What is tape reading?
Tape reading is the art of studying pure price action in real-time, based on the data fields in the Level II box. Using the tape you are able to gauge player’s psychology and imbalances in supply and demand to formulate trades. Tape reading is a leading indicator because it analyzes current: bids, offers, and volume transacted at a given price (collectively known as “order flow”) as they happen, unlike charts and studies, which are derivatives calculated from order flow data and displayed after the fact. Bids, Offers, and actual transactions are what happen NOW. Charts, MACD, RSI, are created later. They are the history of price action.
Because you see the characteristics of buying and selling as it happens, developing this skill will improve your entries and exits, minimizing your risk and maximizing your reward by allowing you to catch larger moves using smaller stops. Tape reading is a tool that will put you ahead of many other traders who think technical analysis is the only skill they should know, giving you access to more plays that charts simply don’t show you. With tape reading you will be able to determine where the stock is going to move 70% of the time.
Why is tape reading important?
Because it gives you an edge, an additional tool to improve your entries, exits, and trade management.
Back before charts were actively used, most intraday traders would trade by using their skills of reading the tape, and reading the tape only. There were no charts or indicators for them to use. The last thing tape reading gives you an edge to combat the algorithms and HFTs prevalent in today’s trading environment.
What can you se e on the tape that you can’t see on the charts?
Bar/Candlestick charts depict a range of price action defined by the open price, range, and close price, over a specific interval of time, or in the case of tick charts the price action over a specified number of transactions. What the individual bars don’t tell you is how bids and offers acted at a given price, or the specific volume transacted at a price, within the time-frame (or transaction count in the case of tick charts) of the individual bar. By reading the tape you can see the active buyers and sellers and see what levels they are participating at by watching the supply and demand they seek. You can follow a certain buyer and recognize the pattern in which he is accumulating the stock. The same goes for sellers. With tape reading you can feel how the market is taking your orders and have a sense as to whether a certain stock is weak or strong. For example: if a stock looks weak on the chart but it is very difficult for your bid to get hit then that is a clue that there is not that much selling happening, so the stock might not be that weak after all… but more on this later. Finally, charts are showing you past data… granted charts are valuable, but when you mix tape reading and technical analysis you will have an edge many intraday traders do not possess.
How tape reading is an art and not a science Tape reading is not a science. It is not like learning how to do an experiment, and then being able to repeat the experiment with success adinfinitum. Because trading is a probability driven activity, and different stocks have different “personalities,” tape reading is something you learn over long periods of observation and personal experience. The more you watch the tape, the more you will be able to identify certain patterns. The basics of tape reading are very simple, but after you understand the foundation of tape reading you will only get better over time.
How doe s tape reading affect efficiency with entries and exits?
We defined the difference between the tape and charts in an earlier question. The granularity of real-time data on the tape, because it allows you to analyze “intra” bar data. It also allows you to choose entries and exits, with finer granularity. You don’t have to wait until the next bar on the chart to make a decision, which could both reduce your profit potential and increase your stop risk. Here is an example of using the tape to get long at a great entry:
In this chart, you can see that GMCR gapped up big on news over the weekend. By using just the charts, your entry would have been long at $34.15 when it broke the high or even $33.96 when it broke the mini range. By using the tape to find an entry you would have noticed there was a held bid and accumulation around the $33.50 level. You could have gone long at $33.51 with a stop at $33.44 (or when the bid dropped and offer held below 50c). That would have been a great entry and tighter risk using the tape instead of getting long at $34.15 or $33.96 risking about 50 cents. Also, your risk reward ratio is heavily skewed in your favor using the tape.
How doe s tape reading lower risk?
A good example is the one above on GMCR. By using the tape you can spot accumulation (held bids) or distribution (held offers) and go long (just above a held bid) or go short (just under a held offer), using a break of the held level as your stop. If you are looking to buy in an uptrend, or add to your position, but do not want to chase you can look for a held bid to get in, and the subsequent failure of the held bid to get out, keeping you from taking on unnecessary risk. Below is an example of lowering your risk while finding great entries and exits:
ASTM was in play after a trading halt, and subsequent re-opening, moving down sharply, we don’t usually play stocks that are/were halted but this presented a great risk reward situation to enter a trade. Although ASTM is a cheap stock (we don’t usually trade sub $10 stocks either) there was a great opportunity to trade it. ASTM opened up after the halt and dropped sharply. We looked for a great entry to short while keeping our risk low. ASTM bounced and started to hold an offer around $3.60. Also, when the offer was being held another big offer showed up. You can’t see that on the chart, but you can, if you know what you are looking for, see it on the tape. We got short and waited for the offer to get filled to get out. Our risk was about 3c if we saw the order decrement quickly we would have hit it also and not waited for it to get filled. Some of the order got filled but not quickly then the stock dropped. The stock kept dropping and the offer kept stepping lower. Finally the remainder of the order was filled around $3.15 where we exited. Not a bad trade risking a few pennies to make about 45 cents.
How doe s skill at tape reading improve understanding chart patterns?
Tape reading will improve your understanding chart patterns because you will be able to see the supply and demand dynamic in real time. A prime example of this is GMCR from above. GMCR showed some technical support and you saw there was accumulation on the tape, a great set up to get long while keeping your risk tight. Also, with tape reading if a stock reaches a significant long term technical level you can spot on the tape how it’s reacting to it and play it from there, all by seeing what the buyers and sellers are doing real time.
How do you improve tape reading skills?
Improving your tape reading skills will take time. You will only get better by watching the tape. You will understand and see more things on the tape 3 months from now than you will see today. To help accelerate the learning curve you can watch video recording of your trades or watch video tape from the Bidhitter.com library of trading tapes. It is easier to spot something on the tape when you are not in a trade and the market is closed. As I said before, the best thing to do to speed up the improvement process is to screen record your trades, and then review them after the close when you are not under the stress of the trading market, and to tap into the Bidhitter.com video library of recordings.Trading the ope n with only reading the tape Trading the open with just charts is difficult because actionable levels for the day have yet to be defined.
Granted, you have previous technical levels from other days and time-frames but your edge on the open will most likely be on the tape. Intraday traders make most of their money on the open and the close because those are the times when the market and individual stocks move the most and have the most volume during the day.
By knowing the Market Maker box you can find key levels, almost predicting where the chart will go, and find good entries for longer-term trade s.
With the Market Maker box you will be able to find key levels where significant volume has been done and trade off those levels while keep your risk tight. If a certain level has done a significant amount of volume and doesn’t break it, then you have spotted a great entry to trade with a core while scalping around it to lower your risk and make some quick chops when you spot them on the tape.