Technical Analysis

Technical analysis (or chartism) is the use of numerical series generated by market activity, such as price and volume, to predict future price trends. The techniques can be applied to any market with a comprehensive price history.

Primarily, but not exclusively, technical analysis is conducted by studying charts of past price movement. Many different methods and tools are used in technical analysis, but they all rely on the assumption that price patterns and trends exist in markets, and that they can be identified and exploited.

Technical analysis does not try to analyze the financial data of a company such as cash flow, dividends and projection of future dividends. That type of analysis is called fundamental analysis. Nor does it claim to be 100% accurate. It attempts to give the “most likely” outcome.

Some speculators combine elements from both technical and fundamental analysis. (A budding field known as fusion analysis explicitly advocates the combined use of fundamental and technical analysis.) Technical analysis is viewed by many of its practitioners as more art than science. Many academic studies conclude that technical analysis has little, if any, predictive power. However, the practice has a dedicated following especially among active traders and does have support among the academic community.

As an example of the debate regarding the efficacy of technical analysis, Peter Lynch, a very well-known and successful fundamental analyst, once commented, “Charts are great for predicting the past.” On the other hand, the U.S. Federal Reserve once published a study saying that certain elements of technical analysis were effective in price forecasting in the intraday foreign exchange market.

Tools of the Trade – Technical Analysis Indicators

Technical Analysis E-book

History of Technical Analysis

The premises of technical analysis were derived from empirical observations of financial markets over hundreds of years. Perhaps the oldest branch of technical analysis is the use of candlestick techniques by Japanese traders at least as early as the 18th century, and still very popular today.

Dow Theory, a theory based on the collected writings of Dow Jones co-founder and editor Charles Dow, inspired the increasingly widespread use and development of technical analysis from the end of the 19th century. Modern technical analysis considers Dow Theory its cornerstone.

New tools and theories have been produced and existing tools have been enhanced at a rapid rate in recent decades, with an increasing emphasis on computer-assisted techniques.

Stock Market Technical Analysis Theory

Technical analysis is not concerned with why a price is moving (e.g. poor earnings, difficult business environment, poor management, or other fundamentals) but rather whether it is moving in a particular direction or in a particular chart pattern. Technical analysts believe that profits can be made by “trend following.” In other words if a particular stock price is steadily rising (trending upward) then a technical analyst will look for opportunities to buy this stock. Until the technical analyst is convinced this uptrend has reversed or ended, all else equal, he will continue to own this security. Additionally, technical analysts look for various price patterns to form on a price chart and will take positions in anticipation of the expected move following that pattern. The various tools of technical analysis assist the technician in determining when trends have formed, ended, etc. and when particular patterns are unfolding.

Technical analysis may be at odds with fundamental analysis. Fundamental analysis maintains that markets may misprice a security and, through various methods of fundamental analysis, the “correct” price can be calculated. Profits can be made by trading the mispriced security and then waiting for the market to recognize its “mistake” and reprice the security. In contrast, a technical analyst is not interested in a security’s “correct” price, only in price movement.

Two well known sayings among technical analysts are, “The trend is your friend,” and “Forget the fundamentals and follow the money.” An example of the different views of technical and fundamental analysis follows. Suppose a stock was trading at 124.25 pence, and that the consensus fundamental analysis view of the stock was that it was worth 120.00 pence. If the share price rose to 125.00 pence, then to 126.00 pence, and then to 127.00 pence, a technical analyst would likely be a buyer of this stock in order to profit from the perceived trend. In contrast, a fundamental analyst would possibly look to sell the stock as it is moving away from what the fundamental analyst believes is the “correct” price.

Ultimate Technical Analysis Handbook

Three Beliefs of Technical Analysis

Price action in the market discounts everything

Technical analysis holds that because every possible bit of information is immediately included in the price of a security, it is not necessary to explicitly analyze the fundamental, economic, political, etc. factors that might influence that price. Because all possible information is reflected in the price, only a study of the price movement is required. Murphy. Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets, 24 – 31.


Prices move in trends

While it cannot be shown that prices must trend, technical analysis relies on empirical evidence and common sense to assert that prices do trend. To a technician, markets are trending up, trending down, or trending sideways (flat). This definition of a price trend is essentially the one put forward by Dow Theory. Murphy. Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets, 24 – 31.

A person who does not believe that prices move in trends will find little use for technical analysis. The assumption that prices must trend is probably the most important concept in technical analysis.

AOL TimeWarner price action.

An example of a security that is trending is AOL from November 2001 through August 2002. A technical analyst or trend follower recognizing this trend would look for opportunities to sell this security. AOL consistently moves downward in price. Each time the stock attempted to rise, sellers would enter the market and sell the stock; hence the “zig-zag” movement in the price. The series of “lower highs” and “lower lows” is a tell tale sign of a stock in a down trend. In other words, each time the stock edged lower, it went lower than its previous relative low price. Each time the stock moved higher, it could not reach the level of its previous relative high price.

Note that it is not until August that the sequence of lower lows and lower highs is broken. In August, the stock makes a low price that doesn’t pierce the relative low set earlier in the month. Later in the same month, the stock makes a relative high equal to the most recent relative high. To a technical analyst, those are strong indications that the down trend is at least pausing and possibly ending. A technical analyst would likely stop actively selling the stock at this point.

History tends to repeat itself

Technical analysts believe that investors en masse repeat the behavior of the investors that preceded them. “Everyone wants in on the next Microsoft,” “If this stock ever gets to $50 again, I will buy it,” “This company’s technology will revolutionize its industry, therefore this stock will skyrocket,”– these are all examples of investors’ attitudes repeating. To a technical analyst, the human characteristics of the market might be irrational, but they exist. Because investors’ attitudes often repeat, investors’ actions in the marketplace often repeat as well. I.e., patterns of price movement will develop on a chart that a technical analyst believes have predictive qualities.

Technical analysis is not limited to charting. Technical analysis is always primarily concerned with price trends. Anything that can influence the price trend is of interest to a technical analyst. As an example, many technical analysts monitor surveys of investor enthusiasm. These surveys attempt to gauge the general attitude of the investment community to determine whether investors are bearish or bullish. Technical analysts use these surveys to help determine whether a trend will reverse or whether a new trend will develop. A technical analyst would be alerted that a trend might change when these surveys report extreme investor reactions. When surveys are overly bullish, for example, a technical analyst will look for evidence that an uptrend will reverse. The logic being that if most investors are bullish, then they would have already bought the market (anticipating that the market will move higher). But because most investors are bullish and have invested, it is safe to assume that there are few buyers remaining in the market. With most investors long, there are more potential sellers in the market than buyers despite the fact that the overall attitude of investors is bullish. This implies that the market is set to trend down and is an example of a technical analysis concept called contrarian trading.

Criticism of Technical Analysis

Lack of evidence

Although chartists assert that their techniques provide excess returns over time, this assertion is controversial. Many academics believe that technical analysis has no predictive power. Burton Malkiel in his book “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” (8th edition, 2003) and Eugene Fama in “Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work,” May 1970 Journal of Financesummarize many early studies, conducted from the 1950s-70s, that show that after trading costs are considered, the returns generated by many technical strategies underperform a simple buy and hold strategy.

Cheol-Ho Park and Scott H. Irwin reviewed 93 modern studies on the profitability of technical analysis and considered 59 of them to indicate positive results, and 24 negative results. “Despite the positive evidence … it appears that most empirical studies are subject to various problems in their testing procedures, e.g., data snooping, ex post selection of trading rules or search technologies, and difficulties in estimation of risk and transaction costs.”

Critics of technical analysis include well known fundamental analysts. Warren Buffett has exclaimed, “I realized technical analysis didn’t work when I turned the charts upside down and didn’t get a different answer” and “If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” Still, even an investor like Buffett occasionally recognizes technical analysis. In a recent conference on investing in mining companies, Buffett commented, “In metals and oils, there’s been a terrific [price] move. It’s like most trends: at the beginning, it’s driven by fundamentals, then speculation takes over…then the speculation becomes dominant.” To a technician, Buffett basically paraphrased Dow Theory.

Inconsistencies with Other Market Hypotheses

The Efficient Market Hypothesis

The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) concludes that technical analysis cannot be effective. According to this hypothesis, all relevant information is quickly reflected in a security’s price through the actions of traders who have that information. Thus, it is impossible to “beat the market,” and technical analysis cannot work. News events and new fundamental developments which influence prices occur randomly and are unknowable in advance. Advocates of EMH have produced many studies that reject the efficacy of technical analysis.

Proponents of technical analysis counter that technical analysis does not completely contradict the efficient market hypothesis. Technicians agree with EMH in that they believe that all available information is reflected within a security’s price; that is why technicians say a study of the price movement is necessary. Technicians argue that EMH ignores the realities of the market place, namely that many investors base their future expectations on past earnings, track records, etc. Because future stock prices can be strongly influenced by investor expectations, technicians claim it only follows that past prices can influence future prices.

Technicians point to the new field of behavioral finance. Behavioral finance essentially says that people are not the rational participants EMH makes them out to be. Market participants can and do act irrationally. Technicians have long held that irrational human behavior influences stock prices and claim to have ways of predicting probable outcomes based on this behavior.

The Random Walk Hypothesis

The random walk hypothesis is also at odds with technical analysis and charting. Essentially, the hypothesis claims that stock price moments are a Brownian Motion with either independent or uncorrelated increments. In this model, movements in stock prices are not dependent on past stock prices, so trends cannot exist and technical analysis has no basis. Again, proponents of this theory have generated substantial research in support of the hypothesis.

The random walk hypothesis may be derived from the weak-form efficient markets hypothesis, which is based on the assumption that market participants take full account of any information contained in past price movements (but not necessarily other public information).

Technical analysts maintain that trends are identifiable in the market and that it is impractical to believe that market prices move in a random fashion. To a technician, over time prices will trend in a direction until supply equals demand. Therefore, there cannot be any pure random price movement. As stated earlier, one of the cornerstones of technical analysis is that prices trend. If one does not believe this concept, one will not agree with technical analysis.

Also, with regards to EMH and Random Walk Theory, technicians claim that both theories ignore the realities of the marketplace. To a technician, the market is neither composed of completely rational participants as EMH assumes (participants can be greedy, overly risky, etc. at any given time) nor is its stock price movement completely independent of its prior movement (technicians will point at charts like AOL above). Technicians maintain that both theories would also invalidate numerous other trading strategies such as index arbitrage, statistical arbitrage and many other trading systems.


Globally, the industry is represented by The International Federation of Technical Analysts (IFTA). IFTA offers certification to professional technical analysts and researchers around the world as part of their Certified Financial Technician designation. In the United States, the industry is represented by two national level organizations: the American Association of Professional Technical Analysts (AAPTA) and the Market Technicians Association (MTA). The MTA awards the Chartered Market Technician certification to candidates who have passed a series of standardized exams. Numerous regional and local societies also exist in the U.S., such as the Technical Securities Analysts Association of San Francisco. In Canada the industry is represented by the Canadian Society of Technical Analysts.

Proponents of Technical Analysis

To many traders, trading in the direction of the trend is the most effective means to be profitable in financial or commodities markets. John Henry, Larry Hite, Ed Seykota, Richard Dennis, Bruce Kovner, and Michael Marcus (some of the so-called Market Wizards in the popular book of the same name by Jack D. Schwager) have each amassed massive fortunes through the use of technical analysis and its concepts. George Lane, a technical analyst, coined one of the most popular phrases on Wall Street, “The trend is your friend!”

Many non-arbitrage algorithmic trading systems rely on the idea of trend-following, as do many hedge funds. A relatively recent trend, both in research and industrial practice, has been the development of increasingly sophisticated automated trading strategies. These often rely on underlying technical analysis principles (see algorithmic trading article for an overview).

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The Ultimate Technical Analysis Handbook

Today more and more investors are warming to the fact that psychology moves markets and therefore fundamental analysis, which fails to properly measure mass investor psychology, must be flawed.

Who can blame them? After all, fundamental analysis — based on past company earnings, rating agency projections and the like — proved to be of little value during the bust.

There is a better way.

Many investors who monitor investor sentiment readings, study Elliott wave patterns and employ other powerful technical indicators were — at very least — able to position themselves to survive the recent decline. Still others were able to turn crisis into opportunity and profit from the volatility.

How’d they do it?

Technical analysis.

You see, technical indicators remove the cloudy, bias-driven assumptions from your analysis and focus on the one thing that moves markets: investor psychology.

Past performance is not indicative of future results — and that’s where fundamental analysis goes wrong. It fails to factor in the psychology that not only moves markets up and down but also leads analysts to extrapolate the current or past trend into the future. That’s why fundamental analysts almost always miss major tops and bottoms.

Our friends over at Elliott Wave International employ the largest team of technical analysts in the world. They recognize that optimism peaks before market tops and pessimism troughs before market bottoms. They use powerful and sometimes unconventional tools to help identify psychological extremes that signal high-probability turning points.

EWI’s brand-new 50-page eBook, The Ultimate Technical Analysis Handbook, will show you the various methods of technical analysis they use every day and teach you how to use these powerful tools for yourself.

If you’re a technician, this eBook is perfect for you. If you’re a fundamentals follower, it’s more important than ever that you give technical analysis a closer look. Even if you never completely abandoned your fundamental indicators, you WILL benefit from drawing on these valuable technical tools.

Learn more about this free eBook, and download your copy here.

About the Publisher, Elliott Wave International

Founded in 1979 by Robert R. Prechter Jr., Elliott Wave International (EWI) is the world’s largest market forecasting firm. Its staff of full-time analysts provides 24-hour-a-day market analysis to institutional and private around the world.

Why Technical Analysis Beats Out Fundamental Analysis

October 5, 2009

By Elliott Wave International

As the major stock markets turned down in late 2007 and then started to rally in March 2009, many people who believed in fundamental analysis have begun to question its validity.

Famed technical analyst and Elliott wave expert Robert Prechter has long called for the bear market we are now in the midst of. (He views the rally of 2009 to be a bear-market rally not the beginning of a new bull market.) But over the years, his methods of technical analysis have been criticized. Here are his most succinct arguments as to why wave analysis outdoes competing forms of analysis.

Learn the Wave Principle and Other Forms of Technical Analysis. Elliott Wave International has just released The Ultimate Technical Analysis Handbook. This FREE 50-page ebook is dedicated solely to teaching reformed fundamentals followers to incorporate technical analysis into their own investing decisions. Learn more and download your free copy here.

Excerpted from Prechter’s Perspective, re-issued 2004

Question: Suppose everyone agreed, “The Wave Principle is not always right, but it really is the answer”?

Robert Prechter: Well, let me begin my answer with a quote from a national financial magazine dated October 1977. “Over the last few years, the Wave Principle has gathered too much of a following and, therefore, it has less value today. Almost invariably, you can write off a technique when it gets too much of a following.” How does this statement look in light of the decade that followed it? “Elliott” had one of its greatest successes. Like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going and going. And I believe its next success will be its biggest ever. The Principle itself is undoubtedly on an upward spiral of acceptance: three steps forward and two steps back.

Now let’s suppose that a large number of educated people accepted the Wave Principle, which is not an impossible idea for, say, a thousand years from now. There would still be room for differences of opinion on the market and the future. And there are countless other factors. Even people who practice the craft don’t necessarily take action when they get a signal. Unconscious doubt and worry often foil people’s actions. Very few traders have the emotional strength to turn even good analysis into profits.

Q: The Wave Principle is intrinsically contrarian. Does it have some built-in defense against becoming the consensus?

RP: I think so. The Wave Principle is a description of natural human behavior. This is what human beings are; this is part of their nature — how they behave. In order for markets to continue to go through these stages, a part of human nature must be to believe that such theories of mass psychology are incapable of being true — that is, something not worth examining. They must be primed to accept bullish arguments at tops and bearish arguments at bottoms. That means they have to be ever open to bogus theories of market behavior. How else will they create the patterns that fear, greed and hope produce?

Q: How big is the pool of analysts who rely on the Wave Principle?

RP: I think there are quite a few people who are proficient in applying Elliott to past and present markets, say, perhaps 1% of all technical analysts, which is a pretty good number of people, I suppose. A lot of those are my subscribers, and they learned it through studying the Theorist. However, as far as the number of people proficient at applying the Wave Principle for forecasting market turns, which is significantly more difficult than applying it in real time, I think there are very few.

Q: This has been the basis of some criticism. To quote one critic, “relying on arcane methods does have one advantage. Interpreting the linear squiggles is left in the hands of the major heir to Elliott’s work.” How do you respond to those who contend that the complexity of the theory is a cover that allows you to retain the Wave Principle as your personal theory?

RP: With regard to any supposed self-serving secrecy, not only did I co-author a book on how to apply the Wave Principle, as well as reprint Elliott’s writings against protest from practitioners, but also I continually go into great — some might say excruciating — detail in each issue of The Elliott Wave Theorist explaining exactly what I think the market has done and will do, and why I think it. If there is any market letter that has educated potential competitors, it is mine. The reason is that the study of markets is more important to me than exclusivity, secrecy or power.

Q: Another common approach critics take when they try to dismiss Elliott as bunk is to refer to you as a mystic or a numerologist.

RP: A mystic believe in things for which there is no evidence, only desire. I do not consider myself to be a mystic at all. My approach is objective. The empirical basis of Elliott’s discovery speaks to that fact. So do the results of the trading competition [Editor’s note: Bob Prechter won the Trading Championship in options in 1984 with a stunning 444% gain. The next closest competitor showed an 84% gain.] Not once during any month since the independent rating services have been following market timers has a timer using a numerological approach such as “Gann” analysis ever placed in the top 10 rankings. Just as would be expected, such methods don’t work!

The true mystics are those who believe, for instance, that current economic performance is a basis upon which to predict stock market prices. There is no evidence for it. They just feel comfortable with the idea, so they espouse it.

Q: So you say that the challenge to validity is on the other side?

RP: You’re darn right, it is. I am no longer at the point where I feel that I have to justify the objectivity of the Wave Principle. I think the results have done that. Technical analysis is entirely rational and has proved itself. If someone goes back and looks at the record of Elliott wave writers over the decades, he will find a track record of forecasting success that is well beyond a random result of chance. If you can do that, the ball is in the other guy’s court. It’s up to him to show that this is luck or something. What’s more, the only challenge to a theory is a better theory, and I haven’t seen a contender yet.

Q: You don’t feel that you have been effectively challenged by any fundamental approaches?

RP: I think there’s a place for fundamental analysis of individual companies, but I am firmly convinced that you can make a very rational argument showing that fundamental analysis applied to overall market timing is like reading the entrails of goats. In fact, I presented such a critique in The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior. If you think my ideas as presented here are controversial, just read Chapter 19 of that book.

Learn the Wave Principle and Other Forms of Technical Analysis. Elliott Wave International has just released The Ultimate Technical Analysis Handbook. This FREE 50-page ebook is dedicated solely to teaching reformed fundamentals followers to incorporate technical analysis into their own investing decisions. Learn more and download your free copy here.


Robert Prechter, Chartered Market Technician, is the world’s foremost expert on and proponent of the deflationary scenario. Prechter is the founder and CEO of Elliott Wave International, author of Wall Street best-sellers Conquer the Crash and Elliott Wave Principle and editor of The Elliott Wave Theorist monthly market letter since 1979.

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