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What is Scalping Trading? Definition & 5 Best Strategies

What is Scalping Trading? 5 Best Strategies

This guide will examine scalp trading, otherwise known as scalping. It will present the reader with the five best scalping strategies, tips, and tricks for beginners, as well as the pros and cons of using this trading method.


What is scalping trading?

Scalping or scalp trading is a short-term trading strategy designed to profit from small price movements in an asset’s price. The method involves profiting from the volume of trades placed instead of attempting to gain the most on each individual trade. Traders who adopt this strategy are known as scalpers and can place around 10 to a few hundred trades on an average day, with sessions lasting anywhere between a few seconds to an hour. 

Though numerous small profits can swiftly compound into significant gains, scalping requires strict exit strategies to prevent large losses that could wipe out dozens of successful trades. Therefore, having the right tools, such as a live feed, a direct-access broker, as well as stringent adherence to your trading method, are crucial prerequisites for this strategy to be lucrative.

Recommended video: What is scalping?

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How to scalp trade?

Scalpers believe that small asset price moves are easier to catch than large ones. Therefore, they aim to make many small winning trades instead of a few successful trades with large winning sizes. This requires setting tight trading windows regarding both price movement and time frame. 

Scalping requires strict trading discipline. For example, scalpers exit trades once they have achieved their profit target instead of waiting to see whether they can profit more. Moreover, they also leave trades once they have touched their profit loss level rather than waiting for the trend to turn around.

Scalping relies on the notion of lower exposure risk as the actual time in the market on each trade is relatively short, lowering the risk of an adverse event causing an undesirable move. In addition, it proposes that smaller moves are easier to catch than larger ones, as well as more frequent.

Scalping trading example

A scalper enters a limit order (an order to buy/sell an asset at a specified price or better) to buy a specific number of shares at a predetermined price. The trade is automatically executed once the price falls to the limit order. The scalper then waits for positive movements. The price rises a minute later, and the trader exits the trade. So, if they bought 1,000 shares, and the price increased by $0.05, they made $50.

Key characteristics of scalping 

Scalping is a fast-paced trading method for skillful traders. It demands precision timing and execution. Newbies to scalping need to ensure that this particular style suits their character, as it requires a highly disciplined approach.

If you think you’re the right trader for scalping, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Order execution: Because of frequent turnover, you must be able to execute orders efficiently, i.e., make swift decisions, spot opportunities, and constantly monitor your positions;
  • Supporting systems: Scalpers rely on automatic, instant execution of orders, so utilizing supporting systems such as Direct Access Trading (a system that allows traders to trade directly with another client without broker interference) and Level 2 (a service that provides real-time access to the NASDAQ order book) quotations is essential;
  • Technical analysis: Scalpers rely on technical analysis to make predictions on future price moves, helping them find trading events and create entry and exit points;
  • Spotting trends and momentum: To execute the strategy effectively, a trader must anticipate upticks and downswings and understand the psychology behind a bull and bear market;
  • Read and analyze short-term charts: You must be able to make decisions based on charting that is within 1- to 5-minute intervals. Scalpers look for key indicators such as moving averages (MA) and pivot points in the market to determine if they can execute a trade quickly;
  • Keeping on top of costs: A novice scalper must keep costs in mind while making trades. Because scalping involves numerous trades (as many as hundreds during a trading session), commissions can add up quickly and shrink your profits;
  • Maintain enough liquidity in your account: Traders must have sufficient capital in their portfolio to trade, as scalping requires frequent and quick entry and exit decisions. High-volume trades offer much-needed liquidity;
  • Discipline: It is recommended to close all positions at the end of the day’s session rather than carry them over to the next day, even if you could generate potentially bigger profit. Scalping is based on small opportunities found in the market, and a scalper should not deviate from its core principle of holding a position for a very short period; 
  • Go long: Beginners should keep to trading on the buy-side before they gain proficiency to handle the short side;
  • Risk management: An easy way to limit loss or lock in a profit on a current position is to place a stop-loss order. It triggers the sale of a stock (or a purchase for a short position) once the stock’s price reaches a certain value. 

Scalping trading strategies

There are five primary types of scalp trading to choose from:

1. Market making 

Market making happens when a scalper tries to profit off the spread by simultaneously posting a bid and an offer price for a specific contract. This strategy succeeds mainly with immobile stocks that can trade significant volumes without massive price changes.

Market making is the most challenging scalping strategy to execute successfully, as the scalper must compete with market makers for the shares on both bids and offers. In addition, any stock movement opposite the trader’s position can result in a loss exceeding their original profit target.

Note: Bid price is the highest price a buyer will pay for an asset. Ask price is the lowest price for which a seller will sell the security. The bid price will almost always be less than the ask or offer price. The difference between the two prices is called the spread. 

2. Arbitrage 

This type of scalp trading is done by purchasing a considerable amount of shares and then reselling them for a gain on a tiny price difference. This method sees the trader enter into trades for thousands of shares, waiting for a small move, typically measured in cents. This approach demands a highly liquid stock (to allow for trading 3,000 to 10,000 shares easily).

3. Price action

Scalping the markets with price action is similar to trading with other price action strategies. This strategy is based on analyzing the asset’s price movement. It involves buying shares on any setup from your system and leaving the position as soon as the first exit signal is generated close to the 1:1 risk/reward ratio. 

Scalpers who adopt this trading style depend on technical analysis rather than fundamental analysis. In particular, by using technical indicators and chart patterns, scalpers can forecast how a price will move in the next few minutes or seconds and place their entry and exit points accordingly. 

In contrast, fundamental analysis involves examining both macro- and microeconomic factors to determine a stock’s intrinsic value, such as the overall state of the economic landscape, the strength of the particular industry, as well as the financial performance of the specific company. This lets traders assess a company and manage risk for growing their wealth over time.

While scalpers may trade on news events or small fundamental changes, they primarily focus on technical indicators and charts.

Note: Technical analysis works better for short-term methods like scalping, while fundamental analysis is more appropriate for long-term investing

4. Margin trading

Scalpers can trade derivative products, such as contracts for difference​ (CFDs), on an underlying asset’s price movements, whether a currency pair, stock, or commodity, allowing them to trade with leverage​. And while this can provide huge profits if the trade is successful, losses will also be magnified if the markets move in an unfavorable direction.

5. High-frequency scalping strategy

High-frequency trading (HFT) is a fast-paced trading method that uses automated software to initiate hundreds of orders in seconds. It uses complex algorithms to study multiple markets and execute orders based on market conditions. 

In addition, high-frequency trading requires a powerful computer, ultra-high-speed internet, complex algorithmic trading software, and servers often located near an exchange. For this reason, high-frequency trading is practiced by large financial institutions (e.g., hedge funds) rather than retail investors. 

Note: Some of these strategies are riskier than others. Try implementing each of them to find which one works best for you.

Best technical indicators for scalping

Technical analysis tools help investors identify specific trends and patterns before they place their trade. For example, the most common technical indicators​​ for a successful scalping strategy include the following:

  • Bollinger Bands: Bollinger Bands​ offer unique price and volatility insights. They can help traders determine overbought and oversold levels, spot trends and breakouts, as well as decide on entry and exit points. The optimal timeframe for scalp trading with Bollinger Bands is around 1 to 5 minutes;
  • Moving averages: Moving averages are essential for scalpers to identify price trends or the potential for a reversal. Traders usually use a short-term MA to highlight the recent variance in price trends or a long-term MA to identify a trend pattern of whether the price is increasing or decreasing as a whole; 
  • Stochastic oscillator: The stochastic oscillator can help scalpers forecast trend reversals, making it an effective indicator for highlighting possible warning signs rather than only opportunities. This may make traders more cautious about placing a trade if the price is predicted to turn in an unfavorable direction;
  • Relative strength index (RSI): Scalpers utilize the RSI to find entry points that go with the prevailing trend or as an indicator of a trend reversal or corrective pullbacks in price;
  • Parabolic SAR: The parabolic SAR can highlight the direction an asset is moving, as well as provide entry and exit points. The indicator is a series of dots placed above or below the price bars, depending on the asset’s momentum. A dot below the price is bullish, and one above is bearish. A change in the position of the dots suggests that a reversal is underway.

Note: Many traditional chart patterns, such as cups and handles or triangles, can also be used for scalp trading. 

Pros and cons of scalping 

Pros 

  • Scalping can be tremendously lucrative if executed with a rigorous trading strategy;
  • The method doesn’t require traders to follow a security’s fundamentals;
  • Scalping offers numerous opportunities for leveraging small changes in the price of an asset;
  • Scalping is a non-directional strategy and can be used as the market is going up as well as down;
  • Scalping allows for automation within the trading system you use.

Cons 

  • Scalping requires a trader to have unyielding discipline, particularly when it comes to exit strategy;
  • Relatively high transaction costs;
  • Needs greater leverage to see substantial profits;
  • Very demanding in terms of time, requiring high levels of concentration;
  • Entry points can appear and disappear quickly, requiring the trader to remain tied to their platform, which is particularly inconvenient for people with day jobs;
  • A profitable scalping strategy requires dozens to hundreds of trades per day; 
  • The amount of attention and commitment demanded by this method can be highly stress-inducing, particularly for ill-equipped beginners. 
  • SCALPING TRADING IS A LEGAL TRADING STRATEGY, YET IT MAY NOT BE ALLOWED BY ALL BROKERS.

In conclusion 

All in all, for traders who adhere to a strict trading discipline with effective execution and exit strategies, scalping can be very lucrative as small profits compound quickly into heftier gains. 

However, no trading method is guaranteed to provide profits only. Therefore, it is paramount for scalpers to have a risk management strategy in place. 


Disclaimer: The content on this site should not be considered investment advice. Investing is speculative. When investing, your capital is at risk. 

FAQs about scalping trading

What is scalping?

Scalping is a short-term trading method that involves profiting from the volume of trades placed instead of the size of each winning trade. It does this by taking advantage of the minor price movements in an asset’s price. 

Is scalping profitable?

Many small profits can quickly add up if a strict exit strategy is implemented to prevent significant losses. However, in an attempt to minimize risk by pursuing small wins, traders may miss out on larger gains.

What is the best timeframe for scalping?

Scalping is a very short-term trading method with timeframes anywhere between one and 15 minutes. This is because price movements are typically minimal, so entry and exit points need to be sharp. 

What is the best indicator for scalping?

Scalping can be used with various technical indicators, including RSI, moving averages, or the stochastic indicator. Furthermore, many chart patterns, such as triangles, can also be used for scalping. 

What are some of the mistakes beginner scalpers can make?

Some common mistakes scalpers make are inadequate execution and technique, poor exit strategy, over-leveraging, as well as racking up commission charges by overtrading.

What is the difference between scalp trading and swing trading?

Both scalp and swing trading are short-term investing strategies that rely on technical analysis and charts to profit from trends in particular assets. However, swing trading accompanies a more intermediate-term time frame, often a few days to a few weeks, focusing on acquiring fewer trades but with a larger profit target. A slower pace and a less stressful environment make swing trading more appropriate for novice and retail traders, while scalping is better suited to more seasoned traders.

What is the difference between scalp trading and day trading?

Unlike scalpers who hold trades for less than 5 minutes, day traders​​ spend several hours on each trade. In addition, unlike scalpers, day traders use fundamental analysis on top of technical analysis when tracking price action. However, like scalpers, day traders avoid keeping their bets open overnight.

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