Swing Trading Strategies

A guide to Swing Trading for bullish and bearish traders.

Swing Trading is a short-term trading method that can be used when trading stocks and options. Whereas Day Trading positions last less than one day, Swing Trading positions typically last two to six days, but may last as long as two weeks.

The goal of swing trading is to identify the overall trend and then capture gains with swing trading within that trend. Technical Analysis is often used to help traders take advantage of the current trend in a security and hopefully improve their trades. Day trading and swing trading involve specific risks and commission costs that are different and higher than the typical investment strategies.

Most swing traders work with the main trend of the chart. If the security is in an uptrend, the online trader will "go long" that security by buying shares, call options, or futures contracts. If the overall trend is down, then the trader could short shares or futures contracts, or buy put options.

Many times, neither a bullish nor a bearish trend is present, but the security is moving in a somewhat predictable pattern between parallel resistance and support areas. When the market moves up and then pulls back, the highest point reached before it pulls back is the resistance. As the market continues up again, the lowest point reached before it climbs back is the support. There are swing trading opportunities in this case too, with the trader taking a long position near the support area and taking a short position near the resistance area.

Bullish traders play the uptrend

Trending stocks rarely move in a straight line, but instead in a step-like pattern. For example, a stock might go up for several days, followed by a few steps back during the next few days before heading north again. If several of these zig-zag patterns are strung together, and the chart appears to be moving higher with some degree of predictability, the stock is said to be in an uptrend.

As a bullish swing trader, you should look for an initial movement upward as the major part of a trend, followed by a reversal or pull back, also known as the "counter trend." Then, following the counter trend you will want to see a resumption of the initial upward movement.

Capture gains on the upside

Since it is unknown how many days or weeks a pullback or counter trend may last, you should enter a bullish swing trade only after it appears that the stock has resumed the original uptrend. One way this is determined is to isolate the counter trend move. If the stock trades higher than the pullback's previous day's high, the swing trader could enter the trade after performing a risk analysis. This possible point of entry is known as the "entry point." This should be examined against two other price points to assess risk and determine your upside target.

First, find the lowest point of the pullback to determine the "stop out" point. If the stock declines lower than this point, you should exit the trade in order to limit losses. Then find highest point of the recent uptrend. This becomes the profit target. If the stock hits your target price or higher, you should consider exiting at least a portion of your position, to lock in some gains.

The difference between the profit target and the entry point is the approximate reward of the trade. The difference between the entry point and the stop out point is the approximate risk. When determining whether it's worthwhile to enter a swing trade, consider using two-to-one as a minimum reward-to-risk ratio. Your potential profit should be at least twice as much as your potential loss. If the ratio is higher than that, the trade is considered better; if it's lower it's worse.

Entering your bullish swing trade

If you're swing trading by buying the stock, you would enter your trade using a buy-stop limit order. If you're trading in-the-money options, you would use a contingent buy order. As soon as the stock hits your intended entry point, your order will be activated, and the trade should be executed soon after.

Once either a stock or call option position is open, you would then enter a one-cancels-other order to sell the stock or call option as soon as it hits either your stop loss price or your profit taking price. This kind of advanced order ensures that as soon as one of the sell orders is executed, the other order is cancelled.

It might sound complicated at first, but Ally Invest’s intuitive trading platform lets you manage contingent orders and advanced orders like one-cancels--- other easily and efficiently.

How bearish swing traders get into the action

Although they're usually not as orderly as an uptrend, downtrends also tend to move in a step-like or zig-zag fashion. For example, a stock could decline over the course of many days. Then it may retrace part of the loss over the next few days before turning south once more. When this behavior is repeated over time, the downtrend of the chart becomes easier to see. The move downward is the trend itself, with bear rallies or retracements being visible as the counter trend.

Caption: Retracements as part of a bearish downtrend

Bearish traders capture gains on the downside

Tactics used to take advantage of the uptrend can also be applied to trade the downtrend. Again, since it's very difficult to predict exactly how long a bear rally, or "counter trend" may last, you should enter a bearish swing trade only after it seems that the stock has continued downwards. To do this, examine the bear rally very closely. If the stock heads lower than the counter trend's previous day's low, the swing trader could enter a bearish position.

Once again, you should only enter a swing trade after you have evaluated the potential risk and reward. As with bullish swing trades, the entry point would be compared to the stop out and profit target points to analyze the potential rewards and risks of the trade. On a bearish swing trade, the stop out point is the highest price of the recent counter trend. So if the stock rose higher than this price, you would exit the trade to minimize losses. The profit target is the lowest price of the recent downtrend. So if the stock reached this price or lower, you should consider exiting at least some of the position to lock in some gains.

The difference between the entry point and the profit target is the targeted reward of the trade. The difference between the stop out point and the entry point is the assumed risk. It is preferred to have a reward-to-risk ratio of two-to-one or greater.

Entering your bearish swing trade

As with bullish swing trades, if the reward-to-risk ratio is acceptable, you could enter your trade using a sell-stop limit order. This would result in selling the stock short once it hits your entry point. Selling short is the process of borrowing shares from your online broker and selling them in the open market, with the intention of purchasing the shares back for less cost in the future. An alternative to short selling would be to buy an in-the-money put option. If you choose to use options, you would use a contingent order to buy the put after the stock hit the entry price.

After your trade is open, you could then place a one-cancels-other order to cover both your stop loss price and your profit taking price. If one of these trades were executed, the other order would be cancelled.

What is Fading?

Swing traders usually go with the main trend of the stock. But some traders like to go against it and trade the counter trend instead. This is known as "fading," but it has many other names: counter-trend trading, contrarian trading, and trading the fade. During an uptrend, you could take a bearish position near the swing high because you expect the stock to retrace and go back down. During a downtrend to trade the fade, you would buy shares near the swing low if you expect the stock to rebound and go back up.

Obviously, when fading, you'll want to exit the trade before the counter trend ends, and the stock resumes the main trend, whether bullish or bearish.