Pressure on Day Trading to Can Its Bad Apples

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Running a dangerous game isnít against the law Ė- as long as everybody knows the rules. Thatís the message a group of state securities regulators is sending in a new report on day trading released Tuesday. According to the regulators, some day-trading firms -- including All-Tech, one of the companies used by Atlanta gunman Mark O. Barton -- have not only been under-disclosing to clients the risks associated with this very risky business, but also have been arranging trader-to-trader loans, thus ensuring the flow of commissions while the trader, often, sinks deeper into debt. Such loans, said Massachusetts regulator William Galvin, are brokered "using the same rhetoric as bunko artists and Ponzi schemes."

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Day-trading, either done independently or under the umbrella of firms that set up clients with high-speed equipment and a trading room in exchange for commissions, is certainly a dangerous game. "The markets move very fast, and something like 90 percent of people who try this arenít successful," says TIME Wall Street columnist Dan Kadlec. But failure isnít against the law, and after the reportís release, trading firms were scrambling to remind regulators -Ė and the public -Ė that a few unscrupulous apples aside, what they sell isnít any different than a job at Merrill Lynch: itís an opportunity to play the markets with the big boys. The only difference is whose money gets put on the table. At Merrill, winners get rich and losers just get fired. In day-trading, winners get rich but losers go broke. Regulators donít have a problem with that -Ė not yet. But as the world of investing gets more and more democratic, theyíre anxious that all the suckers get an even break.