by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA
In the last entry, an email I received inspired a discussion about fundamental stock analysis. This entry covers its counterpart, technical analysis.
According to technical analysis, value is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Rather than paying attention to the book value of a company, technical investors define a company’s worth as whatever people are willing to pay for it. Technical investors therefore spend as much time analyzing charts as fundamental investors do perusing balance sheets and income statements. According to technical analysis, stock prices tend to follow certain patters — some long term and others shorter term. The price for a certain stock can be in a short-term upward trend even while in a downward trend overall. So if the charts look right, a stock trading for ten times its market cap may very well be a good buy.
It is impossible to say which out of the two works the best. There are investors who make billions using either, and investors who lose everything they own and then some. What I can say, though, is that the problem with either type of analysis is that they assume investors think and act rationally. If a company’s assets are worth a certain amount, fundamental investors trust that’s where the price is eventually going to settle. Similarly, if the price of a stock breaks through a certain resistance point, technical investors almost take for granted that it is going to climb for a while. The problem here is that — as you know — most people are not rational especially in the stock market. It is therefore extremely difficult to predict their behavior; what makes them buy or sell a stock and when. So while both techniques bring valuable information to the table, it is important not to take them too literally.