As Chinese military general Sun Tzu's famously said: "Every battle is won before it is fought." The phrase implies that planning and strategy – not the battles – win wars. Similarly, successful traders commonly quote the phrase: "Plan the trade and trade the plan." Just like in war, planning ahead can often mean the difference between success and failure.
Stop-loss (S/L) and take-profit (T/P) points represent two key ways in which traders can plan ahead when trading. Successful traders know what price they are willing to pay and at what price they are willing to sell, and they measure the resulting returns against the probability of the stock hitting their goals. If the adjusted return is high enough, then they execute the trade.
Conversely, unsuccessful traders often enter a trade without having any idea of the points at which they will sell at a profit or a loss. Like gamblers on a lucky or unlucky streak, emotions begin to take over and dictate their trades. Losses often provoke people to hold on and hope to make their money back, while profits often entice traders to imprudently hold on for even more gains.
A stop-loss point is the price at which a trader will sell a stock and take a loss on the trade. Often, this happens when a trade does not pan out the way a trader hoped. The points are designed to prevent the "it will come back" mentality and limit losses before they escalate. For example, if a stock breaks below a key support level, traders often sell as soon as possible.
On the other side of the table, a take-profit point is the price at which a trader will sell a stock and take a profit on the trade. Often this is when additional upside is limited given the risks. For example, if a stock is approaching a key resistance level after a large move upward, traders may want to sell before a period of consolidation takes place.
Setting stop-loss and take-profit points is often done using technical analysis, but fundamental analysis can also play a key role in timing. For example, if a trader is holding a stock ahead of earnings as excitement builds, he or she may want to sell before the news hits the market if expectations have become too high, regardless of whether the take-profit price has been hit.
Moving averages represent the most popular way to set these points, as they are easy to calculate and widely tracked by the market. Key moving averages include the 5-, 9-, 20-, 50-, 100- and 200-day averages. These are best set by applying them to a stock's chart and determining whether the stock price has reacted to them in the past as either a support or resistance level.
Setting stop-loss and take-profit points is also necessary to calculate expected return. The importance of this calculation cannot be overstated, as it forces traders to think through their trades and rationalize them. As well, it gives them a systematic way to compare various trades and select only the most profitable ones.
This can be calculated using the following formula:
[ (Probability of Gain) x (Take Profit % Gain) ] + [ (Probability of Loss) x (Stop Loss % Loss) ]
The result of this calculation is an expected return for the active trader, who will then measure it against other opportunities to determine which stocks to trade. The probability of gain or loss can be calculated by using historical breakouts and breakdowns from the support or resistance levels – or for experienced traders, by making an educated guess.
There is a risk of loss in all trading. Crypto currencies carries significant risk and should only be undertaken by those who can afford to lose some or all of their investment.
Crypto currencies is by its nature speculative and can be volatile. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Before investing, or if in doubt about the suitability of an investment please seek independent financial advice. Crypto currencies are leveraged products. They may not be suitable for you as they carry a high degree of risk to your capital and you can lose more than your initial investment. You should ensure you understand all of the risks.