News can affect the stocks in your portfolio, even when the markets are closed. Some brokerage firms offer after-hours trading that enables you to buy and sell stocks, and possibly avert disaster—as long as you understand the risks.
In the U.S., the stock markets and exchanges (New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange, and Nasdaq) are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. eastern standard time. What happens when a company announces bad news after the close of the market? Must you wait until the market opens the next business day to sell your shares? Not necessarily—if you’re willing to venture into after-hours trading and accept the risks that this type of trading incurs.
Since the late 1990s, individual investors have had access to tools and networks that enable them to trade stocks in the hours before and after the market is open. These trading systems, known as Electronic Communications Networks (ECNs), have long been used by institutional investors to buy and sell stocks amongst themselves without using the services (and costs) of a broker.
Today, most major online brokerages offer extended hours trading through arrangements with one of the two leading ECNs, Archipelago or INET (formed by the merger of Island and Instinet). Ameritrade, E*TRADE, Fidelity, Harrisdirect, Schwab, and TD Waterhouse, to name a few, offer trading both before and after the markets close, although each has different hours of operations, opening as early as 7:30 ...