DAWN WALTON in Toronto BRIAN MILNER in New York
Shortly after the Nasdaq Stock Market opened yesterday, day trader Brent Donnelly started swapping shares in some kind of software company based in Bangalore, India.
He's not exactly sure what the Indian company does. And, quite frankly, he doesn't care. Another day trader a few desks away on the third floor of Swift Trade Securities Inc. yelled "INFY" -- the ticker symbol for Infosys Technologies Ltd. -- and Mr. Donnelly bought 500 shares.
All that mattered at the end of the day -- and after some trades in Yahoo Inc. and a semiconductor manufacturer called SDL Inc. -- was that Mr. Donnelly had made $3,761.78 (U.S.) in just 35 minutes of trading. Then he called it a day.
"This is not investing. It's technical analysis. Basically speculating based on charts," the 27-year-old Toronto man said.
While most investors clutched their chests in horror as the Nasdaq plummeted on Tuesday, Mr. Donnelly turned the freefall into his most lucrative day -- in the "five-digit range."
"People say anyone can make money in a bull market. I can make more money when the market goes down than when it's up," he said.
Mr. Donnelly is one of a growing number of people who are taking refuge from working for others to become day traders who flip stocks quickly to try to cash in on sharp increases and drops in prices.
It's a job that can be particularly lucrative in the kind of volatile markets that we've seen in recent weeks. But critics say day trading is simply another form of gambling that could turn into a compulsive addiction.
Day trading should never be viewed as a get-rich-quick scheme, said Ronald Shear, chief executive officer of Carlin Financial Group in New York.
But if you're smart about it and arguably a little lucky, day trading can be like the lottery win you've always fantasized about.
Wealth, no bosses, no employees, no power suits, long weekends and even longer vacations.
On this chilly spring morning, Mr. Donnelly looks more like a student than a high-stakes entrepreneur. He's clad in fleece cargo pants, fleece jacket and has a backpack slung over his shoulder. At first glance, most would never suspect he was formerly a currency trader with Merrill Lynch in New York.
But after three years of working in the currency markets -- he previously worked for Citibank -- Mr. Donnelly quit his job to pursue his passion for script writing in June, 1998.
"[Foreign exchange]was kind of like playing blackjack all day. In terms of intellectual growth, it started to not offer me anything," Mr. Donnelly said.
Six months ago he started day trading at Swift Trade. Now he can't imagine doing anything else.
There are more than 100 day-trading companies in the United States, but in Canada's there is only Swift Trade, based in Toronto. It has offices in Montreal, Toronto, Richmond Hill, Ont., Kelowna, B.C., Vancouver and Victoria and about 250 to 300 day traders working from those offices or home. The company will expand to seven more cities by the end of the year.
Despite Swift Trade's apparent success, Frank Switzer, a spokesman for the Ontario Securities Commission, says "day trading appears not to be as significant a phenomenon here in Canada" as it is in the United States.
Mr. Donnelly is uncomfortable talking hard numbers, but he makes more -- a lot more -- money as a day trader in Toronto then he did as a currency trader in New York. He's travelling to Australia for a month and a half later this year and he has the capital to finance his dream to get into show business.
"I would encourage anyone to try it because the upside is tremendous. . . . But from what I've seen, 80 to 90 per cent of people fail."
A recent U.S. Senate inquiry found that more than 75 per cent of day traders lose part or all of their investments, and that fewer than one in eight makes money.
The typical heavy day trader has to achieve investment gains of more than $200,000 annually to cover costs, including commissions and system access and other charges, the Senate found.
About 30 per cent of new day traders drop out after three months of trading and it takes an average of six months to become profitable, said Swift Trade vice-president Joseph Ianni.
Edward Looney, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, rhymes off investing horror stories to chill even a hardened casino bettor. In one case, a woman trying to augment the family income to pay for her children's schooling lost her entire savings of $100,000.