The book, Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets: A Comprehensive Guide to Trading Methods and Applications, by John J Murphy, is a revision of the book titled Technical Analysis of the Future Markets by the same author, which had been published in 1986. The former was published in 1999. Most of the chapters from the earlier book were retained while others were added. However, even for the ones that were retained, new material was added. Besides, as opposed to the focus on the futures market in the 1986 edition, the 1999 edition dwells more on the stock market, as opposed to the futures market. Primarily, the book seeks to explain how different technical tools for market sectors are used in the stock market. The book is an indicator of the evolving nature of financial markets. In this case, it highlights the differences in the application of technical principles in the financial markets between 1986 and 1999, as well as the changes in the importance of each principle. The book is divided into 19 chapters, followed by appendices. This paper seeks to provide a summary and a critical analysis of the book. First, the book summary will be provided by focusing on each chapter individually. This will be followed by a critical analysis of the content of the book, as well as the approach used to present it.
Murphy commences by providing an introduction to technical analysis, including its definition and philosophical premises. In particular, he offers a distinction between technical analysis and fundamental analysis in the stock market. Also, the criticisms that have been advanced against the technical approach to analyzing stock markets have been discussed. While discussing the philosophy of technical analysis, three premises upon which it is based have been highlighted. They include “market action discounts everything”, “prices move in trends”, and “history repeats itself.” Each of these premises has been explained in detail. Also, there is a distinction between analysis and timing, both of which are identified as critical to gaining money in the stock market. Additionally, it is explained how technical analysis has been applied to different trading mediums, such as stock markets, options trading, and financial futures, as well as different time dimensions, such as trend trading, day trading purposes, and long range technical forecasting. A comparison of the technical analysis in futures and stocks has also been provided in this chapter.
In the second chapter, Murphy discusses the Dow Theory, which he credits as the origin of what is referred to today as technical analysis. Although Murphy acknowledges that the theory was never published in a book, he explains its basic tenets. Graphical illustrations have been provided to explain the theory. Besides explaining the applications of the different concepts highlighted in the theory, its criticisms have been highlighted too .
In the third chapter, Murphy provides a detailed construction of charts. Primarily, the chapter is intended for the readers who are unfamiliar with chart construction. The chapter commences with an explanation of the different types of charts used in technical analysis. Even then, the emphasis is more on the daily bar chart, which is identified as the most commonly used chart. After an explanation of the different types of charts, an explanation of how different variables are plotted on these charts has been provided. These include the price, volume, and open interest rate. Other variations of the bar chart, such as monthly charts, have also been included.
In the fourth chapter, Murphy explains the basic concepts of trend. He starts by defining trend as the market direction. He then explains how markets move by disputing the general notion that markets move in a straight line. This is then followed by an explanation of the three directions that trend has: uptrend, downtrend, and sideways. Further, the three classifications of trend, as well as how they interact in real life, are explained. A wide variety of concept of trend has been explained in this chapter including support and resistance, trend lines, the fan principle, the channel line, and price gaps among others. All these concepts are important technical tools, which constitute the basic building blocks of chart analysis.
The fifth chapter builds on the four chapters already discussed in the paper. In this respect, the chapter is focused on the application of the concepts and theory already discussed in earlier chapters. It focuses on the analysis of patterns in the market. Murphy commences by defining price patterns before distinguishing between reversal and continuation patterns – the two major categories of price patterns. In the following sections of this chapter, reverse patterns in the market are explained, although the emphasis is more on the explanation of the basic concepts as opposed to their application. In this respect, this chapter focuses more on offering a deeper understanding of reversal patterns. Although continuation patterns are also introduced the fifth chapter, their in-depth explanation is done in the sixth chapter. In the fifth and sixth chapter, the main focus is to distinguish between the continuation and the reversal price patterns.
In the sixth chapter, the author explains different treatments of the continuation patterns, with the emphasis being on the treatment with the triangle. The three types of triangles have been explained. Other treatments that have been explained include the wedge formation and the rectangle formation. Price is the main piece of raw data that has been utilized in the fifth and sixth chapters.
The seventh chapter is a continuation of the preceding two chapters. In this respect, as opposed to the use of price as the main piece of raw data, the chapter focuses on volume and open interest – the other two main pieces of raw data in technical analysis. The main focus of this chapter is to use a three-dimensional approach to explaining the charting theory. That is, it adds the role played by volume and open interest to the already discussed role of price in the forecasting process. The author acknowledges that price is an essential source of raw data, which necessitates his treatment of open interest and volume as secondary indicators. While he discusses the interpretation of volume in all markets, he explains that open interest is more applicable to the futures and options markets. The rules that are applicable to volume and open interest have also been discussed. Also, some of the concepts that had not been discussed earlier, but which deserve to be mentioned, regarding volume and open interest as primary pieces of data have been explained. These include blowoffs and selling climaxes and commitments of traders report among others.
This chapter is a broadened view of the application of the different tools that have already been explained in earlier chapters. In this respect, it contains an explanation of how these tools can be applied in weekly and monthly charts. Although the daily bar chart – which covers periods ranging between six and nine months – is the most commonly applied chart in stock markets given the relatively short term actions of market participants, long term charts are equally important. On this note, charts used for longer range trend analysis and forecasting present traders with a rewarding area of price. This chapter discusses the importance of these charts, as well as how they are constructed for different markets. The features and issues associated with longer term charts have also been discussed in this chapter. Of particular importance is the way in which long-term and short-term charts should be studied together.
The ninth chapter introduces a new technical indicator – moving averages. It explains how moving averages are an important addition to technical analysis in that they provide for objectivity in chart analysis. In this respect, they can be programmed into a computer to generate objective buy and sell signals, which is contrary to the commonly subjective nature of chart analysis. The author then proceeds to explain the calculation of moving averages before addressing some of the questions that arise with regards to their application. Different types of moving averages have been discussed, with the exact prices to average in each type being discussed. The use of each type of moving average and how it can be enhanced have been discussed. Also, it has been debated how moving averages can be used alongside other tools of technical analysis.
The tenth chapter is a continuation of the ninth chapter in that it offers an alternative to the use of moving averages. In this vein, moving averages are not always applicable, in which case oscillators are used. An oscillator is defined as a technical analysis approach that does not follow trend. Specifically, the application of oscillators in horizontal trading ranges has been discussed. The chapter commences with an explanation of the meaning of an oscillator, as well as the basis for its interpretation and construction. This is followed by a discussion of the different oscillator techniques while including the simple and the complicated ones. Also, the importance of coordinating the analysis of oscillators and the underlying market cycles has been emphasized in this chapter. The chapter finalizes with an explanation of the part played by oscillators in the overall technical analysis.
In the eleventh chapter, the author discusses point and figure charting – which he explains as the most common charting technique used by traders in the stock market before the 20th century. Although the name and use of this charting approach have been modified severally over the years, it is considered as critical to technical analysis given that it was the predecessor of the common bar charting technique used today. This chapter can be divided into two main sections. In the first section, the use of the point and figure charting in the original form has been explained. In the second section, on the other hand, the simpler versions of this approach that have since emerged are highlighted. A comparison of this charting approach with the bar chart approach has also been included in this chapter.
This chapter is an extension of the eleventh chapter in that it goes further in history to trace the oldest charting technique: Japanese candlesticks. Although the technique is termed as ancient, the author is keen to point that its popularity in recent years has intensified. After explaining the main understandings that have been associated with this technique, he dwells on its basic concepts, as well as its application in the market. Its use relative to the use of other charting techniques has been discussed. This is inclusive of its use in conjunction with other techniques.
This chapter abandons the more practical approaches discussed in the preceding chapters to focus on a theoretical paradigm. In this respect, the whole chapter is focused on the discussion of the Elliott Wave Theory. The chapter commences with a discussion of the historical background of the theory before the basic tenets have been outlined. Then, the chapter discusses how this theory is related to the Dow theoretical framework, which had been discussed earlier. It then outlines how the propositions advanced in this theory can be applied in the technical analysis of a market.
In the fourteenth chapter, the author diverts his attention from the discussion of technical analysis with regard to price movement and instead focuses on the importance of time in market forecasting. In this respect, although the earlier sections of the book alluded to time playing a major role in market forecasting, it was in most cases considered as secondary to price movement. As such, this chapter takes the approach of cyclic analysts in market forecasting. In this chapter, time cycles are considered to be the most important indicators to understanding the upwards and downwards movement in the market.
This chapter introduces a new concept in market trading by focusing on the increasingly important role being played by computers in the field of technical analysis. That is, it provides an analysis of how computers are an important addition to making the traders’ task in financial markets easier. As such, the role of computers in providing easy and quick access to a wide range of technical tools and studies that are essential in simplifying the work involved in financial forecasting has been discussed. However, it is also noted that computers may also present a disadvantage as not all traders are properly schooled in their application.
Having discussed the major technical approaches used in trading and forecasting in financial markets, the book makes an important addition to the trading process in the sixteenth chapter. This has been accomplished by adding the elements of trading tactics and the aspect of money management in the task of market forecasting. This chapter identifies and expounds the three major elements of successful trading: timing, price forecasting, and money management. The major emphasis is on how traders can optimize these elements to maximize the trading gains.
This chapter seeks to conduct an intermarket analysis by establishing the link between stocks and futures. It commences by highlighting the major differences between the traditional commodities market and the financial markets, especially the newly introduced financial products in the market. While basing the chapter on the premises that all financial markets are related in some way, the author explains how the market analysts should appreciate the interconnectedness of different markets and use them in maximizing trading outcomes. This includes the interconnectedness between domestic and international markets, as well as between the futures and stocks. It is noted that analysts must first look at the market in its entirety before focusing on individual stocks.
In this chapter, the author narrows down the discussion provided in the seventeenth chapter by focusing on the analysis of individual stocks. In this respect, the major market indicators that can assist in knowing the stocks in that an analyst chooses to trade in. As opposed to discussing the market indicators that have already been discussed in this book – chart patterns, trendlines, volume analysis, oscillators, and moving averages – this chapter focuses on another class of market indicators. That is, it discusses the market indicators commonly applied in determining the health of the market using the market breadth measure. Through the use of actual data, an explanation of how these indicators can be used by a trader in market analysis and forecasting.
The nineteenth chapter seeks to put it all together by providing a checklist for traders in the financial market. It is explained that technical analysis is like a puzzle that can only be solved using a wide range of approaches. As such, the tools that have been discussed in earlier chapters are not to be used in isolation, or all at once. This chapter, therefore, seeks at explaining how a trader can know with technical analysis tool to apply given certain market conditions. Chapter 19 comprises a summary of what has been discussed in earlier chapters with the aim of knitting it all together. It presents the tools discussed earlier as working alongside each, as opposed to working in isolation.
In the book, several appendices that support the information presented in the 19 chapters have been provided. Although the appendices have been presented in a similar way as the main chapters, they are more summarized. For instance, the first appendix discusses the advanced technical indicators. Since these indicators are to ones commonly used, they are only discussed briefly. On the other hand, the second appendix explains market profile including its underlying principles. This appendix is meant at supplementing the explanation of market analysis that has been provided. Thus, it assists in preventing the use of too much space in explaining this concept inside the book and digressing from the main objective. Other appendices that have included in the book include “The Essentials of Building a Trading System” and “Continuous Futures Contracts,”
Overall, the book uses narrative explanations, graphical representations, and practical examples to explain the tools, approaches, and applications in the technical analysis of financial markets. As opposed to its earlier edition that mainly focused on the futures market, this edition focuses o on both the stock market. Reference is made to different markets including stock, futures, and options markets. The use of graphical illustrations is the most distinguishing feature in this book. This is not surprising given the information presented. Most of the information presented in the book is by Murphy, although some chapters are inclusive of the contribution of other authors and specialists in the financial markets.
The writing approach adopted by Murphy is one of the main strengths that the book harbors. In this respect, the book has been written chronologically in a way that first introduces the reader to the most basic concepts before tackling the more complex issues. Even before introducing the concept of technical analysis – which forms the central point of the book – an introduction that puts the content of the book into perspective has been provided. In this respect, Murphy outlines his previous works, including the predecessor of the current book, to set the precedence for the writing of the current publication. In the introduction, he has explained how his previous work has influenced his current work. This is effective in outlining what is the reader is to expect, and the contribution it makes in technical analysis. Besides, it outlines the progression in the application of tools of technical analysis in financial markets.
The definition of the technical analysis in the first chapter is broad to capture all the peripheral definitions of the term. In this respect, the understanding of technical analysis differs depending on the perspective. As explained by Ciana, most definitions of technical analysis fail to capture all the things involved in it. In particular, some definitions fail to elaborate on the types of data that are analyzed in the financial markets, others fail to capture some financial markets, and others are too generic and are more applicable outside the financial market. As such, Murphy offers an understanding that can be used by all analysts regardless of the markets that they are focusing on. Also, he sets the stage upon which the other chapters in the book are to be based on by identifying the philosophy of market analysis, thus setting a strong foundation and enhancing understanding among readers.
The description and reliance of the Dow theory and the Elliott wave theory are also very important additions in the book. In the second chapter, the Dow theory has been described since it forms the foundation of technical analysis. In fact, although most theorists and technical analysts who came after Dow may not acknowledge the primary source of the concepts that they seek to advance, their approaches are all based on his theory. In fact, the statistically sophisticated methodologies that have been developed in recent times are all variants of this theory. However, the explanation of the two main indicators – Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA) and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) – derived from the Dow theory is not extensive. This may be understood as arising from the newness of their application in financial markets during the publication of the book. Today, the two indicators are critical to technical analysis, as DJIA is an indicator of underlying trends in the market while the DJTA assists in confirming or rejecting the signal. As such, the book may be outdated in explaining this. The Elliott wave theory, on the other hand, has been identified as being critical in the analysis of cyclic movements in financial markets. In fact, while the Dow theory is recognized as being the grandfather of technical analysis, the Elliott wave theory offers a construct through which all movements in the financial markets can be understood. Poitras terms the Fibonacci sequence which has been explained by Murphy as predicting the behaviors of stock market prices and stock market indexes by predicting the waves of every movement.
The explanations offered regarding charting have also offered both basic and advanced information not only to assist the readers who are unfamiliar with chart construction but also those who wish to gain in-depth information on the subject. In the third chapter, Murphy explains the plotting of different variables before introducing different types of charts. The four main charts he identifies as being used in technical analysis are still the ones being used today. In fact, similar to his assertion, (Chan, Lee and Wong, 7) identify the bar chart as the most commonly used chart for technical analysis. Besides, the different prices identified in the book are still the ones being used today in chart plotting. Price, volume, and open interest remain the primary pieces of data today. Murphy’s identification of trend as a common indicator in technical analysis is based on the understanding that it is the market movement that predicts either gains or losses when trading. They assist analysts to make better predictions about the prices of financial instruments, thus assisting them in making informed decisions.
The discussion of price patterns in the fifth and sixth chapters is also a major contribution to technical analysis by the book. In particular, the focus of the author on the periods of transition gives very valuable insight to analysts. In this respect, while it is easier to predict price movements when there is an upward or downward trend, predicting prices during periods of market stagnation may be difficult. It has been shown that the period of transition does not always indicate a trend reversal. At times, they are representative of a consolidation in an already existing trend, after which the trend is resumed. As such, the lack of the necessary knowledge on how to predict whether the sideways periods will result in a trend reversal or a continuation makes it difficult for analysts to make informed decisions. Explaining how volume and other trends can be used as predictors of the direction to be taken by the buying pressure is critical since price patterns are not reliable in predicting a reversal during sideways period. Davidson explains that the use of different techniques to predict price patterns have very different variations. However, he is quick to add that computer software enables technical analysts to use different techniques concurrently, and compare their predictions in a simpler and more efficient manner. Murphy has not explained this addition, which is not surprising given that computer technology was only taking foot in financial markets during the publication of his book.
Open interest and volume have also been shown to play a key role in the analysis of markets. In this respect, apart from the tracking of price movements, the movement of volume and open interest must be incorporated in market analysis. Even then, Murphy is of the view that open interest is only applicable in futures and options markets, unlike volume that is applicable in all markets. However, Logue is opposed to this assertion. In her view, although open interest has a different meaning in the stocks market than in the futures and options markets, it is still applicable. In fact, it is very useful in providing information about information about market demand. In the stock market, a high open interest implies that people are willing to add shares to their positions, which in turn translates to an upward movement of the price.
Figure 1: Graph showing the relationship between price, open interest, and volume
Apart from the discussion of short-range charting, Murphy has discussed long-term charts. This is in recognition of their essentiality in identifying areas of price gains in the long term. Besides, the daily bar chart does not have the capacity to predict market trends over extended periods. If a trader was to depend on daily bar charts only, they can overlook rewarding areas of price, thus resulting in sub-optimal trading activities. McAllen explains that long-term charting is essential in the identification of long-term trends, whereby traders locate support and resistance levels. As such, they can obtain a better perspective of recent actions in the daily charts. The author agrees with Murphy that relying on short-term analysis alone may be misleading to traders. Besides, long-term and daily charts should be analyzed together for the trader to make informed trading decisions.
The introduction of the moving average as an important indicator in technical analysis is also an important addition by Murphy. In this respect, as opposed to the subjective nature of other technical indicators, the moving average provides an avenue for objective predictions. In fact, the moving average makes it easier to analyze markets given their compatibility with computer technologies. With the advent of the computer technology, the moving average has become an increasingly important technical indicator. In this respect, its computerization makes it among the best indicators in predicting buy and sell signals. Even then, it should be used alongside other indicators, as the results obtained using it are not conclusive at times.
The introduction of the oscillator also indicates an approach used in solving the complexities existing in the financial markets. In this respect, oscillators have been shown to be better technical indicators in markets where price fluctuations take place in a horizontal way. In fact, oscillators are also important in trending markets when used alongside other technical tools. They inform traders of oversold conditions in the market. Also, they are better indicators of trend completions or reversals as they warn when trends are losing momentum before such changes are evident in the price action. (Siegl, Shim and Qureshi) are of a similar opinion when they argue that oscillators are important in helping traders to determine stocks’ degree of momentum. Depending on the oscillator reading, one can determine if the stock prices are bullish or bearish. However, the use of oscillators should be done with care, as they are not always useful. In this respect, they at times indicate a moving trend when the prices have already reached an extreme zone. At such times, they may be misleading to investors and should be ignored. This emphasizes the importance of using other instruments alongside the oscillators for better forecasting.
In what appears odd in the book, Murphy introduces and explains point and figure charting, a charting technique that predates bar charting by a decade. While the approach is very old and has had multiple adjustments to keep up with changes in the market, its prediction of the market is similar to bar charting. In this respect, the trends identified when using this approach moves in the same direction as the one identified using the bar charting approach. This can primarily be attributed to the incorporation of similar indicators when using the two approaches. Although point and figure charting ignores volume, as opposed to bar charting that records volume bars, it is reflected in the price change activity. As a result, its prediction of market movements is included in the charts. Therefore, the inclusion of this old charting technique is not odd, as bar charts are a slight modification of it. It is just as important as the bar charting approach. Similarly, the inclusion of the Japanese candlestick charting technique provides an alternative to the bar charting technique, although they give similar results. As such, the use of either technique is dependent on how used the trader is to them, as opposed to their efficacy in predicting market outcomes.
Figure 2: Comparison between the candlesticks and the point and figure formats
Figure 3: Comparison between the bar chart and the Japanese candlestick formats
Murphy also incorporates the third most important aspect to consider in technical analysis alongside the price movement magnitude and direction – time. It is argued that time is just as relevant as the price movement. The time taken before a certain price change can be achieved is very important in making technical analysis. In fact, all technical analysis phases are dependent on time considerations. Since such considerations are not applied in certain situations, time cycles are very important. While arguing based on the Gann theory, Hyerczyk explains that time cycles are very important in predicting major tops and bottoms in the market. In particular, the combination of time cycles and price indicators, as suggested by the theorists, provides for a more accurate prediction of the market outcomes.
Murphy identifies computers as providing both opportunities and threats to professionals in technical analysis. In this respect, computers enhance the speed and access to technical tools and studies, thus making technical analysis more efficient. However, they may also present challenges to traders who are not well-versed with the application of the software being applied in the field. This analysis may have been informed by the little advancement and use of computers during the publication of the book. Computer technology is one of the most dynamic areas in technical analysis, as is the case with other fields. Today, traders have better access to market information and are exposed to a wide array of computer applications that can be used in technical analysis. Computer literacy has also been enhanced given their widespread adoption and use in various industries. As such, computers present more opportunities in technical analysis than threats. Poor schooling is no longer a major challenge in the application of computer technology technical analysis. The charting software that is discussed by Murphy may be deemed redundant given the technological advancements over the years.
The book does not only offer a theoretical understanding of technical analysis but also acts as an important guide to traders in the financial market on how to become successful. In this respect, apart from discussing the tools and indicators of technical analysis and their application in real life scenarios, tips of successful trading practices have been incorporated. This can primarily be noted in the inclusion of money management concepts and trading tactics. It is meant to translate the informed market forecasting into successful trading. Apart from successful price forecasting, timing and money management are essential in financial trading. All the three elements must be optimized in trading for success. Price forecasting is important in predicting the market trend and making trading decisions. On the other hand, timing assists a trader in marking the entry and exit points. Lastly, money management is involved with the allocation of funds and informs diversification, portfolio makeup, and the risk to be taken in a particular market. The failure to incorporate any of these elements in trading may lead to failure.
Murphy tries to link different types of markets and how this linkage has evolved in the few decades leading to the publication of the book. Needless to say, there is a significant linkage between different financial markets. This is inclusive of the integration between the stocks and the futures market, as well as that between domestic and international financial markets. Given increased globalization and the enhanced integration of financial markets in recent times, there should be more linkages between different markets in the world today. Besides the advent of the internet and wireless networks has flattened the world by creating a global space that is accessible to different people in geographically remote locations. This may necessitate a reevaluation of how linked different financial markets are when compared to the case in 1999.
The book concludes by bringing together the information presented in different chapters to form a comprehensive checklist guiding technical analysis. This is cognizant of the fact that technical analysis should not be approached through the use of technical tools and indicators in isolation. On the contrary, a blend of different approaches is the one that yields technical analysis. As such, although the approaches have been broken down and discussed individually, it was only intended at enhancing their understanding. For instance, a trader may have to rely on charting and oscillators to make out the trend and come up with a decision on the best course of action to take in the market. Therefore, technical analysis should entail understanding the different tools, indicators, and approaches for improved market behavior.
This book relies on the use of graphs to illustrate the information being advanced. This is a very informed technique given the complexity of the financial concepts availed. In fact, explaining these concepts using a narrative but with no illustrations may lead to misunderstandings. Also, it would be too cumbersome and boring. As such, it may not motivate the readers. By using illustrations, Murphy has successfully captured the readers’ interest and simplified the demonstration of the concept used. This is further enhanced by the use of real life information and data from existing stocks. The information presented is, therefore, relevant for the application of the theoretical constructs advanced in the book is done on information in real life financial markets. The book also consults the views of different contributors who have specialties in finance-related fields. Murphy has specialized in the application of technical analysis for three years and has worked in senior positions in finance. Similarly, the contributors to his work have high credentials, thus ensuring the credibility of the work.
Overall, the book by is very effective in covering the topic on technical analysis. However, while most of the points being put forward are still relevant today, recent global dynamics have led to changes in the financial markets. In particular, technological advancements and globalization have led to the increased integration of countries and financial systems and more ease in trading. To capture these changes, another revision of the book may be necessary.
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