Some traders and investors denounce technical analysis (TA) as a superficial study of charts and patterns without any concrete, conclusive or profitable results. Others believe it is a sort of Holy Grail that once mastered will unleash sizable profits. These opposing viewpoints have led to misconceptions about technical analysis and how it is used.
Technical analysis tries to capture market psychology and sentiment by analyzing price trends and chart patterns for possible trading opportunities. Contrary to fundamental analysis, technical analysts do not necessarily care much about the companies behind the stocks they trade or their profitability.
Some misconceptions about technical analysis are based on education and training. For example, a trader trained in using only fundamentals may not trust technical analysis at all. But that doesn't mean someone who is trained in technical analysis can't use it profitably.
Other TA assumptions are based on bad experiences. For example, the incorrect use of technical indicators often leads to losses. That doesn't mean the method is necessarily wrong; possibly the person just needs more practice and training. The negative sentiment can be perpetuated by unscrupulous marketing, promising overnight riches if a simple TA indicator is bought and used. It rarely is that easy.
Here are eight common technical analysis myths—and why they simply aren't true.
- Technical analysis (TA) tries to capture market psychology and sentiment by analyzing price trends and chart patterns for possible trading opportunities.
- Many opponents of TA subscribe to myths about the strategy.
- Common myths about TA include it being only for day trading and only used by individual traders.
- Other myths include the idea that TA is quick and easy, with all decisions made by software.
- Some erroneously expect TA to make precise price predictions and be equally appropriate across all financial markets.
1. Technical Analysis Is Only for Short-Term Trading or Day Trading
It is a common myth that technical analysis is only appropriate for short-term and computer-driven trading like day trading and high-frequency trades. Technical analysis existed and was practiced before computers were common, and some of the pioneers in technical analysis were long-term investors and traders, not day traders. Technical analysis is used by traders on all time frames, from one-minute charts to weekly and monthly charts.
2. Only Individual Traders Use Technical Analysis
While individuals do use technical analysis, hedge funds and investment banks make ample use of technical analysis as well. Investment banks have dedicated trading teams that use technical analysis. High-frequency trading, which encompasses a significant amount of the trading volume on the stock exchanges, is heavily dependent on technical concepts.
3. Technical Analysis Has a Low Success Rate
A look at the list of successful market traders, who have decades of trading experience, debunks this myth. Successful trader interviews have cited significant numbers of traders who owe their success to technical analysis and patterns. For example, Market Wizards: Interviews With Top Traders (Wiley, 2012) by Jack D. Schwager features interviews with many professionals who've profited solely by using technical analysis.
4. Technical Analysis Is Quick and Easy
The internet is full of technical analysis courses that promise trading success. Though many individuals enter the trading world by placing their first trade based on simple technical indicators, continued success in trading requires in-depth learning, practice, good money management, and discipline. It requires dedicated time, knowledge, and attention. Technical analysis is only a tool, only one piece of the puzzle.
5. Ready-Made Technical Analysis Software Can Help Traders Make Easy Money
Unfortunately, this is not true. There are many online ads for cheap and costly software that claims to do all your analysis for you. In addition, less-experienced traders sometimes confuse technical analysis tools in broker-provided trading software for trading models that will guarantee profit. Though technical analysis software provides insights about trends and patterns, it doesn't necessarily guarantee profits. It's up to the trader to correctly interpret trends and data.
6. Technical Indicators Can Be Applied Across All Markets
While technical analysis can be applied to many markets, specific asset classes have specific requirements. Equities, futures, options, commodities, and bonds all have differences. There may be time-dependent patterns like high volatility in futures and options nearing expiry, or seasonal patterns in commodities. Don't make the mistake of applying technical indicators intended for one asset class to another.
7. Technical Analysis Can Provide Precise Price Predictions
Many novices expect recommendations from technical analysts or software patterns to be 100% precise. For example, inexperienced traders may expect a prediction as specific as, "stock ABC will reach $62 in two months." However, experienced technical analysts usually avoid quoting prices so specifically. Rather they tend to quote a range such as, "stock A could move in the range of $59 to $64 in the next two to three months."
Traders betting their money on technical recommendations should be aware that technical analysis provides a predictive range, not an exact number. Technical analysis is also about probability and likelihoods, not guarantees. If something works more often than not, even though it doesn't work all the time, it can still be very effective at generating profits.
8. The Winning Rate in Technical Analysis Should Be Higher
It's a common myth that a high percentage of winning trades is needed for profitability. However, that is not always the case. Assume Peter makes four winning trades out of five, while Molly makes one winning trade out of five. Who is more successful? Most people would say Peter, but we don't actually know until we get more information. Profitability is a combination of win rate and risk/reward. If Peter makes $20 on his winners but is down $80 from his one loss, he ends up with $0. If Molly makes $50 on her win and losses $10 on her losses, she walks away with $10. She is better off, even with fewer wins. Proper trade structuring allows for profitability even with few winners
The Bottom Line
Technical analysis provides a large basket of tools and concepts for trading. There are successful traders who don't use it, and there are successful traders who do. Some believe technical analysis is the best way to trade, while others claim it is misguided and lacks a theoretical basis.
Ultimately, it is up to each trader to explore technical analysis and determine if it is right for them. It doesn't guarantee instant profits or 100% accuracy, but for those who diligently practice the concepts, it does provide a realistic possibility of trading success.