Strengths of Technical Analysis
If the objective is to predict the future price, then it makes sense to focus on price movements. Price movements usually precede fundamental developments. By focusing on price action, technicians are automatically focusing on the future. The market is thought of as a leading indicator and generally leads the economy by 6 to 9 months. To keep pace with the market, it makes sense to look directly at the price movements. More often than not, change is a subtle beast. Even though the market is prone to sudden knee-jerk reactions, hints usually develop before significant moves. A technician will refer to periods of accumulation as evidence of an impending advance and periods of distribution as evidence of an impending decline.
Many technicians use the open, high, low and close when analyzing the price action of a security. There is information to be gleaned from each bit of information. Separately, these will not be able to tell much. However, taken together, the open, high, low and close reflect forces of supply and demand.
Simple chart analysis can help identify support and resistance levels. These are usually marked by periods of congestion (trading range) where the prices move within a confined range for an extended period, telling us that the forces of supply and demand are deadlocked. When prices move out of the trading range, it signals that either supply or demand has started to get the upper hand. If prices move above the upper band of the trading range, then demand is winning. If prices move below the lower band, then supply is winning.
Pictorial Price History
Even if you are a tried and true fundamental analyst, a price chart can offer plenty of valuable information. The price chart is an easy to read historical account of a security's price movement over a period of time. Charts are much easier to read than a table of numbers. On most stock charts, volume bars are displayed at the bottom. With this historical picture, it is easy to identify the following:
- Reactions prior to and after important events.
- Past and present volatility.
- Historical volume or trading levels.
- Relative strength of a stock versus the overall market.
Assist with Entry Point
Technical analysis can help with timing a proper entry point. Some analysts use fundamental analysis to decide what to buy and technical analysis to decide when to buy. It is no secret that timing can play an important role in performance. Technical analysis can help spot demand (support) and supply (resistance) levels as well as breakouts. Simply waiting for a breakout above resistance or buying near support levels can improve returns.
It is also important to know a stock's price history. If a stock you thought was great for the last 2 years has traded flat for those two years, it would appear that Wall Street has a different opinion. If a stock has already advanced significantly, it may be prudent to wait for a pullback. Or, if the stock is trending lower, it might pay to wait for buying interest and a trend reversal.
Weaknesses of Technical Analysis
Just as with fundamental analysis, technical analysis is subjective and our personal biases can be reflected in the analysis. It is important to be aware of these biases when analyzing a chart. If the analyst is a perpetual bull, then a bullish bias will overshadow the analysis. On the other hand, if the analyst is a disgruntled eternal bear, then the analysis will probably have a bearish tilt.
Open to Interpretation
Furthering the bias argument is the fact that technical analysis is open to interpretation. Even though there are standards, many times two technicians will look at the same chart and paint two different scenarios or see different patterns. Both will be able to come up with logical support and resistance levels as well as key breaks to justify their position. While this can be frustrating, it should be pointed out that technical analysis is more like an art than a science, somewhat like economics. Is the cup half-empty or half-full? It is in the eye of the beholder.
Technical analysis has been criticized for being too late. By the time the trend is identified, a substantial portion of the move has already taken place. After such a large move, the reward to risk ratio is not great. Lateness is a particular criticism of Dow Theory.
Always Another Level
Even after a new trend has been identified, there is always another "important" level close at hand. Technicians have been accused of sitting on the fence and never taking an unqualified stance. Even if they are bullish, there is always some indicator or some level that will qualify their opinion.
Not all technical signals and patterns work. When you begin to study technical analysis, you will come across an array of patterns and indicators with rules to match. For instance: A sell signal is given when the neckline of a head and shoulders pattern is broken. Even though this is a rule, it is not steadfast and can be subject to other factors such as volume and momentum. In that same vein, what works for one particular stock may not work for another. A 50-day moving average may work great to identify support and resistance for IBM, but a 70-day moving average may work better for Yahoo. Even though many principles of technical analysis are universal, each security will have its own idiosyncrasies.
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