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What is a Long Position?

A long position - or to be “long a stock” - means that an investor has share ownership and will receive an economic benefit if the share price rises, and vice versa. Creating and maintaining a long position is simple: an investor just buys and owns the investment. A “long-only” strategy refers to an asset manager that only buys and sells securities in the portfolio as a management strategy - they will not use options or shorting strategies as a result. Continue reading...

What does “Buy to Close” Mean?

When an investor takes a short position on an option contract by selling (“writing”) a call or put option, he or she is opening a position, which creates more open interest in an underlying security which will be handled by the brokerage house, and this is called “selling to open.” If the price changes in the underlying security in an unfavorable way, the investor will seek to get out of the short position he holds on the options contract before the option’s expiration date. To do so, the investor must buy back the option (or, really, cancel out the position by buying the same kind of contract that he or she previously sold short). Continue reading...

What is a Breakeven Price?

There will be a premium paid by investors for the right to establish positions using options. The price of the underlying security must move to a certain point for the options position to become profitable. The strike price of an options contract names the price that an investor can use to buy or sell the underlying security, but the breakeven price will be the strike price plus the amount of the investor’s premium or net debit. Breakeven price can apply to a multi-option strategy such as a spread, or to a single option position. Continue reading...

What is a Bear Squeeze?

Investors who were bearish on a stock may have chosen to short-sell shares in the hopes that they could cover at a lower price. Short selling is when a broker facilitates the actions of an investor who wishes to take on the risk of replacing sold shares of a particular stock because he or she believes the price will be lower when he or she replaces the inventory. The broker passes the proceeds of the sale (minus a fee) along to the investor who is taking the risk of replacing the shares, and charges the investor interest or fees as long as the shares are outstanding. Investors need to cover the short before prices go up and it results in a loss for them. Continue reading...

What is a Long Squeeze?

A long squeeze is when shareholders feel the pressure of falling prices and themselves sell, causing the price to fall even further. Investors encounter long squeezes fairly rarely, and it usually occurs in more illiquid stocks where a panicked investor will fear riding a stock all the way down, and not finding a buyer at a desired price. On the contrary, long squeezes are more rare in high volume, larger cap names because opportunistic investors will tend to enter names when prices are falling, as a form of bargain hunting. Continue reading...

What is a Margin Account?

A margin account is one in which an investor uses borrowed money to purchase additional securities. An investor is almost always required to use the securities in the account as collateral for the borrowed money. The objective of a margin account is for the investor to magnify gains, but the opposite can also be true, and losses may lead the investor to have to sell securities in the account to cover the loan balance. There’s more upside in a margin account, but there’s more downside too. Continue reading...

What is a Margin Call?

A margin call is a mandatory request by the custodian/broker for the account holder to add equity to the account, either by depositing cash or selling securities to raise cash. When an investor takes an account on margin, the custodian will require that they keep a certain amount of equity/cash in the account to maintenance the borrowed amount. If the account value drops past a certain level, the custodian may require the investor to add equity to the account to cover the margin balance. Continue reading...

What Does Maintenance Margin Mean?

A maintenance margin is the minimum amount of equity an investor must keep in a brokerage account to cover margin balances. Under the regulatory guidance of NYSE and FINRA, an investor has to have in equity at least 25% of the total market value of the securities in the margin account. Depending on which brokerage firm the account is held, the maintenance margin requirements could be higher. According the the Federal Reserve’s regulation titles “Regulation T,” when a trader buys on margin they must maintain key levels of equity throughout the life of the trade. Continue reading...

What is Minimum Margin?

Minimum margin is the minimum amount needed to open a margin account. The custodian or broker typically sets the minimum margin, but it cannot be for any less than the $2,000 required by the NYSE and NASD. What is 'Buying on Margin' and Margin Trading? What is a Margin Account? Continue reading...

What Does Mark to Market (MTM) Mean?

Mark to Market (MTM) is an accounting method meant to price an asset by its most recent market price. An example would be mutual funds, whose “NAV” price is a mark to market price of how much the mutual fund closed for at the end of a trading session. The mark to market accounting method has some pros and cons. On the pro side, if an asset is very liquid, then MTM will provide an accurate reflection of its current value. Continue reading...

What Does it Mean to have a "Duty of Best Execution"?

To have a “duty of best execution” means that a broker or entity fulfilling a trade request has to do so at the best possible execution for their client. The ‘duty of best execution’ is more than just a guideline - it’s an SEC law. Broker-dealers must report quarterly to the SEC on how they route customers' orders, to ensure compliance. "Best execution” refers to both timing and price. What is the Fiduciary Standard? What is the Suitability Standard? How do Advisors Charge and How Much Should I Pay? Continue reading...

What is a Limit Order?

A Limit Order is a type of order to buy or sell a security, where the trader wants to set a specific price for the trade, or any price that’s better than the price set. From a buy and sell standpoint, a buy limit order would be designed to have the trade executed at the designated price, or any price lower than that. A sell order is just the opposite, where the trader hopes to execute the trade at a minimum set price. Limit orders typically have a period of time before they are canceled, if the designated price is not reached by a certain period. Continue reading...

What is After-Hours Trading?

After-Hours Trading on the Nasdaq can take place after market close from 4-8pm EST or in the pre-market hours from 4-9:30am EST. Pre- and Post-market trading used to be reserved for large institutional investors or high net worth individuals, but is now made possible through the improvements to electronic trading networks and the demand from individuals trading from their computers at home. Interestingly, institutional investors can trade anonymously on the after-hours Nasdaq market, such that virtually no one knows what positions they take during that time. This is called trading in “dark pools of liquidity.” Traders on the after-hours Nasdaq cannot make certain kinds of trades or use certain instruments. Continue reading...

What is Margin?

The act of “going on margin” means borrowing money from the custodian of your account, in order to purchase additional securities. Another way of saying this is that you are “leveraging” your account. Investors who go on margin are trying to pump up gains in their account, but doing so means taking the risk of outsized losses if you are wrong. To take an account on margin is not free - the custodian will charge interest for the loan, and will essentially use the assets in your account as collateral. Continue reading...

What is an Alternative Trading System (ATS)?

An ATS is a platform separate from an exchange where securities are traded. ATSs provide marketplaces for buyers and sellers to transact in securities, much like a stock exchange. However, they are not available to the entire investment public, and they do not necessarily provide public information on the best prices available to traders within their system. They also do not set rules governing the conduct of subscribers and they perform no self-regulation, while exchanges perform all of these functions. Continue reading...

What is an Electronic Communication Network (ECN)?

An ECN is an alternative platform to an index for making trades. An Electronic Communication Network is a type of alternative trading system that allows for trading listed stocks and other exchange-traded products. Trading on an ECN is typically limited to institutions and broker-dealers, and trades are facilitated when the price on a buy order intersects with a price on a sell order. ECN’s must register with the SEC, and you must be a subscriber to trade on one. Continue reading...

What is Momentum Investing?

Momentum investors usually have their own models for determining whether they think a price trend (to the upside or downside) is set to continue - sometimes it’s looking at a 3 month trend, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes even longer. The idea is that once a trend is established, an investor can buy into its continuance (if its an upward trend), or sell into (or sell short) if it is an established downward trend. Momentum investing is by no means a proven method, but sophisticated investors will try to use models to increase their probabilities of success. Continue reading...

What is a Money Market?

Money markets are very short duration debt securities, essentially the equivalent of cash traded between banks and offered to investors at a very nominal interest rate. Money market securities are essentially IOUs issued by governments, financial institutions and large corporations, and they’re traded between each other in very high denominations. Retail investors can gain access to money markets via money market funds, which generally pay very low interest rates. Continue reading...

What does “Buy the Dips” Mean?

“Buying the dips” is a bullish description of investing in stocks whose prices have gone down. We say this is a bullish sentiment because a bearish investor would be more likely to interpret the downturn as a sign of impending doom, or might prefer to play it safe. A “dip” can be loosely defined as a downtrend without much momentum or evidence to support a bearish outlook. Another way of interpreting a dip would be as an oversold condition, where investor sentiment has caused the price of a quality stock to fall. Bullish investors could maximize their gains in such a scenario by buying low and selling when the stock has recovered and pushed on to new highs. Technical analysis indicators such as Bollinger Bands can be used to identify favorable buying conditions. Continue reading...

What does “Buy to Open” Mean?

When trading options, the language is slightly different than other transactions. You might be “opening” or “closing” a position with each trade. If you buy a put or call option, your ticket with say “buy to open” since you are opening a position and increasing the open interest on the underlying. Open interest is similar to trade volume in the stock markets, but it only increases with the number of outstanding positions interested in the outcome of the movements of the underlying security, and does not increase with each trade like trading volume. Continue reading...

What does “Buying on Weakness” Mean?

Instead of waiting for confirmation of reversal, “buying on weakness” means to go ahead and buy a long position (or cover a short position) while a stock is in the middle of a downtrend, in the hopes that it will reverse soon and the preemptive move will allow you to capture the entire upside. Upswings can happen very quickly, and failure to prepare for them can cost investors a lot of money. Buying on weakness is intended to put the investor in a position for maximum gains, as well as preventing losses on a short position. This is one part of the “buy on weakness / sell on strength” mantra, which is essentially the same thing as “buy low / sell high”. Continue reading...

What is a Calendar Spread?

A calendar spread is a strategy also known as a horizontal spread or time spread, in which the investor uses two options contracts, with the same strike price, on the same underlying security, but with different expiration dates. The trader will “write” (sell) the near-term one (front month) and hold the one with the more distant expiration date (back month) long. This is a debit spread, since the investor will pay more to establish this position than is received from the short sale of the near-term option: longer-term options have a greater time value than short-term options. Continue reading...

What is a Buying Hedge?

Hedging against future price risk was the main reason Futures contracts came into being. If an investor or a business knows that they need to acquire an asset or security at a future date, they might go ahead and agree to a price and have it in writing on a Futures contract. A futures contract means that an item has been sold at a stated price, and only awaits settlement at a future date. This will protect them from the risk that the price will move unfavorably in the future, and it will allow them to balance books and plan a budget with more certainty. Futures contracts are standardized and traded on exchanges. Continue reading...