An Introduction to Price Action Trading Strategies

Price action describes the characteristics of a security’s price movements. This movement is quite often analyzed with respect to price changes in the recent past. In simple terms, price action is a trading technique that allows a trader to read the market and make subjective trading decisions based on the recent and actual price movements, rather than relying solely on technical indicators.

Since it ignores the fundamental analysis factors and focuses more on recent and past price movement, the price action trading strategy is dependent on technical analysis tools.

Key Takeaways

  • Many day traders focus on price action trading strategies to quickly generate a profit over a short time frame.
  • For example, they may look for a simple breakout from the session's high, enter into a long position, and use strict money management strategies to generate a profit.
  • Several tools and software platforms can be used to trade price action.

Tools Used for Price Action Trading

Since price action trading relates to recent historical data and past price movements, all technical analysis tools like charts, trend lines, price bands, high and low swings, technical levels (of support, resistance and consolidation), etc. are taken into account as per the trader’s choice and strategy fit.

The tools and patterns observed by the trader can be simple price bars, price bands, break-outs, trend-lines, or complex combinations involving candlesticks, volatility, channels, etc.

Psychological and behavioral interpretations and subsequent actions, as decided by the trader, also make up an important aspect of price action trades. For e.g., no matter what happens, if a stock hovering at 580 crosses the personally-set psychological level of 600, then the trader may assume a further upward move to take a long position. Other traders may have an opposite view – once 600 is hit, they assume a price reversal and hence takes a short position.

No two traders will interpret a certain price action in the same way, as each will have their own interpretation, defined rules and different behavioral understanding of it. On the other hand, a technical analysis scenario (like 15 DMA crossing over 50 DMA) will yield similar behavior and action (long position) from multiple traders.

In essence, price action trading is a systematic trading practice, aided by technical analysis tools and recent price history, where traders are free to take their own decisions within a given scenario to take trading positions, as per their subjective, behavioral and psychological state.

Who Uses Price Action Trading?

Since price action trading is an approach to price predictions and speculation, it is used by retail traders, speculatorsarbitrageurs and even trading firms who employ traders. It can be used on a wide range of securities including equities, bonds, forex, commodities, derivatives, etc.

Price Action Trading Steps

Most experienced traders following price action trading keep multiple options for recognizing trading patterns, entry and exit levels, stop-losses and related observations. Having just one strategy on one (or multiple) stocks may not offer sufficient trading opportunities. Most scenarios involve a two-step process:

  1. Identifying a scenario: Like a stock price getting into a bull/bear phase, channel range, breakout, etc.
  2. Within the scenario, identifying trading opportunities: Like once a stock is in bull run, is it likely to (a) overshoot or (b) retreat. This is a completely subjective choice and can vary from one trader to the other, even given the same identical scenario.

Here are a few examples:

  • A stock reaches its high as per the trader’s view and then retreats to a slightly lower level (scenario met). The trader can then decide whether they think it will form a double top to go higher, or drop further following a mean reversion.
  • The trader sets a floor and ceiling for a particular stock price based on the assumption of low volatility and no breakouts. If the stock price lies in this range (scenario met), the trader can take positions assuming the set floor/ceiling acting as support/resistance levels, or take an alternate view that the stock will breakout in either direction.
  • A defined breakout scenario being met and then trading opportunity existing in terms of breakout continuation (going further in the same direction) or breakout pull-back (returning to the past level)

As can be seen, price action trading is closely assisted by technical analysis tools, but the final trading call is dependent on the individual trader, offering flexibility instead of enforcing a strict set of rules to be followed.

The Popularity of Price Action Trading

Price action trading is better suited for short-to-medium term limited profit trades, instead of long term investments.

Most traders believe that the market follows a random pattern and there is no clear systematic way to define a strategy that will always work. By combining the technical analysis tools with the recent price history to identify trade opportunities based on the trader’s own interpretation, price action trading has a lot of support in the trading community.

Advantages include self-defined strategies offering flexibility to traders, applicability to multiple asset classes, easy use with any trading software, applications and trading portals and the possibility of easy backtesting of any identified strategy on past data. Most importantly, the traders feel in charge, as the strategy allows them to decide on their actions, instead of blindly following a set of rules.

What Does Price Action Mean?

Price action refers to the pattern or character of how the price of a security or asset behaves, often in the short run. Price action can be analyzed when it is plotted graphically over time, often in the form of a line chart or candlestick chart.

What Does Price Action Tell You?

Technical analysts look to price action on charts to look for patterns or indicators that can help predict how a security will behave in the future and to time entry and exit points of trades. Technical tools like moving averages and oscillators are derived from price action and projected into the future to inform traders.

What Are Some Limitations of Using Price Action?

Price action is often subjective and traders may interpret the same chart or price history somewhat differently, leading to different decisions. Another limitation is that past price action is not always a valid predictor of future outcomes. As a result, technical traders should employ a range of tools to confirm indicators and be prepared to exit trades quickly if their predictions prove incorrect.

The Bottom Line

A lot of theories and strategies are available on price action trading claiming high success rates, but traders should be aware of survivorship bias, as only success stories make news. Trading does have the potential for making handsome profits. It is up to the individual trader to clearly understand, test, select, decide and act on what meets the requirements for the best possible profit opportunities.

If you're interested in day trading, Investopedia's Become a Day Trader Course provides a comprehensive review of the subject from an experienced Wall Street trader. You'll learn proven trading strategies, risk management techniques, and much more in over five hours of on-demand video, exercises, and interactive content.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Adam Grimes. "The art and science of technical analysis: market structure, price action, and trading strategies. Vol. 544." John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

  2. Mark Helweg and David Stendahl. "Dynamic trading indicators: winning with value charts and price action profile. Vol. 133." John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

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