Volatility at the stock market, as seen from the decline in stock values.

A beginner's guide: What is trading and how does it work?

Trading is more than a buzzword or an ‘80s throwback. This article covers what financial trading is and how it works, step by step.

5 min read

The following statements do not constitute investment advice or any other advice on financial services, financial instruments, financial products or digital assets. They are intended to provide general information. The following statements do not constitute an offer to conclude a contract for the purchase or sale of financial instruments and financial products or an invitation to submit such an offer and to buy or sell any particular digital asset.

Stocks and ETFs are subject to high fluctuations in value. A decline in value or a complete loss are possible at any time. The loss of access to data and passwords can also lead to a complete loss.


Embarking into the world of trading can be daunting. There are fundamental financial concepts and mechanisms at play, and financial markets aren’t exactly known for being simple and easy to understand. But don’t be discouraged! This article is a roadmap to help newcomers grasp the basics of what trading is and how it works.

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

What is trading? 

Trading involves the buying and selling of financial assets, such as stocks, to earn profits based on the price fluctuations of these assets. There are different types of trading, and traders use various strategies, techniques, and tools to decide when to buy or sell different assets. The aim, however, is always to profit from the price difference.  

Here’s a simple example: When the COVID-19 pandemic began and travelling suddenly wasn’t possible, airlines’ stock prices went down — to the tune of a 12% single-day drop in mid-March. This was an opportunity for traders to buy cheap airline assets on the speculation that airline stock prices would go back up after the pandemic ended. If that happened (and it did!), traders could make a profit.

The trading time frame can range from long-term investments to short-term trades lasting minutes, hours, or days. It involves assessing market conditions and economic factors, technical analysis, and sometimes speculation. In short, it’s all about anticipating how prices will move, and then making trading decisions.

Now that you know what trading is, let's look at how it works.

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How does trading work?

The fundamental principle that makes trading work is the connection between supply and demand. When there are more buyers than sellers, demand increases — and so do the prices. When sellers outnumber buyers, demand shrinks, causing prices to fall. This can happen for many reasons: market trends, geopolitical events such as war or economic sanctions, natural disasters like droughts, or technological developments. 

Additionally, a trader's profit relies on the market price eventually matching their speculation — for example, our trader assumed that airline stock prices would increase again. If the pandemic had continued and all airline companies had collapsed, this speculation would have been wrong, and the trader would have lost money.

Trading involves a series of steps. Here's a simplified overview of how trading typically works:

  • Education and strategy: Traders have to learn about markets, different assets, and trading strategies. The more they learn, the more prepared they’ll be to make decisions — but still, that doesn't guarantee a profit. 
  • Market analysis: Traders analyze market conditions, trends, news, and indicators to identify potential opportunities. This involves studying price charts, patterns, economic data, company performance, or global events impacting the market.
  • Opening a position: Based on their analysis, traders decide when and what to buy or sell. They place orders through a broker or a trading platform. Today, that can be done on online platforms or banking apps. 
  • Monitoring and managing positions: Traders must monitor their positions, using stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and take-profit orders to secure profits. Constant monitoring helps traders react to market changes and adjust their strategies to reduce potential losses.
  • Closing positions: Traders close their positions when they achieve their desired profit, reach a predetermined stop-loss level, or when market conditions indicate a need to exit. 
  • Review and analysis: After closing a trade, traders often review their performance, analyzing what worked well and what didn't. This helps refine their strategies for future trades.
  • Risk management: Successful traders prioritize risk management. They diversify their portfolios, use appropriate position sizes, set stop-loss levels, and avoid risking too much capital on a single trade.

Remember, trading involves risk, and not all trades will result in profits! It requires discipline, continuous learning, and adapting to changing market conditions. Nothing is certain in trading: Market volatility, economic events, and even unexpected news can — and will — influence trading outcomes.

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What are the benefits of trading? 

Despite its risks, trading offers many advantages. The potential for high returns is the main motivator for many people to get into the dynamic world of trading and financial markets. There are plenty of opportunities, including: 

  • Profit potential: With skillful analysis and the right strategy, traders can benefit from both upward and downward market trends, potentially increasing their initial investment.
  • Liquidity: Markets generally offer high liquidity, since there's typically a buyer or seller available. This liquidity allows traders to enter and exit positions easily, reducing the risk of not being able to execute trades.
  • Flexibility: The time commitment and strategies of trading are flexible. Traders can opt for short-term or long-term trading, choose different financial assets, and adapt strategies based on changing market conditions.
  • Technology and tools: These days, traders rely on online trading platforms and resources that enable them to gather data, analyze, and execute trades efficiently.
  • Continuous learning: Engaging in trading means committing to ongoing learning. Traders continuously develop their skills, understanding of markets, and strategies, which might help them make better trading decisions — and potentially higher profits.
  • Independence: Trading allows individuals to take charge of their financial decisions. Traders have control over their portfolios, strategies, and the timing of their trades.

While there are plenty of opportunities with trading, it also carries risks. Market volatility, unexpected events, and fluctuations can lead to losses. Plus, it can be a lot of work — successful trading often requires discipline, a thorough understanding of markets, careful risk management, and continuous learning so that you can adapt to changing market conditions.

Take it easy and make sure to keep learning if you think trading is right for you.

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FAQ

Is trading the same as investing?

Trading and investing are both approaches to the financial markets, but their objectives and timelines are different. Investing typically involves buying assets to hold them long-term and benefit from their growing value, or appreciation, over time. In contrast, trading involves more frequent buying and selling of assets, often with shorter holding periods, aiming to capitalize on short-term price movements. While investing prioritizes long-term growth and stability, trading revolves around shorter-term gains and higher-frequency transactions.

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