in trading, then this isn't it. Honestly  speaking, I do not believe that there is a holy grail, as this implies that there is one specific way of trading that will make anyone money. I believe that anyone can and should find his or hers own way to trade profitably. So I think indicators are helpful, but only if they are part of an integral look at the markets, not if they are used to signal buy or sell opportunities in isolation.

Price Action based Technical Trading

Price Action Trading
Price Action Trading
Another way of doing technical analysis is to look at the price itself and understand the order flow that causes the price movement. This is mostly revered to as price action trading. Simply by looking at what levels price accelerates, stalls, or reverses you can figure out at what price level there were large groups of buy or sell orders in the market. These grouped orders create what is seen as price zones to which price reacts over and over again each time price reaches the zone. These zones offer support and resistance. Price action analysis can also look at price in different representations. This is done by charting price for instance in the form of bars and candle sticks. These kind of charts represent 4 prices per data point in one view, namely the open price, the high price, the low price and the closing price printed during each period. And then there are more things to analyze, that can give a better understanding of what is about to happen in the market. By this I mean things like market structure, price formations, (repetitive) price behavior, etc..

Discretionary Trading

Using your Brain to Trade
Using your Brain to Trade
This is only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. I use all of the above explained ways of trading, but not only these. I look at a set of different fundamental and technical information to figure out what price will most like do in the near future. I identify levels, that if broken, indicate that my assumptions of the future price movements were wrong and as a consequence I get out of the market even at a loss. I have no hard rules, but I do have guidelines and methods by which I come to decisions. So I do not trade mechanically, but discretionary. I actually think about my trades and take an holistic view. I do have a routine, a process by which I analyze the markets and enter and exit trades.

Rule Based Trading

At the other side of the spectrum of How to Trade, that is opposite to discretionary trading, is: Rule Based Trading. Rule Based Trading is best described as being 100% mechanical in analyses of the markets and execution of trades. This means that all trades are are entered and exited based on strict predefined rules. Systems traded this way need to be thoroughly back tested first by the person that will finally execute the system on a live account. This way the system can be followed rigorously without a doubt. Rule based trading systems try to take the emotions out of the equation when trading with real money. I have found it very difficult to rigorously follow system rules, even after manually back testing systems over large sets of data. This is a personal preference and it is why I trade discretionary instead of 100% rule based.

Automated Trading

A way to assure rigorous execution of a (rule based) trading system is by (partial) automation of the analysis and / or the execution. One way of partially automating the execution of trades is by setting predefined exit-levels and than employ a set and forget trading regime. This means that at the time of placing the entry order, you will place two other orders that will be executed at certain price levels and get you out of the trade either at a loss or at a profit. Once the analysis is done and the orders are entered with your broker, you just go on with other important things in live, like working, cooking, etc. In addition to this you can automate the generation of the entry signals, so you will be send an email or sms whenever a trade matches your predefined entry rules. This can be done with trading platforms like for instance MT4 or TradingView. Please see the charting section of the resources page for links and more information. I use this way of trading sometimes if I do not have the time to watch the markets once I am in a trade.

Algorithmic Trading

Algorithmic Trading
Algorithmic Trading
Algorithmic Trading is nothing more then fully automated trading of a rule based trading system including analysis, entering and exiting trades. An algorithm or algo is nothing more then a recipe, or a step by step instruction that can be executed by a computer. Usually trading is called algorithmic trading if the automated rule based analysis is complex and implements stuff like machine learning, regression, optimization, Bayes rules and other fancy statistical methods. All I can say is: don't be intimidated by it. If you can cook, you can come up with an algo. Just be creative and be sure you still understand what the algo does. Profitability and complexity do not necessarily go hand in hand here.

Quantitative Trading

Quantitative analysis is a form or technical analysis that looks at quantitatively defined events to find a "proven" or "tested" probability trading forward, also revered to as Quantitative Edge. At least that is how I define it. You can use an event profiler (I have written one in Python) to find events that have an on average high probability of being skewed to one side. Usually there is a natural underlying market tendency that is the basis that leads to an explanation of this quantitative edge. For example: an event is defined as "if today's closing price is 2% higher then last trading days closing price we mark an event". What we do is we take all the marked events that happened over the, let's say, past 10 years for a group of securities, we put them all on top of each other and then graph the average price behavior. So what you we do is, we look at price movement before and after each event over the past 10 years and record the average of these movements. This way we can learn if this kind of event leads for instance mostly to mean reversion or breakout patterns after the fact. Or in other words:

  • Will price mostly move lower after a 2% spike higher, or will it continue to move higher?
  • And for how long?
  • And how far?

If you do not understand what I just tried to explain, then don't worry. I will go into this more deeply in later articles. For now I just want you to know about this way of trading / looking at the markets.

High Frequency Trading

High Frequency Trading in action at co-location
High Frequency Trading in action at co-location
HFT or High Frequency Trading is trading at speeds that only computers can execute. A HFT system can buy and sell a security 2000 times per second. The idea is to make tiny profits with very limited risk / exposure to the market. And then do this as many times as possible. HFT is all about trading technology, network latency, working the order book, making use of deficiencies of exchanges and trading infrastructure. HFT firms like to point out that they have provided tremendous liquidity to markets and that they smooth out differences between related securities and exchanges enabling (retail) traders to always be able to trade and at the best price available. Theoretically this is true, but the reality is that these firms exist to make money anyway they can and they will use all the technological advantages they have to do so, even if this will mean possible unethical handling, just like floor traders would sometimes misuse their unique position in the trading process. I am not saying that HFT firms are all evil, but they are run by human beings. And they may cross the line of ethical behavior just like the rest of us. The additional issue with HFT is, that it all happens on a very large scale and that most people and regulators have difficulty following what is actually going on. I will probably go into this subject more later. If you already want to investigate more, then please check out the High Frequency Trading play list on my You-tube channel.

There are probably more ways of looking at trading, but these are the angles I use to look at the subject. Let me know in the comment section below if you like me to cover other ways of looking at it. By no means I mean to be the end all be all of trading and investing info. This is just my view on the matter.

Next in this getting started series

I hope you enjoy this article. If you do, then please leave a comment or share. And if you want to stay up to date with the latest articles, then put your email in the box below.

Comments