There's more to charts than looking at price and volume. This guide teaches you how to use the thinkorswim® stock charting software with five cool tools.
Become familiar with the different charting features available on thinkorswim
Whether you’re new to thinkorswim® or eager to find new ways to evaluate an investment, look no further than the Charts tab near the upper right of your screen. Want to compare two stocks on one chart? No problem. What about setting an alert for when price breaks out of a trendline? Want to do a little backtesting before jumping into a trade? You’re covered.
What about technical indicators? The platform has hundreds of preloaded studies and strategies. You can even design your own studies right in thinkorswim.
Let’s take a look at five helpful features that experienced chartists and beginners can use in day-to-day trading from the thinkorswim Charts tab.
An overlay stock chart plots two or more different stocks or indexes on the same price chart. It’s a way to see relative performance—whether one is over- or underperforming the other. It can be a way to measure relative strength, and it’s also handy if you’re looking at correlations between stocks, sectors, or asset classes, such as the financials sector versus the S&P 500® index (see figure 1).
Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to
create an overlay:
The left vertical axis will be scaled
for the overlay symbol so the high and low range fits on the same chart. You can
also add more index or custom symbols.
To take overlays one step further,
open Chart settings (gear icon), and under the Price axis tab, check
Show price as percentage. That switches the right vertical axis
to show percentage changes, which may help you compare the performance of the
symbols you’re charting.
Did you know you can set alerts based on chart drawings such as trendlines, retracement levels, price channels, and so on? Whenever a security’s price breaks through a trend you’ve defined, you’ll be notified.
Setting up such an alert is straightforward. Simply select a drawing and right-click to select Create alert. This opens up a dialog where you can define how you’d like the alert to trigger (see figure 2).
Because all drawings are essentially simple lines, alerts can trigger when prices cross them.
Beyond that, all the standard alert preferences can be set from this menu, such as the notification method or when the alert should expire. After entering the parameters, select Create to set the alert. A flag appears on the chart drawing to indicate that an alert has been set. You can edit or cancel the alert by right-clicking the flag.
Before creating the alert, you can also check the Show Alert Book after I press Create box. This will add the drawing alert to the Alert Book section of the MarketWatch tab, along with any other alerts you’ve set.
You’ll see the name of the drawing and symbol for each alert, as well as the time frame of the applicable chart.
This last bit is important to keep in mind to avoid confusion. The slopes of lines change when they’re applied to different chart aggregations, so remember that an alert will trigger only when a crossover occurs on the same aggregation as the original chart.
For example, it’s possible to see a crossover on a 15-minute chart that doesn’t appear on a 5-minute chart. If the alert was created on the 5-minute chart, then it wouldn’t trigger. To help you remember this, the flag will only show up on charts of the same aggregation, and the entry in the order book will specify the aggregation as well.
You can backtest trading strategies based on technical indicators and see the hypothetical profit and loss (P&L) performance right on your charts. thinkorswim Charts offer strategies, which are simulated long and short entry and closing points determined by a technical indicator. You can even code your own strategy. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but here’s how to get started (see figure 3).
To try out backtesting:
You should now see “BollingerBandsLE” and “BollingerBandsSE” labels on your chart, indicating the simulated buying and selling of 100 stock shares based on the Bollinger Bands test. To see the P&L of those simulated trades, hover directly over one of the labels and right-click to open a new menu. Select Show Report to open the Strategy Report window. Here, you’ll find the buy and sell signals and P&L data for the strategy.
And by the way, if you want to buy or sell the stock shares for real, right-click in the chart’s main body and select Buy or Sell from the menu. Plus, at the far right of the chart, you’ll see tabs for Trade, Time and Sales, Level II, and so on. These let you add windows with those features next to the chart window. It basically lets you set up your Charts tab as your go-to page for stock and futures trading.
A final note on backtesting. Never forget the old adage (and standard financial disclaimer): Past performance of a security or strategy does not guarantee future results or investing success. It’s particularly important when backtesting for strategy selection.
*Backtesting is the evaluation of a particular trading strategy using historical data. Results presented are hypothetical, they did not actually occur and there is no guarantee that the same strategy implemented today would produce similar results.
thinkorswim Charts let you plot future dates to the right of the current date. Why? To help you locate upcoming earnings and dividend dates, for one thing. Plus, you can extend drawings like trendlines or into the future to identify possible price targets. Figure 4 shows you how to set this up.
To chart a future period in the expansion area:
This will add some empty space to the right of the current date on the chart (see figure 4). Now you can extend a trendline or other drawing into that space by hovering directly over the trendline and right-clicking it. Then select Extend to the right from the menu, and you’ll see the line extend to those future dates.
A study that’s built specifically for those future dates is the Probability of Expiring Cone (see figure 5), which gives you a probable price range at different contract expirations (weeks or months). The cone draws the upper and lower bounds of a symbol’s price range to theoretically encompass a predefined level of probability.
One way to add the cone study is to select Studies > Edit studies icon and look up ProbabilityOfExpiringCone in the left window. Double-click to add it to the list of chart studies. You’ll also find two fields to edit for the study by clicking the gear symbol. The “period” is the number of future dates for which the probability cone is calculated, and the “prob range” is the probability the projected range covers. The default “prob range” is 68%, which corresponds roughly to one standard deviation. Set it to 95% to see a cone that covers two standard deviations or 99% to cover three standard deviations. (Learn more about probabilities and volatility.)
These features really just scratch the surface of the thinkorswim stock charting software. But hopefully you now have an idea of the scope and how to access some of the potential. Each of the many menus offers more choices that will lead you to additional functions. Go ahead and continue to explore thinkorswim Charts to see just how hard you can make them work for you.
Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information
Content intended for educational/informational purposes only. Not investment advice, or a recommendation of any security, strategy, or account type.
Be sure to understand all risks involved with each strategy, including commission costs, before attempting to place any trade. Clients must consider all relevant risk factors, including their own personal financial situations, before trading.
Probability analysis results are theoretical in nature, not guaranteed, and do not reflect any degree of certainty of an event occurring.
Market volatility, volume, and system availability may delay account access and trade executions.
Past performance of a security or strategy does not guarantee future results or success.
Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options.
Supporting documentation for any claims, comparisons, statistics, or other technical data will be supplied upon request.
This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business or where such offer or solicitation would be contrary to the local laws and regulations of that jurisdiction, including, but not limited to persons residing in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UK, and the countries of the European Union.
TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC, a subsidiary of The Charles Schwab Corporation. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2023 Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.