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Dow Theory Explained: How It Works, Types, and Examples

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Abi Bus

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The Dow Theory, developed by Charles H. Dow, is a fundamental concept in financial markets. It posits that the market is in an upward trend when one of its averages advances above a previous high and is accompanied by a similar advance in another average. This article explores the Dow Theory in detail, covering its history, key principles, and how it works. We’ll also delve into the three primary kinds of market trends, the importance of indices confirming each other, the role of trading volume, and how trends persist. Understanding the Dow Theory can provide valuable insights for investors and traders.

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What is the dow theory?

The Dow Theory is a foundational financial concept that suggests the market is in an upward trend if one of its averages, such as industrials or transportation, advances above a previous high and is accompanied by a similar advance in another corresponding average. For instance, if the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reaches an intermediate high, investors might monitor the Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA) to confirm the upward trend.

Understanding the dow theory

The Dow Theory was developed by Charles H. Dow, the co-founder of Dow Jones & Company, Inc., in 1896. Although Dow never published his complete theory due to his death in 1902, his followers and associates expanded on his work. Some notable contributions to Dow Theory include William P. Hamilton’s “The Stock Market Barometer” (1922) and Robert Rhea’s “The Dow Theory” (1932).
Charles Dow believed that the stock market, as a whole, was a reliable measure of overall business conditions in the economy. By analyzing the market, one could accurately gauge economic conditions and identify significant market trends and the likely direction of individual stocks.
While certain aspects of Dow Theory have evolved, the core principles remain essential to modern technical analysis.

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How the dow theory works

The Dow Theory comprises six key components:

The market discounts everything

The Dow Theory operates on the efficient market hypothesis (EMH), which asserts that asset prices include all available information. This includes factors like earnings potential, competitive advantage, and management competence, even future events, and risks are factored into prices.

There are three primary kinds of market trends

The market experiences primary trends lasting a year or more, secondary trends with smaller movements, and minor trends with short-term fluctuations. Primary trends include bull and bear markets, while secondary trends involve pullbacks or rallies. Minor trends are considered market noise.

Primary trends have three phases

Primary bull market phases include accumulation, public participation, and excess phases. In contrast, bear market phases comprise distribution, public participation, and panic phases.

Bull market phases

  • Accumulation phase: Prices rise with increased volume.
  • Public participation phase: Retail investors notice the upward trend and join in.
  • Excess phase: Experienced investors exit positions while the average population adds to theirs.

Bear market phases

  • Distribution phase: News of decline spreads throughout the investing community.
  • Public participation phase: Retail investors sell stocks to limit losses.
  • Panic phase: Investors lose hope of a correction or reversal and continue selling.

Indices must confirm each other

For a trend to be established, Dow postulated that indices or market averages must confirm each other. This means that the signals on one index must match those on the other. If one index shows a new primary uptrend but another remains in a primary downward trend, a new trend isn’t assumed.

Volume must confirm the trend

Trading volume should generally increase in the direction of the primary trend and decrease against it. Low volume indicates weakness in the trend. For instance, in a bull market, buying volume should rise as the price increases. If selling volume increases during a pullback, it could signal bearish sentiment.

Trends persist until a clear reversal occurs

Primary trend reversals can be mistaken for secondary trends. The Dow Theory advises caution, requiring a possible reversal to be confirmed by comparing indexes. Reversals may take months to become evident, and a change in price direction over a short period might only be a market correction.

Special considerations

Additional points to consider about the Dow Theory include:

Closing prices and line ranges

Charles Dow relied on closing prices and not intraday movements. Dow Theory uses the concept of line ranges or trading ranges to identify periods of consolidation. Traders should wait for price movements to break the trend line before determining the market’s direction.

Signals and identification of trends

Identifying trend reversals accurately is a challenge in implementing Dow Theory. It relies on peak-and-trough analysis, with peaks as the highest prices in a period and troughs as the lowest prices. An upward trend is marked by successively higher peaks and troughs, while a downward trend has lower peaks and troughs. Reversals are indicated when the market fails to achieve successive peaks and troughs.


A reversal in the primary trend occurs when the market can’t create successive peaks and troughs in the direction of the trend. In an uptrend, it means the index consecutively fails to reach higher highs and higher lows. A downward trend reversal shows successively higher highs and higher lows.
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of the Dow Theory and this article.
  • Comprehensive Explanation: The article provides a thorough and detailed explanation of the Dow Theory, making it accessible to readers seeking to understand this fundamental concept.
  • Historical Context: It offers historical context, including the theory’s origins and key contributors, helping readers appreciate its evolution and relevance.
  • Clarity and Organization: The content is well-organized, with clear headings and subheadings, making it easy for readers to follow and grasp the concepts.
  • Key Takeaways: The article summarizes key takeaways at the end, providing a quick reference for readers to understand the core principles of the Dow Theory.
  • Use of Citations: It includes links to high-authority sources (Investopedia) for readers who wish to explore the topic further.
  • Complexity: The Dow Theory, as a technical analysis framework, can be complex for some readers to grasp, and the article may benefit from more simplified explanations for beginners.
  • Lack of Real-Life Examples: While the article explains the theory’s principles, it could enhance clarity by including real-life examples or case studies of how the Dow Theory is applied in practice.
  • Need for Visual Aids: Incorporating charts or visual aids could help readers better understand the market trends and phases described in the theory.

Frequently asked questions

What are the 3 trends of the dow theory?

The three trends are primary, secondary, and minor. The primary trend is the long-term trend, called a bull or bear. Secondary trends are smaller trends, such as a market correction. Finally, minor trends are day-to-day price fluctuations in the market.

What is the goal of dow theory?

The Dow Theory aims to identify the market’s primary trend through proof and confirmation.

What factors affect dow?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, known as the Dow, is affected by the prices of the stocks that make up the index. Stock prices are influenced by various factors, including economic conditions, corporate performance, and investor sentiment.

Is the dow theory still relevant in today’s financial markets?

Yes, the Dow Theory remains relevant as a foundational concept in technical analysis. While it has evolved and adapted to changes in financial markets, the core principles of identifying market trends and analyzing price movements are still applied by many investors and traders today.

Can the dow theory predict market crashes or economic downturns?

The Dow Theory is primarily focused on identifying trends and trend reversals. While it can signal shifts in market sentiment, it is not designed to predict specific events like market crashes. Investors should use the Dow Theory in conjunction with other analytical tools and economic indicators for a more comprehensive view of market conditions.

How can individual investors apply the dow theory to their investment strategies?

Individual investors can apply the Dow Theory by using it as a framework for analyzing the overall market and identifying trends. By understanding the principles of primary, secondary, and minor trends, investors can make more informed decisions about buying or selling stocks. However, it’s essential to combine Dow Theory analysis with fundamental analysis and risk management strategies.

Are there any alternative theories or frameworks that compete with the dow theory?

Yes, there are alternative theories and technical analysis frameworks that investors use alongside or in place of the Dow Theory. These include Elliott Wave Theory, Fibonacci retracement, and various chart patterns. Each approach has its unique characteristics and may be preferred by different investors based on their trading style and preferences.

Key takeaways

  • The Dow Theory is a technical framework for gauging market trends based on key principles.
  • It consists of six essential components, including market efficiency, primary trends, phases of primary trends, and confirmation by indices and volume.
  • Understanding the Dow Theory can aid investors and traders in making informed decisions in the financial markets.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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