What is Technical Analysis?

Technical analysis is a trading discipline employed to evaluate investments and identify trading opportunities by analyzing statistical trends gathered from trading activity, such as price movement and volume. Unlike fundamental analysts, who attempt to evaluate a security's intrinsic value, technical analysts focus on patterns of price movements, trading signals and various other analytical charting tools to evaluate a security's strength or weakness.

Technical analysis can be used on any security with historical trading data. This includes stocks, futurescommodities, fixed-income, currencies, and other securities. In this tutorial, we’ll usually analyze stocks in our examples, but keep in mind that these concepts can be applied to any type of security. In fact, technical analysis is far more prevalent in commodities and forex markets where traders focus on short-term price movements.


Understanding Fundamental Vs. Technical Analysis

Key Takeaways

  • Technical analysis is a trading discipline employed to evaluate investments and identify trading opportunities in price trends and patterns seen on charts.
  • Technical analysts believe past trading activity and price changes of a security can be valuable indicators of the security's future price movements.
  • Technical analysis may be contrasted with fundamental analysis, which focuses on a company's financials rather than historical price patterns or stock trends.

The Basics Of Technical Analysis

Technical analysis as we know it today was first introduced by Charles Dow and the Dow Theory in the late 1800s. Several noteworthy researchers including William P. Hamilton, Robert Rhea, Edson Gould and John Magee further contributed to Dow Theory concepts helping to form its basis. In modern day, technical analysis has evolved to included hundreds of patterns and signals developed through years of research. 

Technical analysts believe past trading activity and price changes of a security can be valuable indicators of the security's future price movements. They may use technical analysis independent of other research efforts or in combination with some concepts of intrinsic value considerations but most often their convictions are based solely on the statistical charts of a security. The Market Technicians Association (MTA) is one of the most popular groups supporting technical analysts in their investments with the Chartered Market Technicians (CMT) designation a popular certification for many advanced technical analysts.

The Underlying Assumptions of Technical Analysis

There are two primary methods used to analyze securities and make investment decisions: fundamental analysis and technical analysis. Fundamental analysis involves analyzing a company’s financial statements to determine the fair value of the business, while technical analysis assumes that a security’s price already reflects all publicly-available information and instead focuses on the statistical analysis of price movements. Technical analysis attempts to understand the market sentiment behind price trends by looking for patterns and trends rather than analyzing a security’s fundamental attributes.

Charles Dow released a series of editorials discussing technical analysis theory. His writings included two basic assumptions that have continued to form the framework for technical analysis trading.

  1. Markets are efficient with values representing factors that influence a security’s price, but
  2. Market price movements are not purely random but move in identifiable patterns and trends that tend to repeat over time

The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) essentially means the market price of a security at any given point in time accurately reflects all available information, and therefore represents the true fair value of the security. This assumption is based on the idea that the market price reflects the sum total knowledge of all market participants. While this assumption is generally believed to be true, it can be affected by news or announcements about a security that may have varied short-term or long-term influence on a security’s price.Technical analysis only works if markets are weakly efficient.

The second basic assumption underlying technical analysis, the notion that price changes are not random, leads to the belief of technical analysts that market trends, both short-term and long-term, can be identified, enabling market traders to profit from investing based on trend analysis.

Today, technical analysis is based on three main assumptions:

1: The market discounts everything.

Many experts criticize technical analysis because it only considers price movements and ignores fundamental factors. Technical analysts believe that everything from a company’s fundamentals to broad market factors to market psychology are already priced into the stock. This removes the need to consider the factors separately before making an investment decision. The only thing remaining is the analysis of price movements, which technical analysts view as the product of supply and demand for a particular stock in the market.

2: Price moves in trends.

Technical analysts believe that prices move in short-, medium-, and long-term trend. In other words, a stock price is more likely to continue a past trend than move erratically. Most technical trading strategies are based on this assumption.

3: History tends to repeat itself.

Technical analysts believe that history tends to repeat itself. The repetitive nature of price movements is often attributed to market psychology, which tends to be very predictable based on emotions like fear or excitement. Technical analysis uses chart patterns to analyze these emotions and subsequent market movements to understand trends. While many form of technical analysis have been used for more than 100 years, they are still believed to be relevant because they illustrate patterns in price movements that often repeat themselves.

How Technical Analysis Is Used

Technical analysis attempts to forecast the price movement of virtually any tradable instrument that is generally subject to forces of supply and demand, including stocks, bonds, futures and currency pairs. In fact, some view technical analysis as simply the study of supply and demand forces as reflected in the market price movements of a security. Technical analysis most commonly applies to price changes, but some analysts track numbers other than just price, such as trading volume or open interest figures.

Across the industry there are hundreds of patterns and signals that have been developed by researchers to support technical analysis trading. Technical analysts have also developed numerous types of trading systems to help them forecast and trade on price movements. Some indicators are focused primarily on identifying the current market trend, including support and resistance areas, while others are focused on determining the strength of a trend and the likelihood of its continuation. Commonly used technical indicators and charting patterns include trendlines, channels, moving averages and momentum indicators. 

In general, technical analysts look at the following broad types of indicators:

The Difference Between Technical Analysis And Fundamental Analysis

Fundamental analysis and technical analysis, the major schools of thought when it comes to approaching the markets, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Both methods are used for researching and forecasting future trends in stock prices, and like any investment strategy or philosophy, both have their advocates and adversaries. 

Fundamental analysis is a method of evaluating securities by attempting to measure the intrinsic value of a stock. Fundamental analysts study everything from the overall economy and industry conditions to the financial condition and management of companies. Earningsexpensesassets and liabilities are all important characteristics to fundamental analysts.

Technical analysis differs from fundamental analysis in that the stock's price and volume are the only inputs. The core assumption is that all known fundamentals are factored into price; thus, there is no need to pay close attention to them. Technical analysts do not attempt to measure a security's intrinsic value, but instead use stock charts to identify patterns and trends that suggest what a stock will do in the future.

Limitations Of Technical Analysis

The major hurdle to the legitimacy of technical analysis is the economic principle of the efficient markets hypothesis. According to the EMH, market prices reflect all current and past information already and so there is no way to take advantage of patterns or mispricings to earn extra profits, or alpha. Economists and fundamental analysts who believe in efficient markets do not believe that any actionable information is contained in historical price and volume data, and furthermore that history does not repeat itself; rather, prices move as a random walk.

A second criticism of technical analysis is that it works in some cases but only because it constitutes a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, many technical traders will place a stop-loss order below the 200-day moving average of a certain company. If a large number of traders have done so and the stock reaches this price, there will be a large number of sell orders, which will push the stock down, confirming the movement traders anticipated. Then, other traders will see the price decrease and also sell their positions, reinforcing the strength of the trend. This short-term selling pressure can be considered self-fulfilling, but it will have little bearing on where the asset's price will be weeks or months from now. In sum, if enough people use the same signals, they could cause the movement foretold by the signal, but over the long run this sole group of traders cannot drive price.