What Is Scalp Trading?

By Laurel Tincher · September 07, 2023 · 5 minute read

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What Is Scalp Trading?

Scalp trading, or scalping, is a style of short-term trading used with stocks, cryptocurrencies, and other assets. The goal of this trading style is to make profits off of small changes in asset prices. Generally this means buying a stock, waiting for it to increase in value by a small amount, then selling it.

The theory behind it is that many small gains can add up to a significant profit over time. Scalp trading is one of the most popular day trading strategies. Scalping requires a lot of focus, quick decision-making, the right trading tools, and a strategy — and even then, it’s no sure thing. Since traders make many small gains, one big loss could wipe out all their profits.

How Scalping Works in Trading

The goal of scalping is to make many small profits during a trading session. This is the opposite of a buy-and-hold or long term trading strategy, where one hopes to see their portfolio grow over time. Scalpers might make anywhere from 10 to more than 100 trades in a single day, taking a small profit on as many of them as possible. And they might only stay in each position for a few minutes.

With each trade they assess the risk-to-reward ratio with a goal of profiting on more than 50% of their trades. Each win may be small, but the profits can add up over time if they outnumber the losses. Often, scalpers make use of stop losses and leverage when making trades.

Scalp trading reduces risk exposure, since traders only have their money in the market for a short amount of time. It can also be an easier day trading strategy than some others because the goal is to capitalize on small price movements. Small moves happen constantly in the market, and it’s easier to make a profit of a few cents or dollars than a larger amount.

However, any type of day trading involves a significant amount of risk. Scalping is challenging and can result in large losses. This is just one reason why some traders use scalping along with other trading methods.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

Scalp Trading Strategies

There are many different scalp trading strategies, some of which can be used together.

Systematic Planning

Technical analysis helps scalp traders spot trading opportunities and plan exits ahead of time. Traders use one-minute charts, Level II quotes, moving averages, exchange order books, and other tools while scalping. Since positions may be entered and exited within seconds or minutes, five- or 10-minute charts aren’t very useful.

On the Fly

Although fundamental analysis doesn’t play a large role in scalping, it can help to identify stocks that are currently in the news or of interest based on a current event, which may lead to more price movement and trading opportunities. Higher volatility is generally a good sign for scalpers.

Shorting Stocks

Some scalpers also short stocks and sell when they decrease in value. This can be done with the same asset repeatedly, or with different assets throughout a trading session.

Bid/Ask Profiting

Some scalpers prefer to earn profits off of the bid/ask spread rather than actual stock price movements. This takes a significant amount of experience and is a particular trading skill that takes time to learn. It entails looking for trades with a wide spread, meaning a large difference between the broker’s ask price and the price at which a trader buys the asset.

Range Trading

With this strategy, the trader waits for an asset to enter a specific price range before they start trading. Generally, the range is between a support and a resistance level.

Market Making

Market making is when traders post a bid and an offer on a stock at the same time. This only works with stocks that trade a large volume but have low volatility, and the profits are small.

How to Scalp Trade

While there is no one way to engage in scalp trading, these are the general guidelines that scalpers follow to make decisions:

•  Create a watchlist each day based on fundamental analysis and news

•  Trade stocks with enough liquidity that there will be price movement and more options for exit points

•  Quickly sell a stock isn’t increasing in value

•  Make a daily profit goal

•  Set goals for each stock trade and stick to them

•  Buy stocks at breakouts

•  Keep trades short for more chance at a profitable exit

•  Adjust exit points as stocks move.

Pros and Cons of Scalp Trading

Scalp trading is a particular day trading strategy which works well for some people, there are many risks associated with day trading.

Pros of Scalp Trading

•  Small gains can add up to significant returns

•  It reduces risk exposure to market due to short trade times

•  It may be easier than some other day-trading strategies

•  It can be easier to make profitable trades when the goal is to profit off of small movements rather than large price movements

•  There are many trading opportunities, no matter what the market conditions are.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

Cons of Scalping

•  Even one large loss can cancel out any gains made during a trading session

•  It requires a lot of focus to watch the charts for several hours and execute trades, and can be tedious

•  It requires knowledge and experience with technical analysis

•  Transaction and commission fees can add up quickly if making multiple trades per day—and potentially cancel out profits. It’s key to use a broker that doesn’t charge commissions or one that offers discounts to high volume traders.

•  If traders experience a few losses it can be distressing, and it’s easy to let emotions get in the way of good trading habits. Scalping may be one of the most stressful trading strategies.

•  Scalpers often use margin trading and leverage to increase their positions, which can be very risky.

The Takeaway

Scalp trading, or scalping, is a style of short-term trading used with stocks or other securities. Scalping is best suited for more experienced traders, since it requires an understanding of technical analysis, fast trades, and an understanding of how to set up and execute trades in specific ways.

But scalp trading is just one of many different strategies when it comes to trading stocks and other assets. While trading can seem complex, there are simple ways to get started building a portfolio.

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