Designed for long-term investment, point and figure (P&F) charts have been described as one of the simplest systems for determining solid entry and exit points in stock market trading. This charting system monitors supply and demand of each issue while keeping an eye on developing trends. What makes P&F charts unique is that they do not account for the discrete passage of time as most other types of chart do along their x-axes.

While point and figure charting has never been at the top of the list of popular techniques used by technical analysts, there is a growing interest in P&F from all corners of the charting community. Here we take a close look at P&F charts and how to read and construct them.

Key Takeaways

  • Point and figure charts are a way to visualize price movements and trends in an asset without regard to the amount of time that passes.
  • P&F charts utilize columns consisting of stacked Xs or Os, each of which represents a set amount of price movement.
  • The Xs illustrate rising prices, while Os represent a falling price.
  • Some argue that support and resistance levels, as well as breakouts, are more clearly defined on a P&F chart since it filters out tiny price movements and is less susceptible to false breakouts.

Constructing P&F Charts

Conventional technical analysis charts tend to be the open-close/high-low chart that plot price movements over the course of time, say from day to day. In the creation of P&F charts, the emphasis is only on the closing price of an issue. The developers of P&F charting were interested in trend development and thus were not concerned with the noise created daily by minor moves up or down, but with how the larger picture played out from a supply and demand perspective.

The key to P&F charts is the establishment of the unit of price, which is the unit measurement of a price movement plotted on the graph. On P&F charts, there is no time axis, only a price axis. Rising stock prices are shown with X's and falling prices are shown with O's. These points appear on the chart only if the price moved at least one unit of price in either direction.

So say the closing prices of a stock moved up one price unit three times. This would appear as a column of three X's. If the price movement reverses direction, the chart shows a new column of O's, wherein an O is plotted for each unit of price movement. X's and O's never appear in the same column. The chartist, however, must establish how many price units make up a box, which is how much the price must move in the opposite direction for the chart to begin a new column.

Let's say, for an example, the stock you were tracking was trading at $25, and you were using a $1 unit measurement and a reversal box is three units. Now, if the stock had been trading upward to $25, the stock would have to close at $22 before the chart would reverse to a column of O's. Because each unit of price movement must be plotted, each unit of price movement down from the $25 level must, in this new column of O's, be represented by one O. The next reversal would have the stock trading up at least $3, or three points, before a new column of X's came back into view on our P&F chart. Assume then that the issue continues to fall to $20 before reversing itself; the X's would reappear once the price hits $23. Remember, you choose the unit size. It could be $0.50, $1 or even $2 if the stock price is high enough. Graphically, the first two columns of our example would look like this:

$25.00 X
$24.00 XO
$23.00 XO
$22.00 XO
$21.00 X

Reading P&F Charts

Now that we have had a look at how to construct a P&F chart, the next question is how do we read it. It is clearly understood by P&F experts that the law of supply and demand determines the price of the stock. If the issue is rising in price and we have an uptrend in place with at least three X's, we believe that demand has overcome supply.

The reverse, when that chart gives us three O's, indicates supply has overcome demand. P&F charts show us the establishment of trends, trend reversals and the supply and demand of charted issues.

Here are some examples:

Figure 1: Examples of trends illustrated by point and figure charts. Source: trendsoft.com

The following will give you a solid base to further study two important principles of P&F charting: support levels and resistance levels. You should remember that both support and resistance are shown in horizontal lines and trendlines are represented with 45-degree angles.

Support Levels

A support level is a level at which investors and traders alike believe prices will start to move higher after hitting the support mark. Have a look at the three O's in the example above to see what this means. A horizontal row of O's is what you are looking for when zeroing in on a trend reversal and an uptrend to begin.

Resistance Levels

A horizontal row of X's marks the resistance levels you need to be looking for in the P&F charting study. Studies of trendlines have shown that a break through resistance levels generally occurs with great gusto – that is, with big volume and a rapid increasing stock price.

Bottom Line

Trends take a long time to reverse, so traders should remember that P&F charting is designed for long-term investors and has no value whatsoever for the short-term trader. By using point and figure charting to identify overall price trends, technical investors can take positions that have a strong probability of profiting.

This is just a basic overview of P&F charts. The best book ever written on the subject is "Point and Figure Charting" by Thomas Dorsey. This book is a must for all those who want a thorough understanding of this popular charting method. Since the introduction of P&F charts, they have been deeply integrated in other technical analysis and trading strategies.