Regular readers will know that I’m not a particular fan of technical analysis, at least as a primary tool in determining the investment attractiveness of the equity market or of individual stocks. A hundred years ago–maybe even sixty years ago–it was the tool, because there was nothing else. Before the SEC, company financials were a joke, and they weren’t easily available in a timely manner. Watching the trading patterns of the “smart money” was arguably the best an average person could do.
Nowadays, the SEC’s Edgar site has all US-traded companies’ filings available for free the instant they’re made. Most companies also have extensive libraries of their own available on their sites. Firms now webcast their earnings conference calls for all to hear. If you don’t feel like listening, transcripts are available for free soon afterward from Seeking Alpha.
So it isn’t so much that technical analysis is bad per se. It’s just that like the horse-drawn cart it’s been replaced by fundamental information that’s quantum leaps better.
Still, there are some aspects to technical analysis that I find useful. One is support/resistance. This is the idea that price levels where there has been significant past trading volume, preferably over an extended period, will act as floors to support stocks as they fall, as well as ceilings to impede their advance. Both holding at and breaking through these levels are often significant events. In particular…
When the market has been declining for an extended period of time, or has dropped particularly sharply (the “magic” numbers technicians use are typically losses of 1/3, 1/2 or 2/3 of the prior advance), it often stabilizes for no apparent reason and begins a significant upward bounce (+10%?).
The fact that prices are now going up isn’t enough by itself to establish they have reached an important low. In almost all cases (March 2009 was, on the surface at least, a significant exception–see below), stocks begin falling again within a few weeks and find themselves approaching the previous low. If the market touches–or almost touches–the previous low but begins to rebound again (in the US, the market may briefly trade lower than the previous low–we’re daredevils, after all), this is often a strong sign that resistance is forming at the old low. This revisiting of the low is the necessary second part of the double bottom.
There can be a triple bottom, too. More often, in my experience, the market begins a new, upward pattern of higher highs and higher lows after the second bottom.
Fundamental conditions must also be in place for this bottoming to happen. Stocks have to be cheap; investor pessimism must be high; the downtrend must be protracted enough for at least some investors to think that conditions won’t get worse.
In essence, what the double bottom tells us is that intense negative emotion that has been driving prices sharply (often irrationally) lower has begun to play itself out.
Double bottoms happen with individual stocks and stock groups, too.
Look at the Macau casinos traded in Hong Kong. Some, like Galaxy Entertainment, have lost half their value over the past ten months. But the group appears to have bottomed in late September-early October. The stocks bounced off their lows, returned near them several weeks later and appear since then to have established a new upward pattern.
I haven’t looked carefully at energy stocks–but the oils are a group where I’d be looking for similar behavior.
the March 2009 case
The S&P 500 appeared to me to be bottoming in early 2009. As is usual during recessions, government programs were being put in place to stop the economic bleeding. Anticipating this, investors had pretty much stopped selling. However, in late March investors were horrified to hear that Congress failed to pass the proposed bank bailout bill/ Some (Republican) Representatives were even saying they would prefer a rerun of the Great Depression to a bank bailout. The S&P fell more than 7% on the news, but recovered all its losses when the bill was passed the following day. If we erase those two trading days, early 2009 exhibits a “normal” bottoming process.