Trading vs investing: what’s the difference?
The terms 'trading' and 'investing' are often used interchangeably, but there are key differences between these two methods of attempting to profit from financial markets. Explore both trading and investing in our in-depth guide.
Trading vs investing: an overview
Trading and investing both involve taking a position on a financial market in order to profit from price movements. However, they pursue this goal in vastly different ways. While investors will physically buy the asset in question, traders will take a speculative position on the underlying market price.
Investors will take a longer-term look at markets, assessing the future health and growth prospects of a company over years and even decades. Traders or speculators will look at rising and falling markets over a shorter time frame in order to profit from volatility.
Read on for our detailed explanations of trading and investing.
Basics of investing
Investing is the traditional ‘buy and hold’ strategy, in which an individual will buy an asset outright with the intention of holding it for a long period of time and selling it for a profit at a later date. Please, note that IG International doesn´t offer this possibility, with us you can only trade in CFDs.
Investing is used as an alternative means of generating a return on cash. While you could let your savings sit in a bank and earn interest, you could choose to take a risk with your capital and invest. While investments can result in losses, they can also earn you a lot more than you put in.
The most common market for investors is the stock market, which is the exchanging of shares or equities. Shares are portions of ownership in a company, so when you own a share, you are entitled to certain rights. These can include votes on a company’s decisions and a portion of the company’s earnings in the form of dividend payments – if dividends are paid by the company.
Other markets usually available to invest in include ETFs and investment trusts.
ETFs are a form of investment that are bought and sold on exchanges, much like stocks. They track the performance of an underlying basket of assets, whether this is a group of stocks, an entire index, sector, or group of commodities or currencies.
Investment trusts are funds that enable investors to pool their money together with others and gain exposure to a broad range of assets through a single position. They are set up in the same way as public companies and are traded on exchange. They have a board of directors and management team who make decisions about where to allocate the funds capital.
Investors could also choose to explore physical asset markets such as real estate, precious metals and jewellery.
As a general rule, investors believe in diversifying their holdings in order to lower the risk of their entire portfolio underperforming. The idea is that by spreading out your capital across asset classes, if one decreases, the other holdings will remain profitable enough to balance out the loss.
Investing time frame
Traditionally, investing has a longer time frame than trading, as it can take years for the desired returns to accumulate.
However, individual investors will have different ‘time horizons’ – which is the term used to describe how long an individual expects to hold onto an investment. These time horizons will be dictated by the individual’s chosen method of investing, their goals and the style of investing they employ.
The longer the time horizon, the more aggressive an investor can be in their portfolio management. Typically, if an investor has a shorter time horizon (meaning they want to make money faster) they will need to be more conservative in their asset selection – choosing shares or ETFs they are sure will produce the returns needed. With a longer time horizon, investors can look at ‘off-the-beaten-track’ stocks. While riskier, these may result in unexpected returns.
As the time frame for investing is so long, the actual day-to-day time commitment is significantly less than that required for trading. As company announcements are only released quarterly, the fundamental analysis required for long-term investing can be done around these significant points in the year. And as there is little focus on short-term movements, investors won’t need to pay too much attention to news reports that could cause interim volatility.
Initial capital required for investing
Investors will be required to put down the entire value of the asset to open a position. So, if an investor wants to buy five shares that are currently worth £100 each, he would have to pay £500 upfront.
Returns from investment
Most investors will aim to achieve returns of 10%-15% annually. There are two main avenues of profit for investors, these are:
- Dividend payments – which can be paid by companies to their shareholders, depending on the company’s performance
- Capital appreciation – which is the difference between the price you bought the asset at and the price you sell it for. This is known as return on investment, or return on investment (ROI)
Dividend payments will vary from company to company and can change throughout the year depending on a company’s performance – sometimes dividends may not be paid at all. This makes it important to read earnings announcements each quarter.
The return on the investment will only be received once the investor has closed the position by selling the asset in question. Once the shares are sold, the investor would be able to reinvest immediately or withdraw the cash to his bank account once the shares have ‘settled’.
Cost of investing
An important thing to remember, is that you’ll also need to consider the fees associated with investing – high broker fees can eat into any returns that you make. This is why it is so important to compare your broker against others to ensure you’ll be getting the best service for your money.
Taxes for investments and benefits
When you invest, your positions may also be subject to additional fees or taxes depending on the country where the company is listed. Tax laws are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances. Tax laws may differ in jurisdictions.
Risks of investing
When you invest, your risk is capped at the price at the purchase price of the asset. You won’t lose more than you paid for the asset in the first place – additional fees excluded.
Continuing the earlier example, if you paid £500 to open a position on five shares worth £100 each, and the share value fell all the way to zero, you would lose £500. This is known as equity risk.
Each investor’s level of acceptable risk is different. Investors should calculate their risk appetite based on their financial goals, how much time they can dedicate to portfolio management and how much capital they have available.
Styles of investing
There are two styles of investment that you could use: passive and active.
Passive investing involves using benchmark funds, such as ETFs and mutual funds, that will mimic the returns of the underlying asset. This style of investing tends to be more long term and isn’t concerned with the shorter-term movements of an underlying asset.
Active investing involves a more hands-on approach, which is why many individuals will choose to use a fund manager that makes most of the choices on their behalf. Active investors will aim to beat the average returns of the market and so use a lot of fundamental and technical analysis to identify the most advantageous buy and sell points.
Basics of trading
Trading involves speculating on the future price of a market via derivative products. These products take their value from an underlying asset, and do not require a trader to own the asset in order to take a position.
Traders can not only open the more traditional ‘long’ position, but they can take advantage of markets that are falling in price too – known as going ‘short’. This opens up a whole other avenue of potential profit.
Markets to trade
When you trade, you’ll be able to take a position on a wider variety of asset classes, and you won’t need to worry about the intricacies of taking ownership of the asset – such as delivery of currencies or commodities.
With IG, you can trade a range of asset classes, including:
- Shares. When taking a position on a share, it is important to research the company, the industry and the stock exchange it is listed on. Unless your provider offers out-of-hours trading, your dealing will be confined to the exchange’s opening hours
- Indices. A stock index enables you to trade on the performance of a group of shares, rather than just one company. As there are many constituents that can move the market, stock indices tend to see more volatility than individual shares
- Forex (FX). This is the world’s most liquid and volatile financial market due to the vast number of currency dealers. Traders can buy and sell currencies 24 hours a day, five days a week. IG also offers weekend trading on a number of assets.
- Commodities. Trading commodities provides vast opportunities for profit, but the nature of the market creates a high level of risk. The price of commodities can fluctuate constantly as the rate of their production and consumption changes
- Cryptocurrencies. These digital assets can be speculated on just like physical currencies. The crypto market is known for its volatility, which can create an exciting landscape for traders but does present unique risks
With us, trading takes place via CFDs.
CFDs are derivatives, which means that you only have to put up a small deposit to gain exposure to the full value of a trade. While this will magnify profits, it will also magnify losses. This is why learning about the risks of trading is crucial for anyone who is starting to trade.
Before you start to trade, you should decide if this method suits you.
A CFD is an agreement to exchange the difference in the price of a market between the opening and closing of a trade. There are some benefits to trading CFDs, including potential tax benefits -that may differ in different territories- and having negative balance protection1
Trading time frame
Trading timeframes are significantly shorter than investing holding times – while investors will hold positions for years, traders will hold positions for just minutes, hours, days or weeks. The time frame of a trade completely depends on the style of trading you choose to use.
Whereas investors ignore smaller market movements, and focus on the longer-term trend of the market, traders aim to open positions more frequently to take advantage of volatility around key events and intraday activity.
Initial capital required for trading
When you open a CFD position, you would put down a small initial deposit – the margin – which is a percentage of the full value of the trade. This is why leveraged trading is sometimes referred to as ‘trading on margin’. This initial funding is often presented as a percentage of your total trade.
So, as before, let’s say you want to buy five shares that are currently worth £100 each. If you wanted to invest, you’d have to put up all £500 to open the position. But if you decided to trade using leveraged products instead, you might only have to pay 20% of this (£100) to open the position.
Returns from trading
The exact amount of profit a trader will be set to make will depend on the strategy they use, their risk management practices and the amount of capital they put down in the first place.
When you trade using leverage, any profits made would be magnified. You would only need to put down an initial deposit to gain full market exposure. Any subsequent profit (or loss) is then calculated using the full value of the trade, not this initial payment.
Trading can be potentially lucrative, but it is also risky – this makes it important to learn about the risks associated with trading.
While investors might seek to generate annual returns of 10%, traders will be looking to generate the same average return each month. These profits are made by being proactive in a short timeframe through the frequent buying and selling of assets – taking advantage of both rising and falling markets.
In contrast to buying and holding assets as investments, there is no dividend yield from a CFD position. Instead, positions are adjusted to reflect the change in the underlying market.
Cost of trading
There will be some charges associated with each trade. In most cases this fee is in the form of a spread, which we charge on top of the market price. The spread is the difference between the bid and ask prices and can vary depending on market conditions.
Spread charges apply to CFD trades for all markets except shares. For every shares CFD trade, you’ll pay a commission instead of a spread.
Other potential charges include overnight funding fees, guaranteed stop premiums and any extra services you choose to use, such as direct market access, advanced charting packages and data streaming.
It’s also important to be aware of the maintenance margin, which is the term for the additional funds that might be required if your open position starts to incur losses that are not covered by the initial deposit. If this happens, you could get a notification from your provider – known as a margin call – asking you to top up the funds in your account. Failure to do so can result in your position being closed and the loss to your account being realised.
Taxes for trading and benefits
When you trade, the tax your position is subjected to will depend on the country where the company is listed. In some countries, CFDs have no pay stamp duty and any losses can be offset against profits for CGT liabilities – making them a useful instrument for hedging
Tax laws are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances.
Risks of trading
CFDs come with a unique set of risks as they are leveraged products. While leverage can magnify profits, as we’ve seen, it can also magnify your losses. To help restrict your potential losses from trading, there are a variety of ways that you can manage your risk with IG.
The most common are stops and limits. Stops automatically close your position when the market moves against you by a specified amount. You can choose from three types of stop:
- Basic. Closes you out as near as possible to the price level you choose. A basic stop may be affected by ‘gapping’ overnight or in times of high volatility
- Guaranteed. Closes you out at the level you requested, regardless of whether the market gaps. This will incur a small premium, but only if the stop is triggered
- Trailing. Moves with your position when the market moves in your favour, but locks in as soon as the market starts to move against you
Limits, meanwhile, do the opposite, closing your position when the market moves a specified distance in your favour. Limits are a great way to secure profits in volatile markets.
You can learn more about financial markets and managing your trading risk with IG Academy’s series of online courses.
Styles of trading
A trading style is a set of preferences that determine how often you’ll place a trade and how long you will keep those trades open for. It will be based on your account size, how much time you can dedicate to trading, your personality and your risk tolerance.
There are four main trading styles:
- Day trading. As the name suggests, this style involves opening and closing positions within a single day – this is so that there are no risks or charges associated with holding positions overnight
- Scalp trading. This style involves opening and holding a position for a very short amount of time, from a few seconds to a few minutes at most. The aim is to take small but frequent profits
- Swing trading. The aim of this style is to focus on the body of a larger move, rather than identifying the start and finish of a trend. Positions are held from days to weeks
- Position trading. This style is the most similar to investing, as it involves holding positions for a longer period of time, depending on the overarching market trend. This could be months to years
To start trading, you should:
- Create a live account
- Choose an asset to trade
- Open your first position
If you don’t feel ready to trade on live markets, you can always open an IG demo account to practise trading in a risk free environment.
1Negative balance protection applies to trading-related debt only and is not available to professional traders
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