Every weekday morning, Greg Hansen joins the crush of commuters headed into downtown Salt Lake City. By 7:30 a.m. he is sitting at a computer terminal, ready for the day's work.
But unlike most office workers, Hansen has no guarantee of a paycheck for his labor. In fact, on any given day, he is just as likely to end up losing money as making it.Hansen is part of the growing legion of "day traders," individuals who buy and sell stocks in lightning fast trades that they hope will net them some cumulative profits at the end of the trading day. Rarely do they keep their shares even overnight, let alone for the long term, the mantra of conventional equity investors.
Asked if he is making a living day trading, Hansen concedes that he is not. At least not yet.
"I could be," he said, "but right now I'm in my capital-building stage. I'm leaving everything in" the trading account.
Many people day-trade on the Internet from home, but Hansen is one of some 50 Utahns who buy and sell their shares at Maverick Trading, 12 W. Broadway, a small brokerage firm that accommodates people like Hansen who have given up their "regular" jobs to pursue the risky business of trying to make money on the small price differentials that exist, briefly, on some stocks during the day.
It's safe to say that the phenomenon of day trading is a direct result of the bull market of the 1990s in which millions of people, many of whom had never previously invested in anything more exotic than a back CD, now view the stock market as a road to riches. Would they feel the same following an extended bear market? Not likely.
Commissioned stock brokers buy and sell stocks as well, but there are some crucial differences between brokers and day-traders: Brokers make their trades using OPM, other peoples' money -- day traders use their own. Brokers buy and sell shares for their clients to be held for months or years, not seconds or minutes. And brokers make their commissions whether they win or lose, buy or sell. Day traders don't.
Maverick is currently the only broker in Utah catering to day traders, but the firm is likely to have some competition within the next month or two. According to Tony Taggart, director of the Utah Securities Division, there are several applications on file with the division from companies that want to begin offering day-trading services.
That would fit with the national trend. According to the North American Securities Administrators Association, or NASAA, there are an estimated 5 million Americans currently day-trading on the Internet, but only 2,500 to 3,000 are using firms like Maverick. But the number is growing, and regulators wonder if some people aren't getting in over their heads.
James H. Lee, chairman and president of the Electronic Traders Association, terms day-trading brokerages a "viable business" with "boundless opportunities," but NASAA executive director, Philip Feigin, says that for the average investor, day trading "isn't investing, it's gambling."
Taggart, the Utah securities chief, says that with just one firm currently offering day trading here, the business is still in its infancy locally and it's too soon to tell what the impact will be.
"I've talked to my fellow regulators in Colorado, and there's a lot going on over there, but it really hasn't hit here yet," he said, adding that there have been no complaints made to his office concerning Maverick Trading.
"We haven't gone into Maverick, but we need to review their activities. It's on our list of things to do. Until then, we won't know how that company fits the model."
Taggart says his problem with day-trading firms is that few of them belong to the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). Instead, most have chosen to join the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, for reasons he says are unclear.
Under federal rules, a broker may pick his own SRO, or self-regulating organization, usually the NASD or New York Stock Exchange. Utah security rules, he said, require they be members of the NASD, and the division is currently trying to decide whether to waive that rule.
Many of the day-trading firms across the United States currently require their customers to put up a minimum of $25,000 to $100,000 to open a day-trading account, but Chad Miller, managing partner of Maverick Trading, says his company has no such barriers.
"I've had people with $10,000 and people with $500,000. It depends on what they're comfortable with," he said.
Day trader Hansen said Maverick Trading charges him a commission of 2.5 cents per share on his trades, which are usually in lots of 1,000 shares. That amounts to a $50 "round trip" (buy and sell) which is pretty close to what a discount broker charges and the same or a little less than an online broker.
Most people get into day-trading by word of mouth, said Hansen.
"Some friends of mine who have been in the market for years got me into it. I had invested for years, but I wanted to me more hands-on and shorter term to create more income on a daily basis."
As noted above, that hasn't happened yet, and he is careful about recommending day trading to others.
"It's a lot of work and research. It depends on a person's personality, but it's definitely not for everyone."
Miller said Maverick Trading offers its traders more than such Internet firms as E-Trade or AmeriTrade.
"We actually provide people with access right into the NASDAQ and New York markets. Those others are not much more than browser sites, glorified e-mail."
How does day-trading work? Miller points to software giant Microsoft, which at one point Monday was up $5.
"If you had bought Microsoft at the right time and rode it up, you could have made $5,000 on one trade. But you had to time it right."
Sounds like easy money, but it isn't, said Miller. "Everyone glorifies it, but it's hard work. We try to help people understand what they're getting into so they can be successful. You can't just turn on the computer and buy a stock and hope you make money."
Most of the action, he said, occurs in the first 90 minutes and the last 90 minutes of the trading day. And the more volatile the market, the better day traders like it. When stocks are bouncing around, that creates opportunities for fast trading.
Miller said Maverick offers new clients eight hours of instruction in day trading as well as the opportunity to experiment with "fake trades" before committing real money.
"If you can't be successful playing for fake money, you can't be successful playing for real," he said.