Investing and trading are distinct approaches to achieving financial gains in the markets. Both methods involve participating in the market with the goal of making a profit, but they differ in their strategies and timeframes. Investors aim for long-term growth by purchasing and holding assets over extended periods, while traders capitalise on short-term market movements, entering and exiting positions more frequently to generate smaller but regular profits.
The primary objective of investing is gradual wealth accumulation over a prolonged duration. Investors achieve this by building and maintaining a portfolio comprising various asset classes, such as stocks, unit trusts or OEICs, bonds, ETFs, and other investment instruments.
Investments are typically held for many years, allowing investors to benefit from factors like interest, dividends, and stock splits. Even though markets inevitably experience fluctuations, investors generally ride out the downturns, confident that prices will eventually rebound, and any losses will be recouped. Fundamental factors, such as price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios and management forecasts, are crucial considerations for investors.
Investing is commonly associated with pension funds such as SIPPs or savings plans such as ISAs, where individuals focus on consistent capital growth and/or income over decades, rather than tracking daily performance of individual holdings.
Investors typically adopt one of two primary investment styles…
Active Investing: Active investors actively monitor the markets and make frequent adjustments to their portfolios. They seek out specific investments that aim to replicate or outperform the returns of a designated benchmark index.
Passive Investing: Passive investors follow a buy-and-hold approach, often using index tracking funds, ETFs or investment trusts, and do not regularly monitor the markets. Their objective is to match the returns of a chosen benchmark index.
Investors generally operate with a long-term investment time horizon, spanning more than one year, as reflected in their buy-and-hold strategy. The total time needed until investors achieve their financial goals depends on their investment style, strategy, and specific objectives. For example, someone saving for retirement typically has a longer time horizon than someone saving for a house down payment.
Trading involves frequent buying and selling transactions of various assets, such as stocks, commodities, currency pairs, and other instruments. The primary aim of trading is to achieve returns that outperform traditional buy-and-hold investing. While investors may be satisfied with annual returns of 10% to 15%, traders typically strive for a monthly return of 10%.
Traders generate profits by capitalising on short-term price movements, aiming to buy at lower prices and sell at higher prices, or vice versa, within a relatively brief period. This allows them to take advantage of both rising and falling markets. Selling at a higher price and then buying to cover at a lower price (known as selling short) enables traders to profit during market declines.
Unlike buy-and-hold investors who are willing to endure less profitable positions, traders seek to make profits within a specific timeframe. They often employ protective stop-loss orders, which automatically close out losing positions at predetermined price levels, ensuring controlled risk management.
Traders frequently use technical analysis tools like moving averages and stochastic oscillators to identify high-probability trading opportunities and make informed decisions about their positions. Technical analysis helps traders gauge market trends, potential entry and exit points, and overall market sentiment.
A trader’s style refers to the specific timeframe or holding period they employ when buying and selling stocks, commodities, or other trading instruments. Traders can be categorised into four main styles:
Position Trader: Holds positions for months to years.
Swing Trader: Holds positions for days to weeks.
Day Trader: Holds positions throughout the day and avoids overnight positions.
Scalp Trader: Holds positions for seconds to minutes and avoids overnight positions.
Traders typically choose their trading style based on factors like their account size, time availability for trading, level of experience, personality, and risk tolerance.
Unlike investors, traders operate with a short-term time horizon in mind. They continuously monitor the markets to seize opportunities arising from price fluctuations, aiming to maximise profits and minimise losses. Traders may hold positions for a few minutes to several days, depending on their specific strategies.
The goal of both investing and trading is to make money. Investors and traders achieve this by opening accounts and buying/selling assets like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
Both investing and trading involve risks and rewards. All assets carry the potential for gains and losses, with varying degrees of risk.
The holding period for assets differentiates investors from traders. Investors usually have a longer time horizon, typically exceeding one year. In contrast, traders hold assets for shorter periods, sometimes as brief as a few minutes.
The potential for loss is generally higher in trading due to the shorter holding periods and exposure to a diverse range of assets, including futures and swaps.
Trading demands more time, effort, market understanding, and research compared to investing. Traders often possess extensive market experience and knowledge to make informed decisions, while investors may rely on financial experts like financial advisors.
What’s more profitable, investing or trading?
The profitability of trading or investing depends on individual preferences and financial situations. Trading can be more lucrative for those with market expertise and higher risk tolerance, while investing suits risk-averse individuals seeking capital preservation.
Is trading harder than investing?
Trading is generally more demanding on time than investing. Traders need to follow a proven strategy, manage their risk carefully and control emotions effectively. In contrast, investing may be more straightforward, but it requires patience and a long-term perspective.
The Bottom Line
While trading and investing share some similarities, they are distinct approaches with different time horizons and risk profiles. Understanding the differences between the two can help individuals make informed decisions aligning with their financial goals and risk tolerance.