Author: Adam Woods
How Much Can You Make Trading Stocks?
People frequently ask me, “How much money can you make trading stocks?” I understand why people ask the question, but it’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer because there are so many variables. It’s like asking, “How much money can you make playing a professional sport?” For some, it is millions; for others, it actually costs them money.
Improve Your Trading Skills; Most People Can’t Control Their Emotions
Of course, trading skill is the most important factor in successful stock trading. Trading is not complicated. In fact, it’s often the simple things that work the best. This is not to say that trading is easy; it is actually quite hard but not because it is intellectually demanding. It is just hard for most people to disconnect themselves from their emotional attachment to money.
Learn Your Rules & Follow Them
The rules for most of my trading strategies could be written down on the back of a napkin – they are that simple. But executing them properly takes practice and emotional control. For some, that is not too hard. For others, it can be close to impossible.
It Takes Discipline, not Genius to Beat the Market
You do not have to be exceptionally smart to be a good stock trader; I think most people are smart enough. But it does take more determination and hard work than a lot of people are willing to invest. The great thing about both of those things is that neither is exclusive. No matter what your age, gender, looks, intelligence, nationality or social status, hard work and determination are achievable.
Risk and Reward Ratio
Before I go in to the economics of trading, let me first explain a few important concepts. The first is risk: the difference between the price you buy a stock and the stop loss point. If you buy a stock at $20 and have a stop loss at $19, you are risking $1 a share. The reward for risk is the reward divided by the risk. In this example, the reward for risk is 5 since the profit was $5 for a risk of $1. How much you actually make depends on what your risk tolerance is.
If you are willing to lose $500 on a trade, then you would have bought 500 shares in this example. $500 of risk tolerance divided by $1 of risk demands you buy 500 shares. With an exit at $25, you earn $2500 or five times your risk.
Leverage Works For You & Against You
How much money did it take to make the $2500? 500 shares of a $20 stock costs you $10,000, assuming you only use your capital. If you use leverage, which most brokerages will give you at 2 to 1 and some brokers will give you at 3 to 1, you lower the capital requirement. With 2 to 1 leverage, you need $5000 to make the $2500 profit. With 3 to 1, you only need $3333. With more leverage, the percentage return goes up but so too does the potential percentage loss.
Now, what can you expect to make in terms of reward for risk? This is where there are variables outside your control that have a big effect on performance. If the market is hot, it is much easier to find winning stocks and the size of those winners will be greater than if the stock is dead. No matter how hard you work or how skilled you are as a trader, you cannot control how many opportunities the stock market is going to give you.
The reward is the difference between the entry price and the profitable exit price, assuming you are not stopped out with a loss. That stock you bought at $20 has a reward of $5 if you sell it at $25.
Risk vs. Reward
As a general guideline, on average, the goal for a skilled trader in a reasonable market is to earn at least 5 to 10 times the amount you risk on a trade. So if you risk $500 on each trade, you should be able to make $2500-$5000. I want to stress, however, that your skill and the state of the market are two very important variables in this calculation.
How Much Capital Do You Need?
The final question is how much capital do you need to risk $500 on each trade? Again, the state of the market is an important part of this equation. There are times when the hot sector of the market is the low priced stocks. The size of your position in these stocks tends to be smaller because these stocks are more volatile. You may be able to take $500 of risk with a $5000 position (which with leverage may require less than $2000 of your capital).
In a market where the large cap stocks are the hot area you could need 10 times as much capital to achieve the same amount of risk.
As a general rule, take your risk tolerance and multiply it by 100 to get the required capital, before leverage. So, if you risk $500 you will need $50,000 of capital to take the trades that come to you. With leverage, that could be half or one third of that amount.
Avoid The Gambler’s Mentality
Above all else, none of this works if you are a person who approaches the market with a gamblers mentality. Losses are part of trading and you have to be prepared to take the small loss when the market leads you astray. When you get a winner you have to be willing to let the profit run so that the winners can pay for the losers and still leave you some overall profit.