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What are Stock Charts?
Quite simply, they are graphs that show us the price of a stock over time. The study of stock charts, known as TECHNICAL ANALYSIS, believes that the past action of the market itself will determine the future course of prices.
A stock chart is a simple two-axis (x-y) plotted graph of price and time. Each individual equity, market and index listed on a public exchange has a chart that illustrates this movement of price over time. Time is shown on the horizontal axis of the graph and the price is shown on the vertical axis.
Individual data plots for charts can be made using the CLOSING price for each day. The plots are connected together in a single line, creating the graph. Also, a combination of the OPENING, CLOSING, HIGH and/or LOW prices for that market session can be used for the data plots.
This second type of data is called a PRICE BAR. Individual price bars are then overlaid onto the graph, creating a dense visual display of stock movement.
Stock charts can be created in many different time frames. Mutual fund holders use monthly charts in which each individual data plot consists of a single month of activity. Day traders use 1 minute and 5 minute stock charts to make quick buy and sell decisions. The most common type of stock chart is the daily plot, showing a single complete market session for each unit.
Stock charts can be drawn in two different ways. An ARITHMETIC chart has equal vertical distances between each unit of price. A LOGARITHMIC chart is a percentage growth chart. It has equal vertical distances between the same percentages of price growth. For example, a price movement from 10 to 20 is a 100% move. A move from 20 to 40 is also a 100% move. For this reason, the vertical distance from 10 to 20 and the vertical distance from 20 to 40 will be identical on a logarithmic chart.
Stock chart analysis can be applied equally to individual stocks and major indices. Analysts use their technical research on index charts to decide whether the current market is a BULL MARKET or a BEAR MARKET. On individual charts, investors and traders can learn the same thing about their favorite companies.
Here is an example of a simple chart for Google Inc.
The chart shows you how Google's stock has performed over a period of one year. The vertical axis shows the price in USD and the horizontal axis shows time in months. The bars at the bottom show volume — the number of shares that changed hands each day.
Use the stock chart to identify the current trend. A trend reflects the average rate of change in a stock's price over time. Trends exist in all time frames and all markets. Day traders can establish the trend of their stocks to within minutes. Long term investors watch trends that persist for many years.
Trends can be classified in three ways: UP, DOWN or RANGEBOUND.
In an uptrend, a stock rallies often with intermediate periods of consolidation or movement against the trend. In doing so, it draws a series of higher highs and higher lows on the stock chart. In an uptrend, there will be a POSITIVE rate of price change over time.
In a downtrend, a stock declines often with intermediate periods of consolidation or movement against the trend. In doing so, it draws a series of lower highs and lower lows on the stock chart. In a downtrend, there will be a NEGATIVE rate of price change over time.
Range bound price swings back and forth for long periods between easily seen upper and lower limits. There is no apparent direction to the price movement on the stock chart and there will be LITTLE or NO rate of price change.
Trends tend to persist over time. A stock in an uptrend will continue to rise until some change in value or conditions occurs. Declining stocks will continue to fall until some change in value or conditions occurs. Chart readers try to locate TOPS and BOTTOMS, which are those points where a rally or a decline ends. Taking a position near a top or a bottom can be very profitable.
Trends can be measured using TRENDLINES. Very often a straight line can be drawn UNDER three or more pullbacks from rallies or OVER pullbacks from declines. When price bars then return to that trendline, they tend to find SUPPORT or RESISTANCE and bounce off the line in the opposite direction.
A famous quote about trends advises that "The trend is your friend". For traders and investors, this wisdom teaches that you will have more success taking stock positions in the direction of the prevailing trend than against it.
Volume is one of the most important technical analysis tools to learn and understand how to apply to price movements. Volume is simply the total number of buyers and sellers exchanging shares over a given period of time, usually a day. Volume measures the participation of the crowd.
Volume increases every time a buyer and seller transact their stock or futures contract. If a buyer buys one share of stock from a seller, then that one share is added to the total volume of that particular stock.
Higher the volume, more active the share. The data regarding volume of a share will be readily available on your online trading screen. Most financial sites carry data about volume.
Stock charts display volume through individual HISTOGRAMS below the price pane. Often these will show green bars for up days and red bars for down days. Investors and traders can measure buying and selling interest by watching how many up or down days in a row occur and how their volume compares with days in which price moves in the opposite direction. For example if the Stocks volume for the day was 1,500,000 shares that means 1,500,000 shares were sold by someone and bought by someone on that day.
Volume as such may not be an attractive piece of information. But try to combine the volume data with support and resistance levels – you‘ll get the real picture.
For example – Say stock A ltd broke a ‘resistance level’ and went up further. Also since it broke through a critical level we would expect it to go up even more in the near future.
Now, let us also consider the volume traded on that day – say 3 lakh shares were exchanged. On a normal day 10 lakh shares are traded. That means, Volume was way below average for that day. So, all the big investors were not trading. They could come in the very next day and decide they are bearish on the stock. They sell and cause a panic. So the stock goes down the next day.
This is the importance of ‘volume’. Most traders will not buy a stock when it breaks a critical level unless volume is high. The reverse is also true. If a stock goes down with little volume it could mean the same thing. The majority of investors were not trading. When they come back they could see this stock and decide it is too low. So they buy it and the price goes up.
Volume has two major premises:
a) When prices rise or fall, an increase in volume is strong confirmation that the rise or fall in price is real and that the price movement had strength.
b) When prices rise or fall and there is a decrease in volume, then this is interpreted as being a weak price move, because the price move had very little strength and interest from traders. Stocks that are bought with greater interest than sold are said to be under ACCUMULATION. Stocks that are sold with great interest than bought are said to be under DISTRIBUTION. Accumulation and distribution often LEAD price movement. In other words, stocks under accumulation often will rise some time after the buying begins. Alternatively, stocks under distribution will often fall some time after selling begins.
It takes volume for a stock to rise but it can fall of its own weight. Rallies require the enthusiastic participation of the crowd. When a rally runs out of new participants, a stock can easily fall. Investors and traders use indicators such as ON BALANCE VOLUME to see whether participation is lagging (behind) or leading (ahead) the price action.
Stocks trade daily with an average volume that determines their LIQUIDITY. Liquid stocks are very easy for traders to buy and sell. Illiquid stocks require very high SPREADS (transaction costs) to buy or sell and often cannot be eliminated quickly from a portfolio. Stock chart analysis does not work well on illiquid stocks.
Breakouts accompanied by volume much higher than the average for that stock are healthy for the continuation of the price movement in that direction. But after long rallies or declines, stocks often have a day of very high volume known as a CLIMAX. During these days, the last of the buyers or sellers take positions. The stock then reverses as there are no longer enough participants to cause price to move in that direction.
In short, Volume is a critical factor in technical analysis. Any support and resistance level is not valid unless it is backed by adequate volume. Volume should move with the trend. If prices are moving in an upward trend, volume should increase (and vice versa). If the previous relationship between volume and price movements starts to deteriorate, it is usually a sign of weakness in the trend. For example, if the stock is in an uptrend but the up trading days are marked with lower volume, it is a sign that the trend is starting to lose its legs and may soon end.
Patterns and Indicators
The stock chart activates both left-brain and right-brain functions of logic and creativity. So it's no surprise that over the last century two forms of analysis have developed that focus along these lines of critical examination.
The oldest form of interpreting charts is PATTERN ANALYSIS. This method gained popularity through both the writings of Charles Dow andTechnical Analysis of Stock Trends, a classic book written on the subject just after World War II. The newer form of interpretation is INDICATOR ANALYSIS, a math-oriented examination in which the basic elements of price and volume are run through a series of calculations in order to predict where price will go next.
Pattern analysis gains its power from the tendency of charts to repeat the same bar formations over and over again. These patterns have been categorized over the years as having a bullish or bearish bias. Some well-known ones include HEAD and SHOULDERS, TRIANGLES, RECTANGLES, DOUBLE TOPS, DOUBLE BOTTOMS and FLAGS. Also, chart landscape features such as GAPS and TRENDLINES are said to have great significance on the future course of price action.
Indicator analysis uses math calculations to measure the relationship of current price to past price action. Almost all indicators can be categorized as TREND-FOLLOWING or OSCILLATORS. Popular trend-following indicators include MOVING AVERAGES, ON BALANCE VOLUME and MACD. Common oscillators include STOCHASTICS, RSI and RATE OF CHANGE. Trend-following indicators react much more slowly than oscillators. They look deeply into the rear view mirror to locate the future. Oscillators react very quickly to short-term changes in price, flipping back and forth between OVERBOUGHT and OVERSOLD levels.
Both patterns and indicators measure market psychology. The core of investors and traders that make up the market each day tend to act with a herd mentality as price rises and falls. This "crowd" tends to develop known characteristics that repeat themselves over and over again. Chart interpretation using these two important analysis tools uncovers growing stress within the crowd that should eventually translate into price change.
The most popular technical indicator for studying stock charts is the MOVING AVERAGE. This versatile tool has many important uses for investors and traders.
Take the sum of any number of previous CLOSE prices and then divide it by that same number. This creates an average price for that stock in that period of time. A moving average can be displayed by recomputing this result daily and plotting it in the same graphic pane as the price bars. Moving averages LAG price. In other words, if price starts to move sharply upward or downward, it will take some time for the moving average to "catch up".
Plotting moving averages in stock charts reveals how well current price is behaving as compared to the past. The power of the moving average line comes from its direct interaction with the price bars. Current price will always be above or below any moving average computation. When it is above, conditions are "bullish". When below, conditions are "bearish". Additionally, moving averages will slope upward or downward over time. This adds another visual dimension to a stock analysis.
Moving averages define STOCK TRENDS. They can be computed for any period of time. Investors and traders find them most helpful when they provide input about the SHORT-TERM, INTERMEDIATE and LONG-TERM trends. For this reason, using multiple moving averages that reflect these characteristics assist important decision making. Common moving average settings for daily stock charts are: 20 days for short-term, 50 days for intermediate and 200 days for long-term.
One of the most common buy or sell signals in all chart analysis is the MOVING AVERAGE CROSSOVER. These occur when two moving averages representing different trends criss-cross. For example, when a short-term average crosses BELOW a long-term one, a SELL signal is generated. Conversely, when a short-term crosses ABOVE the long-term, a BUY signal is generated.
Moving averages can be "speeded up" through the application of further math calculations. Common averages are known as SIMPLE or SMA. These tend to be very slow. By giving more weight to the current changes in price rather than those many bars ago, a faster EXPONENTIAL or EMA moving average can be created. Many technicians favor the EMA over the SMA. Fortunately all common stock chart programs, online and offline, do the difficult moving average calculations for you and plot price perfectly.
Below is an example of an uptrending stock. We buy breakouts only when the 50 day MA (Green Line) is above the 200 day MA (Red Line)
We also want to make sure that the market index in which the stock is trading to be bullish. We know that Google (GOOG) is traded on the NASDAQ Below is a chart of the NASDAQ index. We can see that the 50 day MA is above the 200 day moving average.
The concept of SUPPORT AND RESISTANCE is essential to understanding and interpreting stock charts. Just as a ball bounces when it hits the floor or drops after being thrown to the ceiling, support and resistance define natural boundaries for rising and falling prices.
Buyers and sellers are constantly in battle mode. Support defines that level where buyers are strong enough to keep price from falling further. Resistance defines that level where sellers are too strong to allow price to rise further. Support and resistance play different roles in uptrends and downtrends. In an uptrend, support is where a pullback from a rally should end. In a downtrend, resistance is where a pullback from a decline should end.
Support and resistance are created because price has memory.Those prices where significant buyers or sellers entered the market in the past will tend to generate a similar mix of participants when price again returns to that level.
When price pushes above resistance, it becomes a new support level. When price falls below support, that level becomes resistance. When a level of support or resistance is penetrated, price tends to thrust forward sharply as the crowd notices the BREAKOUT and jumps in to buy or sell. When a level is penetrated but does not attract a crowd of buyers or sellers, it often falls back below the old support or resistance. This failure is known as a FALSE BREAKOUT.
Support and resistance come in all varieties and strengths. They most often manifest as horizontal price levels. But trendlines at various angles represent support and resistance as well. The length of time that a support or resistance level exists determines the strength or weakness of that level. The strength or weakness determines how much buying or selling interest will be required to break the level. Also, the greater volume traded at any level, the stronger that level will be.
Support and resistance exist in all time frames and all markets. Levels in longer time frames are stronger than those in shorter time frames.