Support and Resistance
Two terms you hear
a lot about are support and resistance. Basically, they
are points on a chart where the probabilities favor at least a temporary
halt in the prevailing trend. For example, if prices are declining and
reach support, as in Figure 1 they can be expected to bounce. The rally
may be temporary, as at point A, or may even mark the low point for the
whole move, as at point B.
In their classic
book Technical Analysis of Stock Trends, Edwards and Magee define
support as buying, actual or potential, sufficient in volume to halt
a downtrend in prices for an appreciable period. While we are on
the subject of definitions, resistance is selling, actual or
potential, sufficient in volume to satisfy all bids and hence stop
prices going higher for a time.
resistance as a temporary ceiling and support as a temporary floor, as
illustrated in Figure 2. In order to become a floor, a support area
must represent a concentration of demand. I emphasize the word
concentration because supply and demand, by definition, are always
in balance. At whatever price a stock trades, there will always be the
same amount bought as is sold. It is the relative concentration or
enthusiasm of either buyers or sellers that determines the price level.
A support area, then, is one in which sellers become less enthusiastic
or less willing to part with their assets and buyers, at least
temporarily, are more strongly motivated.
Often support and
resistance area occur at round numbers. For the Dow in the 1970s, it
was 1000. Every time the Dow came up against that psychologically
important number, sellers became more enthusiastic and prices declined.
For gold in the mid-1980s and 1990s, the magic number has been $400.
I am sure you are
now asking the question, “Ho do I know how important each support and
resistance level is likely to be?” Unfortunately, I cannot answer that
question precisely, but I can offer some general rules to help.
The more of a
security that changes hands at a particular level, the more
significant that level is likely to be as a support or resistance
That is fairly self-evident, for whenever you have a large number of
people buying and selling at a specific price, they tend to remember
their own experiences. Buyers like to break even after suffering a
loss. Sellers, on the other hand, may have bought lower down and
now recall that prices previously stalled at the resistance area.
Therefore, their motivation for taking profits is that much greater.
the speed of the preceding price movement, the more significant a
support or resistance zone is likely to be
(Figure 4). Just think of trying to lift a heavy weight. If you
make the attempt after running a fast race, you are less likely to
succeed than someone who has not made such a dash. Markets are the
same way. A modest support or resistance barrier is likely to be
much more significant if prices have been racing ahead or declining
sharply than if prices are reached after a slow, steady advance or
more powerful the move preceding the support or resistance zone, the
greater its potential as a barrier
This may seem to contradict the previous rule, but it does not. It
is important to make a distinction between a speedy and lengthy move
and a powerful one. Remember our analogy to lifting a weight after
running a fast race. Well, if the lifter is normal, the rule still
stands. However, if an Olympic athlete has jut run the race,
lifting the weight will be a piece of cake. It works the same way
in the marketplace. An area of resistance, for example, will quickly
fall if the previous move is associated with a huge expansion of
volume and momentum. If there is a lot of power behind a move, the
support or resistance zone is much more likely to fall on the first
The more times
a support or resistance zone has been able to halt or reverse a
price trend in the past, the greater its significance is likely to
(Figure 6). Recall the example of a building. The more times a
floor is pounced on, but does not give way, the greater the
implication when the floor finally does give way. This is probably
the single most important rule we have for estimating the potential
importance of a support or resistance area. Just think, again, of
the Dow Jones Industrial Average: From 1966 to 1982, 1000 was the
barrier to beat. It had been touched on several occasions, but never
decisively breached. Once 1000 was bettered, the move to 2, 3, 4,
and 5000 came relatively easily.
The longer the
period that has elapsed between the time a support or resistance
zone was last challenged, the less significance it is likely to
This means that a supply, which is six months old, is likely to have
greater potency than one established 10 or 20 years ago. Even so,
it is almost uncanny how support and resistance levels can repeat
their effectiveness time and time again, even when separated by many
Excerpted from "Introduction
to Technical Analysis"
Don't forget to check out the
glossary - it has over
300 technical terms!