Day Trading?
Confused By Too Many
Order Entry Types?

Here Are The Only Four You Really Need

If you are an active day trader, there are only four order types that you really need. My broker's trading platform lists 22 distinct and combination order types that are available to me, including exotic things I have never looked into understanding, but all of that is just an unnecessary invitation to complicate what is a very simple process.

As a day trader, you can only be in one of three states: long, short, or flat. All of your attention should be devoted to deciding what state you want to be in, and the mechanics of how to get there should be as straight forward as possible.

The only four order types you really need for day trading are market orders, limit orders, stop orders and stop-limit orders. You can ponder what all those other order types (reserve, limit+TTO, market+trailing stop, . . .) are good for when you are out of the market counting your profits. Here are the basic four and when to use them:

  • Market Order -- The only time you should use a market is order is when you see your position going straight to hell in front of you and you need to get out right now at any price. When you place a market order, your broker's computer will liquidate your position at the first fillable price, which can sometimes be far worse than what you expected. If you manage the other three order types effectively, you will rarely need to liquidate a position with a market order. You should never enter a position with a market order.

  • Limit Order -- You should use limit orders to enter positions at a price better than your signal trigger point in cases where your research shows that such a tactic is more profitable than a stop order entry, and you should use limit orders to exit profitable positions at pre-determined exit points. The danger in limit orders is that you will miss a significant number of trades in some markets, and that in some trades the market will trade very near, but not all the way to, your profit target and then fade back to your original entry point, or worse, before you decide to cancel the limit order and get out with a market order.

  • Stop Order -- You should use a stop order to enter or exit positions if the market trades beyond your given trigger price. You should ALWAYS place a stop order to liquidate a position as soon as you enter the position, so if the market moves against you far enough to trade at the your previously selected "trade over" point, you will get out without further thought or action on your part. The only time you don't want to use a stop order for entries or stop-loss protection is if you are trading a market with such a wide bid/ask spread that you are almost guaranteed unacceptable slippage if you use a pure stop (also called a "stop market" order, because the order becomes a market order as soon as the market trades at your stop price). In that case, you will want to use a

  • Stop-limit order -- This order acts like a stop order when the market trades at your price, except that it places a limit on the amount of slippage you can incur on the resulting fill. This is a useful order to use for position entries in a high-slippage market. The danger in using it is that you will often be unable to establish a position because the market runs through the limit after the stop too quickly for your order to fill and then never comes back to fill it. You will have to analyze the market you are in to see if the potential loss of a trade due to not filling the limit is more expensive than the inevitable slippage with pure stop orders. Sometimes it is better to swallow the slippage in exchange for always getting the position, while in some markets it is better to miss an entry here and there in order to keep slippage low.

    These four order types will cover almost any situation you will encounter while day trading, and using them to the exclusion of all of the more complex alternatives will keep your trading mechanics simple so you can focus on picking good trades and executing them well.


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