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Day Traders Work in a Zero-sum Environment

Day trading is a zero-sum endeavor; it has exactly as many winners as losers. And options and futures markets, which are popular with day traders, are zero-sum markets. If the person who holds an option makes a profit, then the person who wrote (which is option-speak for sold) that option loses the same amount. There’s no net gain or net loss in the market as a whole.

Now some of those buying and selling in zero-sum markets are hedgers who are content to take small losses in order to prevent big ones. Speculators may have the profit advantage in certain market conditions, but they can’t count on having that advantage all the time.

So who wins and who loses in a zero-sum market? Some days, whether you win or lose all depends on luck, but over the long run, the winners are the people who are the most disciplined: They have a trading plan, set limits and stick to them, and can trade based on the data on the screen rather than on emotions like hope, fear, and greed.

Unlike the options and futures markets, the stock market is not a zero-sum game. As long as the economy grows, company profits grow, which in turn lead to growing stock prices. The stock market really has more winners than losers over the long run.

That doesn’t mean there will be more winners than losers on any particular day, however. In the short run, the stock market should be treated like a zero-sum market.

If you understand how profits are divided in the markets that you choose to trade, you have a better awareness of the risks that you face, as well as the risks that the other participants are taking. People do make money in zero-sum markets, but you don’t want those winners to be making a profit off of you.

Some traders make money — lots of money — doing what they like. Trading is all about risk and reward. Those traders who are rewarded risked the 80 percent washout rate. Knowing that, do you want to take the plunge? If so, read on. And if not, read on anyway, because you may get some ideas that can help you manage your other investments.

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