Late Trading: A Practical Guide

By: Stephen Hill
The Regulatory Advantage

The immense political and financial clout that the established securities exchanges and markets have in this country for preserving the status quo is nearly unparalleled. Indeed, though the Congress directed the SEC to create a national market system in 1975, it wasn't until late 1999 that retail traders were allowed equal access to pre-market and after-hours trading. For years, institutional investors and market professionals negotiated transactions among themselves in a very limited and exclusive version of the extended-hours market. Today's version is participant driven, more consolidated, reasonably liquid, transparent and inherently safer than regular session trading.

Despite mixed feelings expressed by exchange officials, specialists and professional market participants, in mid-1999 growing numbers of broker-dealers began providing their retail customers with the ability to have their orders directed to ECNs after the major markets closed. The trading rules, while different than those that govern regular session activity, provide both enhanced investor protections as well as some significant advantages.

From a protection standpoint, the differing participation rules relate mainly to order criteria.

While both 'Market' and 'Limit' orders exist as common order types in regular session trading, 'Market' orders are not authorized in extended trading. In other words, it's a limit order only environment overnight. While it may appear that the elimination of market orders during the extended-hours would be a great disadvantage, it's quite the opposite. As seasoned traders know, market orders are typically used by unsophisticated retail investors, unnecessarily giving up significant price concessions to get small orders filled.

Despite the SEC's best efforts to over regulate individual investor participation in the capital markets, transacting after the close and before the open of regular trading offers significant advantages with increased protection that should not be overlooked.

The Short Story After Hours

Fear is stronger than greed. When companies report weaker than expected quarterly earnings, a primary driver of extended trading, traders often waste no time in voting their collective displeasure. Typically, within seconds of an earnings release in the after-hours or pre-market, significant volume and price activity follow with dramatic results. Large and small cap stocks alike often move significantly higher or lower on tremendous after hours volume, typically equal to or greater than fifty percent of the issues average volume for an entire day.

Where is the opportunity? How can I possibly react within seconds of an earnings release or other news? Forget everything you've learned about reacting to news in regular session trading. Event driven trading in the regular session is far more difficult and restrictive (on the short side) than in the after-hours. Regular session event trading requires a finger on the trigger at all times and the ability to compete with automated trading programs and algorithms. For even the most seasoned retail traders it's a losing game.

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