ECN/Level 2 quotes: ECNs, or electronic communication networks, are computer-based systems that display the best available bid and ask quotes from multiple market participants and then automatically match and execute orders. Level 2 is a subscription-based service that provides real-time access to the Nasdaq order book composed of price quotes from market makers registering every Nasdaq-listed and OTC Bulletin Board security. Together, they can give you a sense of orders being executed in real time.
The solution to both is investing in stock index funds and ETFs. While mutual funds might require a $1,000 minimum or more, index fund minimums tend to be lower (and ETFs are purchased for a share price that could be lower still). Two brokers, Fidelity and Charles Schwab, offer index funds with no minimum at all. Index funds also cure the diversification issue because they hold many different stocks within a single fund.
The recent market turbulence has reinforced the importance of this approach. The stock market has gone through each of the three possible stages in recent months: market in confirmed uptrend, uptrend under pressure and market in correction. To stay protected throughout these changes, follow the No. 1 rule of investing: Always cut your losses short. While you can't control what the stock market does, this basic rule lets you control how you react.
It’s best if you can automate your actual stock investments. Robo-advisors can do this for you, or if you must, you can manually buy stocks every time you receive a paycheck and have money in your savings or brokerage account. The important point is that you make regular investments so that you aren’t tempted to time the market. Regularly investing the same amount is a form of dollar cost averaging, and it helps reduce risk in your stock investments.
Once you have a specific set of entry rules, scan through more charts to see if those conditions are generated each day (assuming you want to day trade every day) and more often than not produce a price move in the anticipated direction. If so, you have a potential entry point for a strategy. You'll then need to assess how to exit, or sell, those trades.
Have a complete 360-degree view of what you’re buying before you buy it. Fundamentally, take a look at what’s under the hood of the company with regard to earnings ratios. Technically, understand what’s happening in the short and long term with support and resistance. Know your exit strategy and your money management strategy, including stop losses.
In the professional world, one of the key concepts is diversification. Harry Markowitz is a Nobel prize winning economist and one of his major discoveries was that adding new asset classes can dramatically alter the overall risk profile of a portfolio. His finding was that a portfolio that contained very low risk assets would normally benefit from lower volatility and higher returns if a higher risk asset was added. This is due to the likely lack of correlation between high and low risk asset classes.
Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.