A trailing stop is an order to buy or sell a security if it moves in an unfavorable direction. Trailing stops automatically adjust to the current market price of a stock, providing the investor with greater flexibility to profit, or limit a loss. The stop level can be expressed as either a fixed dollar amount, or as a percentage of the stock’s current price. Trailing stops can also be used for short positions by establishing a trigger price above the current market price.
Once a position has begun to move in a traders favor many successful trader’s will manage that position through the use of what is known as a trailing stop. The simplest type of trailing stop is what is known as a fixed trailing stop which simply moves along behind a position as that position begins to move in the traders favor. The beauty of the fixed trailing stop, is that while it will move up behind a long position or down behind a short position as the position moves in the traders favor, if at any time the position begins to move against the trader, the stop does not move, essentially locking in a large portion of the gains the trader has made up to that point.
Most trading platforms will allow you to set a fixed trailing stop on the platform so you do not have to manually manage the order.
As we have touched on briefly in previous lessons, indicators can also be used as trailing stops. One of the more popular indicators which was designed specifically for this purpose is the Parabolic SAR which we covered several lessons ago and you should review if you have not done so already.
As we discussed in our lesson on the Average True Range (ATR), this and other methods for measuring volatility in the market are often used to set hard stops by traders when entering the market so they do not get stopped out by market noise. In addition to using the ATR as a hard stop, this and other volatility based indicators can also be used as a trailing stop, moving your hard stop along behind the position a set number of ATR’s for instance as it moves in your favor. As with a hard stop this protects your position from market noise, while allowing you to look in profits should the market begin to move against you.
Many if not all of the other indicators could also be used as trailing stops with the Moving Average probably one of the more popular here as well.
Aside from fixed and indicator based trailing stops another strategy that many traders implement is a fixed percentage of profits trailing stop. Using this method a trader will set his hard stop his profit target, and then once the market hits his profit target will then begin trailing a stop which could be any combination of the methods above. This method gives the trader a greater chance that the trade will hit his profit target but provides less protection should the market reverse and begin to move against him.