Definitions of Long, Short, Bullish, and Bearish
Meaning of Common Trading Terms
Trading has a language of its own. If you're just starting trading, long, short, bullish and bearish are trading terms you'll hear frequently—and you'll need to understand them. These words are important for effectively describing market opinions and communicating with other traders. Understanding these terms makes it easier to gauge where a trader thinks the market is heading, and whether they'll make money on an asset's rise or its fall.
Traders can think of "long" as another word for "buy." If you're "going long" in a stock, it means you're buying it. If you're already long, then you bought the stock and now own it.
In trading, you buy (or go long on) something if you believe its value will increase. This way, you can sell it for a higher value than you paid for it and reap a profit.
As an example, assume Suzy goes long 100 shares of ZYZY stock at $10.00, costing her $1,000. Several hours later, she sells the stock for $10.40 per share, collecting $1,040 and making a $40 profit. If the price moves down to $9.50, her long position isn't profitable. If she sells at that point, she'll lose $50 ($0.50 loss x 100 shares).
Bull or Bullish
Being long or buying is a bullish action for a trader to take. Put simply, being a bull or having a bullish attitude stems from a belief that an asset will rise in value. To say "he's bullish on gold," for example, means that he believes the price of gold will rise.
Being a bull can represent an opinion or action. Someone who's bullish may go long on the assets they're bullish in. Or, they may just have an opinion that the price will rise, but decided against making any trades based on that opinion. Bullish stances can be extremely specific opinions about a single stock, or they can be broad opinions about the overall market.
The term "bull" or "bullish" comes from the bull, who strikes upwards with its horns, thus pushing prices higher.
A bull market is when an asset's price is rising—called an uptrend—typically over a sustained period, such as months or years.
Bullish, bull, and long are used interchangeably. For example, instead of saying "I am long on that stock," a trader may say "I am bullish on that stock." Both statements indicate this person believes prices will rise.
Short and Shorting
Most people think of trading as buying at a lower price and selling at a higher price, but that's only part of what traders do. Traders can also sell at a high price and buy back at a lower price. Being short, or shorting, is when you sell first in the hopes of being able to buy the asset back at a lower price later.
In other words, the financial markets allow traders to buy then sell, or sell then buy. If you've done the latter, then you're short the asset. You'll also hear the term short-selling. This is the same as shorting.
In the futures and forex market, you can short anytime you wish. In the stock market, there are more restrictions on which stocks can be shorted and when. No matter the market, if you hear someone say they are shorting something, it means they believe the price will go down.
Assume Suzy shorts 100 shares of ZYZYZ stock at $10.00. Since she sold first, she'll receive $1,000 into her trading account, but her account will show negative 100 shares. The negative share balance must be brought back to zero at some point by buying back the 100 shares.
An hour later, she buys 100 shares back for $9.60 per share at a total cost of $960. Since she initially received $1,000, buying the shares back for only $960 gives her a $40 profit. However, if the price moves up to $10.50, she is losing $50 ($0.50 extra cost x 100 shares).
Bear or Bearish
Being bearish is the exact opposite of being bullish—it's the belief that the price of an asset will fall. To say "he's bearish on stocks" means he believes the price of stocks will decline in value.
Just like with bullish opinions, a person may hold bearish beliefs about a specific company, or about a broad range of assets. A trader with bearish beliefs may choose to act on it or not. If the trader does act, they may sell shares they currently own, or they may go short.
The term "bear" or "bearish" comes from the bear, who strikes downward with its paws, thus pushing prices down.
The Bottom Line
Every trader should understand these terms since they're used frequently in financial news, trading articles, and market analysis. Long, short, bullish, and bearish are terms used in all markets and on all time frames. Regardless of whether you're day trading or investing—whether you trade soybeans or speculate on foreign currencies—all of these terms will come into play every time you check your portfolio.