Catch The Dow and Elliott Waves
Dow Theory hasn't missed a beat in over 100 years. So what does the mind of Charlie Dow have to offer modern traders?
One of Dow's powerful concepts is the three-waves principle. Decades after Dow first wrote on the subject, R.N. Elliott took up the cause to create his unique Elliot Wave Theory. So let's combine their work, and see what these guys taught us a few dozen years before we discovered the markets were a good place to hang out.
Dow's three waves were built on the concept of the primary trend. We all know what Charlie was talking about here. The primary trend is the major market direction over years or decades. This is how we determine whether we're in a bull market or a bear market. Dow determined this primary trend by looking at long-term price patterns and seeing the obvious.
Elliott used his five-wave trend to reach the same conclusions. He noted that the primary trend was composed of three waves moving in the major direction and two waves moving against it. Furthermore, each primary wave hid a smaller wave structure that exposed the true nature of price direction. For example, Elliott commented that failures exhibited a rollover of certain waves within this fractal structure and gave rise to trend reversals.
In Dow's world, a market printing higher highs and higher lows revealed a primary bull trend. Conversely, a market printing lower highs and lower lows revealed a primary bear trend. Elliott had no problem with this view, but he added a few twists of his own. For example, he pointed out how certain phases of a primary trend showed very limited counter-waves and rarely pulled back until the entire wave set was completed.
Three-wave principles get more interesting when Dow and Elliott describe characteristic crowd behavior in each of the waves. Let's examine these through a bull market cycle.
The first wave triggers value buying by patient investors who anticipate better economic conditions and long-term growth. This occurs during the same period that sentiment records its lowest readings and experts tell everyone in sight to stay away from the financial markets. Value investors wake up from this gloom and realize that the fear-filled talk hides a nascent recovery. They buy aggressively from distressed sellers and nurture a sustainable bottom.
Elliott noted that this first wave shows very gradual price improvement and turns back on itself frequently to test lower levels. He also points out that this wave takes a long time to complete and gives a true bottoming appearance to the chart. The good news is that the market eventually triggers enough momentum to carry price up to much higher levels.
Bullish evidence begins to mount in Dow's second wave. Improved corporate earnings, increased employment and unexpected innovation characterize this midpoint of a broad bull move. Less demanding investors now enter the market because they see better times ahead and want to participate. They build good-sized portfolios and start to follow the markets with great interest.
Elliott sees this wave as the most dependable phase of the entire bull cycle. Price movement advances rapidly, with less overlap from day to day. Small gaps appear between bars as investors buy high and look to sell higher. A sharp advance often triggers right in the middle of the wave, when a burst of enthusiasm forces a wide continuation gap. This powerful move often marks the exact middle for the entire three-wave event.
Danger signs grow during Dow's third wave, but they're hard to accept because of an outstanding market environment. Record earnings and full employment lead the media to proclaim an era in which the sky's the limit. Joe Sixpack now joins the hunt as the public forgets about its losses from the last bear cycle. This broad market participation starts a buying panic. At this very moment, the smart-money investors who bought at the bottom begin to unload their positions into the hands of the waiting public. The market eventually runs out of gas and prints a long-term top.
The last wave in Elliott's world can show a parabolic spike, or a failure move before it gets under way. This dichotomy points out the danger the public faces when it enters the stock market in force. Elliott noted that the large-scale reversal off this last wave may be very deep and painful. As we now know from personal experience, this rapid selloff addresses the many sins common to all bull cycles.