Friday, May 25, 2012

Understanding Elliott Wave Analysis, Part I

In this series, I’m going to attempt to explain a bit about market analysis, with a focus on Elliott Wave Theory.  Later in the series (after we’ve covered the basics), I’ll share some ways to utilize these tools for your own benefit.  A small portion of this has been reprinted from some of my earlier articles, so if it sounds familiar, that's because I plagiarized myself.  My attorney assures me that I am immune from litigation, but I have filed suit against myself anyway, because I can't have people stealing my work! 

Anyway... First, I do want to briefly address fundamental analysis.  My primary focus as a trader involves technical analysis, for reasons I will explain shortly – however, unlike many technical analysts, I do believe that fundamental analysis has value.  I believe it serves as a foundation to interpreting charts across the longer time-frames, and aids in understanding what is possible and likely.

Conversely, some fundamental analysts seem to believe that projecting the market using price charts is some kind of “voodoo.”  I suppose this is understandable; most things we don’t understand carry a certain mystique to them.  It’s important to realize that price charts, all by themselves, contain all the collective knowledge about a stock or index. 

People act on what they know or believe, so it stands to reason that people buy or sell securities based on what they know and believe -- thus(and here’s the critical point about technical analysis) everything known about a given security by all the shareholders collectively is reflected in a price chart.  When an insider makes a trade, it influences the price of that security, and leaves a clue which can be read on the chart.  When a huge hedge fund gains a piece of critical information (usually well ahead of the public) and starts buying or selling a specific stock or commodity, that action leaves its mark on the charts… and so on.   Thus the charts point the way ahead.   

The goal of a fundamental analyst and a technical analyst (one who studies charts) is the same:  they both seek to project the future.  Their methods, while seemingly different, are also quite similar in many respects.  For example, a fundamental analyst might look at Apple and try to project how many iPhones and iWidgets will be sold next quarter, and how that will influence profits, growth, etc.   Then he takes all his research numbers and derives a projection of the company’s outlook -- largely based on what’s happened in the past.  He then plugs that projection into a formula to arrive at a future share price target, which is also based on how things have performed in the past. 

A technical analyst does the same thing, except he looks at the charts directly (which, as we just learned, contain all the knowledge of the collective) and cuts out the middle man.  He seeks patterns which convey information:  When price has moved up by x number of dollars, and then moved down by x percent to create a certain pattern, how has the market usually performed in the past? 

Both forms of analysis are based on past performance and on future probability – they just get there by different means.

The weakness to fundamental analysis is that there are a great many variables which the analyst simply cannot foresee.  Study what happened in 2007-2008 for an example.  Many stocks looked great, and projected earnings looked great, and their futures looked so bright that everyone was wearing shades – but their share prices collapsed anyway, in a spectacular fashion.  In September 2008, did anybody care about how many iWidgets any given company was projected to sell in the fourth quarter of that year? 

Some fundamental analysts saw what was coming back then; others didn’t.  Likewise, some technical analysts saw what was coming (myself included) and others didn’t.  But the probability of a crash was all telegraphed well in advance on the price charts – one didn’t even need to turn on the TV to see it coming ahead of time. 

The big advantage to technical analysis: we technical analysts were able to arrive at actual price-targets for the crash, in real-time, while it unfolded.   Fundamental analysts knew it was “gonna be bad!” but that type of analysis is simply unable to time the market with that degree of accuracy.  This is why the majority of fundamental analysts don’t even try to time the market, except in broad strokes: their system is ill-suited to it.

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s discuss a more detailed form of technical analysis, called Elliott Wave Theory.

On the surface, Elliott Wave is a unique way to understand why the market does what it does, and a detailed tool that allows us to project future price moves by extrapolating the fractals and patterns found on the charts. The theory runs far deeper than that, though.

At its core, Elliott Wave helps us to understand something much more meaningful than markets: it helps us to understand human nature. The patterns formed in the market are, in part, a direct reflection of investor knowledge, and more importantly, investor sentiment.  Like most things in the world, sentiment fluctuates in cycles. 

You can observe the symptoms of this cyclical tendency in the news reports.  One week, you’ll see nothing but happy headlines, as sentiment hits a positive cycle and everyone forgets about all the troubles in the world:

“Rally Takes off as Market Cheers Job Report”

“Stocks Rise as Greece Agrees to Austerity Measures”

“Dow Closes Higher after Bernanke Announces He’s Dying His Beard”  (If you were rooting for that sentence to end without the last two words – shame on you!)

Then a short time later, it’s as if everyone forgot how “good” everything was just a few minutes ago, and suddenly it’s nothing but bad news again:

“Rally Crumbles as Market Boos New Jobs Report, Which Was Pretty Much Exactly the Same as the One They Cheered Last Month”

“Stocks Collapse as Investors Realize They Don’t Actually Know What Austerity Means”

“Dow Suffers Biggest One Day Loss on Record when the Market Realizes It’s Afraid of Snakes”

As I’m sure you’ve seen, even the exact same news item can be received well on one day and poorly on the next – highlighting my point that sentiment is cyclical. In reality, outside of certain “black swan” events, the news doesn’t drive the market directly -- it merely reports what the market did after the fact and attempts to explain it.  Otherwise, good news would always cause the market to go up, and bad news would always cause it to go down.  But as you’ve certainly noticed, it doesn’t work that way.  

The other problem with news is that, even if it was a prime mover for the market, it always arrives too late for you to make use of it.  If you’re dead set on trying to assign a “reason” for what the market did that day, you could simply look at the closing prices to figure out whether sentiment was good or bad (up = good; down = bad), and then make up your own random explanation, just like the news does: “Market Crashes As Investors Realize that Your and You’re Are Actually Two Different Words.”   

Fortunately, we don’t need to pay attention to the lagging-indicator news, because these sentiment cycles often leave clues telegraphing their arrival and departure.  These clues are found in the price patterns.   As we discussed, all the collective knowledge of investors is reflected in the numbers on the charts.   By tapping into that knowledge, Ellliott Wave Theory can, at times, recognize and anticipate the sentiment and cycles in advance.  And since sentiment goes a long way toward driving the price, we can then either:

1.   Anticipate the market’s future price movements before the moves actually occur, or;

2.  Gain a reasonably accurate window into what’s likely to occur if the stock or index crosses a certain price threshold.

The market's price movements are, in the end, a reflection of human nature.  And here’s where things become truly fascinating:

By rule of intrinsic design, human nature must be universally reflected in all human constructs, be they markets, governments, or otherwise.  Once you unveil one universal aspect of human nature, you are often able to locate the same common thread running throughout other human activities. This is one of the fascinating things about Elliott Wave Theory:  it seems to apply to patterns found not only in markets, but in the rise and fall of nations, and even entire civilizations (as well as the ebb and flow of many other things in the natural world). I have studied and applied it for many years, and continue to be in awe of its frequently-uncanny ability to anticipate the future.

It is important to note that Elliott Wave Theory was derived from back-testing.  Back in the 1930’s, R.N. Elliott studied decades of charts at various time frames, and discovered that there were certain patterns  which repeated across all time frames.  These patterns were of a fractal nature; in other words, the patterns on the one-minute chart join together to make up identical larger patterns on the hourly charts, which in turn make up identical larger patterns on the daily charts – and so on.   He developed Elliott Wave Theory as an attempt to quantify and explain these patterns.

In the next chapter, we’ll examine the underlying patterns that form the basis of Elliott Wave Theory, and we’ll take a look at some past and future predictions made using the theory.  This concludes part 1 of this series. 

(Part II can be found here)


Onto the charts now. 
Short term, there are still some questions as to what the market's next move is.  The minute this wave started, I warned everyone to be on guard for a complex and unpredictable correction.  Waves in this position often take strange forms.
As if for emphasis of this point, yesterday's action opened up the potential of a triangle in formation.  This pattern should be easy enough to confirm or deny, as trade above 1328.49 would eliminate it from consideration.  Conversely, if the market bounces back and forth between the triangular blue lines, then we can cofirm this pattern. 
If the market does rally above 1328.49, I will most likely shift my preference to the alternate count.  This alternate currently appears quite reasonable, and is a pattern called a "double zigzag."  A double zigzag (in this case) consists of two 3-wave rallies connected by a three-wave decline.  The first rally is labeled as a-b-c to form (w), the decline is (x), and the second rally leg is a-b-c to form (y) -- with (y) being the final wave of the rally.  The chart shows the rally from 1292 to 1328 as one potential a-b-c for (w), and the decline back to 1294 being (x).  If this count is correct, yesterday's high marked the peak of wave a, and the decline to 1310 likely marked the bottom of wave b.  Wave c-up would now be underway.  The first target for that count would be 1338-1340; the second target would be 1352-1355. 
Again, the double-zigzag gains preference only if 1328.49 is broken.

My intermediate expectation for the decline to reach the mid-1200's is, as yet, unchanged.  If the bulls could reclaim some key levels north of 1375, my outlook would need to be reconsidered.

The next chart shows that bears have fired a strong warning shot across the bow.  The top indicator panel depicts the Relative Strength Index (RSI), and shows that this month's decline officially entered into bear market territory.  We can see that, since the March 2009 bottom, this has only happened one other time, and that was during the 2011 "mini-crash." 

The other two indicators have not yet confirmed, but if the market proceeds to decline into the mid-1200's, then these indicators almost certainly would confirm my view that the market has (most likely) seen a trend change at intermediate degree, and will ultimately head significantly lower. 

It's by no means a "done deal" for bears yet, but the evidence is mounting.

In conclusion, in early May, I stated that a close beneath the key S&P 500 level of 1380 would strongly favor the bears going forward, and I projected a decline to 1300-1310.  So far, that's been exactly the case.  There are some levels which could turn me back toward bullish, but the bulls have their work cut out for them.  The longer the market hovers around down here, the more dangerous things get for the bulls.  Trade safe.

Reprinted by permission; Copyright 2012 Minyanville Media, Inc.


  1. Pretzel - sent you some $$dinero - you do great work.........

  2. Thank, AA, much appreciated!   :)

  3. Pretzel, over at the forumboard I made my application for registration. Just like captain Marko I "pinged" this forum only once by contributing to the forum and remained in stealth mode afterwards. But you bet I'm watching (lol). Have no idea when I want to send you another ping, but would like to have the button active at least.


  4. Now there are two guys I'm glad to see show up here.  Both awesome guys Pretz and they don't come empty-handed.  This is a good thing :-)

  5. Yep, located your ping.  Also, AR vouched for ya -- and that by itself is good enough for me.  :)

  6. Hi Pretzel,  

    Thank you for explaining in details-- technical analysis and fundamental analysis. I m a chart lover!

  7. pl, excuse my ignorance, but where do I go exactly to create a new account, to be able to join in the discussions? Thanks for your patience.  --Randall


    Let me know what user name you register with.  I'm requiring "identity verification" for new users -- since you've posted here before, I know you and will approve your account.

    For just about everyone else:   IF YOUR ACCOUNT HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED, IT'S BECAUSE YOU HAVEN'T MET THE REQUIREMENTS, AS POSTED HERE. I have made it easy for new users to register if you've never posted on Disqus -- PLEASE READ THIS CAREFULLY:

    Please read them carefully. I've had a lot of people sign up who apparently didn't bother to read the requirements, and their accounts are just sitting there.  If you HAVE met the requirements but you slipped past me somehow, feel free to give me a shout here on Disqus and I'll approve your account.

  9. Sorry for shouting, but...


    Please read the important message regarding new registrations.  We'd be happy for you to join us!  We just don't like trolls, and this was the only way to keep 'em out.  Best durn trading forum on the web!  :)

  10. pl, username is rbaselt      Thanks!

  11. Fundamental analysis is for people who don't like probability :-)

  12. New username is RealMaKoi.

  13. My pleasure TX.  You're a good guy who thinks for himself and how can we not respect that?  Besides, you showed me your inner character when you went out of your way to guide me regarding the installation of Disqus and particularly, whether or not its troll gun was effective.  I appreciated that a lot and for me to endorse your joining this wonderful club is a no-brainer... and an honor.