Learn how to use the Volume Profile indicator on the thinkorswim® platform to help identify potential support and resistance levels.
Are you tired of trying to guess where potential support and resistance levels are located on a chart? Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a deeper view of the supply and demand dynamics at work beneath those price bars? At the most basic level, it has to do with volume and price.
Volume, at its most basic level, may be able to provide valuable information. For example, increasing volume on a breakout above resistance or below support may indicate a trend continuation or reversal. It may also indicate institutional buying. On a specific day, a stock might experience high volume, which may imply there’s interest in that stock. But volume alone doesn’t indicate the specific price or prices at which traders were most interested.
So, if you’re interested in some volume amplification, consider using the Volume Profile indicator. It’s based on price and is designed to help traders to see the price levels where demand was highest and lowest.
The Volume Profile doesn’t show when volume occurred. Instead, it shows the price at which volume occurred. Unlike a typical volume study that aggregates volume for a specified time period and displays a vertical column of the total volume for that period, the Volume Profile indicator plots a horizontal histogram of volume traded at specific prices.
Depending on the settings, you can see volume at each price level traded throughout a day, month, year, or longer. The price level that has the highest volume (widest horizontal row) is referred to as the point of control (POC), which identifies the price level where most trades took place. The range of prices around the POC that contain 70% of total volume for the period is called the value area.
The Volume Profile indicator is one of the studies included on the thinkorswim® platform, and it can be plotted on most price charts.
Let’s look at an example. In figure 1, the shaded area around the POC is called the value area, which encompasses one standard deviation of all the volume traded for the time frame. The area above and below the value area shows the remaining range for the time period. Generally the levels outside the value area don’t experience much volume.
FIGURE 1: VOLUME PROFILE. This profile illustrates point of control, value area, and range. Chart source: The thinkorswim platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
When price trades in a symmetrical fashion around a center point, it’s considered standard distribution and shows a bell curve. The high volume price, or POC, is generally near the midpoint, and there’s light volume near the high and low range of the day. This would indicate a balanced market. Some traders interpret this scenario as having an established “fair price” with activity that may fluctuate around that level. In this scenario, one strategy traders could employ is to attempt to sell the top 15% of the range or buy the bottom 15%, with the expectation of price returning to the POC.
When prices trade in a skewed or asymmetrical pattern, the POC will be either high or low in the range, creating an imbalanced market. When the market becomes imbalanced, it often indicates a trending market. If the POC and value area are at the top of the range, creating a p-type pattern such as what you see in figure 1, this usually indicates a bullish trend. If the POC and value area are toward the bottom, creating a b-type pattern (see figure 2), this usually indicates a bearish trend.
When a p-type pattern appears, some traders might look for an opportunity to buy near the bottom of the value area to take advantage of the potentially emerging trend. Each day after the p-pattern was established, traders might consider the value area low as a price level to buy on the dip for the next day’s trading, or they might look for a break above the value area high as the trend continues.
FIGURE 2: B-TYPE PATTERNS. A b-type pattern indicates a bearish move and usually emerges during an imbalanced market. Chart source: The thinkorswim platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The b-type pattern in figure 2 is similar to the p-type pattern, only bearish. The skew and near the lower end of the trading range, establishing a bearish trend. Some traders may look to sell near the value area high.
By default, Volume Profile displays in the expansion area to the right of the price chart. But you can change the settings to have it displayed over the price chart (see figure 3). The advantage of viewing it this way is that you get more of a “big picture” view. You can apply the data in different time frames such as intraday, daily, weekly, monthly, and so on.
FIGURE 3: A BIG PICTURE VIEW OF PRICE ACTION. By overlaying the Volume Profile on the price bars, you can view the profile of each time period and get an idea of potential price movement. Chart source: The thinkorswim platform. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Prices at which the highest and lowest volume occurs are worth noting. Volume indicates levels of acceptance (high volume) and rejection (low volume). Intuitively, when volume is high, the price could be equally attractive to buyers and sellers. At a price where fewer participants are willing to transact, volume may adjust—sometimes quickly—to find equilibrium. In other words, low volume could occur at extreme highs or lows. That’s because prices may be too high for buyers or too low for sellers. Higher trading volume usually occurs between extreme highs and lows at an equilibrium price.
Hypothetically, you could think of the high and low value areas as potential support and resistance levels. Some traders use the low volume areas as support and resistance levels based on the thought that prices are likely to revert to the value area.
The premise of Volume Profile is based on the idea that markets tend to have memory. Because the POC is where the most volume traded, this level could act like a magnet. It may take a little getting used to watching the Volume Profile, but it gives you a different perspective of price action. As you watch the Volume Profile develop during the trading day, you may get a sense of which prices traders gravitate toward and which ones they consider outliers.
While this article discusses principles of technical analysis, other approaches, including fundamental analysis, may assert very different views.
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