There's more to charts than looking at price and volume. Learn how to use these five charting tools as a starting point in understanding the many features available in thinkorswim charts.
Become familiar with the different charting features available on thinkorswim
There are plenty of charting programs out there. But seriously, why look further? The charts on the thinkorswim trading platform can do pretty much everything you could possibly need—even if you’re not a chart reader.
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, you ask? The platform has hundreds of preloaded studies and strategies. You can even develop your own studies right in thinkorswim.
If you’re new to charting, you can brush up on technical analysis and how to read stock charts. Let’s map out some of the features that chartists and (non-chartists) can use in day-to-day trading from the Charts tab on thinkorswim.
An overlay chart plots two or more different stocks or indices 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 financial 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 indices or custom symbols.
To take overlays one step further, open Chart settings (gear icon), and under the Price Axis tab and 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 with drawing.... This opens up a dialog where you can define how you’d like the alert to trigger (see figure 2). Because all drawings are (in effect) 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. Once you enter 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 remind you of this, the flag will show up only 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 & loss (p&l) performance right on your charts. The 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 shares of stock 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 Charts 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.
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 off into the future to identify possible price targets. How to do it? Take a look at figure 4.
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. Hover directly over the trendline and right-click. 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 (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 find ProbabilityOfExpiringCone on the left of the window. Double-click to add it to the list of chart studies. You’ll also find two fields to edit for the study. 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 thinkorswim charting functionality. 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.
Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan is not a representative of TD Ameritrade, Inc. The material, views, and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and may not be reflective of those held by TD Ameritrade, Inc.
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