Elliott developed the Elliott
Wave Theory in the late
1920s by discovering that stock markets, thought to behave
in a somewhat chaotic manner, in fact, did not. They traded
in repetitive cycles, which he discovered were the emotions
of investors as a cause of outside influences, or
predominant psychology of the masses at the time. Elliott
stated that the upward and downward swings of the mass
psychology always showed up in the same repetitive patterns,
which were then divided into patterns he termed "waves".|
The theory is
somewhat based upon the Dow Theory inasmuch as the price
movements move in waves. It was understood by the
technicians at the time that because of the fractal nature
of the markets, Elliott was able to break down and analyze
the markets in much greater detail.
Elliott was able to spot unique characteristics of wave
patterns and make detailed market predictions based on the
patterns he identified. Fractals are mathematical
structures, which on an ever-smaller scale infinitely repeat
themselves. The patterns that Elliott discovered are built
in the same way. An impulsive wave, which goes with the main
trend, always shows five waves in its pattern. On a smaller
scale, within each of the impulsive waves of the
before-mentioned impulse, five waves can again be found. In
this smaller pattern, the same pattern repeats itself ad
infinitum. These ever-smaller patterns are labeled as
different wave degrees in the Elliott Wave Principle. Only
much later were fractals recognized by scientists.
financial markets we know that "every action creates an
equal and opposite reaction" as a price movement up or down
must be followed by a contrary movement. Price action is
divided into trends and corrections or sideways movements.
Trends show the main direction of prices while corrections
move against the trend. Elliot labeled these "impulsive
waves" and "corrective waves".
interpretation of the Elliot Wave Theory is as follows:
is followed by a reaction.
There are five
waves in the direction of the main trend followed by three
corrective waves (a "5-3" move).
A 5-3 move
completes a cycle.
This 5-3 move
then becomes two subdivisions of the next higher 5-3 wave.
5-3 pattern remains constant, though the time span of each
Let's have a
look at the following chart made up of eight waves (five up
and three down) which are labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, a, b and c.
You can see
that the three waves in the direction of the trend are
impulses, so these waves also have five waves. The waves
against the trend are corrections and are composed of three
In the 70s, this wave principle gained popularity through the
work of Frost and Prechter. They published a legendary book on
the Elliott Wave, entitled "The
Elliott Wave Principle – The Key to Stock Market Profits".
In this book, the authors predicted the bull market of the
1970s, and Robert Prechter called the crash of 1987.
The corrective wave formation normally has three, in some
cases five or more, distinct price movements, two in the
direction of the main correction (A and C) and one against it
(B). Waves 2 and 4 in the above picture are corrections. These
waves have the following structure:
Note that the waves A and C go in the direction of the
shorter-term trend, and therefore are impulsive and composed
of five waves, which is shown in the picture above.
Wave: The Best Of The Theory
For those not familiar with
Elliott Wave theory
its most basic tenet is that market movements are based on
crowd behavior, which is seen as predictable given similar
situations. Creator R.N. Elliott showed that these movements
occur in a series of impulse and corrective waves. (To learn
Elliot Wave Theory.)
For example, a bearish impulse swing consists of three waves
down and two waves up (see Figure 1). Major impulse
waves down (1, 3 and 5) can
be further broken down into smaller five-part impulse down
waves and corrective up waves, depending on the time frame
over which the waves are observed. Bullish waves move in the
But this is where it starts to get more complicated. These
smaller waves can be further broken down into more waves,
which are interrelated by
(1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.), and on it goes. (Read
more about how these numbers are used in technical analysis in
Fibonacci And The Golden Ratio.)
Wave analysis runs the gamut from supercycles lasting hundreds
of years to sub-minuets that may last only a few minutes on an
One of the hardest things about trading Elliott Wave is its
degree of complexity. To make it even more challenging, there
are alternates to every potential move, which basically tells
the trader that if this move doesn't go up, it will go down,
but he or she will know that only after the fact! The rule of
alternation also means that the corrective waves 2 and 4 will
alternate. If a wave 2 down is a simple wave, then wave 4 will
probably be complex, but not necessarily. Then there are X
waves. These are waves that connect complex corrections.
It is easy to see why many novices shy away from using Elliott
Wave and why many traders who have invested thousands of hours
into it (and lost dollars trying to develop working trading
strategies) finally abandon it altogether.
Starting with the End in Mind
To begin with, the trader must have realistic expectations.
Most new traders spend the majority of their time looking for
a system that has an unrealistically high win/loss ratio.
Those still seeking a system that consistently produces more
than 50% winners in the long term haven't learned that
surviving the market means knowing how to deal with losses.
Such traders are looking for the Holy Grail, and it doesn't
It's worth remembering what well-known author and professional
trader Perry Kaufman had to say after years of exhaustive
testing of various trend-following systems, some of which were
discussed in his book "Trading Systems And Methods" (1998):
"You can expect six or seven out of 10 trend trades to be
losses, some small some a little larger."
And yet, Kaufman says that trend-following systems are some of
the best trading systems around. In other words,
trend-following systems have more losers than winners, but
professional traders who use them make money consistently.
Renowned technical analyst John Murphy echoes this sentiment
when he states that veteran professional traders experience
winning trades 40% of the time. Granted, it is possible to
outperform this record over short-term periods, but expecting
any system to do much better over the long haul is
This means that for any system to be profitable long-term,
money management is key. If a trading system cannot be
profitable with more losses than winners, find another system
or spend more time on money management. In short, losses must
be kept small and profits must be allowed to accumulate.
Unfortunately, the majority of traders do just the opposite
and end up going out of business.
Figure 1 –
Chart of Dow Industrial Average ($INDU) five-minute
intraday chart showing a short-term bear Elliott five-wave
impulse pattern. On a one-minute chart, a further
breakdown of smaller impulse and corrective waves could be
observed. The colored bands are key areas of support,
which are potential areas of reversal.
Applying this idea to trading Elliott, Figure 1 shows a
five-minute chart of the Dow Industrial e-mini futures with a
five-part impulse wave. Colored bands show the points of
in an uptrend) and are where the trader looks to place a trade
or adjust stops on current positions.
Programming Elliott to Trade
In the 500+ page manual for MTPredictor, author and creator of
makes an interesting observation. He says there are basically
three types of people when it comes to Elliott Wave.
1) Those who are new to the principle and still completely
amazed at what it promises.
2) Those who are experienced but frustrated by their lack of
3) Those who have completely given up (sometimes after years
of trying to make it work) and are frustrated by the whole
To avoid falling into the third category, the modern trader
needs to ask how Elliott Wave theory can be used to make money
in today's markets. Is there a way of automating the
analytical process using the complete theory, or is it
possible to strip it down and isolate specific aspects of the
principle to pick money-making trades? Becoming an expert but
finding it impossible to make money is a waste of time.
As an Elliot Wave expert and a private trader with more than
17 years of experience, Griffiths asked himself the same
questions. After spending years trying to make money on a
consistent basis using alternate methods, he went back to
Elliott Wave basics. He started with the premise that if
Elliott Wave was to work in a program, he had to find setups
that limited risk to a minimum that allowed profits to run.
These setups had to be specific, identifiable and consistently
profitable. If overall losses are greater than profits, what
good are the longer-term forecasts for which Elliott Wave
analysis is famous?
According to the theory, the strongest moves in a trend,
whether up or down, are the
impulse waves 1,
3 and 5. Of the three impulsive waves, the largest and most
profitable is generally wave 3. Therefore, the ideal place to
enter a trade is at the beginning of wave 3, which is the end
of a corrective wave 2. Could the program be designed to hone
in on these ABC corrective patterns (see Figure 2) that
normally unfold in a wave 2 and provide the trader with a
high-probability point of entry? Here is what Griffiths said
in an October 2004 interview to discuss how the program came
"In computer testing, we found that it was possible to enter
with a minimum risk after an ABC had recently unfolded and the
best were those that made up wave 2. By entering long trades
very near significant support levels (and short traders near
significant resistance levels), losses would be kept small if
the trade turned out to be a loser. Winners had the potential
to be very profitable indeed when the trader caught a wave 3
but the system had to be designed in such a way that the large
gains were a bonus, not essential to the profitability of the
Figure 2 –
End-of-day chart of iShares Japan on quick breakout from
an ABC corrective pattern buy signal.
This became Griffiths' goal: to design a computer program for
his personal use that could search for ABC patterns that made
up a wave 2 ending at or near significant support or
resistance areas with a minimum risk/reward of 2:1. He could
then choose only those that met specific risk/reward ratios
according to his written trading plan. A more aggressive
approach would be to take every trade generated by the
program. A more conservative style allowed him to choose
trades with a minimum risk/reward of 2.5 or 3:1.
After the first version of the program was completed four
years ago, Griffiths realized that the application he had
developed had commercial potential since there had to be
others like him who were frustrated with the lack of success
using Elliott but knew that it was based on sound technical
and crowd behavior principles.
Figure 3 –
An intraday trade on the Dow e-minis futures (YM) showing
a very profitable trade.
Figure 3 shows the program in action. It is a chart of the
five-minute Dow (YM) e-mini futures trade with the proprietary
colored bands of significant support/resistance. These are
generated with the use of automatic Fibonacci price clusters
of varying degree and from multiple
that tell the trader where the highest probability of pauses
and reversals should occur. As you can see, the trade was very
profitable having moved well past the ‘two to three times'
profit area (blue band) to end the day at a new multi-period
low resulting in a profit of approximately 12 times the
initial risk (ignoring
and commission) at the lower projected profit target. While
this is not a typical trade, it demonstrates what can happen
when the trader catches a strong wave-3 move.