Swing Trading - What You Need to Know
Reading time: 29 minutes
You may have heard the term swing trading but do you know what it is?
In this article we take a deep dive into the subject, including our top Forex swing trading strategies. What you'll learn includes:
- What is swing trading?
- How swing trading works in Forex
- How a swing trader operates
- The best instruments and tools for this trading style
- Forex swing trading strategies
What is swing trading?
For a clear understanding, we first need to understand different trading time frames.
The financial markets are hugely diverse, and there are many different ways to squeeze profits from them. Alongside the large variety of trading strategies that are available, there are also different trading styles. One of the main variations in trading style is the time frame over which you trade.
At one end of the spectrum there are long-term traders; people aiming to follow extended trends which can last months or even years. One of the key advantages of long-term trading is that it offers the potential for large profits. However, like all other forms of trading, there is potential for losses too. Successfully following a trend for several months will normally outweigh what can be achieved in the short term.
In addition, long-term trading will often not require much attention beyond a small amount of monitoring each day. But it does require more patience, and will likely offer less frequent opportunities to trade.
At the other end of the spectrum are scalpers. Scalpers make ultra-short-term trades - often lasting only a few minutes - and only looking to make small profits before exiting. Scalpers are happy to gain a pip here and there.
There is an advantage to the extremely short length of these trades - namely, curtailing your exposure to the market. Also, because you are only looking for very small price movements, opportunities for trading are plentiful.
The downsides of scalping include:
- A huge investment of time and attention
- The requirement for extremely well-run and disciplined exit management
- Transaction costs can be significant because of the high number of trades
One step up from scalpers are day traders, who hold positions for a few hours to a day. A day trader will not hold a position beyond the end of the day - thus avoiding exposure to any market-moving stories that break overnight.
In between day trading and long-term trend-following sits swing trading. Swing trades last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The swing trader is essentially looking for multi-day chart patterns to benefit from bigger price moves, or swings, than you would typically get in one day. In that respect, swing trading is better than day trading.
Many people find this style very appealing because it offers an acceptable compromise between the frequency of trades and the associated time demands.
Want to learn more? While there is a lot of information in this article, sometimes the best way to learn is to ask a pro about their experience.
The good news is that you can do this for free with Trading Spotlight! Three times a week, three pro traders run free webinars taking deep dives into the world's most popular trading topics. You can learn more about these webinars and register free by clicking the banner below.
What is a swing trader?
Swing traders are simply traders that trade with a multi-day to multi-week time frame. They generally work on four-hour (H4) and daily (D1) charts, and they may use a combination of fundamental analysis and technical analysis to guide their decisions.
Whether there is a long-term trend, or the market is largely range-bound, doesn't really matter. A swing trader is not going to hold on to a position long enough for it to be important.
Instead, volatility is the key - the more volatile the market is, the greater the number of short-term price movements and, thus, the greater the number of opportunities.
There are a number of benefits to swing trading, especially for those new to trading.
As noted, extremely short-term trades require constant monitoring. On the other hand, long-term trades may not be active enough for most people, and require a lot of trading discipline.
Swing trading tends to appeal to beginners, simply because it uses a more user-friendly time frame. Swing traders spend much less time analysing and trading as they are doing fewer trades than scalpers over longer periods. This gives them more time to think about and place their positions, yet also means they only need to spend a few minutes a day making trades.
Benefiting from longer trends
While scalping and day trading relies on short-term volatility, swing trading allows traders to take advantage of longer term trends. Analyses performed on larger units of time are often sounder, whereas shorter-term trading is more vulnerable to noise and false signals.
This also means that each trade has more time to generate a profit, due to trades following longer trends affecting prices.
One of the main costs of trading is the spread, or the difference between the buy and sell prices of an asset. While spreads are very small, they do get charged every time you trade, eating into the profits of ultra short-term frequent trading.
For swing traders the spread matters less because they place fewer trades and over longer time scales. The spread, typically a few points or pips, gets charged less frequently and should therefore be smaller compared to the size of the overall profits made.
A larger a range of indicators
The swing trading time units - four-hourly, daily and weekly - makes it possible to get the most out of the simplest indicators.
Indeed, if we take the example of a daily candlestick closing above the 20-period moving average, it's much more representative than the same candlestick closing above the moving average on a 5-minute chart. Generally, analysis over longer time frames tend to be more accurate, and swing traders can benefit from this.
Using MetaTrader 4 and 5 Supreme Edition, it's easy to analyse multiple time units on a single graph or multiple, where the Mini Chart indicator allows you to display two or more time units of a single instrument at the same time.
To learn more about MetaTrader Supreme Edition, and download it for FREE, click the banner below!
Exploiting larger price movements
Swing traders can exploit significant price movements or oscillations that would be difficult to obtain during a day. The more volatile the market, the greater the swings and the greater the number of swing trading opportunities.
What are the main risks of swing trading?
- The accumulation of swap fees: Swaps are daily interest rate fees that are charged on positions held overnight. While these aren't an issue for scalpers or day traders, these fees can add up for longer-term trades.
- Fundamental risk: Economic and political events outside trading hours could impact the financial markets to disrupt a trend and affect your trading strategy.
The best instruments
So which markets can you swing trade? This style of trading is possible on all CFD instruments, including stocks, Forex, commodities and even indices.
In the Forex market, swing trading allows traders to benefit from excellent liquidity and enough volatility to get interesting price moves, all within a relatively short time frame. Some of the most popular currencies for Forex swing trading are:
- Euro: Pairs include the AUD/EUR, EUR/CAD, EUR/JPY and EUR/GBP
- Japanese Yen: Pairs include the USD/JPY, JPY/CAD and JPY/GBP
- British Pound: Pairs include the GBP/AUD, GBP/CAD and GBP/CHF
- US Dollar: Pairs include the NZD/USD, USD/CAD, AUD/USD and EUR/USD
For stock market swing trading, indices are also very attractive instruments. These include:
- The DAX30 CFD
- The CAC40 CFD
- the Dow Jones 30 CFD
- The Nasdaq 100 CFD
- The Nikkei 225 CFD
Some stock indices have larger spreads than other instruments, such as Forex pairs, but as we've seen that's not so important for swing trading because you only need to pay the spread once. The same goes for exotic currency pairs, such as the USDCZK.
Which time frame is best?
There is no fixed answer to this question. It all depends on the trends you have identified and how long they will take to come to a conclusion.
How to start Trading
Are you eager to get started with swing trading? You can get started with the following simple steps:
- Open an account: You can see the full process for opening an account in our article How to open a MetaTrader 5 account.
- Download and install your trading platform: Either MetaTrader 4 or MetaTrader 5.
- Open the platform and make your first trade: Now, simply choose an asset and open your first trade. You can see the full process in the tutorial video below:
Once you have your account and your platform and you know how to make a trade, the next step is to create a strategy. We've shared our favourite strategies in the following sections.
Swing trading is a style, not a strategy. The time horizon defines this style and there are countless strategies that can be used.
These strategies are not exclusive to swing trading and, as with most technical strategies, support and resistance are the key concepts behind them.
These concepts give you two choices for your strategy; following the trend, or trading counter to the trend.
For either type, it's useful to have the ability to visually recognise price action, or the movement of an asset's price on the chart.
- Strategy 1: Trend trading
One simple strategy which is good for beginners to start with is trend trading.
When identifying a trend, it's important to recognise that markets don't tend to move in a straight line. Even when ultimately trending, they move up and down in step-like moves. We recognise an uptrend by the market setting higher highs and higher lows, and a downtrend by identifying lower lows and lower highs. Many swing trading strategies involve trying to catch and follow a short trend.
Look at this daily chart of EUR / USD.
Source: EURUSD, Chart D1, MT5 Admiral Markets. Data range: June 12, 2019 to January 22, 2020. Taken on January 22, 2020. Please note that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
This Japanese candlestick chart shows a downtrend lasting around 3 months moving in a typical zig-zag pattern.
In October 2019, an upward trend begins, with ever higher lows. Although the trend is bullish, there is a section in the middle, highlighted with the circle, where a reversal takes place.
During this period the market is not setting new highs, while lows are falling. After this period, running against the main trend, the uptrend resumes.
With this simple trading method we are looking to catch the bullish trend we have identified but only when we are confident it is set to continue.
How long will a pullback persist? We have no way of knowing. Instead we look for confirmation that the market has gone back to its original trend.
In other words we:
- Look for a trend
- Wait for a countertrend
- Enter the market after we see the counter trend has played out.
In this case, the tell-tale signal that we are seeking is a resumption in the market setting higher lows.
One version of this strategy would try and run the trend for as long as we can. In this version of the strategy, we do not set a limit. Why not? We don't know how long the trend might persist, and we don't know how high the market can go. So we will not try to make a prediction by setting a price target.
You have to wait, observe and allow the market to move adversely to some degree. It also means that when the trend breaks down, you will have to give back some of your unrealised profits before closing out. But that could be more than made up by riding a trend for longer.
Want to know the good news?
In the long run: with the right risk management, the profits should outweigh the losses incurred from those times when the trend breaks down.
If you're ready to try this on the live markets, Forex is one of the best markets to try swing trading. Why? It's simple - the market is open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, which means you can trade when it suits you. It is also a very volatile market, which means there are plenty of trading opportunities. And, with Admiral Markets, you can access 40+ currency pairs and live markets, absolutely free.
Find out more by clicking the banner below!
Strategy 2: Counter-trend trading
This next strategy is the opposite of the first one. We use the same principles in terms of trying to spot relatively short-term trends but now try to profit from the frequency with which these trends tend to break down.
Remember that as noted earlier:
- Uptrend = Higher highs and higher lows
- Downtrend = Lower highs and lower lows
We also saw how an early part of a trend can be followed by a period of retracement before the trend resumes. A counter-trend trader would try to catch the swing in this period of reversion. To do so, we would try to recognise the break in the trend. In an uptrend, this would be when a fresh high was followed by a sequence of failures to break new highs - we would go short in anticipation of such a reversion. The opposite is true in a downtrend.
When counter-trending, it is very important to maintain strong discipline if the price moves against you. If the market resumes its trend against you, you must be ready to admit you are wrong, and draw a line under the trade.
Strategy 3: A versatile strategy
If you'd like to take an even deeper dive into swing trading, along with learning a versatile strategy that even beginners can use, check out our recent webinar on the topic!
This webinar was a part of our Trading Spotlight series, where three pro traders share their expertise LIVE, three times a week. In this webinar, expert trader Paul Wallace shares his insights into swing trading, with live market examples:
Want to see more? You can register FREE for Trading Spotlight here.
Improving your strategies
There are several things you can try in order to improve your strategies. The first is to try to match the trade with the long-term trend. Although in the examples above we were looking at an hourly chart, it can help to also look at a longer term chart - to get a feel for the long-term trend. Try and trade only when your direction matches what you see as the long-term trend.
Another way to improve your strategy is to use a secondary technical indicator to confirm your thinking. For example: if you are a counter-trender, and are thinking of selling, check the RSI (Relative Strength Index) and see if it signals the market as overbought.
A moving average (MA) is another indicator you could use to help. A MA smooths out prices to give a clearer view of the trend. And because a MA incorporates older price data, it's an easy way to compare how the current prices compare to older prices.
You can see this in the following Forex chart of the GBP/USD pair:
Source: GBPUSD, Chart D1, MT5 Admiral Markets. Data range: from July 9, 2018 to December 2, 2019. Performed on December 2, 2019. Keep in mind that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
In the chart, the red and green smooth lines are both moving averages:
- The red line represents the moving average of 25 periods.
- The green line represents the moving average of 100 periods.
The method we are using to identify market movement is that of moving averages (MA). A shorter and a longer one. Together with this indicator as our input signal, we will use the basic stop loss and take profit.
When the red line crosses the green line, it suggests that we can see a price change in the direction of the crossing.
When does this happen?
- The red line (shorter MA) crosses above the green line (longer MA), on September 4 at approximately 4:00 p.m.
- We would buy here, looking for the price increase to continue. Keep in mind that the ascent has already begun before we receive our signal.
When trends turn against you...
What happens if we don't close a swing trade in time?
There can always be unexpected changes in price. Therefore, we must always adopt good risk management. Let's look at this with an example.
Source: GBPUSD, Chart H1, MT5 Admiral Markets. Data range: from June 15, 2016 to June 27, 2016. Performed on September 9, 2019. Keep in mind that past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.
After observing the crossing of ascending MAs we could have entered a purchase order. If we do not set our objectives correctly, with a take profit and stop loss order, a later fall can occur that causes us to lose a large part of our capital.
In the early hours of June 24, 2016, the results of the Brexit vote began to be evident.
What was the result? The value of the pound sank.
If we had maintained a long position, we would have been trapped for a long time in a very bad trade.
There was a fall of several hundred pips in less than a minute. In these circumstances, good risk management is essential. If your position is the right size compared to your capital, you can weather the storm. Below we explain how.
Managing risk in Forex
Something you might have heard about trading Forex is that the majority of traders lose money. Did you know that this is even true for successful traders?
The truth is that no trader wins 100% of the time - sometimes you misjudge the market, sometimes it moves unexpectedly, sometimes you might just make a mistake. This is where risk management and money management are so important.
In trading, but especially Forex, you have to know how to lose before knowing how to win. And when we talk about knowing how to lose, you should know how to lose little to win big. Put simply, if you can manage your risk by closing out losing trades early, this will help ensure your profits are bigger than your losses.
Some tips for managing your risk in swing trading include:
- Define your maximum acceptable loss. While you obviously want your next trade to make a profit, it's important to consider the maximum amount you are willing to lose on a trade. Once you know this amount, you can set a stop loss to close your trade automatically if it moves too far in the wrong direction - this will help protect you when you are not at your computer watching every trade.
- Don't risk your account on any one trade. No matter the size of your trading account, you should avoid risking your entire balance on a trade. If you do, you could potentially lose it all. A general rule is not to risk more than 2% of your account balance on any one trade.
- Consider increasing your account balance to diversify risk. While you might be able to open an account from as little as €200, it is better to start with a larger sum. This means you will have enough on your account to trade a variety of assets and diversify your risks. Swing trading is a longer-term style than day-trading or scalping, so you need more margin on your positions to cope with market volatility.
- Know your risk profile. One of the first things to do when you start trading is to understand your tolerance to risk and volatility . In other words, at what stage of the loss will we start to panic? Suppose you have an account balance of €20,000 and you lose €2,000, or 10% of your capital. Would your world collapse or would you consider that to be a tolerable setback? How you react to this loss will influence the risks you are willing to take in trading.
As you have now understood, a Swing Trading is a medium and long-term trading strategy. It is a strategy very dependent on the management of risk and its capital, commonly called money management swing trading.
One way to manage your risk is to manage your money effectively.
If you wanted to keep to a total exposure of 6% of your account balance, for example, you could have six trades opened, each risking 1% of your capital. In the scenario where your account had €20,000 you could have six different trades, with a maximum of €200 in each trade.
Before taking any position, you should have these numbers upmost in your mind. Your stop-loss and neutralisation positions will be determined by your predetermined limits. And from there, perform as many actions as you can without exceeding your risk limits.
And that's it!
That limit will then influence your actions - you will close a position because it is approaching your loss limit, or when the asset goes up and reaches the target profit. Or, if a trade passes the breakeven point, at which point it becomes a 'neutral' trade, you can take on a new position, without risking your risk limit.
The best tools
There are a range of tools you can use to improve your chances of success when performing these trading strategies.
Here are a range that we recommend:
- Correlation Matrix: The correlation between Forex pairs, commodities or stock indices is one element of analysis that allows the wise trader to act with confidence.
- Mini Charts: A mini charting tool allows you to analyse multiple units of time on a single chart. This means there is no need for the trader to switch from swing trading chart W1 to D1 to get on the H4 chart to find his entry point
- Admiral Symbol Info: In the same vein, this Forex swing indicator allows traders to see on a single chart the swing trading signals of the most used indicators on eight different time scales!
- Mini Terminal: The mini terminal tool allows you to open a position in MetaTrader in a few seconds, but it also allows you to open trades respecting the risk in fixed euros or in percentage. In fact, this Expert Advisors provides you with varied information related to the stock market or the currency pair in which you apply it, including the current trend, current momentum and the strength of current movements.
Other indicators that can be useful for swing traders include:
- Exponential Moving Average
- Awesome oscillator
- Parabolic SAR
- Admiral Donchian
So where can you access these tools? If you have a demo or a live account with Admiral Markets, the good news is that you can access these absolutely free with MetaTrader Supreme Edition!
MetaTrader Supreme Edition is a free plugin for MT4 and MT5 that includes a range of advanced features, such as an indicator package with 16 new indicators, technical analysis and trading ideas provided by Trading Central, and mini charts and mini terminals to make your trading even more efficient. Find out about MetaTrader Supreme Edition and download it free by clicking the banner below!
Top tips for Forex swing trading
Now that you know the basics of swing trading, and some good Forex swing trading strategies, here are our top tips to help you succeed as a swing trader.
- Align your trades with the long-term trend. Although you may be looking at a shorter-term time chart (e.g. H1 or H4), it may also help to look at a longer-term chart (D1 or W1) to get an idea of the long-term trend. Then you can try to ensure you aren't trading against a larger trend. Swing trading is much easier when trading with the trend, rather than against the trend.
- Make the most of Moving Averages (MAs). The MA indicator can help you identify trends by smoothing shorter-term price fluctuations. And because the MA incorporates old prices, it is an easy way to see how the current price compares with recent history.
- Use a little leverage. Leverage allows you to access a larger position than your deposit would typically allow, amplifying your profits (and losses). When used wisely, leverage can help you make the most of winning trades.
- Trade a wide portfolio of Forex pairs. Watch as many currency pairs as you can to find the best opportunities. The Forex market will always offer you trading opportunities, you must look for the ones that best match your style, strategies and your risk-tolerance. Trading a range of pairs will help diversify your portfolio and avoid the risk of having all your eggs in one basket.
- Pay attention to swaps. Swaps are a cost of trading - an interest charge made for positions held overnight. The cost of these swaps must be taken into account to better manage your money.
- Maintain positive profit/loss ratios. Whether H4 or daily trading, swing trading allows you to tap into large market movements, giving you the opportunity to obtain larger profit ratios, especially when compared to scalping.
- Put aside your emotions. It's better not to trade with emotion, but to execute swing trades as a part of a well-established Forex trading plan and strategy.
Choosing a Broker
Before you can start trading, you need to choose a broker. A Forex broker will give you access to the markets you want to trade, along with a trading platform to carry out your trades. However, some brokers are better than others, so it's important to keep the following in mind when making your choice:
- Are they regulated by the local regulator in your area? Admiral Markets is a Forex and CFD broker that is regulated by the FCA, EFSA, CySEC and ASIC.
- Low trading costs. The costs of trading include the spread, the swap and commissions on trades, which can eat into your profits. So it's important to consider typical trading costs.
- Flexible trade sizes. A standard Forex lot, or trading contract, is worth 100,000 of the base currency of the pair, or the first currency listed (so one lot of the EUR/USD is worth EUR 100,000). For new traders, this might be bigger than you want, so check whether your broker offers mini (0.1) lots and micro (0.01) lots for trading.
- Real-time price data. To make informed trading decisions, you need the latest market information. Good Forex and CFD brokers will offer live price data in their trading platform.
- Available leverage. How much leverage does the broker offer? In Europe, regulated brokers should offer access to leverage of up to 1:500 for Professional Clients and 1:30 for Retail Clients.
- Minimum deposit size. What is the minimum amount you need to start trading? At Admiral Markets, you can fund your trading account with as little as €200. This allows you to start small without taking significant risk and add as you learn the market behavior and psychology of independent trading.
- Risk management tools. Admiral Markets can help you reduce your trading risk with volatility protection and negative balance protection.
- Flexible trading styles. Will the broker allow you to not only swing trade, but day trade and scalp as well, if that's a part of your strategy?
- Trading education options. Does the broker offer tools and resources to help you succeed as a trader? Admiral Markets, for example, has a library of hundreds of Forex articles, free trading webinars and free courses like Forex 101.
The good news is that Admiral Markets offers all of this and more! So, if you're ready to start trading, just click the banner below to open a new trading account.
Forex Strategies: A Summary
Swing trading is a style suited to volatile markets, and it offers frequent trading opportunities.
While you will need to invest a fair amount of time into monitoring the market with swing trading, the requirements are not as burdensome as trading styles with shorter time frames, such as day trading or scalping. In addition, even if you prefer day trading or scalping, swing trading will offer you some diversification in your results as well as additional profits!
Having said that, swing trading is not right for all traders, so it's best to practice with it risk-free first, on a demo trading account. To sign up for a demo account with Admiral Markets, and start trading the markets risk-free, click here.
About Admiral Markets
Admiral Markets is a multi-award winning, globally regulated Forex and CFD broker, offering trading on over 8,000 financial instruments via the world's most popular trading platforms: MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5. Start trading today!
This material does not contain and should not be construed as containing investment advice, investment recommendations, an offer of or solicitation for any transactions in financial instruments. Please note that such trading analysis is not a reliable indicator for any current or future performance, as circumstances may change over time. Before making any investment decisions, you should seek advice from independent financial advisors to ensure you understand the risks.