Learning how to use price charts is an indispensable part of trading. There are a few wizened old masters out there who claim not to use charts at all when taking positions, their trading activities are so deeply entrenched in the fundamental trends that charting plays little or no role for them. However, for most traders the use of charts is essential, so it’s of the utmost importance that you get to grips with how they work and how to use them early on.
Price charts are graphs that track the changing values of assets in real time. You will ordinarily find a list of the available assets on the left, and a chart of the one you are currently viewing centre screen. YBN Capital offers trading facilities on two main platforms; MT4 and cTrader. Both have very similar charting functions and indeed most platforms will offer you the same set of basic options. Charting is an huge subject in its own right, but for now you will be introduced to a few basic concepts that will give you an understanding of why charts are important and how they work. We will delve into the subject in more detail when we look at technical analysis later on in the course.
When monitoring an asset’s price you can specify the duration at which changes in price are being registered on the chart. These durations can be anywhere between a single minute all the way up to a month. So if, for instance, you are charting at the monthly duration, every change in the chart will represent a month’s worth of data. This will naturally obscure all of the price moves which occur within the month. Similarly, charting at the hourly duration won’t provide you with any of the changes in price that take place at any period of time shorter than one hour. This is why the shape of the chart changes so radically at different time frames; you are effectively viewing the same data at different resolutions. Regardless of the time frame you select, all of the trading data is being recorded down to the minute, so you can go back at any point and see exactly what took place at the shorter durations.
Open your trading platform and chart a currency pair at the monthly duration. Change this to weekly, then daily, and gradually move all the way down to the 1 minute duration. Notice how much the shape changes? This is what happens when you narrow in to reveal more and more information about what is happening at the shorter time frames.
The time frame you choose will be largely dependent on your trading style. If you are opening and closing multiple positions within a single day then obviously a daily chart will not provide you with sufficient data to make educated choices. Similarly if you are taking long term positions which you intend hold for weeks, charting at the one minute time frame won’t provide you with any useful information regarding the deeper trends that are at work. Picking a suitable time frame, and indeed learning to switch between them to gain a wider, or more localised perspective, will become more important as you begin to develop your own trading system.
There are three main chart types that you can choose between when monitoring the price action of an asset. These are: line charts, bar charts and candlestick charts. Generally there are up to four.
key pieces of information provided by a price chart:
Let’s discuss and compare the information that the three chart types listed above are able to provide at a glance.
Line charts: Line charts use a simple line to represent the upward and downward movement of an asset’s price. Line charts are the simplest of the three to understand, but are only equipped to provide you with an asset’s closing price. Their jagged lines are created by plotting a single point at the closing price of each period, and then drawing a line between it and the next period’s closing price. You will see the end of this line waver as the price changes, only to be plotted as a fixed point when the period has closed. When this happens the line is extended from the last fixed point and will begin to fluctuate until the next close.
Bar charts: The bar charts used on most charting platforms are also known as Western line charts or OLHC charts (short for Open, Low, High, Close). These charts are basically a Western re-working of the Japanese candlestick charts, which we will look at next. Just like candlestick charts they provide you with all four pieces of data listed above. Bar charts are composed of a vertical line and two smaller horizontal lines, one connecting to the vertical line from the left and one from the right side. Each vertical line provides you with the price range the asset moved through in the period of time you are charting at. The bottom of the line represents the lowest point that the price fell to, and the top of the line represents the highest point the price reached. Also, the horizontal line on the left informs you of the asset’s opening price for that period and the horizontal line on the right informs you of the asset’s closing price for the period.
Candlestick charts: Candlestick charts originated in 17th century Japan where they were employed by traders to track changing rice prices. Candlestick charts are the most popular chart type among traders for the simple reason that they are very information dense, efficiently providing you with a great deal of information in a very intuitive and eye-catching way. Each candlestick represents a unit of time at the period being charted. They are composed of a main part, called the ‘real body’, as well as upper and lower ‘shadows’, also known as ‘wicks’. Each candlestick represents the price action that took place within one unit of time frame you are charting at. So at the minute duration each candlestick represents a minute of trading activity, at the monthly duration each candlestick represents a month of trading activity, and so on. Unlike the other chart types we have looked at candlesticks are coloured differently depending on whether they represent a rising or a falling price. If the opening price is higher than the closing price then the body of the candlestick is filled in, in this way traders can easily discern trends as they emerge. The shadows, or wicks, are lines that extend upwards and downwards from the top and bottom of the real body, these represent the highest and lowest prices that were reached within the given time frame.