Resistance and support lines are price levels which temporarily halt or reverse the continuous movement of the trend. When the trend is bearish, support lines are created where sellers are temporarily (or sometimes permanently) exhausted and cannot press the quote any lower. Conversely, during a bullish trend, the price level where buyers are checked is called a resistance line.
Why the resistance and support lines work well
Studies over the years on technical analysis have confirmed resistance and support lines to be performing relatively well in their predictions. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Resistance and support are relatively easy to identify on charts. From the most seasoned analyst to the forex freshman, traders don’t have a lot of trouble identifying and drawing support and resistance lines. In consequence, there’s little disagreement about their location and interpretation, unlike the case with Fibonacci retracements or MACD where different starting points or different parameters can result in different results. Such is not the case with support and resistance lines, which are easier to identify and interpret.
- Support and resistance lines often receive a lot of attention from news sources like Bloomberg or CNBC. The public is led to identify a particular price as a “decisive” or “key” level, and when it acts accordingly, the significance of these levels is easily established. The influence of the financial media in raising awareness of these price points is so great that even those who have little interest or understanding of the forex market can’t avoid noticing the erasure of these levels.
- Finally, support/resistance lines are not just imaginary lines drawn at the whim of the analyst. Multi-year, multi-month, multi-week support and resistance are often defended by large order clusters sometimes originating from sovereign actors (in other words, central banks or their equivalent). A few large banks such as Deutsche Bank, UBS and JPMorgan have an enormous dominance in terms of forex transaction volumes, and it’s hard to imagine a support or resistance line holding without their participation. Not only do these large firms have access to their own clients’ orders and allocations, but they also can move prices in either direction in relatively calmer markets by simply placing orders. Their orders and choices are thus noted by market participants at large, and contribute greatly to the establishment and validity of the concepts of support/resistance lines.
Definition of resistance and support lines
So what is a support or resistance line? To understand this, let us first consider how a price quote is created, as countless orders flow each day across computer screens and phone lines around the world:
When a dealer enters a buy order, the broker has the order filled by executing as many offers as possible until the amount the customer desires is reached. If the original order is a large market order, the broker will keep climbing on the price ladder until the order is fulfilled. Support and resistance points are created when the total orders in the market are not enough to clear the offers at a particular price level. When the orders are sell orders, and there are more than enough buyers at a particular price to exhaust the sellers, that price level is called a support; when there are more sellers than the buyers’ orders can clear, the price level is a resistance.
Technical analysis has an equal but different-sounding explanation of this concept. Instead of order flows and their fulfillment and exhaustion, technical analysis simply notes when a price level fails to be exceeded in either direction, and once that price is visited again, the analyst will warn of support or resistance at that level. The rationale behind this suggestion is provided by trader psychology: Since many participants expect a price level to resist or support the quote, that price level will act in the anticipated manner regardless of what the other variables suggest. In a sense, technical analysts claim that traders behave like pack animals.
During the course of an ordinary trading day it’s possible to identify innumerable support and resistance levels on charts of different time frames, and in many cases, support and resistance lines are indeed created for no other reason than that traders expect them to exist. But while this is true, how much can the rational trader benefit from this concept when it is based mostly on emotional responses?
Remember that emotional reactions are unpredictable
Let us once more remember that we as human beings can only evaluate our environment through our brains. It’s always possible to predict the rational response to any event provided that one is in possession of the relevant data. But it’s far more difficult to predict the emotional response of anyone to any event, however abundant the data may be. There are countless examples of collective mania throughout history, from the Holocaust of the 20th century to the Crusades of the 11th century and beyond. Emotions such as fear, hate or anger can cause humanity to behave in all sorts of unpredictable ways. So, on what basis can we claim to understand the mass-emotions of the markets through indicators such as the resistance and support levels?
If this is the case (and we can’t really make such a claim), we’re faced with a question that we must somehow have already answered: What will be our criteria in determining which support or resistance line is trustworthy, and which one is not?
How to determine which lines are trustworthy
In general, traders should not try to wager a bet on the strength of any support or resistance line without the presence of data on order flows. Information on the order flows of central banks and other major financial institutions is often provided by financial news providers, and a forex broker will usually provide his client with news flow from at least one such source. As a particular support/resistance line fails to be breached a number of times, the names standing behind that line will be clearer. More importantly these large actors often have easily discernible motives behind their actions. Their behavior patterns become identifiable, and the patterns last longer than those of speculators. Consequently, their behavior is far more predictable than those of the smaller speculators.
The support of the Russian Central Bank for the Euro during the past years, for instance, was well-known to forex markets: In countless cases their appearance behind a price level was enough to sustain the market or change its direction. Many such examples can be given about the relationship of the UK’s pound with Middle Eastern central banks and their equivalents and that of the yen with Japan’s exporter-related accounts. A trader would often make a profit by siding with these actors when their presence was acknowledged. And if he didn’t know about their existence, he’d simply not take a position based on support or resistance. While some of these institutions will not be as powerful in the coming years as global trade and commodity markets cool down, the relationship between support and resistance lines and the large global financial actors will probably remain the same.
Now of course, there will be those who will rise up and rightfully attempt a rebuttal of our argument by pointing at the intra-day resistance level that failed to be breached three, four or five times, and held its own in the absence of any fundamental reason to justify its strength. And they will say, “Alright, so this resistance level was created by emotional responses, herd behavior, trader psychology, and so on, there were no large players, but what is so wrong about that? Ok, we can’t explain it, we can’t know the reasons that caused it, but we can still make a profit from that, right? So, maybe you should just shut up, and tell us how to do so.”
To this argument the response would be that the strength or weakness of the support and resistance lines that seem so clear to the person who wishes to profit from them, is only clear in hindsight: For every support line that holds four times, there are many that failed the third time. And for every resistance line that was unbroken three times, there were many that failed the second time. They all look good and profitable on the charts, but what will allow us to know which one will hold and which will fail? Since in a majority of cases the anticipated support and resistance level will fail, how are we going to decide which one will hold and which one will not?
Of course, this is not suggesting that the concepts of support and resistance are useless; quite the contrary, they have been proven to be meaningful and relevant to trading through research and experience, but we only submit that the trader look beyond the price action itself in establishing the validity of support or resistance lines.
To conclude, let us admit that no sane person of any knowledge of the forex market will deny that emotions play perhaps the greatest part in the formation of intraday and daily quotes. It is rarer that the emotional responses of traders dominate trading for months over realities, but it is by no means unheard of, or extreme. The problem on a trading method based on emotions is not in the method itself, but in the unpredictability of human emotional responses.
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