Q&A: I'm an Equity Prop Trader
I'm currently an equity prop trader in NYC. Academically, I majored in Finance and graduated towards the top of my class at a semi-target. Hard work and persistence allowed me to get 3 nice job offers (MM S&T Chicago, prop NYC, prop NYC) despite a rough economy. I very systematically analyzed and perfected the job search process, so I think I can speak intelligently on resume / interviews / networking / general thoughts for people still in school.
From a trading perspective, some good areas to ask may be about the mental aspects of the job, what I like/dislike, different strategies, arguments about efficient markets / HFT, industry culture, advice, favorite books, best lessons. And of course since this is an "ask me ANYTHING" I will do my best to also answer any embarrassing, trolling, or unrelated questions provided I stay anonymous and do not discuss anything too stock/strategy specific.
Overview of the Average Day for a Proprietary Trader
I usually get in around 8am. I'll check where the indices are, check any overnight positions I may have, and start looking at what news has come out and what stocks are moving pre-market. Once I get settled, I start getting a feel for what stocks I find the most interesting and develop a list, making a few trades if there is anything good.
The open is obviously the most exciting and hectic time, so I'm very focused and really zone in prior to the 9:30 open. Just prior, I mentally review and visualize what I need to do and how I need to act - decisive, aggressive, and agile. Off the open, there is a lot of shouting within my group as we look for the best opportunities. Especially in this current market environment, things start to slow down around 10am and you can take a nice deep breath and assess what you did well, did poorly, and missed.
From 10am through 3:30pm, I do whatever I feel like. For discipline reasons, I pretty much never leave my desk. Once a week I'll go out for lunch, but besides going to the bathroom, I am in my chair with an eye on the screen ready for any opportunity. You never know when a day-making, month-making, or year making opportunity may occur, so I personally am very strict about being in my seat. I'll set alerts for any trades I may find interesting, but for the most part I am largely just sitting around. I'll listen to music, watch movies, or surf the internet, but no matter what my hands are on the keyboard and I'm ready to act.
The market close can sometimes have a little excitement, so we do focus in more than midday. I'll trade earnings afterhours if there is something interesting. By 4:30 most days, I'm done trading and will review the day and look over some charts. You get better through experience, but a lot of progress is made reviewing your day and the opportunities that occurred. Most days I'll leave by 5:30pm. The job is very mentally draining so I find it hard to do much more than that, but even after leaving if it was an exciting day, you don't stop thinking about it. If it was a bad day, you go home and drink.
Good Books to Read for Prop Trading Career
- Market Wizards
- One Good Trade
- Michael Lewis Books
- Pit Bull
- Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
- Mark Douglas
Why Prop Trading vs. Sales and Trading?
To this day, I have my questions regarding the decision. Prop trading has been very slow these past few years. It is way different than if I started in like '07 for all the craziness. I chose prop because I wanted to be hands-on immediately, have the huge upside immediately, the environment is a lot of fun, and I was coming off of a very bad internship from a large firm. I will still say that there is no cooler job than prop trading when things are good and the market is moving. The excitement and challenge and fun is unmatched. That being said, coming out of college, I failed to properly appreciate the risk of a slow market, how niche the skillset is, and how nice it would be having a salary and a more tangible skillset at a bank. Time will tell whether I made the right decision.
What is the Outlook for the Prop Trading Business?
It is a difficult place to be in right now. Volume and volatilty is very slow. People in equities, options, commodities are all struggling. I have friends at various firms in NYC, friends in Chicago. Nobody is loving it right now. People in commodities are still struggling from the MF Global collapse... Equities are facing more and more regulation and talks of transation taxes, etc. I am bearish on the short-term outlook (1-2yr).
That being said, everything is always cyclical. There will be more bubbles, more panics, more volatility, and more volume. I have no idea when. But it will always happen and prop trading will be strong again. The world needs traders. There will always be a need for them at some level. But right now with low volatility and volume and increased scrutiny, it isn't as strong.
How Do You Develop an Idea for Investment?
I develop trading ideas and strategies through a lot of thought and creativity. Some ideas come from market observations and tons of time in front of the screen. Others come from a more intuitive hunch. People argue that markets are efficient which really dissuades people from thinking in-depthly about ways to beat the market, but there are tons of ways out there. You need to constantly be observing and wondering if there is an edge in EVERYTHING.
You need to always be asking Does X happen when Y occurs? What is the reward of that? What is the risk? What could I be missing? Why might this edge exist? You then need to look historically, if possible and see how it has performed. A lot of people are too busy saying "no way that would ever work," but a good day trader trusts his instincts, goes for it, and hammers out the details later. Markets make some very obvious mistakes. For compliance reasons, I need to be vague so I apologize. But as a very simple example, you could test whether stocks that have gone X% in Y days tend to follow momentum or mean-reversion. Then you could refine it and say of those stocks, is there any reason why Basket A reversed while Basket B had continuous momentum?
Also, for the type of trading I do, not much math at all. You do need a good quick intuitive feel for numbers and percentages though. If the market is up 1%, this stock should be up X%. Also, I am constantly doing rough expected value calculations in my head. I think this has an X% probability of success, and Y risk, Z reward so I want to buy ABC amount of shares. Having a good feel for gauging these estimated probabilities and risk/reward is super important
How Do You Break Into Equity Proprietary Trading?
You already have the answer. You break-in from unusual backgrounds by HAVING that desire and DEMONSTRATING it. You can do this by networking and having intelligent discussions with people in the industry, trading your account, blogging about your trades, tweeting on Stocktwits, learning about the markets. You need to be able to talk and speak intelligently about trading so that you can really impress someone and then make sure you somehow get in front of the guys making the decisions. Take every possible opportunity there is. I got one of my job offers through non-stop persistence. Another I got through networking properly and sending out some low-chance of success emails that actually got responded to.
Learn more about prop trading in the video below.
Read More About Prop Trading on WSO
- Prop Trading Vs BB Trading
- I'm Trying To Get Into Prop-Trading From A Non-Target School
- Prop Trading Interview
Looking to Break into the Hedge Fund World?
Want to land at an elite hedge fund use our HF Interview Prep Course which includes 814 questions across 165 hedge funds. The WSO Hedge Fund Interview Prep Course has everything you'll ever need to land the most coveted jobs on the buyside.