Day Trading Income Potential For Forex Traders and CFD Traders

By Lawrence

iStock_000011489227XSmall"How much money will I make trading Forex?" is the question I am going to answer in this article.

I have posted another article, Position Sizing For Forex Traders and CFD Traders, that serves as the basis on the position sizing that will be used in this article. If you find that the assumptions in the sections below are too conservative to your taste, you can check out that article for the reasons behind.

This article is long so get yourself a cup of coffee (or tea, or energy drink, or whatever) and take your time to read it.

The Importance Of Patience

Many forex traders and CFD traders think that they need exceptional luck to make big bucks trading forex. That is not true. To make good money trading forex consistently, all you need is a half decent trading strategy with matching trading capital. You may not start out with enough capital to make a lot of money in the beginning, but that is not important. What is important is that you have to be consistent in executing your trading strategy so that you can accumulate enough trading capital.

In a sense trading forex and CFDs with very small starting capital is like the professional poker scene. Majority of the professional poker players learn their skills from trading tiny bet size tables. They do not play just a few times or even a few hundred times at those tables to gather their initial stakes for buy-ins to the major poker tournaments. They played thousands of hands to accumulate both experience and bankroll.

These professional poker players can make a decent living by continue playing poker games at tables (both real ones and online ones) offering bigger bet size. But some of them would choose to enter major tournaments to see if they can get a big break. Those who enter the major tournaments using all the money they gathered for the buy-in may not be able to take home any prize money, hence losing all the gains and have to start all over again.

In this case, those poker players are doing the same thing like the forex and CFD traders who raise their position size significantly disregarding the risk of losing everything in the trading accounts. If things work out, of course, the trader would be looking at a significant boost in the available capital to trade with. Well, if things do not work out in the trader’s favour, this trader has to start all over again.

There is no absolute right or wrong in a situation where raising the position size so much that the risk of losing all the money in the trading account becomes a real possibility. Every market scenario unfolding in real-time are different. That is the probabilistic nature of the markets. Just make sure 1. you understand the possibility of losing the account is real and possible, 2. you have considered the consequence, and most important of all, 3. prepared mentally to handle the negative outcome.

Before you get to the point of facing this decision, however, you have to have the patience to grind through the bankroll accumulation process.

Power of Scalability

Forex and CFD trading offer the most flexible position sizing options available to small traders. Hence it is possible to increase position size steadily to improve overall performance. Following is the projected performance of a trader trading euro dollar multiple times a day with average profit of 20 pips per trade expectancy and that the trader would adjust his position size every 100 trades.

CapitalTradesPosition SizeExpected Profit

Notice that in the beginning the profit per trade is expected at $6. It is a small amount. And many people who do not have experience trading would have the urge to increase their position size quickly so that they can make more money faster. The problem is that increasing position size too quickly will easily ruin the account if it is not done properly. Hence, focus on the the potential and stick to a plan that is reasonable and doable is always better than rushing towards the finish line.

Given the example above, which is not that remote for many day traders who pay attention to the price movement closely, a day trader who do 3 to 5 trades a day will likely reach 100 trades within a month or two. A very consistent trader having a stable strategy and following this plan with no accidents and no deviation from the execution of the plan, would be able to accumulate an ending balance by the end of the year (or by the end of the 600 trades) would be $48,500.

I leave out the calculation on next few levels of position size from the table. If you are paying attention, you will be able to figure that out easily. You will also be able to figure out the profit potential the same way.

This is the power of scalability. The very same trading strategy that generates only $6 per trade on average in the beginning can also generate $264 per trade on average when it is executed with position size of $132,000 instead of the original $3,000. A position size of $132,000 is not a big one in the forex markets at all. Moving positions of size $300,000 to $500,000 is also not a problem during busy market hours. Beyond that, you will have to think about your impact on the market with your orders in illiquid conditions.

Liquidity And Slippage

I just show you a very simple growth plan trading forex. It exists and it is possible to do it. It may take you 6 months. It can take you 3 years. The time needed to get to the point where you have a decent size trading account varies depending on the person. It is not something you can rush.

Just remember that by the time you get to the point of $200,000 position size, you need to stop increasing your position size at the prescribed rate. You have to start working on strategy that enables you to trade even bigger position size, or, diversify into trading other forex pairs.

Why diversify from a winning strategy when it is working so well?

The problem lies in the fact that the approach which works with small account size are mainly scalping strategies. Some people call that trading the flow. It enables you to get a piece of the action in the market and works very well up to certain extend. Such strategies will have execution problem if you try to do it in large scale. Slippage becomes a very real problem when your average profit is just 20 pips and that slippage eats into that by 5 pips or more.

Depending on the brokerage you use and also the exact strategy you are using, you may be able to push the position size larger but eventually at $500,000 range you will have to deal with the liquidity issue still. It is better to resolve the problem by keeping your current strategy to work on a reasonable size so that you have capital allocated for diversification into trading other forex pairs and/or strategies.

The Bottleneck

Consider the transition from the small account size (less than $50,000) to reasonable account size or trading capital (up to about $200,000) as the bottleneck period, it is the the most likely time when a good trader who can turn, say, a $5,000 account, into $30,000 in months, going busted in just a few weeks. A trader who can run the account up 6 times the initial capital is not stupid. The trader obviously has done something right. The problem, however, is that along the way in accumulating the capital, unlike playing pokers, the trader can easily deviate from his original working strategy to optimize for the current market environment.

Even a slight change of a good strategy will drastically modify the risk profile and performance of the strategy. In this situation, however, the trader most likely does not even know he is drifting away from his working method because relaxed money management can often get away in certain market conditions that are more forgiving. Hence it is important for the trader to make sure the trading plan is followed properly.

If the trading plan is followed rigorously but the performance is still slipping, it is important to give yourself time by reducing the position size and observe objectively if the strategy is no longer working, or, it is just one of those periods where the method has a tough time making money.


By keeping your original strategy to trade at a reduced position size, you get to give yourself some room to test out new strategies. For example, if you successfully traded your account from $1,000 to $25,000, you may consider lowering your position size to base on just $15,000. Then use the other $10,000 as your capital for testing new strategies.

It is best to keep the position size as small as possible for the new strategies. This time, however, you are not cash strapped to just the $1,000 you start with. You can try out multiple strategies with say $2,000 behind each experiment. As long as you are doing this carefully like how you first started, this will speed up your process in finding new ways to trade your account more efficiently.

Swing To Win

Many professional day traders trading forex make only 50 to 60 pips a day net on average. It is not that much at all. They do not scalp that often as it is easier to maintain multiple positions trading the swings. The take home profit per unit traded stays approximately the same as trading the flow, although with few trades. The reason for the similarity in performance is that capturing swing profits require relatively larger risk per trade which is not feasible with very small trading accounts.

These traders are making decent amount of money because they are doing it with size. Yet, we seldom hear or read anyone telling this simple truth to the beginners. It is their hard earned wisdom. I guess not that many people like to share this.

Those home runs we hear people keep talking about are the glory trades. They are also talking points in social gathering but they are not the norm. Beginners often confuse that these glory traders are the reasons why some traders can make it big. The glory trades are just frosting on top of a sustainable trading career. They are done on the side with limited risk and usually do not affect the daily trading routines of these traders.


The secret to trading forex successfully for most retail traders is to start small and learn to trade the flow. After accumulating enough capital, the trader will have to learn the next set of skills to master swing trading, even if the timeframe is just day trading. By then, the trader will be able to carry decent position size, making it possible to make a good living off the trading profits.

The income potential of trading forex and CFDs is not that different from trading the emini S&P (see Day Trading Income Potential For Index Trader) with similar trading capital. The difference, however, lies in the transition issue mentioned above.

Traders trading the emini S&P index futures do not suffer from this problem in general because of its better liquidity at each smallest price increment (probably one of the best markets in this aspect) and non-directional volatility (allowing efficient scalping).

Traders trading forex can start out with smaller account size and have the advantage of being able to trade smaller position size and easier to scale up the positions with very small incremental size but have to deal with the slippage issue later if their trading style depends heavily on very small profit targets.

No one can speed up the process of evolving from trading the flow to trading the swings for you. You need the experience yourself so that you can handle changes to the trading environment in the future without going into a panic. As I mentioned many times in my other writings, it takes personal growth to make you a consistently profitable trader.


  • emmax2alfa May 26, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Wow! This is highly insightful,truly encouraging and timely information for me. It has strengthened my hope and solidified my resolve to trade the Forex market rightly and profitably. Thanks a great deal Lawrence Chan.

    • Lawrence Chan May 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

      You are welcome.

      Stay the course, plan it wisely and trade small until you find your way.

  • cosmin October 27, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I just don’t understand. Those 100 tardes steps. Are 100 winning trades only?

    PS. Respect for the great work.

    • Lawrence October 28, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      Using 100 trades as a unit of measurement is to make it easier to compare and scale the results.

      Within every 100 trades of course there are winners and losers. The key, however, is that a consistent performing trader would have positive expectancy from those 100 trades.

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