Retirees who gave up bingo for the stock market are mostly gone, but professional day traders are still around, basking in a volatile stock market.
The market downturn has shrunk the corps of amateurs bellying up to terminals or trading through online firms, but some firms catering to "active traders" report they are doing better than ever.
Protrader Securities in Austin, Texas, for example, has seen an increase of nearly 25 percent since a year ago, to about 650 client traders in 20 offices, said Jay McEntire, chief executive of the company. "We had some of our best months in October, November and December."
Most of Protraders clients trade for their own accounts, must have a minimum $50,000 account balance and must show they understand the securities markets and trading, McEntire said.
The purest form of day trader — a "scalper" — holds a stock for two minutes to 20 minutes and looks to make a profit in "teenies"—one-sixteenth or one-eight of a cent — on each trade, said Richard Rueb, president of DayTraders USA.
Watcher Technologies in New York, a unit of Datek, has 1,600 traders, more than double the 700 it boasted a year ago, said Paul Hinds, Watchers president. These are "the most active professional traders, who do 200 or more trades a day," he said. Watcher licenses its software to 13 trading firms, up from two firms a year ago.
New York-based Tradescape.com said it set a quarterly trading volume record in the fourth quarter, executing 196,494 trades per day. On Jan. 3, the day the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates, the firm set a single-day record of 305,422 trades for the day, or 6.7 percent of the Nasdaqs trade volume.
That day was the most volatile in the Nasdaqs history, an environment that professional traders love, said Ben Weinger, managing director at Blackwood Trading in New York.