Whether you consider yourself a technical analyst or not, there are very few investing techniques that do not at least give a nod to the technical side of investing. Some investing styles use nothing but technical analysis, with their practitioners often claiming that they know nothing of stock fundamentals because all they need is in the charts. This segment of investing didn't sprout from nothing. In this article, we will look at the men that pioneered the field of technical analysis.

Tutorial: Technical Analysis

All Things Flow from Dow
Charles Dow occupies a huge place in the history of finance. He founded the Wall Street Journal – the benchmark by which all financial papers are measured – and, more importantly for our purpose, he created the Dow Jones Industrial Index. In doing so, Dow opened the door to technical analysis. Dow recorded the highs and lows of his average daily, weekly and monthly, correlating the patterns with the ebb and flow of the market. He would then write articles, always after the fact, pointing out how certain patterns explained and predicted previous market events.

However, Dow can't take all – or even a majority of - the credit for the theory bearing his name. Dow Theory would have only acted as a hindsight confirmation of loose principals if it weren't for William P. Hamilton. (To learn more, see Giants Of Finance: Charles Dow.)

First One into the Water: William P. Hamilton
Dow Theory was a collection of market trends linked heavily to oceanic metaphors. The fundamental, long-term trend of four or more years was the tide of the market – either rising (bullish) or falling (bearish). This was followed by shorter-term waves that lasted between a week and a month. And, lastly, there were the splashes and tiny ripples of choppy water insignificant day-to-day fluctuations.

Hamilton used these measures in addition to a few rules – such as the railroad average and the industrial average confirming each other's direction – to call bull and bear markets with laudable accuracy. Although he did call the 1929 Crash too early (1927, 1928), he made a final appeal on October 21, 1929, three days before the crash and mere weeks before his death at the age of 63.

The Practitioner, Robert Rhea
Robert Rhea took Dow Theory and turned it into a practical indicator for going long or short in the market. He literally wrote the book on Dow Theory, "The Dow Theory." Rhea was successful at using the theory to call tops and bottoms – and able enough to profit from those calls. Very soon after mastering Dow Theory, Rhea didn't need to trade on his knowledge. He only had to write it down.

After calling the market bottom in 1932 and a top in 1937, the fortunes made by subscribers to Rhea's investment letter, Dow Theory Comments, brought in thousands more subscribers. As with Hamilton, however, Rhea's life as a market prognosticator was short - he died in 1939. (Learn more about the Dow Theory in our Dow Theory Tutorial.)

The Wizard, Edson Gould
Perhaps the most accurate forecaster with the longest track record, Edson Gould, was still making calls up to 1983 at the age of 81. Gould also made most of his money from writing newsletters rather than investing, selling subscriptions for $500 in 1930. He caught all of the major bull and bear market points, making several eerily accurate predictions, such as the Dow rising 400 points in a 20-year bull market, that the Dow would top 1040 in 1973 and so on.

Gould used charts, market psychology and indicators including the Senti-Meter – the DJIA divided by the dividends per share of the companies. Gould was so good at his trade that he continued to make accurate calls from beyond the grave, calling Dow 3,000 before his death. He was proven right even in this prediction that was considered on the very fringe in 1979, when he made it and the Dow had yet to break 1,000.

The Chartist, John Magee
John Magee wrote the bible of technical analysis, "Technical Analysis of Stock Trends" (1948). Magee was one of the first to trade solely on the stock price and its pattern on the historical charts. Magee charted everything: individual stocks, averages, trading volumes, basically anything that could be graphed. He then poured over these charts to identify broad patterns and specific shapes like weak triangles, flags, bodies, shoulders and so on.

Unfortunately for Magee, early on he was better at looking after his clients than his own portfolio, often selling out in his own portfolio based on gut feelings despite strong hold signals from his charts. From his 40s to his death at 86, however, Magee was one of the most disciplined technical analysts around, refusing to even read a current newspaper lest it interfere with the signals of his charts.

The Omissions
There is bound to be some controversy with a list like this. Where is the infamous Jesse Livermore? The trader whose gut calls on price ticks are arguably the first successful technical trades. What about R.N. Elliott? What about Gann?

Well, Livermore did little in the area of theorizing and died broke. Elliott tweaked technical analysis with his own hypothesis, but his theories are difficult to test and even harder to trade – involving something of mysticism piled on top of numbers. Similarly, Gann's lines, while seemingly useful in concept, are so sensitive to error that their practicality is questionable. Both of these men were purported to have made fortunes trading on their theories, but there is no solid record to back that up as there is for Livermore. Certainly no multi-million dollar estate was left behind by either.

The Bottom Line
Dow, Hamilton, Rhea, Gould and Magee are on the main track of technical analysis, each carrying the theory and practice a little further. There are of course, many branching side paths that, while interesting detours, didn't advance this main thrust. Every time an investor – fundamental or technical - talks about getting in low or picking entry and exit points, they are paying homage to these men and the techniques for which they laid the foundation. (To learn more about technical trading, check out Introduction To Types Of Trading: Technical Traders.)

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Netflix Stock

    Examine the current state of Netflix Inc., and learn about three of the major fundamental risks that the company is currently facing.
  2. Stock Analysis

    Investing in Lumber Liquidators? Read This First

    Find out what investors should know before buying Lumber Liquidators shares. Learn about Lumber Liquidators' financial performance and operational outlook.
  3. Stock Analysis

    What Seagate Gains by Acquiring Dot Hill Systems

    Examine the Seagate acquisition of Dot Hill Systems, and learn what Seagate is looking to gain by acquiring Dot Hill's software technology.
  4. Chart Advisor

    4 European Stocks to Consider Buying

    European companies, listed on US exchanges, that are providing buying opportunities right now.
  5. Chart Advisor

    ChartAdvisor for October 2 2015

    Weekly technical summary of the major U.S. indexes.
  6. Investing

    How Diversifying Can Help You Manage Market Mayhem

    The recent market volatility, while not unexpected, has certainly been hard for any investor to digest.
  7. Technical Indicators

    Why MACD Divergence Is an Unreliable Signal

    MACD divergence is a popular method for predicting reversals, but unfortunately it isn't very accurate. Learn the weaknesses of indicator divergence.
  8. Investing News

    6 Signs You Are Addicted To Investing

    An addiction to trading can ruin your life and relationships. Not to mention the monetary costs. There are telltale signs that you've gone too far.
  9. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in FireEye Stock

    Examine the current state of FireEye, Inc., and learn about some of the biggest risks of investing in this cybersecurity company's stock.
  10. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Gilead Stock

    Examine the current position of Gilead Sciences, Inc., and learn the major risks for investors considering buying Gilead stock.
  1. Can working capital be too high?

    A company's working capital ratio can be too high in the sense that an excessively high ratio is generally considered an ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are some of the most common technical indicators that back up Doji patterns?

    The doji candlestick is important enough that Steve Nison devotes an entire chapter to it in his definitive work on candlestick ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do I use discounted cash flow (DCF) to value stock?

    Discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis can be a very helpful tool for analysts and investors in equity valuation. It provides ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Tame Panic Selling with the Exhausted Selling Model

    The exhausted selling model is a pricing strategy used to identify and trade based off of the price floor of a security. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Point and Figure Charting Using Count Analysis

    Count analysis is a means of interpreting point and figure charts to measure vertical price movements. Technical analysts ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What assumptions are made when conducting a t-test?

    The common assumptions made when doing a t-test include those regarding the scale of measurement, random sampling, normality ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  2. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  3. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  4. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
  5. Revenue

    The amount of money that a company actually receives during a specific period, including discounts and deductions for returned ...
  6. Normal Profit

    An economic condition occurring when the difference between a firm’s total revenue and total cost is equal to zero.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!