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What is Algorithmic Trading (Algo Trading)? And how it works?

Technological developments help define the future and we tend to rely on them more and more everyday. Investors are no exception to this rule as they use of technology to take advantage of optimal market conditions and earn high returns.

One such technology is algo trading or algorithmic trading which is a type of stock trading that uses statistical models and equations to run trades on a program designed by the user. Algo trading has become more popular in the last few years as it has been made more accessible to investors. It currently comprises of 35-40 per cent of turnover in Indian Stock Exchanges.

What is algorithmic trading?

An Algorithm is a code that is designed to carry out a certain process. Algorithmic trading uses computer programs to initiate trades at high speeds based on preset conditions such as the stock prices or the current market conditions.

The algorithms can include a level of manual intervention or can be fully electronic also known as zero-touch algos. The trades are initiated based on pre-set quantitative factors, arbitrage opportunities and the client’s preference. In India, the most commonly used algo is the Application Program Interface (API) that lets investors choose their strategy and enter in their requirements. The trades are then executed by the brokers.

For instance, algorithmic trading can be used by a trader who might want to implement trades when the stock price reaches a certain point or falls below a certain level. Based on the current market conditions, the algorithm can recommend how many shares to buy or sell. Once the trader enters the program requirements, they can sit back and relax as the trades automatically take place based on the preset conditions.

What are the benefits of algorithmic trading?

Algorithmic trading automates the trading function which is incredibly advantageous to traders. This makes sure that the trades are carried out at the right time during optimal market conditions which increases the chances of high returns. The traders does not face the risk of missing out on important opportunities in the market.

Another key advantage of algorithmic trading is that it removes human emotion from the trading equation as the trades are defined by preset conditions. This is advantageous because human emotions can cause investors to make irrational decisions based on fear and greed.

Algorithmic trading also allows you to backtest. This essentially means that the algorithms can be tested on past data to see if they have worked in the past or not. This is helpful because it lets the user identify any flaws in the trading system before they run the algorithm on live data.

In addition to this, algo trading reduces the time spent analyzing markets and lowers the associated transaction costs. The numerous benefits have made it a popular tool among investors in many stock exchanges today. 

Strategies used in algorithmic trading

Although the computer initiates the trades, the user still has the ability to input the strategy they wish to use. They can decide the volume, the price and at what time the trade should happen. Therefore the algo strategies used by the investors can have a large impact on their earnings. Here are the most common strategies used in algorithmic trading:

Trend based strategies:

One of the most commonly used algo strategies used is trend-based strategies. The involves following the current trends in the market and executing trades based on that. The trader uses technical indicators such as the moving average and the price level of the stock to assess the market and the system generated recommendations to buy or sell required to fulfill the conditions entered by the trader. This is one of the easiest strategies to implement as the figures are based on historical and current trends with no requirement for complex predictions.

Arbitrage strategy:

An arbitrage opportunity exists in the market when there is a difference in the price of securities on two stock exchanges which can result in a risk-free profit. In algo trading, the arbitrage strategy algorithm is used by the computer program to identify the differences in prices and make use of the opportunity in an efficient way.

The speed and accuracy of algo trading comes into play here because the price difference in the stock may not be high but the high volume of trade can lead to a considerable amount of profit. This arbitrage strategy is most commonly used in forex trading.

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(Image credits: Corporatefinanceinstitute)

Trading Range or Mean Reversion strategy:

Also known as the counter-trend or reversal, this strategy is based on the principle that although prices go up or down, it is only temporary and they eventually come back to their average price. In this strategy, the program identifies the upper and lower limit of the stock and carries out trades when the price goes above or below this range. The algorithm calculates the mean price of the stock based on historical data and when the price goes out of bounds the trade is executed with the expectation that the stock will come back to its average price.

However, this strategy may not always work as the price may not come back to its average price as quick as expected and the moving average can catch up to the price leading to a lower risk to reward ratio.

Also read: How to read stock charts for beginners?

Conclusion

Algorithmic trading was introduced in India in around 2009 and has been growing in popularity due to its low cost and the availability of skilled resources, especially with traders who trade on proprietary books. SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) has also played a positive role in the adoption of algorithmic trading in India which will help further its acceptance and incorporate the trading on a larger scale in stock markets.

Although algorithmic trading is automated, the user still has the authority to choose which strategy to follow depending on various factors. It is especially beneficial for small-time investors who want to increase liquidity in the market making it easy to enter and exit the market while decreasing price inefficiencies in trading stocks.

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How to read stock charts for beginners?

For anyone looking to actively trade in the stock market, it is essential to know how to read stock charts. A stock chart is a chart that shows the price of a stock plotted on a time-frame that can range from minutes to many years. It serves as an important tool for picking the right stocks and easy to find on websites such as Yahoo Finance or Google Finance.

The ticker symbol of a company can help you find its stock chart. The ticker is a series of letters found in a company’s name (Apple= AAPL). Stock charts can help you identify stock price movements and make decisions on whether to enter, buy, sell or exit the trade.

When you first look at the chart

Stock charts come in various forms, they can be candle charts, bar charts or line charts.

In addition to the view of a stock chart, you also get to pick the time frame. The most commonly used ones are intraday, weekly, monthly, year-to-date (YTD), 5 years, 10 years or even a complete history of the stock.

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(Stocktrader.com)

Once you have picked the chart view and time-frame, it is now time to understand the various features of a chart. For demonstration purposes, we can look at a candlestick chart.

On a candlestick chart, the red candles show downward price movement, while the white (or green) candles show an upward price movement. The chart has numerous technical indicators such as the moving average index (MA), the relative strength index (RSI) and the moving average convergence divergence index (MACD). These technical indicators are used to analyze future price movements.

Support and Resistance lines

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(Image credits: BabyPips)

The next step is to look for the support and resistance lines. As the name suggests, the resistance line indicates a point which resists the price from rising further. It shows the maximum supply for a stock where the level is always above the current market price. There is a great probability that the stock would rise up to the resistance level, absorb the supply and then decline. For traders, the resistance line is an indicator to sell.

Alternatively, the support line indicates a point that stops a price from falling lower. It shows the maximum demand for a stock in the market. There is a high chance that a stock price will reach the support line, absorb all the demand and then bounce back. The support line is a signal to buy stock.

Below the stock chart is a window that shows the trading volume of the stock. The volume shows how much of the stock has been traded over a period of time. The green bars show the greater buying volume days and the red bar shows the greater selling volume days.

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(Image credits: Investors Underground)

Why is the volume important?

The volume of a stock is an important indicator of whether or not to invest in a stock. This is because the trading volume is influenced by the buying and selling of stocks done by big traders, large investment banks, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). It can be the high-value trading done by these large firms that causes the price of a stock to go up or down.

An individual investor can use the volume as an indicator of buying or selling stock, forecasting future price trends and identifying the support and resistance level. When there is a bullish market- that is investors are optimistic and expect the prices to rise- there is high volume trading on up days and low volume trading on low days. However, during a bear market- when investors are less optimistic- there is high volume trading on down days and low volume trading on up days.

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(Investopedia)

Other technical indicators

In order to better understand the price movements and trends in a stock chart, investors use a variety of technical indicators. One such indicator is the 200-day moving average which is a stock’s average closing price in the last 200 days. A high 200-day average signifies a bullish market while a low 200-day average shows a bearish market. In reality, however, when the 200-day average is extremely high it is a sign that the market may soon go down and that investors are far too optimistic and when the 200-day average is low it signifies the reverse. The shorter the moving average, the greater the change in the market.

The 200-day average indicates whether a stock is healthy or not and is often compared to the 50-day moving average. When a stock in the 50 day moving average crosses the 200-day moving average, it achieves the ‘golden cross’ status. That is the stock may go up to a much higher price. On the flip-side, if a stock in 50-day moving average goes below the 200-day moving average, it is known as the ‘death cross’. This means there is a good chance the price of the stock will go down in the future. Technical indicators are used in conjunction with momentum indicators to analyze the direction and strength of a stock’s price movement.

Understand the overall trend of the stock

When looking at a stock chart it is important to understand the upward and downward trend of a stock but you also need to analyze the background of the stock as well. This involves understanding how a particular stock usually trends- does it have low price movements or is it constantly volatile?

Another factor to consider is the possibility of the trends reversing. Momentum indicators such as Relative Strength Index (RSI) or MACD can help identify if a stock has reached its peak giving investors the opportunity to exit the market. Understanding these trends can help you make better decisions about what stocks to purchase.

Also read: Fundamental vs Technical Analysis of Stocks

Conclusion

Knowing how to read stock charts is important for any trader. It provides perspective on the price movements of stocks and will help you make better decisions to improve profitability. Hopefully, this guide gives you a better understanding of how to read stock charts before you start trading. Always remember, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

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