Overtrading: everything you need to know

Traders have to think on their feet when buying and selling assets. But if they don’t stick to their trading plan, it can lead to unsound practices such as financial overtrading. Let’s explore the risks and effects of overtrading.

What is overtrading?

Overtrading is the excessive buying or selling of financial instruments, also known as churning. In other words, having too many open positions or using a disproportionate amount of money on a single trade. There are no laws or regulations against overtrading for individual traders, but it can be damaging to your portfolio. For trading brokers, overtrading may hold serious consequences, as they are regulated bodies.

Your trading style is an important component of trading volume. This means that your preferred style should guide you in terms of whether you are overtrading or undertrading. For example, if you’re a position trader, and you are trading once a day, you are likely to be overtrading.

Read more about trading styles

Overtrading vs undertrading: what’s the difference?

Overtrading is the opposite of undertrading. Undertrading typically means there is little or no trading activity even when there are opportunities to trade. When traders don’t use their funds for an extended period, hold very small positions, or have very strict entry conditions, they may be at risk of undertrading.

The biggest cause of undertrading is the fear of losing money. But, if you don’t trade, you could miss out on the right opportunities. Traders who have not set up a trading plan, and just watch stocks as they go, are also at risk of undertrading.

Causes of overtrading

Overtrading is caused when a trader or trading broker does not adhere to the limits of their strategy. They feel tempted to increase their trading frequency without consulting their trading plan, which can lead to poor results. To prevent overtrading, you can amend your trading plan at any time, making it more restrictive – adding strict entry and exit criteria.

Overtrading is also caused by emotions such as:

  • Fear: individual traders often overtrade in an attempt to make up for a loss
  • Excitement: traders can be tempted to open positions without analysis when the markets are moving quickly
  • Greed: when traders are making a profit, they want to make even more money

How to avoid overtrading

To avoid overtrading, it is best to have a comprehensive trading plan and risk management strategy in place. There are also other measures you can take, namely:

  1. Avoid emotional trading: distinguish between rational and emotional trading decisions, and back up your decisions with clear analysis
  2. Diversify your portfolio: if you often have more than one position open, you can help minimise risk by spreading your investment across asset classes
  3. Only use what you have: decide how much you want to risk, but never trade using more capital than you can afford to lose

When it comes to your trading plan, elaborate on your goals and motivation, the time and money you have available, risk management and your market knowledge.

Goals and motivation

Outline what drives you to trade. Is it for potential profits? Or is it simply to learn more about how financial markets work? It’s important to not only write down why you want to be a trader, but also what type of trader you want to be. There are four common trading styles, namely scalping, day trading, swing trading and position trading.

Finally, you should log your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly targets.

Time and money

Decide how much time and money you want to commit to trading. Remember to factor in the time you’ll need to prepare, learn more about the markets, analyse financial information and practise on a demo account . Then, decide how much of your money you can dedicate to trading. Never risk more than you can afford to lose.

Risk management

Decide how much risk you are prepared to take on. All financial assets carry risk, but it is up to you how aggressive your risk strategy will be. Risk management includes outlining your preferred stops, limits and risk-reward ratio.

Read more about risk management

Market knowledge

Before you start trading, it is very important that you do your research on the markets and write down your learnings. Evaluate your expertise and interest before you jump into trading and keep a trading diary to learn from your past mistakes.

Overtrading: risk management

Managing the risk of overtrading starts with a trading plan. Regardless of your level of experience, the type of trader that you are, or the money you have to spend, you need a well-thought-out trading plan. Once you have this blueprint, you will be able to assess whether you are overtrading (or undertrading).

As part of your trading plan, you need a risk management strategy. This will include the rules and measures you put in place to ensure the impact of making a mistake is manageable. There are three main types of risk in trading:

  • Market risk: the possibility that you may suffer a loss due to movements in market prices, caused by factors such as interest rates and exchange rates
  • Liquidity risk: the risk that you can’t buy or sell an asset quickly enough to prevent a loss
  • Systemic risk: the chance that the entire financial system might be affected by an event

There are two practical risk-management techniques you can use to make sure you’re not overtrading:

Calculate your maximum risk per trade

Choosing how much to risk per trade is a personal choice. It can be anything from 1%, and up to 10% for traders who can take on a lot of risk. But if you risk as much as 10%, it could only take five trades to lose 50% of your trading capital, which is why it is normally advisable to use a lower percentage. You have to make sure your risk percentage is sustainable and that you can still reach your trading goals with the amount of risk that you’re taking on.

Work out your preferred risk-reward ratio

To find the risk-reward ratio on a trade, compare the amount of money you're risking to the potential gain. So, if your maximum potential loss on a trade is £200 and the maximum potential gain is £600, then the risk vs reward ratio is 1:3. Many traders like to stick to a risk-reward ratio of 1:3 or better.

Overtrading summed up

  • Overtrading is the excessive buying or selling of stocks. It can mean having too many open positions or using a disproportionate amount of money in a single trade
  • The opposite of overtrading is undertrading. This typically means there is little or no trading activity
  • Overtrading is caused when the limits of a trading strategy are not adhered to. It can also be caused by emotions such as fear and greed
  • To avoid overtrading, it is best to have a comprehensive trading plan and risk management strategy in place
  • There are two practical risk-management techniques you can use to make sure you’re not overtrading – calculating your preferred maximum risk per trade, as well as the risk-reward ratio

Now that you know more about the importance of your strategy and trading frequency, you can start trading. Open a live trading account if you’re ready to start today, or open a risk-free demo account if you’d like more practise.

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