Best and Worst Ways to Learn to Trade

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Contents

10 Great Ways to Learn Stock Trading in 2020

Posted by Blain Reinkensmeyer | Last updated on Mar 12th, 2020 | Published Mar 29th, 2020

March 2020 Update : Join me on Twitter, @InvestorBlain!

Beginners taking their first steps towards learning the basics of stock trading should have access to multiple sources of quality education. Just like riding a bike, trial and error, coupled with the ability to keep pressing forth, will eventually lead to success.

One great advantage of stock trading lies in the fact that the game itself lasts a lifetime. Investors have years to develop and hone their skills. Strategies used twenty years ago are still utilized today. The game is always in full force.

When I made my first stock trade and purchased shares of stock, I was only 14 years old. Over 1,000 stock trades later, I am now 33 years old and still learning new lessons.

What is Stock Trading?

First things first, let’s quickly define stock trading. Stock trading is buying and selling shares of publicly traded companies. Popular stocks most Americans know include Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX), and more recently listed companies such as Uber (UBER) and Pinterest (PINS).

In the stock market, for every buyer, there is a seller. When you buy 100 shares of stock, someone is selling 100 shares to you. Similarly, when you go to sell your shares of stock, someone has to buy them. If there are more buyers than sellers (demand), then the stock price will go up. Conversely, if there are more sellers than buyers (too much supply), the price will fall.

10 Great Ways to Learn Stock Trading as a Beginner

For beginners who want to learn how to trade stocks, here are ten great answers to the simple question, “How do I get started?”.

1. Open a stock broker account

Find a good online stock broker and open an account. Become familiarized with the layout and to take advantage of the free trading tools and research offered to clients only. Some brokers offer virtual trading which is beneficial because you can practice trading stocks with fake money (see #9 below).

2. Read books

Books provide a wealth of information and are inexpensive compared to the costs of classes, seminars, and educational DVDs sold across the web. See my list of 20 great stock trading books to get started. One of my personal favorites is How to Make Money in Stocks by William O’Neil (pictured below), founder of CANSLIM Trading.

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3. Read articles

Articles are a fantastic resource for education. My most popular posts are listed on my stock education page. The most popular website for investment education is investopedia.com. I also highly recommend reading the memos of billionaire Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital), which are absolutely terrific. Naturally, searching with Google search is another great way to find educational material to read.

4. Find a mentor or a friend to learn with

A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, or any individual that has a fundamental understanding of the stock market. A good mentor is willing to answer questions, provide help, recommend useful resources, and keep spirits up when the market gets tough. All successful investors of the past and present have had mentors during their early days.

Despite being “old school,” online forums are still used today and they can be a great place to get questions answered. Two recommendations include Elite Trader and Trade2Win. Just be careful of who you listen to. The vast majority of participants are not professional traders, let alone profitable traders. Heed advice from forums with a heavy dose of salt and do not, under any circumstance, follow trade recommendations.

5. Study successful investors

Learning about great investors from the past provides perspective, inspiration, and appreciation for the game which is the stock market. Greats include Warren Buffett (below), Jesse Livermore, George Soros, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch, John Templeton and Paul Tudor Jones, among others. One of my favorite book series is the Market Wizards by Jack Schwager.

6. Read and casually follow the stock market

News sites such as CNBC and MarketWatch serve as a great resource for beginners. For in depth coverage, look no further than the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. By casually checking in on the stock market each day and reading headline stories, you will expose yourself to economic trends, third-party analysis, and general investing lingo. Pulling stock quotes on Yahoo Finance to view a stock chart, view news headlines, and check fundamental data can also serve as another quality source of exposure.

TV is another way to expose yourself to the stock market. No question, CNBC is the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden your knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news intimidate you, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and source of excitement than being actually useful. Recommendations rarely yield profitable trades.

7. Consider paid subscriptions

Paying for research and trade ideas can be educational. Some investors may find watching or observing market professionals to be more beneficial than trying to apply newly learned lessons themselves. There are a variety of paid subscription sites available across the web; the key is to find the right one for you. Here’s a list of the services I use myself. Two of the most well-respected subscription services are Investors.com and Morningstar.

CAUTION – Be careful. Many paid subscriptions marketed online, especially in social media, come from one-off traders that claim to have fantastic returns and can teach you how to be successful. 99.99% of them are a really poor investment and come with higher prices of $99 – $149 per month, or more. The worst damage though comes when you try to do what they do, invest way too much in a stock tip, and get burned when it doesn’t work out. See, Day Trading: 10 Lessons That Changed My Career.

8. Go to seminars, take online courses or live classes

Seminars can provide valuable insight into the overall market and specific investment types. Most seminars will focus on one specific aspect of the market and how the speaker has found success utilizing their own strategies over the years. Examples include Dan Zanger and Mark Minervini, both of which I have attended and reviewed thoroughly here on the site. Not all seminars have to be paid for either. Some seminars are provided free, which can be a beneficial experience, just be extremely conscious of the sales pitch that will almost always come at the end. Whatever is offered, just say no!

When it comes to courses and classes, these are typically pricey, but like seminars, can also be beneficial. Will O’Neil workshops, Warrior Trading, Bulls On Wall Street, and Online Trading Academy provide a variety of courses on investing and trading.

CAUTION – Like paid subscriptions, be very careful with classes and courses. Most are easily over $1,000 and are sold with promises of acquiring valuable knowledge. Their fantastic sales funnels will suck you in, take your money, excite you during the course, then leave you with a strategy that was profitable five or ten years ago, but is no longer relevant today. That, or you simply do not yet have the expertise required to be successful and trade the strategy properly.

9. Buy your first shares of stock or practice trading through a simulator

With your online broker account setup, the next step is to simply take the plunge and place your first stock trade (instructions further down!). Don’t be afraid to start small, even 1, 10, or 20 shares will serve its purpose.

If the thought of trading stocks with your hard earned money is to nerve racking, consider using a stock simulator for virtual trading. Online brokers TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE both offer virtual trading to practice buying and selling stocks.

CAUTION – One of the most common mistakes new investors make is to buy too many shares for their first stock trade; this is a mistake. Taking on too much risk as a beginner who is just getting started will very likely result in experiencing unnecessary losses. Instead, begin with trading small position sizes, then slowly work your way up to buying more shares, on average, each trade.

10. Follow Warren Buffett’s advice, buy and hold the market

For the majority, online trading (especially day trading) will not outperform simply buying the entire market, such as the S&P 500, and holding it for many years. Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of all-time, recommends individual investors simply passively invest (buy and hold) instead of trying to beat the market trading stocks on their own. See: How to Retire with at least $1 Million Dollars.

What is the Stock Market?

The stock market is built around the simple concept of connecting buyers and sellers who wish to trade shares of publicly traded companies. It is a marketplace.

Each publicly traded company lists their shares on a stock exchange. The two largest exchanges in the world are the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ; both are based in the United States (Wikipedia). Attempting to grasp just how large the NYSE and NASDAQ both are is certainly not easy. The NYSE has a market cap of nearly $31 trillion and the NASDAQ’s is nearly $11 trillion. And yes, that is not a typo, I said, “trillion”.

Let’s take Apple (AAPL) for example, which is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Apple currently has 4.6 billion shares outstanding, of which 4.35 billion are available to be traded (also known as the “float”). Using today’s closing price of $201.75 (July 11th, 2020), Apple has a market cap of $937.44 billion. That’s a big company! (By the way, market cap is a simple way to gauge the value of a company. If you bought every available share of stock, the market cap is how much it would cost you to buy the entire company.)

More recently, in May 2020, Uber (UBER) went public, listing its shares on the NYSE. As of today’s close, UBER’s stock trades for $43.99 per share and the company boasts a market cap of $74.59 billion.

Once a company has their shares listed on an exchange, then anyone, including you and I, can use an online broker account to trade shares. Whether you are an everyday investor or an institutional hedge fund managing hundreds of millions of dollars in client money, anyone can trade.

Trading Strategies

There are many strategies for trading stocks. The most common strategy is to buy and hold. You buy shares of stock, then hold them for years and years. The complete opposite strategy would be day trading, which is when you buy shares then sell them the same day before the market closes (for more on day trading, see my day trading guide).

Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, day trading can be expensive since you are trading frequently. Furthermore, since your trades are less than a year in duration, any profits are subject to short-term capital gains taxes.

To keep costs as low as possible, famous investors like John Bogle and Warren Buffett recommend buying and holding the entire stock market. Known as passive investing, it is a buy and hold strategy where you buy an entire market index, typically the S&P 500, as a single mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). By buying an entire index, you are properly diversified (have shares in

500 large companies, not just one), which reduces your risk long term. In fact, John Bogle is credited with creating the first index fund.

Three other common strategies you may hear traders refer to include momentum trading (buying shares of very fast growing companies and selling them for a profit before they inevitably peak in price), swing trading (using technical analysis to identify a trading range, and then buying and selling shares as the stock trades within that range), and penny stock trading (buying shares of very small companies whose stocks trade for less than $1 a share).

ETFs and Mutual Funds

By this point, we should already know what a stock is, so let’s break down ETFs and mutual funds. ETFs (exchange traded funds) and mutual funds are similar in that they both represent a collection, or “baskets”, of individual stocks or bonds.

Take for example the S&P 500 market index, which is comprised of 505 companies. Buying shares in 505 different companies would be very difficult to do. Thanks to mutual funds and ETFs, we can simply buy one single security that holds shares in all 505 companies. The largest S&P 500 mutual fund is the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) and the largest S&P 500 ETF is the State Street Global Advisors SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).

By buying an ETF or mutual fund, your portfolio is better diversified than just owning shares of one or two stocks; thus, you are taking on less risk overall. This is the primary advantage of buying ETFs and mutual funds over trading individual shares.

The main difference between ETFs and mutual funds is in how they trade. ETFs trade like stocks, which means you can buy and sell them throughout the day and they fluctuate in price depending on supply and demand. Contrarily, mutual funds are priced each day after the market closes, so everyone pays the same price. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum investment than ETFs.

How to Buy Shares – Step by Step Instructions

Once you open and fund your online brokerage account, the process of placing a stock trade can be broken down into five simple steps:

  • Choose whether to buy or sell
  • Insert quantity
  • Insert symbol
  • Select order type
  • Review order, place trade

1. Choose Buy or Sell

The first step is always to choose what we would like to do, buy shares long or sell shares short. As a new investor, keep it simple, buy shares long!

2. Insert Quantity

Next we enter how many shares we would like to buy or sell in total. To calculate how many shares we can afford, simply take the total amount of cash currently in the account and divide it buy the stock’s last price. So, if stock XYZ is trading at $10 and we have $1000 in our account, we can afford to purchase 100 shares of stock ($1000 / $10).

3. Insert Symbol

The ticker symbol represents the company we are going to trade. For example, Disney has a ticker symbol of “DIS”, Apple is “AAPL”, and Facebook is “FB”. If we are not sure of the company’s symbol, you can click on the Symbol field and search to find it. Tickers are also required to read a stock chart.

4. Choose Order Type

The most common order types: market, limit, and stop (see my guide, Best Order Types for Stock Trading). Market orders buy or sell immediately at the current best market price. Limit orders only buy or sell these shares at, “$xx price or better”. Lastly, stop loss orders are combined with a market or limit to trigger once $xx price hits. For new investors just getting started, I always suggest just sticking with market orders.

5. Review Order and Place Trade

After the basic inputs have been made, the “Place Trade” button will appear to complete the order. By default, a summary screen always appears once this button is clicked to summarize the order and confirm we have enough funds in our account. Once investors have experience and are comfortable with the trade ticket, this confirmation page can be disabled.

Here’s an example of a TD Ameritrade order ticket filled out,

Other fields (Expiration, Special Instructions, Routing)

New investors should ignore these fields and leave them set to their default values. These options give investors more control as to how long certain orders should remain active and how they should be filled. For example, “GTC” for expiration means “good-till-cancelled”.

Regarding routing, 99.9% of orders are routed using the online broker’s automated system. However, day traders will sometimes hand select (direct route) their orders to a specific market center to receive market rebates. See this StockBrokers.com guide for more on order routing.

Tips for Success

Learning from the greats, here are variety of stock trading tips from some very successful investors. By applying any of the following lessons, you can become a better trader. Success takes time, and these rules will lead you in the right direction.

William O’Neil

William O’Neil is the founder of CANSLIM investing, Investors Business Daily, and has authored numerous books on investing, with his most famous being, How to Make Money in Stocks: A Winning System in Good Times and Bad.

  • As a new investor, be prepared to take some small losses.
  • Persistence is key when learning to invest. Don’t get discouraged.
  • Learning to invest doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort to become successful at it.
  • As a beginner, set up a cash account, not a margin account.
  • Concentrate on a few, high-quality stocks. There’s no need to own twenty or more stocks.
  • Don’t get emotionally involved with your stocks. Follow a set of buying and selling rules, and don’t let your emotions change your mind.
  • Don’t buy a stock under $15 a share. The best companies that are leaders in their fields simply do not come at $5 or $10 per share.
  • Learning from the best stock market winners can guide you to tomorrow’s leaders.
  • Always do a post-analysis of your stock market trades so that you can learn from your successes and mistakes.
  • Stocks never go up by accident. There must be large buying, typically from big investors such as mutual funds and pension funds.
  • Replace the old adage, “buy low and sell high” with “buy high and sell a lot higher.”
  • History always repeats itself in the stock market.
  • Ignore personal opinions about the market.
  • Three out of four stocks, regardless of how “good,” will eventually follow the trend of the overall market.
  • When starting to invest, keep it simple.
  • Short stocks only in a bear market. Use tight stop losses and take profits often.

Jesse Livermore

Jesse Livermore, respected as one of the greatest investors of all time, has been featured in many investment books. The most iconic was Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre in 1923. During the course of his life he made and lost millions, going broke several times before committing suicide in 1940. These are his seven greatest trading lessons:

  • Cut your losses quickly.
  • Confirm your judgments before going all in.
  • Watch leading stocks for the best action.
  • Let profits ride until price action dictates otherwise.
  • Buy all-time new highs.
  • Use pivot points to determine trends.
  • Control your emotions.

John Paulson

John Paulson, a hedge-fund manager in New York, lead his firm to make $20 billion in profits between 2007 and early 2009. By betting heavily against first the housing market and then later financial stocks, his firm made a killing. Paulson’s success netted him a paycheck of some $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day. His funds during this time had returns of several hundred percent. These are his eight investing lessons:

  1. Don’t rely on experts, be skeptical.
  2. Always have an exit strategy.
  3. Debt markets can do a better job predicting problems than stock markets.
  4. Always educate yourself on new investment vehicles.
  5. Don’t underestimate insurance (such as put options).
  6. Experience counts.
  7. Don’t fall in love with any single investment, keep emotions aside.
  8. Don’t risk too much on any single trade, diversify risk.

My Three Favorite Stock Tips

After completing over 1,000 stock trades, representing over 4,000 individual buys and sells, here are three tips I wish I knew and fully appreciated on day one:

  • Think win/win. Psychology is a huge aspect of trading. If you have a big winner on your hands and aren’t sure whether you should hold the shares to try for higher prices or sell them to lock in a profit, consider selling half and holding the rest with a stop loss (at worst) back at your original buy price. That way, if the stock drops back to your buy price, you still win because you sold half and made a profit. Similarly, if the stock shoot higher in price, you also win because you still hold half your original position. Heads you win, tails you win too. ��
  • Set strict rules to help you stay disciplined.
  • Always know the day and time (pre or post hours) when your stock holdings are posting earnings next!

Closing Thoughts

Something that I always emphasize to new stock traders when they email in is that investing is a life long game. Take your time! There is no reason to rush into the stock market.

Start with a small amount to invest, keep it simple, and learn from every trade you make. If you find yourself emotionally charged with trading, then passively investing in the overall market with a simple index fund (see above, “Trading Strategies”) is likely a better choice.

Hopefully the helps answer some of your questions about stock trading.

If you feel this guide was helpful for you, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email it to a friend! I appreciate your support.

Common Investor and Trader Blunders

Words of Caution for the Novice

Making mistakes is part of the learning process when it comes to trading or investing. Investors are typically involved in longer-term holdings and will trade in stocks, exchange-traded funds, and other securities. Traders generally buy and sell futures and options, hold those positions for shorter periods, and are involved in a greater number of transactions.

While traders and investors use two different types of trading transactions, they often are guilty of making the same types of mistakes. Some mistakes are more harmful to the investor, and others cause more harm to the trader. Both would do well to remember these common blunders and try to avoid them.

No Trading Plan

Experienced traders get into a trade with a well-defined plan. They know their exact entry and exit points, the amount of capital to invest in the trade and the maximum loss they are willing to take.

Beginner traders may not have a trading plan in place before they commence trading. Even if they have a plan, they may be more prone to stray from the defined plan than would seasoned traders. Novice traders may reverse course altogether. For example, going short after initially buying securities because the share price is declining—only to end up getting whipsawed.

Chasing After Performance

Many investors or traders will select asset classes, strategies, managers, and funds based on a current strong performance. The feeling that “I’m missing out on great returns” has probably led to more bad investment decisions than any other single factor.

If a particular asset class, strategy, or fund has done extremely well for three or four years, we know one thing with certainty: We should have invested three or four years ago. Now, however, the particular cycle that led to this great performance may be nearing its end. The smart money is moving out, and the dumb money is pouring in.

Not Regaining Balance

Rebalancing is the process of returning your portfolio to its target asset allocation as outlined in your investment plan. Rebalancing is difficult because it may force you to sell the asset class that is performing well and buy more of your worst-performing asset class. This contrarian action is very difficult for many novice investors.

However, a portfolio allowed to drift with market returns guarantees that asset classes will be overweighted at market peaks and underweighted at market lows—a formula for poor performance. Rebalance religiously and reap the long-term rewards.

Ignoring Risk Aversion

Do not lose sight of your risk tolerance or your capacity to take on risk. Some investors can’t stomach volatility and the ups and downs associated with the stock market or more speculative trades. Other investors may need secure, regular interest income. These low-risk tolerance investors would be better off investing in the blue-chip stocks of established firms and should stay away from more volatile growth and startup companies shares.

Remember that any investment return comes with a risk. The lowest risk investment available is U.S. Treasury bonds, bills, and notes. From there, various types of investments move up in the risk ladder, and will also offer larger returns to compensate for the higher risk undertaken. If an investment offers very attractive returns, also look at its risk profile and see how much money you could lose if things go wrong. Never invest more than you can afford to lose.

Forgetting Your Time Horizon

Don’t invest without a time horizon in mind. Think about if you will need the funds you are locking up into an investment before entering the trade. Also, determine how long—the time horizon—you have to save up for your retirement, a downpayment on a home, or a college education for your child.

If you are planning to accumulate money to buy a house, that could be more of a medium-term time frame. However, if you are investing to finance a young child’s college education, that is more of a long-term investment. If you are saving for retirement 30 years hence, what the stock market does this year or next shouldn’t be the biggest concern.

Once you understand your horizon, you can find investments that match that profile.

Not Using Stop-Loss Orders

A big sign that you don’t have a trading plan is not using stop-loss orders. Stop orders come in several varieties and can limit losses due to adverse movement in a stock or the market as a whole. These orders will execute automatically once perimeters you set are met.

Tight stop losses generally mean that losses are capped before they become sizeable. However, there is a risk that a stop order on long positions may be implemented at levels below those specified should the security suddenly gap lower—as happened to many investors during the Flash Crash. Even with that thought in mind, the benefits of stop orders far outweigh the risk of stopping out at an unplanned price.

A corollary to this common trading mistake is when a trader cancels a stop order on a losing trade just before it can be triggered because they believe that the price trend will reverse.

Letting Losses Grow

One of the defining characteristics of successful investors and traders is their ability to take a small loss quickly if a trade is not working out and move on to the next trade idea. Unsuccessful traders, on the other hand, can become paralyzed if a trade goes against them. Rather than taking quick action to cap a loss, they may hold on to a losing position in the hope that the trade will eventually work out. A losing trade can tie up trading capital for a long time and may result in mounting losses and severe depletion of capital.

Averaging Down or Up

Averaging down on a long position in a blue-chip stock may work for an investor who has a long investment horizon, but it may be fraught with peril for a trader who is trading volatile and riskier securities. Some of the biggest trading losses in history have occurred because a trader kept adding to a losing position, and was eventually forced to cut the entire position when the magnitude of the loss became untenable. Traders also go short more often than conservative investors and tend toward averaging up, because the security is advancing rather than declining. This is an equally risky move that is another common mistake made by a novice trader.

The Importance of Accepting Losses

Far too often investors fail to accept the simple fact that they are human and prone to making mistakes just as the greatest investors do. Whether you made a stock purchase in haste or one of your long-time big earners has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, the best thing you can do is accept it. The worst thing you can do is let your pride take priority over your pocketbook and hold on to a losing investment. Or worse yet, buy more shares of the stock. as it is much cheaper now.

This is a very common mistake, and those who commit it do so by comparing the current share price with the 52-week high of the stock. Many people using this gauge assume that a fallen share price represents a good buy. However, there was a reason behind that drop and price and it is up to you to analyze why the price dropped.

Believing False Buy Signals

Deteriorating fundamentals, the resignation of a chief executive officer (CEO), or increased competition are all possible reasons for a lower stock price. These same reasons also provide good clues to suspect that the stock might not increase anytime soon. A company may be worth less now for fundamental reasons. It is important to always have a critical eye, as a low share price might be a false buy signal.

Avoid buying stocks in the bargain basement. In many instances, there is a strong fundamental reason for a price decline. Do your homework and analyze a stock’s outlook before you invest in it. You want to invest in companies that will experience sustained growth in the future. A company’s future operating performance has nothing to do with the price at which you happened to buy its shares.

Buying With Too Much Margin

Margin—using borrowed money from your broker to purchase securities, usually futures and options. While margin can help you make more money, it can also exaggerate your losses just as much. Make sure you understand how the margin works and when your broker could require you to sell any positions you hold.

The worst thing you can do as a new trader is become carried away with what seems like free money. If you use margin and your investment doesn’t go the way you planned, then you end up with a large debt obligation for nothing. Ask yourself if you would buy stocks with your credit card. Of course, you wouldn’t. Using margin excessively is essentially the same thing, albeit likely at a lower interest rate.

Further, using margin requires you to monitor your positions much more closely. Exaggerated gains and losses that accompany small movements in price can spell disaster. If you don’t have the time or knowledge to keep a close eye on and make decisions about your positions, and their values drop then your brokerage firm will sell your stock to recover any losses you have accrued.

As a new trader use margin sparingly, if at all; and only if you understand all of its aspects and dangers. It can force you to sell all your positions at the bottom, the point at which you should be in the market for the big turnaround.

Running With Leverage

According to a well-known investment cliché, leverage is a double-edged sword because it can boost returns for profitable trades and exacerbate losses on losing trades. Just as you shouldn’t run with scissors, you shouldn’t run to leverage. Beginner traders may get dazzled by the degree of leverage they possess—especially in forex (FX) trading—but may soon discover that excessive leverage can destroy trading capital in a flash. If a leverage ratio of 50:1 is employed—which is not uncommon in retail forex trading—all it takes is a 2% adverse move to wipe out one’s capital. Forex brokers like IG Group must disclose to traders that more than three-quarters of traders lose money because of the complexity of the market and the downside of leverage.

Following the Herd

Another common mistake made by new traders is that they blindly follow the herd; as such, they may either end up paying too much for hot stocks or may initiate short positions in securities that have already plunged and may be on the verge of turning around. While experienced traders follow the dictum of the trend is your friend, they are accustomed to exiting trades when they get too crowded. New traders, however, may stay in a trade long after the smart money has moved out of it. Novice traders may also lack the confidence to take a contrarian approach when required.

Keeping All Your Eggs in One Basket

Diversification is a way to avoid overexposure to any one investment. Having a portfolio made up of multiple investments protects you if one of them loses money. It also helps protect against volatility and extreme price movements in any one investment. Also, when one asset class is underperforming, another asset class may be performing better.

Many studies have proved that most managers and mutual funds underperform their benchmarks. Over the long term, low-cost index funds are typically upper second-quartile performers or better than 65%-to-75% of actively managed funds. Despite all of the evidence in favor of indexing, the desire to invest with active managers remains strong. John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, says it’s because: “Hope springs eternal. Indexing is sort of dull. It flies in the face of the American way [that] “I can do better.'”

Index all or a large portion (70%-to-80%) of your traditional asset classes. If you can’t resist the excitement of pursuing the next great performer, then set aside about 20%-to-30% of each asset class to allocate to active managers. This may satisfy your desire to pursue outperformance without devastating your portfolio.

Shirking Your Homework

New traders are often guilty of not doing their homework or not conducting adequate research, or due diligence, before initiating a trade. Doing homework is critical because beginning traders do not have the knowledge of seasonal trends, or the timing of data releases, and trading patterns that experienced traders possess. For a new trader, the urgency to make a trade often overwhelms the need for undertaking some research, but this may ultimately result in an expensive lesson.

It is a mistake not to research an investment that interests you. Research helps you understand a financial instrument and know what you are getting into. If you are investing in a stock, for instance, research the company and its business plans. Do not act on the premise that markets are efficient and you can’t make money by identifying good investments. While this is not an easy task, and every other investor has access to the same information as you do, it is possible to identify good investments by doing the research.

Buying Unfounded Tips

Everyone probably makes this mistake at one point or another in their investing career. You may hear your relatives or friends talking about a stock that they heard will get bought out, have killer earnings or soon release a groundbreaking new product. Even if these things are true, they do not necessarily mean that the stock is “the next big thing” and that you should rush into your online brokerage account to place a buy order.

Other unfounded tips come from investment professionals on television and social media who often tout a specific stock as though it’s a must-buy, but really is nothing more than the flavor of the day. These stock tips often don’t pan out and go straight down after you buy them. Remember, buying on media tips is often founded on nothing more than a speculative gamble.

This isn’t to say that you should balk at every stock tip. If one really grabs your attention, the first thing to do is consider the source. The next thing is to do your own homework so that you know what you are buying and why. For example, buying a tech stock with some proprietary technology should be based on whether it’s the right investment for you, not solely on what a mutual fund manager said in a media interview.

Next time you’re tempted to buy based on a hot tip, don’t do so until you’ve got all the facts and are comfortable with the company. Ideally, obtain a second opinion from other investors or unbiased financial advisors.

Watching Too Much Financial TV

There is almost nothing on financial news shows that can help you achieve your goals. There are few newsletters that can provide you with anything of value. Even if there were, how do you identify them in advance?

If anyone really had profitable stock tips, trading advice, or a secret formula to make big bucks, would they blab it on TV or sell it to you for $49 per month? No. They’d keep their mouth shut, make their millions and not need to sell a newsletter to make a living. Solution? Spend less time watching financial shows on TV and reading newsletters. Spend more time creating—and sticking to—your investment plan.

Not Seeing the Big Picture

For a long-term investor, one of the most important but often overlooked things to do is a qualitative analysis or to look at the big picture. Legendary investor and author Peter Lynch once stated that he found the best investments by looking at his children’s toys and the trends they would take on. The brand name is also very valuable. Think about how almost everyone in the world knows Coke; the financial value of the name alone is therefore measured in the billions of dollars. Whether it’s about iPhones or Big Macs, no one can argue against real life.

So pouring over financial statements or attempting to identify buy and sell opportunities with complex technical analysis may work a great deal of the time, but if the world is changing against your company, sooner or later you will lose. After all, a typewriter company in the late 1980s could have outperformed any company in its industry, but once personal computers started to become commonplace, an investor in typewriters of that era would have done well to assess the bigger picture and pivot away.

Assessing a company from a qualitative standpoint is as important as looking at its sales and earnings. Qualitative analysis is a strategy that is one of the easiest and most effective for evaluating a potential investment.

Trading Multiple Markets

Beginning traders may tend to flit from market to market—that is, from stocks to options to currencies to commodity futures, and so on. Trading multiple markets can be a huge distraction and may prevent the novice trader from gaining the experience necessary to excel in one market.

Forgetting About Uncle Sam

Keep in mind the tax consequences before you invest. You will get a tax break on some investments such as municipal bonds. Before you invest, look at what your return will be after adjusting for tax, taking into account the investment, your tax bracket, and your investment time horizon.

Do not pay more than you need to on trading and brokerage fees. By holding on to your investment and not trading frequently, you will save money on broker fees. Also, shop around and find a broker that doesn’t charge excessive fees so you can keep more of the return you generate from your investment. Investopedia has put together a list of the best discount brokers to make your choice of a broker easier.

The Danger of Over-Confidence

Trading is a very demanding occupation, but the “beginner’s luck” experienced by some novice traders may lead them to believe that trading is the proverbial road to quick riches. Such overconfidence is dangerous as it breeds complacency and encourages excessive risk-taking that may culminate in a trading disaster.

From numerous studies, including Burton Malkiel’s 1995 study entitled: “Returns From Investing In Equity Mutual Funds,” we know that most managers will underperform their benchmarks. We also know that there’s no consistent way to select, in advance, those managers that will outperform. We also know that very few individuals can profitably time the market over the long term. So why are so many investors confident of their abilities to time the market and/or select outperforming managers? Fidelity guru Peter Lynch once observed: “There are no market timers in the Forbes 400.”

Inexperienced Day Trading

If you insist on becoming an active trader, think twice before day trading. Day trading can be a dangerous game and should be attempted only by the most seasoned investors. In addition to investment savvy, a successful day trader may gain an advantage with access to special equipment that is less readily available to the average trader. Did you know that the average day-trading workstation (with software) can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars? You’ll also need a sizable amount of trading money to maintain an efficient day-trading strategy.

The need for speed is the main reason you can’t effectively start day trading with the extra $5,000 in your bank account. Online brokers’ systems are not quite fast enough to service the true day trader; literally, pennies per share can make the difference between a profitable and losing trade. Most brokerages recommend that investors take day-trading courses before getting started.

Unless you have the expertise, a platform, and access to speedy order execution, think twice before day trading. If you aren’t very good at dealing with risk and stress, there are much better options for an investor who’s looking to build wealth.

Underestimating Your Abilities

Some investors tend to believe that they can never excel at investing because stock market success is reserved for sophisticated investors only. This perception has no truth at all. While any commission-based mutual fund salesmen will probably tell you otherwise, most professional money managers don’t make the grade either, and the vast majority underperform the broad market. With a little time devoted to learning and research, investors can become well-equipped to control their own portfolios and investing decisions, all while being profitable. Remember, much of investing is sticking to common sense and rationality.

Besides having the potential to become sufficiently skillful, individual investors do not face the liquidity challenges and overhead costs of large institutional investors. Any small investor with a sound investment strategy has just as good a chance of beating the market, if not better than the so-called investment gurus. Don’t assume that you are unable to successfully participate in the financial markets simply because you have a day job.

The Bottom Line

If you have the money to invest and are able to avoid these beginner mistakes, you could make your investments pay off; and getting a good return on your investments could take you closer to your financial goals.

With the stock market’s penchant for producing large gains (and losses), there is no shortage of faulty advice and irrational decision making. As an individual investor, the best thing you can do to pad your portfolio for the long term is to implement a rational investment strategy that you are comfortable with and willing to stick to.

If you are looking to make a big win by betting your money on your gut feelings, try a casino. Take pride in your investment decisions, and in the long run, your portfolio will grow to reflect the soundness of your actions.

Traders: Which Markets Should You Trade?

As technology increases and trading innovation continues, the world is seeing an expansion in the types of trading instruments that can be used. Even seemingly separate markets are attempting to steal each other’s market share. For example, a person no longer needs to buy gold physically or even from a futures contract, they can simply buy an exchange traded fund (ETF) to participate in the movement of gold prices. Considering that similar scenarios are possible with currencies, commodities, stocks and other investments, traders can fine tune how they trade and tailor it more to their individual circumstances.

TUTORIAL: Trading Systems

Markets, Markets, Markets
Depending on education and experience, a person may not even be totally aware of the investments or trading vehicles that are accessible with a click of the mouse. Even while avoiding abstract and illiquid markets, traders can find trades within many different markets:

Stock Market: This well known market simply involves buying/shorting shares of a company.

ETF Market: Funds representing all sorts of sectors, industries, currencies and commodities. Trading similar to stocks, these funds can be bought and sold rapidly or held long term.

Forex Market: The largest market in the world. The forex market facilitates the exchange of one currency for another currency. Currencies are always traded in pairs, with many potential combinations available, but only some of which are very liquid.

Options Market: A market which allows participants to undertake positions in the derivative of an asset. Therefore, the option is not ownership of an underlying asset (though rights and obligations exist), but the option price (along with other inputs) fluctuates with the value (or lack of) that the underlying asset is providing.

Contract for Difference (CFD): A hybrid of the stock, forex and options market that allows participants to place trades in a derivative product based on an underlying asset. Generally the CFD does not have an expiry date, premium or commission (see broker’s terms and conditions), but does require the participant generally pay a larger bid/ask spread than what would be seen in the actual physical market for a product. (To learn more about CFDs, see Instead of Stocks, Trade A CFD.)

While there are other markets, these markets are all now easily accessible from home to just about anyone with an internet connection. Each market offers different advantages and disadvantages. Because of this many traders may decide to trade only one market because they feel it suits one aspect of their life or they lack knowledge of available markets. This could mean that traders are not taking advantage of the correct market given their trading style.

Which Markets to Trade?
The style of trading employed, financial resources, location and what time of day a person trades (or wants to trade), can all play a role in which markets will be best suited to the individual. Since some of these markets may not be familiar we will look at two common trader groups and how they could implement the use of other markets to improve their trading. It is important to be aware of such alternatives, as they may provide for some fine tuning which can result in better results over the long run.

Alternative Markets For Day Traders
Since 2000 there has been a steady increase in the amount of turnover in the foreign exchange markets. This has meant an increase in the number of day traders opening accounts with forex and CFD brokers, which have also increased in number. The main lure is that minimal investment is required. Accounts can often be opened for as little as $100-$1000 and will allow individuals to day trade global currencies, indexes and commodities. With the forex market the trader is actually exchanging one currency for another, possibly in an account denominated in yet another currency. It seems nice – low barriers to entry, generally no commission (but a spread is paid), high leverage (high risk/high reward) and free trading tools such as charts and research. But there are alternatives if one wants to trade forex or CFDs, which can encompass just about every other market. (Check out Day Trading Strategies for beginners to learn about some common strategies.)

Exchange traded funds now allow traders to partake in the currency moves by making trades on the stock exchange. While opening a day trading stock/ETF account will require more capital, there are advantages in that ETFs themselves can be leveraged or unleveraged. This means someone who wants to take on additional risk/reward for each incremental price movement can do so by buying a “3X bull” ETF for example. Also, with an ETF, a trader is not required to pay the spread. Instead, they can sit on the bid or offer providing liquidity and thus collecting ECN rebates (offsetting commissions, or providing additional profit). This is very advantageous in currency pairs with limited movement, or when the trader wishes to implement a scalping strategy.

ETFs also allow a trader to partake in other markets such as the movement of oil gold, silver or stock indexes; traders can move out of the CFD market and begin trading ETFs as well, providing them with a greater range of products. Depending on trading style, using ETFs, CFDs and the forex market may be wise. Different instruments can be used to hedge or take advantage of disconnects in price such as a currency pair moving without the corresponding ETF moving (or vice versa).

Alternative Markets For Long Term Investors
Commodities often attract long term investors, yet they may be unfamiliar with futures markets and so they have not participated directly in the movements of commodities such as gold, silver or platinum. Also, it is unlikely they have different currency exposure. And while they may have considered options trading, the time-framed nature of the instrument does not appeal to their trading plan.

Here is another opportunity where understanding different markets can open new doors even for conservative investors who make few trades. After learning about the different markets, the forex market can be used to gain currency exposure. ETFs can also be used to gain currency exposure, as well as participate in the price movements of gold, oil, silver or even other global economies. CFDs can be used by long term traders since the bid/ask spread is minimal over the time frame and they provide some of the benefits of options, but without the expiry date. For instance, large blue chip stocks are often available via CFDs. The stock is not actually owned, which allows for the participation in price movements with less capital in use (because high leverage can be used if desired), but the CFD does not provide voting rights or any of the perks associated with ownership of a piece of that company. When trading any instrument it is important to be aware of taxes and how the instruments fit into overall objectives, including retirement. Each instrument may be treated slightly different; therefore it is wise to seek out the advice of a professional.

Bottom Line
It is important to be aware that alternatives are out there. This does not mean every alternative will be good for every individual, but using a combination of markets or fine tuning how we interact with those markets can have an impact on results. For some individuals this may mean they need to switch markets as their success is unlikely if they continue to do what they are doing. On the other hand, incorporating other markets may provide benefits like small changes in costs, capital outlays and risks that can have large effects over the long run. Becoming familiar with all the markets available will allow for more opportunities and potentially increased profits or reduced costs. (For related reading, take a look at 5 Equity Derivatives And How They Work.)

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