Investing comes in many shapes and sizes. And like religion (see Investing Religion article), most investment strategies are built on the essential belief that following certain rules and conventions will eventually lead to profit enlightenment. When it comes to technical analysis (TA), a discipline used with the principal aim of predicting future prices from past patterns, some consider it a necessity for making money in the market. Others, regard the practice of TA as a pseudoscience, much like astrology.
I feel there is a proper place for TA on selective basis, which I will describe later, but for the most part I agree with some of the legendary investors who have chimed in on the subject:
Warren Buffett: “I realized technical analysis didn’t work when I turned the charts upside down and didn’t get a different answer.”
Peter Lynch: “Charts are great for predicting the past.”
Technical Analysis Linguistics
Fundamental analysis, the antithesis of technical analysis, strives to predict future price direction by analyzing facts and data surrounding a company, industry, and/or economy. It too comes with its own syntax and versions, for example: value, growth, top-down, bottom-up, quantitative, etc.
I do not claim to be a TA expert, however in my many years of investing I have come across a smorgasbord of terms and flavors surrounding the discipline. Describing and explaining the density of material surrounding TA would encompass too large of a scope for this article, but here are some prevalent terms one should come to grips with if you want to become a technical analysis guru:
Technical Analysis Approaches
- Elliot Wave
- Relative strength / Momentum (see Momentum Investing article)
- MACD (Moving Average Convergence / Divergence)
- Fibonacci retracement
- Dow Theory
- Bollinger bands
- Head and shoulders
- Double bottom
- Cup and handle
- Pivot points
- Dead cat bounce (my personal favorite)
Each of these patterns are supposes to provide insight into the future direction of price. At best, I would say the academic research surrounding the subject is “inconclusive,” and at worst I’d say it’s considered a complete “sham.”
The Lob Wedge
As I’ve stated earlier, I fall in the skeptical camp when it comes to TA, since fundamental analysis is the main engine I use for generating and tracking my investment ideas. For illustrative purposes, you may consider fundamental analysis as my group of drivers and irons. I do, however, utilize selective facets of TA much like I use a lob wedge in golf for a limited number of specific situations (e.g., shots over high trees, downhill lies, and fast greens). When it comes to trading, I do believe there is some value in tracking the relationship of extreme trading volume (high or low), especially when it is coupled with extreme price movement (high or low). The economic laws of supply and demand hold true for stock trades just as they do for guns and butter, and sharp moves in these components can provide insights into the psychological mindset of investors with respect to a security (or broader market). Beyond trading volume, there are a few other indicators that I utilize as part of my trading strategies, but these tactics play a relatively minor role, since most of my core positions are held on a multi-year time horizon.
Overall, there is a stream of wasteful noise, volatility, and misinformation that permeates the financial markets on a daily basis. A major problem with technical analysis is the many false triggered signals, which in many cases lead to excessive trading, transaction costs, and ultimately subpar investment returns. Although I remain a skeptic on the subject of technical analysis and I may not read my horoscope today, I will continue to keep a lob wedge in my golf bag with the hopes of finding new, creative ways of using it to my advantage.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®