Last Updated on January 26, 2022 by Oddmund Groette
What percentage of day traders fail? In the midst of a speculating frenzy and the madness of crowds, it’s easy to get trapped into the belief that day trading is easy money. Survivorship bias and glamorous pics in social media make us blind to the low probabilities of making it big in day trading. The fact is this:
Between 80 to 99% of day traders fail in making any money. We have looked at plenty of research and very few traders can brag about making any significant amount of money day trading. Proprietary traders seem to fare better than retail traders (perhaps as expected).
Let’s have a look at the reports we have looked at:
What percent of day traders fail in Brazil
A pretty famous study called Day Trading For A Living made by three academics tracked 1 600 Brazilian day traders for over one year. Only 3% made money! The results might be even worse because they tracked only those who lasted over 300 days.
Also worth noting is that only 1.1% of the day traders made more money than the minimum wage.
What percent of day traders fail in Taiwan
Another frequently cited source (The Cross–Section of Speculator Skill Evidence from Day Trading) was done in Taiwan and conducted over a time span from 1992 until 2006.
The conclusions are twofold:
- Few day traders are able to earn positive abnormal returns net of fees – a small group of about 15% made more than commissions and costs.
- Variation in investor skills is an important feature of financial markets.
The authors made a second survey published in 2013 where they claimed that less than 1% of the day traders are able to predictably and reliably earn positive abnormal returns net of fees.
What percent of proprietary day traders fail (case study 1)
Do proprietary traders perform better than retail traders? After all, proprietary trading attracts traders that supposedly treat day trading much more like a business than retail traders do.
Back in 2008, a trading shop named Tuco Trading was deemed illegal by the SEC because Tuco had prop traders that were “customers in disguise”.
When the court case started Tuco had to reveal all the trading stats for their traders (or clients, if you like). Almost all traders were day traders. If we assume the papers from the court case are correct, we can conclude that even “prop” traders fare badly at day trading:
- 206 active traders per 31. December 2007.
- 33 profitable (16%).
- 173 unprofitable (84%).
- 7 with more than 50 000 USD in profits (3%).
- 57 with losses over 10 000 USD (28%).
This shows that even for day traders who treat it like a business the percent of failing traders is quite high.
What percent of proprietary day traders fail (case study 2)
After the dot com bubble, the proprietary trading shop Broadway Trading published their stats. The study is old, but we still believe it has relevance. Broadway offered both remote and office trading for its traders.
For the month of July 2001, 196 traders of 559 made a profit, which equals 35%. According to the principals of Broadway Trading, this number is below the average during the dot com bubble in 1998-2000: they claimed 79% made money in April 2000, a month in which Nasdaq fell heavily.
In February 2000, the percentage of profitable traders was 81%. For the whole of the year 2000, 42% made money while the first half of 2001 showed 42% of traders making money.
Keep in mind that the survey only separates profits or losses. Those making a living out of this are even lower.
Broadway also revealed that those trading from home were less profitable than those trading in an office together with other traders. Some trading offices had good traders and were able to have a culture of winning traders.
Why do day traders fail?
Several of the studies we have gone through claim overconfidence in trading is one of the main reasons why day traders fail. This might be correct, but the authors have overlooked one very important aspect:
Trading is a zero-sum game. Long-term investing is not a zero-sum game because you have a tailwind from increased profits and earnings. What is best – trading or investing? Trading might be scalable, but it comes at a cost in the form of a high risk of failure.
But when you are a day trader you can’t benefit from the long-term tailwind. Add to this commissions and slippage and you get a minus-sum game.
In other words, the market is “rigged” so only a few consistent traders make money. The main purpose of amateurs is to provide prey and energy for the bigger players further up the food chain, according to Victor Niederhoffer in The Education Of A Speculator.
Trading is just like poker: all the players around the table can’t win – what you win some others must lose. Who are your rivals? Who are the predators? You need to understand where you are in the food chain.
How to avoid losing money as a day trader
Day trading is about avoiding unforced errors, to borrow a term from tennis. The famous investor and partner to Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, likes to inverse. We have previously written an article where we inverted how you can improve your odds in trading: how to fail as a trader.
This blog is all about quantitative trading. We believe this is the best approach to trading. It requires study and a lot of work, but our own anecdotal evidence is that this increases the probability of reasonable success drastically.
Also, keep in mind that 80% of the job is just showing up. In trading, this means you need to be there every day to learn and get experience. Just by surviving the learning curve you probably increase your odds dramatically.
- The correct mindset for trading
- Habits of wealthy and successful traders
- Street smarts beat book smarts in trading
- Why programmers and traders are bad traders
What percentage of day traders fail? Ending remarks
Sadly, most day traders lose money because short-term trading is a zero-sum game. To avoid being a losing day trader, we recommend trying to develop a quantitative approach to trading.
What percentage of day traders fail? The evidence we compiled for this article suggests that about 80-95% of day traders lose money.