What Is Support And What Are Support Lines

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Support (Support Level)

What Is Support (Support Level)?

Support, or support level, refers to the price level that an asset does not fall below for period of time. An asset’s support level is created by buyers entering the market whenever the asset dips to a lower price. In technical analysis, the simple support level can be charted by drawing a line along the lowest lows for the time period being considered. The support line can be flat or slanted up or down with the overall price trend. Other technical indicators and charting techniques can be used to identify more advanced versions of support.

Trading With Support And Resistance

Key Takeaways

  • The support level represents a price point that an asset struggles to fall below over a given time period.
  • Support levels can be visualized using different technical indicators or simply by drawing a line connecting the lowest lows for the period.
  • Applying trendlines or incorporating moving averages provides a more dynamic view of support.

What Do Support Levels Tell You?

In general finance terms, support level is the level at which buyers tend to purchase or enter into a stock. It refers to the stock share price that a company rarely goes below. When a price of stock falls towards its support level, the support level holds and is confirmed, or the stock continues to decline and the previously demonstrated support level must change to incorporate the new lows. Support levels in stocks can be created by limit orders or simply the market action of traders and investors.

Support and resistance levels are at the core of technical analysis. Fundamental analysis takes a company’s performance and history into account to determine the future direction of the stock, whereas technical analysis uses patterns and trends in price. Traders use support and resistance levels to plan entry and exit points for trades. If the price action on a chart breaches the support levels, it is seen as an opportunity to buy in or take a short position, depending on what the trader sees fro other indicators. If the breach occurs on an uptrend, it may even be a sign of a reversal.

Example of How to Use Support Levels

Let’s say that you are studying the price history of the price of shares in the fictional Montreal Trucking Company, with the ticker symbol MTC. You are trying to identify an ideal time to enter a long position in the company. Over the past year, MTC has traded between $7 and $15 per share. During the second month of the period you’re studying MTC, the stock climbs to $15, but by month 4 it has fallen to $7. By month 7, it climbs again to $15, before falling to $10 in month 9. By month 11 it climbs once again to $15 and over the next 30 days it fall to $13 before climbing again to $15.

At this point, you have an established support level of $7 and a resistance at $15. If there are no other worrying factors on the technicals or fundamentals, you can set a buy order at the lower end of the range. If you set the order right at the support level of $7 there is a risk that an uptrend will establish and your order may never be executed despite the fact that you correctly identified the upside. This is another reason why it is important to consult more nuanced indicators besides simple support.

The Difference Between Support Level and Resistance Level

If the support level is the price that a stock does not go below, the resistance level is the a price point at which a stock has trouble growing past. Think of the the support level as the floor, and the resistance level as the ceiling.

Limitations of Using Support

Support is more of a market concept than a true technical indicator. There are many popular indicators that incorporate these concepts, like price by volume charts and moving averages, that are more actionable than the simpler visualizations. Generally traders will want to see the support band rather than a single line connecting the lowest lows as there is always a chance support will move up and the order for a long position will go un-executed.

Support and Resistance Basics

The concepts of support and resistance are undoubtedly two of the most highly discussed attributes of technical analysis. Part of analyzing chart patterns, these terms are used by traders to refer to price levels on charts that tend to act as barriers, preventing the price of an asset from getting pushed in a certain direction. At first, the explanation and idea behind identifying these levels seem easy, but as you’ll find out, support and resistance can come in various forms, and the concept is more difficult to master than it first appears.

Trading With Support And Resistance

Key Takeaways

  • Technical analysts use support and resistance levels to identify price points on a chart where the probabilities favor a pause or reversal of a prevailing trend.
  • Support occurs where a downtrend is expected to pause due to a concentration of demand.
  • Resistance occurs where an uptrend is expected to pause temporarily, due to a concentration of supply.
  • Market psychology plays a major role as traders and investors remember the past and react to changing conditions to anticipate future market movement.
  • Support and resistance areas can be identified on charts using trendlines and moving averages.

Support and Resistance Defined

Support is a price level where a downtrend can be expected to pause due to a concentration of demand or buying interest. As the price of assets or securities drops, demand for the shares increases, thus forming the support line.   Meanwhile, resistance zones arise due to selling interest when prices have increased.

Once an area or “zone” of support or resistance has been identified, those price levels can serve as potential entry or exit points because, as a price reaches a point of support or resistance, it will do one of two things—bounce back away from the support or resistance level, or violate the price level and continue in its direction—until it hits the next support or resistance level.

The timing of some trades is based on the belief that support and resistance zones will not be broken. Whether the price is halted by the support or resistance level, or it breaks through, traders can “bet” on the direction and can quickly determine if they are correct. If the price moves in the wrong direction, the position can be closed at a small loss. If the price moves in the right direction, however, the move may be substantial.

The Basics

Most experienced traders can share stories about how certain price levels tend to prevent traders from pushing the price of an underlying asset in a certain direction. For example, assume that Jim was holding a position in stock between March and November and that he was expecting the value of the shares to increase.

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Let’s imagine that Jim notices that the price fails to get above $39 several times over several months, even though it has gotten very close to moving above that level. In this case, traders would call the price level near $39 a level of resistance. As you can see from the chart below, resistance levels are also regarded as a ceiling because these price levels represent areas where a rally runs out of gas.

Support levels are on the other side of the coin. Support refers to prices on a chart that tend to act as a floor by preventing the price of an asset from being pushed downward. As you can see from the chart below, the ability to identify a level of support can also coincide with a buying opportunity because this is generally the area where market participants see value and start to push prices higher again.

Trendlines

The examples above show a constant level prevents an asset’s price from moving higher or lower. This static barrier is one of the most popular forms of support/resistance, but the price of financial assets generally trends upward or downward, so it is not uncommon to see these price barriers change over time. This is why the concepts of trending and trendlines are important when learning about support and resistance.

When the market is trending to the upside, resistance levels are formed as the price action slows and starts to move back toward the trendline. This occurs as a result of profit-taking or near-term uncertainty for a particular issue or sector. The resulting price action undergoes a “plateau” effect, or a slight drop-off in stock price, creating a short-term top.

Many traders will pay close attention to the price of a security as it falls toward the broader support of the trendline because, historically, this has been an area that has prevented the price of the asset from moving substantially lower. For example, as you can see from the Newmont Mining Corp (NEM) chart below, a trendline can provide support for an asset for several years. In this case, notice how the trendline propped up the price of Newmont’s shares for an extended period of time.

On the other hand, when the market is trending to the downside, traders will watch for a series of declining peaks and will attempt to connect these peaks together with a trendline. When the price approaches the trendline, most traders will watch for the asset to encounter selling pressure and may consider entering a short position because this is an area that has pushed the price downward in the past.

The support/resistance of an identified level, whether discovered with a trendline or through any other method, is deemed to be stronger the more times that the price has historically been unable to move beyond it. Many technical traders will use their identified support and resistance levels to choose strategic entry/exit points because these areas often represent the prices that are the most influential to an asset’s direction. Most traders are confident at these levels in the underlying value of the asset, so the volume generally increases more than usual, making it much more difficult for traders to continue driving the price higher or lower.

Unlike the rational economic actors portrayed by financial models, real human traders and investors are emotional, make cognitive errors, and fall back on heuristics or shortcuts. If people were rational, support and resistance levels wouldn’t work in practice!

Round Numbers

Another common characteristic of support/resistance is that an asset’s price may have a difficult time moving beyond a round number, such as $50 or $100 per share. Most inexperienced traders tend to buy or sell assets when the price is at a whole number because they are more likely to feel that a stock is fairly valued at such levels. Most target prices or stop orders set by either retail investors or large investment banks are placed at round price levels rather than at prices such as $50.06. Because so many orders are placed at the same level, these round numbers tend to act as strong price barriers. If all the clients of an investment bank put in sell orders at a suggested target of, for example, $55, it would take an extreme number of purchases to absorb these sales and, therefore, a level of resistance would be created.

Moving Averages

Most technical traders incorporate the power of various technical indicators, such as moving averages, to aid in predicting future short-term momentum, but these traders never fully realize the ability these tools have for identifying levels of support and resistance. As you can see from the chart below, a moving average is a constantly changing line that smooths out past price data while also allowing the trader to identify support and resistance. Notice how the price of the asset finds support at the moving average when the trend is up, and how it acts as resistance when the trend is down.

Traders can use moving averages in a variety of ways, such as to anticipate moves to the upside when price lines cross above a key moving average, or to exit trades when the price drops below a moving average. Regardless of how the moving average is used, it often creates “automatic” support and resistance levels. Most traders will experiment with different time periods in their moving averages so that they can find the one that works best for this specific task.

Other Indicators

In technical analysis, many indicators have been developed to identify barriers to future price action. These indicators seem complicated at first, and it often takes practice and experience to use them effectively. Regardless of an indicator’s complexity, however, the interpretation of the identified barrier should be consistent to those achieved through simpler methods.

The “golden ratio” used in the Fibonacci sequence, and also observed repeatedly in nature and social structure.

For example, the Fibonacci retracement tool is a favorite among many short-term traders because it clearly identifies levels of potential support/resistance. The reasoning behind how this indicator calculates the various levels of support and resistance is beyond the scope of this article, but notice in Figure 5 how the identified levels (dotted lines) are barriers to the short-term direction of the price.

Measuring the Significance of Zones

Remember how we used the terms “floor” for support and “ceiling” for resistance? Continuing the house analogy, the security can be viewed as a rubber ball that bounces in a room will hit the floor (support) and then rebound off the ceiling (resistance). A ball that continues to bounce between the floor and the ceiling is similar to a trading instrument that is experiencing price consolidation between support and resistance zones.

Now imagine that the ball, in mid-flight, changes to a bowling ball. This extra force, if applied on the way up, will push the ball through the resistance level; on the way down, it will push the ball through the support level. Either way, extra force, or enthusiasm from either the bulls or bears, is needed to break through the support or resistance.

A previous support level will sometimes become a resistance level when the price attempts to move back up, and conversely, a resistance level will become a support level as the price temporarily falls back.

Price charts allow traders and investors to visually identify areas of support and resistance, and they give clues regarding the significance of these price levels. More specifically, they look at:

Number of Touches

The more times the price tests a support or resistance area, the more significant the level becomes. When prices keep bouncing off a support or resistance level, more buyers and sellers notice and will base trading decisions on these levels.

Preceding Price Move

Support and resistance zones are likely to be more significant when they are preceded by steep advances or declines. For example, a fast, steep advance or uptrend will be met with more competition and enthusiasm and may be halted by a more significant resistance level than a slow, steady advance. A slow advance may not attract as much attention. This is a good example of how market psychology drives technical indicators.

Volume at Certain Price Levels

The more buying and selling that has occurred at a particular price level, the stronger the support or resistance level is likely to be. This is because traders and investors remember these price levels and are apt to use them again. When strong activity occurs on high volume and the price drops, a lot of selling will likely occur when price returns to that level, since people are far more comfortable closing out a trade at the breakeven point rather than at a loss.

Support and resistance zones become more significant if the levels have been tested regularly over an extended period of time.

The Bottom Line

Support and resistance levels are one of the key concepts used by technical analysts and form the basis of a wide variety of technical analysis tools. The basics of support and resistance consist of a support level, which can be thought of as the floor under trading prices, and a resistance level, which can be thought of as the ceiling. Prices fall and test the support level, which will either “hold,” and the price will bounce back up, or the support level will be violated, and the price will drop through the support and likely continue lower to the next support level.

While spotting support and resistance levels on a chart is relatively straightforward, some investors dismiss them entirely because the levels are based on past price moves, offering no real information about what will happen in the future.

Determining future levels of support can drastically improve the returns of a short-term investing strategy because it gives traders an accurate picture of what price levels should prop up the price of a given security in the event of a correction. Conversely, foreseeing a level of resistance can be advantageous because this is a price level that could potentially harm a long position, signifying an area where investors have a high willingness to sell the security. As mentioned above, there are several different methods to choose when looking to identify support/resistance, but regardless of the method, the interpretation remains the same—it prevents the price of an underlying asset from moving in a certain direction.

Support and Resistance

Table of Contents

Support and Resistance

Introduction

Support and resistance represent key junctures where the forces of supply and demand meet. In the financial markets, prices are driven by excesses of supply (down) and demand (up). Supply is synonymous with bearish, bears and selling. Demand is synonymous with bullish, bulls and buying. These terms are used interchangeably throughout this and other articles. As demand increases, prices advance and as supply increases, prices decline. When supply and demand are equal, prices move sideways as bulls and bears slug it out for control.

What Is Support?

Support is the price level at which demand is thought to be strong enough to prevent the price from declining further. The logic dictates that as the price declines towards support and gets cheaper, buyers become more inclined to buy and sellers become less inclined to sell. By the time the price reaches the support level, it is believed that demand will overcome supply and prevent the price from falling below support.

Support does not always hold, however, and a break below support signals that the bears have won out over the bulls. A decline below support indicates a new willingness to sell and/or a lack of incentive to buy. Support breaks and new lows signal that sellers have reduced their expectations and are willing sell at even lower prices. In addition, buyers could not be coerced into buying until prices declined below support or below the previous low. Once support is broken, another support level will have to be established at a lower level.

Where Is Support Established?

Support levels are usually below the current price, but it is not uncommon for a security to trade at or near support. As technical analysis is not an exact science, setting precise support levels can often be difficult. In addition, price movements can be volatile and briefly dip below support. For example, it does not seem logical to consider a support level broken if the price closes an eighth below the established support level. For this reason, some traders and investors establish support zones.

What Is Resistance?

Resistance is the price level at which selling is thought to be strong enough to prevent the price from rising further. Logic dictates that, as the price advances towards resistance, sellers become more inclined to sell and buyers become less inclined to buy. By the time the price reaches the resistance level, it is believed that supply will overcome demand and prevent the price from rising above resistance.

Resistance does not always hold; a break above resistance signals that the bulls have won out over the bears. A break above resistance shows a new willingness to buy and/or a lack of incentive to sell. Resistance breaks and new highs indicate buyers have increased their expectations and are willing to buy at even higher prices. In addition, sellers could not be coerced into selling until prices rose above resistance or above the previous high. Once resistance is broken, another resistance level will have to be established at a higher level.

Where Is Resistance Established?

Resistance levels are usually above the current price, but it is not uncommon for a security to trade at or near resistance. In addition, price movements can be volatile and rise above resistance briefly. Sometimes it does not seem logical to consider a resistance level broken if the price closes 1/8 above the established resistance level. For this reason, some traders and investors establish resistance zones.

Methods to Establish Support and Resistance?

Support and resistance share enough common characteristics to effectively be mirror images of each other.

Highs and Lows

Support can be established with the previous reaction lows, while resistance can be established by using the previous reaction highs.

The above chart for Halliburton (HAL) shows a large trading range between Dec-99 and Mar-00. Support was established with the October low around 31. In December, the stock returned to support in the mid-thirties and formed a low around 33. Finally, in February, the stock again returned to the support scene and formed a low around 32 1/2.

After each bounce off support, the stock traded all the way up to resistance. Resistance was first established by the September support break at 42.5. After a support level is broken, it can turn into a resistance level. From the October lows, the stock advanced to the new support-turned-resistance level around 42.5. When the stock failed to advance past 42.5, the resistance level was confirmed. The stock subsequently traded up to 42.5 two more times after that and failed to surpass resistance both times.

Support Equals Resistance

Another principle of technical analysis stipulates that support can turn into resistance and vice versa. Once the price breaks below a support level, the broken support level can turn into resistance. The break of support signals that the forces of supply have overcome the forces of demand. Therefore, if the price returns to this level, there is likely to be an increase in supply, and hence resistance.

The other turn of the coin is resistance turning into support. As the price advances above resistance, it signals changes in supply and demand. The breakout above resistance proves that the forces of demand have overwhelmed the forces of supply; if the price returns to this level, there is likely to be an increase in demand and support will be found.

In this example of the NASDAQ 100 Index ($NDX), the stock broke resistance at 935 in May-97 and traded just above this resistance level for over a month. As the stock remained above resistance, 935 was established as a new support level. The stock subsequently rose to 1150, but then fell back to test support at 935. After the second test of support at 935, this level is well established.

In the above example from PeopleSoft (PSFT), we can see that support can turn into resistance and then back into support. PeopleSoft found support at 18 from Oct-98 to Jan-99 (green oval), but broke below support in Mar-99 as the bears overpowered the bulls. When the stock rebounded (red oval), there was still overhead supply at 18 and resistance was met from Jun-99 to Oct-99.

Where does this overhead supply come from? Demand was obviously increasing around 18 from Oct-98 to Mar-99 (green oval). Therefore, there were a lot of bullish buyers of the stock around 18. When the price declined below 18 and fell to around 14, many of these (now unhappy) bulls were probably still holding the stock. This left a supply overhang (commonly known as resistance) around 18. When the stock rebounded to 18, many of the green-oval-bulls probably took the opportunity to sell and “escape” with little to no loss. When this supply was exhausted, the demand was able to overpower supply and advance above resistance at 18.

Trading Range

Trading ranges can play an important role in determining whether support and resistance function as turning points or continuation patterns. A trading range is a period of time when prices move within a relatively tight range. This signals that the forces of supply and demand are evenly balanced. When the price breaks out of the trading range, above or below, it signals that a winner has emerged. A break above is a victory for the bulls (demand) and a break below is a victory for the bears (supply).

After an extended advance from 27 to 64, WorldCom (WCOM) entered into a trading range between 55 and 63 for about 5 months. There was a false breakout in mid-June when the stock briefly poked its head above 62 (red oval). This did not last long and a gap down a few days later nullified the breakout (black arrow). The stock then proceeded to break support at 55 in Aug-99 and trade as low as 50. Here is another example of support turning to resistance, as the stock bounced off 55 two more times before heading lower. While this does not always happen, a return to the new resistance level offers a second chance for longs to get out and shorts to enter the fray.

In Nov/Dec-99, Lucent Technologies (LU) formed a trading range that resembled a head and shoulders pattern (red oval). When the stock broke support at 60, there was little or no time to exit. Even though there is a long black candlestick indicating an open at 59, the stock fell so fast that it was impossible to exit above 44. In hindsight, the support line could have been drawn as an upward sloping neckline (blue line), and the support break would have come at 61. This is only 1 point higher and a trader would have had to take action immediately to avoid a sharp fall. However, the lows match up rather nicely on the neckline, and it is something to consider when drawing support lines.

After Lucent declined, a trading range was established between 40.5 and 47.5 for almost two months (green oval). The resistance level of the trading range was well marked by three reaction peaks at 47.5. The support level was not as clearly marked, but appeared to be between 40 and 41. Some buying interest began to become evident around 44 in mid- to late-February. Notice the array of candlesticks with long lower shadows, or hammers, as they are known. The stock then proceeded to form two up gaps on 24-Feb and 25-Feb, and finally closed above resistance at 48. This was a clear indication of demand winning out over supply. There were still two more opportunities (days) to get in on the action. On the third day after the breakout, the stock gapped up and moved above 56.

Support and Resistance Zones

Because technical analysis is not an exact science, it is useful to create support and resistance zones. This is contrary to the strategy mapped out for Lucent Technologies (LU), but it is sometimes the case. Each security has its own characteristics, and analysis should reflect the intricacies of the security. Sometimes, exact support and resistance levels are best, and, sometimes, zones work better. Generally, the tighter the range, the more exact the level. If the trading range spans less than 2 months and the price range is relatively tight, then more exact support and resistance levels are best suited. If a trading range spans many months and the price range is relatively large, then it is best to use support and resistance zones. These are only meant as general guidelines, and each trading range should be judged on its own merits.

Returning to the analysis of Halliburton (HAL), we can see that the November high of the trading range (32 to 44) extended more than 20% past the October low, making the range quite large relative to the price. Because the September support break forms our first resistance level, we are ready to set up a resistance zone after the November high is formed, probably around early December. At this point though, we are still unsure if a large trading range will develop. The subsequent low in December, which was just higher than the October low, offers evidence that a trading range is forming, and we are ready to set the support zone. As long as the stock trades within the boundaries set by the support and resistance zone, we will consider the trading range to be valid. Support may be looked upon as an opportunity to buy, and resistance as an opportunity to sell.

Conclusion

Identification of key support and resistance levels is an essential ingredient to successful technical analysis. Even though it is sometimes difficult to establish exact support and resistance levels, being aware of their existence and location can greatly enhance analysis and forecasting abilities. If a security is approaching an important support level, it can serve as an alert to be extra vigilant in looking for signs of increased buying pressure and a potential reversal. If a security is approaching a resistance level, it can act as an alert to look for signs of increased selling pressure and potential reversal. If a support or resistance level is broken, it signals that the relationship between supply and demand has changed. A resistance breakout signals that the bulls (demand) have gained the upper hand and a support break signals that the bears (supply) have won the battle.

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