How to Set Up Your Trading Screens

Modern markets have evolved into vastly complicated organisms with thousands of data points competing for attention. The challenge is to transform this information flood into an efficient set of charts, tickers, indexes, and indicators that support your profit objectives. Part of this task requires observation of broad market forces, while the balance demands a narrow focus on the specific securities used to execute your strategies.

Setting up an efficient screen layout will help you organize the data you need while allowing for fast decision-making, so you can optimize your trades.

Trading From Screens

Most traders have real-life jobs and responsibilities away from home, forcing them to access the markets through smartphones to gather the information they need to assume new risks and manage open positions.

However, some traders are able to sit at home or in a proprietary shop and trade full-time. They need more detailed on-screen information because they’re assuming greater risk. The additional data they can access at home cover the same territory as the remote participant’s screens, but in far greater detail. In addition, these traders need to set aside space for the incubation of future opportunities, with a focus on market groups not currently being traded.

How many monitors do at-home traders need to watch the markets efficiently? The answer has changed over the years because monitor prices have dropped substantially while graphics cards now routinely support multiple monitor setups. Given the low cost, it makes sense to add as many monitors as you can fit comfortably in the space set aside for the function, while not exceeding your budget or your ability to promptly analyze the information you put on them.

Building Effective Trading Screens

Generally speaking, traders need to capture the three types of information to support a comprehensive visual analysis: market observation, position management, and incubator. Each square inch of screen space wasted with unnecessary charts or data contributes to an incomplete view that can be costly in an active trading style. Nearly all traders have made the most common mistake at some point of loading up their screens with too many charts and not enough tickers.

Reserve charting for must-watch tickers, with a second group set to different time frames that link to a single symbol from the watch list. If space is limited, add a time frame toolbar to fewer charts and flip through different settings on each chart. The specific time frames you use for this analysis should match your market approach. While not set in stone, the following settings offer a good starting point, depending on your strategy:

  • Scalpers: Five-minute, 15-minute, and hourly charts.
  • Swing traders: 15-minute, hourly, and daily charts
  • Market timers: Hourly, daily, and weekly charts or daily, weekly, and monthly charts

Additional charts may include the following:

  • S&P 500 futures or SPDR S&P 500 Trust (SPY) set to a 15-minute time frame
  • Nasdaq 100 Futures or Powershares QQQ Trust (QQQ) set to a 15-minute time frame
  • CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) set to a 15-minute time frame
  • 24-hour 15-minute charts of market-moving securities such as Apple Inc. (AAPL), SPDR Gold Shares (GLD), and the US Oil Fund (USO).

If possible, keep two sets of S&P 500 futures charts: one for the U.S.-only session, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET and ending at 4:15 p.m. ET, and a second 24-hour 60-minute futures chart that tracks overnight action in Asia and Europe. This second chart is enormously useful in getting up to speed when you open your workstation in the morning.

What about a real-time news ticker? This is a personal choice, because some strategies rely on breaking news to execute positions while the majority work perfectly well with a stand-alone third-party service or a carefully curated stream on X platform (formerly Twitter).

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