What Is a Doji?

A doji is a name for a session in which the candlestick for a security has an open and close that are virtually equal and are often components in patterns. Doji candlesticks look like a cross, inverted cross or plus sign. Alone, doji are neutral patterns that are also featured in a number of important patterns. A doji candlestick forms when a security's open and close are virtually equal for the given time period and generally signals a reversal pattern for technical analysts. In Japanese, "doji" means blunder or mistake, referring to the rarity of having the open and close price be exactly the same.

Depending on where the open/close line falls, a doji can be described as a gravestone, long-legged, or dragonfly.

Doji
Image by Julie Bang © Investopedia 2019

Key Takeaways

  • A doji is a name for a session in which the candlestick for a security has an open and close that are virtually equal and are often components in patterns.
  • Alone, doji are neutral patterns that are also featured in a number of important patterns.
  • Doji formations come in three major types: gravestone; long-legged; and dragonfly.

What Does a Doji Tell You?

Technical analysts believe that all known information about the stock is reflected in the price, which is to say price is efficient. Still, past price performance has nothing to do with future price performance, and the actual price of a stock may have nothing to with its real or intrinsic value. Therefore, technical analysts use tools to help sift through the noise to find the highest probability trades. One tool that was developed by a Japanese rice trader named Homma from the town of Sakata in the 17th century, and it was made popular by Charles Dow in the 1900s: the candlestick chart.

Every candlestick pattern has four sets of data that help to define its shape. Based on this shape, analysts are able to make assumptions about price behavior. Each candlestick is based on an open, high, low and close. The time period or tick interval used does not matter. The filled or hollow bar created by the candlestick pattern is called the body. The lines that extend out of the body are called shadows. A stock that closes higher than its opening will have a hollow candlestick. If the stock closes lower, the body will have a filled candlestick. One of the most important candlestick formations is called the doji.

A doji, referring to both singular and plural form, is created when the open and close for a stock are virtually the same. Doji tend to look like a cross or plus sign and have small or nonexistent bodies. From an auction theory perspective, doji represent indecision on the side of both buyers and sellers. Everyone is equally matched, so the price goes nowhere; buyers and sellers are in a standoff. Some analysts interpret this as a sign of reversal. However, it may also be a time when buyers or sellers are gaining momentum for a continuation trend. Doji are commonly seen in periods of consolidation and can help analysts identify potential price breakouts.

Example of How to Use a Doji

The following chart shows a gravestone doji in Cyanotech Corp.'s stock from February, 2018 following a significant high volume uptrend, which could indicate a bearish reversal over the near-term following the breakout.

Gravestone Doji Example
Gravestone Doji Example.

In this example, the gravestone doji could predict a further breakdown from the current levels to close the gap near the 50- or 200-day moving averages at $4.16 and $4.08, respectively. Traders would also take a look at other technical indicators to confirm a potential breakdown, such as the relative strength index(RSI) or the moving average convergence divergence (MACD). Day traders may also put a stop-loss just above the upper shadow at around $5.10, although intermediate-term traders may place a higher stop-loss to avoid being stopped out.

What is the Difference Between a Doji and a Spinning Top?

Candlestick charts can reveal quite a bit of information about market trends, sentiment, momentum and volatility. The patterns that form in the candlestick charts are signals of such actions and reactions in the market. Doji and spinning top candles are quite commonly seen as part of larger patterns, such as the star formations. Alone, doji and spinning tops indicate neutrality in price, or that buying and selling pressures are, essentially, equal, but there are differences between the two and how technical analysts read them.

Spinning tops are quite similar to doji, but their bodies are larger, where the open and close are relatively close. A candle's real body can generally represent up to 5% of the size of the entire candle's range in order to be classified as a doji. Any more than that, it becomes a spinning top. A spinning top also signals weakness in the current trend, but not necessarily a reversal. If either a doji or spinning top is spotted, look to other indicators, such as Bollinger Bands, to determine the context to decide if they are indicative of trend neutrality or reversal.

Limitations of a Doji

In isolation, a doji candlestick is a neutral indicator that provides little information. Moreover, a doji is not a common occurrence, therefore, it is not a reliable tool for spotting things like price reversals. When it does occur, it isn't always reliable either. There is no assurance the price will continue in the expected direction following the confirmation candle.

The size of the doji's tail or wick coupled with the size of the confirmation candle can sometimes mean the entry point for a trade is a long way from the stop loss location. This means traders will need to find another location for the stop loss, or they may need to forgo the trade since too large of a stop loss may not justify the potential reward of the trade. Estimating the potential reward of a doji-informed trade can also be difficult since candlestick patterns don't typically provide price targets. Other techniques, such as other candlestick patterns, indicators, or strategies are required in order to exit the trade when and if profitable.