Swing traders hold a particular stock for a period of time, generally a few days or up to two or three weeks, and they will trade the stock on the basis of its “swing,” or the movements between optimism and pessimism.
The key to successful swing trading is picking the right stocks. Usually, the right stocks are those that are the most actively traded stocks in the major exchanges. This is because in a highly active market, these stocks will swing between high and low extremes, and the swing trader will ride the wave in one direction for a couple of days or weeks and then switch to the opposite side of the trade when the stock reverses direction.
There is more risk to swing trading in the sense that you are holding positions for 2+ days to months. So if something happens whether it is political, such as presidential speeches or elections, or natural, such as earthquakes – these can affect your positions.
On the plus side, commissions for swing traders are less costly for swing traders than those for day traders because you will be getting in and out of trades much less frequently.
A day trader will hold a stock anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours but never more than a day (generally less than 6.5 hours).
Being a day trader requires a tremendous amount of focus and attention as you are trading on the day’s gains or day’s losses, depending on if you are going short or long. All of the up and down movements can happen within seconds and minutes (as opposed to days, weeks, or months), so you need to be able to devote yourself to watching the rapid movements of your stocks.
Being a day trader also involves less risk because you are not holding the stock overnight – there are many things that can happen that can cause the stock to plummet. But when you are in and out of positions within a 6.5 hour position (unless you are trading pre or post market), you do not have the risk of holding positions overnight.
Commissions, however, are more expensive. On the other hand, as far as compounding your earnings goes, as a day trader you can collect your earnings at a much faster rate, whereas a swing trader may have to wait up to six months before he or she exits a position to gain earnings.
As a last note, the other option is to be a hybrid trader, i.e., to switch between being a day trader and a swing trader. You can be both, but one has to be adaptable to market conditions. Certain conditions call for swing trading, and yet others are suited to day trading. As long as you keep your eye on the market and continue gaining experience, you are able to do both.