Pick up any Technical Analysis textbook and you are bound to find countless examples of highly profitable chart patterns. Most books include a plethora of real-life charts showing a pattern developing, the buy signal, and the predicted move. The general idea is to memorize the various patterns, look through charts to find them, place a trade, and profit. Easy-peasy. Repeat over and over until fabulously wealthy.
Or at least that is how it is supposed to work. Unfortunately nothing in the market is ever that easy. While most of these patterns are valid and have sound human psychology principles backing them up, the problem comes from false positives. When a chart starts with the perfect setup, but it fails to complete the pattern. The idea of false positives is further complicated because so many patterns look similar. While this wouldn’t be a problem if similar setups told us to do the same thing, unfortunately most setups can give us conflicting advice.
There are countless examples where a pattern works beautifully and any Technical Analysis writer worth his salt can find charts showing the pattern working exactly as it should. The problem comes from all the false positives. How many times did this exact pattern show up and fail to behave as predicted? False positives are the bogie no one talks about and is the biggest challenge in trading with Technical Analysis.
The pure technical trader claims nothing matters except the price-action. The company name, industry, financials, profitability, news, and all the rest doesn’t matter because the market has already incorporated all of that information into the price. The pure technician believes fundamentals are redundant and he ignores them.
Unfortunately ignoring everything except price leaves out a lot of useful information. Take one of the conflicting examples I listed above, higher-high or double-top. Nearly identical setup, but much different outcome. One interpretation tells you to buy, the other tells you to sell. What should you do? Like everything in the market, the answer depends.
Most of the time the answer lies in the pieces of information the true technician ignores. Namely the news and the market’s reaction to it. No matter what the chart tells you, a stock that goes up on bad news is a great buy and a stock that stops going up on good news is one to run away from. I will dig a lot deeper into interpreting the news in another CMU post. Sign up for Free Email Alerts so you don’t miss it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the usefulness of Technical Analysis. It is a great tool and I use it every day. But like any tool, it has its limitations. Successful traders recognize profitable patterns, but they also recognize the false positives. Or which pattern is more meaningful when similar setups are giving conflicting recommendations. Learn and use Technical Analysis, but always be aware of the risks posed by false positives and develop a process to weed them out.
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Jani Ziedins (pronounced Ya-nee) is a full-time investor and writer who has successfully traded stocks and options for more than a decade. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA and M.S. Marketing from the University of Colorado Denver. His prior professional experience includes manufacturing engineering at Fortune 500 companies, structural engineering, small business consultant, collegiate instructor, and managing investment real estate. He is now fortunate enough to trade full-time from home, affording him the luxury of spending extra time with his wife and two young children.