Range Bar Charts: A Different View of the Markets

Nicolellis range bars were developed in the mid-1990s by Vicente Nicolellis, a Brazilian trader and broker who spent over a decade running a trading desk in Sao Paulo. The local markets at the time were very volatile, and Nicolellis became interested in developing a way to use the volatility to his advantage. He believed price movement was paramount to understanding (and making profits from) volatility. So, Nicolellis developed the idea of range bars, which consider only price, thereby eliminating time from the equation.

Key Takeaways

  • Range-bar charts are different from time-based charts because each new bar in a range bar is based on price movement rather than units of time, like minutes, hours, days, or weeks.
  • Brazilian trader Vicente Nicolellis created range-bar charts in the mid-1990s in order to better understand the volatile markets at that time.
  • In volatile markets, many bars will print on a range bar chart, but range bars will be fewer in slow markets.
  • The ideal settings for range-bar charts depend on the security, price, and amount of volatility.

Calculating Range Bars

Nicolellis found that bars based on price only, and not time or other data, provided a new way of viewing and utilizing volatility of financial markets. Most traders and investors are familiar with bar charts based on time. For instance, a 30-minute chart shows the price activity for each 30-minute time period during a trading day and each bar on a daily chart shows the activity for one trading day. Time-based charts will always print the same number of bars during each trading session, trading week, or trading year, regardless of volatility, volume, or any other factor.

Range bar charts, on the other hand, can have any number of bars printing during a trading session: during times of higher volatility, more bars will appear on the chart, but during periods of lower volatility, fewer bars will print. The number of range bars created during a trading session will also depend on the instrument being charted and the specified price movement for each range bar.

Three rules of range bars:

  • Each range bar must have a high/low range that equals the specified range.
  • Each range bar must open outside the high/low range of the previous bar.
  • Each range bar must close at either its high or its low.

Settings for Range Bars

Specifying the degree of price movement for creating a range bar is not a one-size-fits-all process. Different trading instruments move in a variety of ways. For example, a higher-priced stock such as Google (GOOG) might have a daily range of $20 or $30; a lower-priced stock, such as Blackberry Limited (BB) might move only a fraction of that in a typical day. Blackberry Limited is the company previously known as Research In Motion (it is named as such in the charts below). It is common for higher-priced trading instruments to experience greater average daily price ranges.

The chart below shows both Google and Blackberry with 10-cent range bars. One-half of the trading session (9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST) for Google can barely be compressed to fit on one screen since it has a much greater daily range than Blackberry, and therefore many more 10 cent range bars are created.

These charts compare two trading instruments' daily activity shown with 10-cent range bars. Notice how the Google chart has many more 10-cent range bars than Blackberry. This is due to the fact the Google typically trades in a greater range. Only half of the trading session for Google could be squeezed into the upper chart; the entire trading session for Blackberry appears in the bottom chart.

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2021

Google and Blackberry provide an example for two stocks that trade at very different prices (one high and one low), resulting in distinct average daily price ranges. It should be noted that, while it is generally true that high-priced trading instruments can have a greater average daily price range than those that are lower priced, instruments that trade at roughly the same price can have very different levels of volatility, as well. While we could apply the same range-bar settings across the board, it is more helpful to determine an appropriate range setting for each trading instrument.

One method for establishing suitable settings is to consider the trading instrument's average daily range. This can be accomplished through observation or by utilizing indicators such as average true range (ATR) on a daily chart interval. Once the average daily range has been determined, a percentage of that range could be used to establish the desired price range for a range bar chart.

Another consideration is the trader's style. Short-term traders may be more interested in looking at smaller price movements and, therefore, may be inclined to have a smaller range-bar setting. Longer-term traders and investors may require range bar settings that are based on larger price moves.

For example, an intraday trader may watch a 10-cent (.01) range bar on McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP). This would allow the short-term trader to watch for significant price moves that occur during one trading session. Conversely, an investor might want one dollar (1.0) range-bar setting for the same stock, which would help reveal price movements that would be significant to the longer-term style of trading and investing.

Trading with Range Bars

Range bars can help traders view price in a "consolidated" form. Much of the noise that occurs when prices bounce back and forth between a narrow range can be reduced to a single bar or two. This is because a new bar will not print until the full specified price range has been fulfilled, and helps traders distinguish what is actually happening to price.

Because range-bar charts eliminate much of the noise, they are very useful charts on which to draw trendlines. Areas of support and resistance can be emphasized through the application of horizontal trendlines; trending periods can be highlighted through the use of up-trendlines and down-trendlines.

For example, the chart below shows trendlines applied to a .001 range bar chart of the euro vs. U.S. dollar (EUR/USD) forex pair. The horizontal trendlines easily depict trading ranges, and price moves that break through these areas are often powerful. Typically, the more times price bounces back and forth between the range, the more powerful the move may be once price breaks through. This is considered true for touches along up-trendlines and down-trendlines: the more times price touches the same trendline, the greater the potential move once price breaks through.


Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2021

The chart below illustrates a price channel drawn as two parallel down-trendlines on a range-bar chart of Google. We have used a one range bar here, where each bar equals $1 of price movement and which does a better job of eliminating the "extra" price movements that were seen in the first chart using a 10-cent range-bar setting. Since some of the consolidating price movement is eliminated by using a larger range bar setting, traders may be able to more readily spot changes in price activity. Trendlines are a natural fit to range-bar charts; with less noise, trends may be easier to detect.

This 1 Range-bar chart of Google illustrates a price channel created by drawing parallel down-trendlines. The move to the upside was substantial once price broke above the channel.

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2021

Interpreting Volatility with Range Bars

Volatility refers to the degree of price movement in a trading instrument. As markets trade in a narrow range, fewer range bars will print, reflecting decreased volatility. As price begins to break out of a trading range with an increase in volatility, more range bars will print.

In order for range bars to become meaningful as a measure of volatility, a trader must spend time observing a particular trading instrument with a specific range-bar setting applied.

Through observation, a trader can notice the subtle changes in the timing of the bars and the frequency in which they print. The faster the bars print, the greater the price volatility; the slower the bars print, the lower the price volatility. Periods of increased volatility often signify trading opportunities as a new trend may be starting.

The Bottom Line

While not a technical indicator, range bars can be used to identify trends and to interpret volatility. Since range bars take only price into consideration, and not time or other factors, they provide traders with a unique view of price activity. Spending time observing range bars in action is the best way to establish the most useful settings for a particular trading instrument and trading style, and to determine how to effectively apply them to a trading system.

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