An Introduction to the Dow Theory

An Introduction to the Dow Theory
Kirill Suslov
Kirill Suslov
Reading time is 8 min
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The Dow Theory is widely considered the foundation of modern technical analysis. It was the first formal theory to outline the principles of analyzing market trends based on price and volume data.

Developed by Charles Dow, co-founder of The Wall Street Journal, The Dow Theory has been influential in shaping the way traders approach the markets for over a century. 


  • The Dow Theory originated from the writings of Charles Dow, an American financial journalist, in the late 19th century.
  • There are a total of six tenets that comprise the theory, encompassing concepts such as market trends, trend confirmation, and volume analysis.
  • The Dow Theory has influenced generations of investors and remains in many ways relevant in modern technical analysis.

What is The Dow Theory?

The Dow Theory is a collection of principles about market behavior over time. It aims to analyze and predict market trends in financial markets, particularly in stocks. The theory consists of a total of 6 tenets, each describing different aspects of trend analysis. While the Dow Theory was formulated in the late 19th century, the majority of its principles continue to be relevant for traders and investors today.

The Historical Context of The Dow Theory

The Dow Theory originated in the late 19th century from the works of Charles Dow, an American financial journalist, the first editor of The Wall Street Journal, a co-founder of Dow Jones & Company, and one of the co-developers of the Dow Jones Industrial Average index. Between 1899 and 1902 he published a series of editorials in The Wall Street Journal, which laid the groundwork for what would later become the Dow Theory. Following Dow's death in 1902, William Peter Hamilton, one of Dow’s followers, refined Dow’s principles and formalized them into a fully developed theory. He described it in his book, “The Stock Market Barometer: A Study of Its Forecast Value of 1922”.

The 6 Tenets of The Dow Theory

The Market Discounts Everything

This principle is based on the idea that all known information about a financial asset or market is already reflected in its price. In other words, the current market price of any financial instrument incorporates and reflects all available information, including past performance, future expectations, economic conditions, news, and other factors.Therefore, attempting to gain an edge in the market by analyzing external factors or insider information is futile because the market has already factored in all relevant information into its current price. Instead, investors should focus on analyzing the price movements themselves to make informed decisions.

There Are Three Types of Market Trends

The Dow Theory outlines three kinds of market trends:

  • The primary trend is the longest and most significant trend, typically lasting for a year or more. It reflects the overall direction of the market, whether upward (bullish) or downward (bearish). Primary trends are typically not easily influenced by short-term fluctuations and are of primary interest to long-term investors.
  • The secondary trend is a corrective movement within the primary trend. It typically lasts from a few weeks to several months and runs counter to the primary trend. In an upward primary trend, secondary trends are downward corrections, while in a downward primary trend, secondary trends are upward corrections.
  • The minor trend refers to short-term fluctuations in prices that occur within the secondary trend. Such movements are often short-lived, lasting no more than three weeks. While minor trends may provide trading opportunities for short-term traders, they are considered less significant in the broader context of market analysis compared to primary and secondary trends.
Illustration of Three Types of Market Trends - Minor, Secondary, and Primary Trend

Primary Trends Have Three Phases

The third tenet of the Dow Theory says that every primary trend can be divided into 3 phases.

Three Phases of Primary Trends in Dow Theory - Accumulation, Distribution and Mark up

In the bull market, the phases are:

  1. Accumulation Phase: In this phase, informed investors begin to accumulate undervalued assets, anticipating future price appreciation.
  2. Public Participation Phase: Following the accumulation phase, broader market participation increases as optimism spreads. Buying becomes more widespread, driving prices higher.
  3. Distribution Phase: Towards the end of the bull market, as prices reach their peak, savvy investors begin distributing their holdings looking to lock in their profits.

In the bear market:

  1. Distribution Phase: The bear market begins with a distribution phase similar to the one seen at the end of a bull market. Prices may still be high, but savvy investors start selling their holdings to lock in profits.
  2. Public Participation Phase: During this phase, broader market participation increases as the bearish trend becomes more apparent. More investors become actively involved in selling, contributing to a further price decline.
  3. Panic Phase: The culmination of the bear market is the panic phase, characterized by a frantic rush to sell assets. However, it's also the time when experienced investors begin to cautiously re-enter the market, anticipating a potential market reversal.
Understanding the Dow Theory Bull Market and Bear Market Phases

This principle suggests that for a market trend to be considered valid, it must be confirmed by movements in multiple major indices. If the major indices point in the opposite direction, the trend's reliability becomes questionable. Dow used 2 indices: the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA) for this purpose. 

However in today’s reality, while the idea at its core remains valid, using only these two particular indices to confirm all market trends market trends is considered outdated. This approach overlooks the complexity of modern financial markets, as well as the availability of a broader range of indices and asset classes.

Volume Confirms Trends

As per the Dow theory, the trading volume should align with price movements to validate market trends. In essence, for a market trend to be considered reliable, volume should increase when the price is moving in the direction of the primary trend.

For instance, during an uptrend, higher volume should accompany upward price movements, while lower volume is expected during downward price movements. If prices move in the direction of the primary trend but with low volume, it suggests a potential weakening of the trend and the possibility of a reversal.

To this day, confirming trends by analyzing volume remains one of the most essential techniques used by traders and investors.

Volume Confirms Trends: Increased Volumes Anticipate Price Uptrends

Trends Persist Until Definitively Reversed

This principle suggests that once a market trend is established, it is likely to continue until there is clear evidence of a reversal. It cautions traders and investors against prematurely assuming that a trend has ended based on minor fluctuations or temporary reversals. Instead, market participants are advised to wait for clear confirmation of a trend reversal before adjusting their investment strategies.

Implementing The Dow Theory

 Here's a basic outline of how traders might apply the Dow Theory principles in their trading strategy:

  1. Identifying the primary trend: The first step is to determine the primary trend of the market. Traders using the Dow Theory would seek to identify the primary trend by analyzing long-term price charts and looking for consistent patterns of higher highs and higher lows in an uptrend, or lower highs and lower lows in a downtrend.
  2. Confirming the trend: Once the primary trend is identified, traders look for confirmation signals to validate the trend. According to the Dow Theory, confirmation occurs when trends align across two or more major indices (markets). Additionally, increasing trading volume in line with the trend direction can serve as another confirmation signal.
  1. Identifying secondary trends: Secondary trends are counter-movements within the primary trend. These corrections often provide opportunities to enter the market at more favorable prices. For example, in an uptrend, prices may temporarily pull back during a secondary downtrend, allowing traders to buy assets at lower prices before the uptrend resumes.
  1. Looking for trend reversals: Once a trader notices definite signs of a trend weakening or reversing such as a change in trading volume or a break in key support or resistance levels, they may need to consider adjusting their positions or entering new trades in the direction of the new trend.

It is also worth noting, that as with any trading strategy, risk management is crucial when using the principles of the Dow Theory. Traders should set stop-loss orders to mitigate potential losses if the market turns unfavorable and use position sizing.

Dow Theory: Exploring Three Types of Trends - Uptrend, Downtrend, and Sideways Movement

Limitations of The Dow Theory

  • Lagging Indicator: The Dow Theory relies on historical price data to identify trends and confirm signals. As a result, it may lag behind real-time market developments.
  • Limited Application to Modern Markets: Formulated in the late 19th century, the Dow Theory faces challenges in fully adapting to the complexities of modern financial markets. With rapid technological progress, globalization, and the proliferation of complex financial instruments, the theory's simplistic approach can no longer always adequately capture the nuances of modern market dynamics.
  • Reliance on closing prices only: The Dow Theory primarily relies on closing prices to analyze market trends and confirm signals. This approach may provide an incomplete picture of market activity.
  • Limited application in short-term trading: The Dow Theory is primarily focused on identifying long-term trends in the market. It may not be as useful for short-term traders who are looking to capitalize on intraday or short-term price movements.


Much of what we currently know about technical analysis has its origins in the Dow Theory. By introducing fundamental concepts such as market trends, confirmation signals, and market cycles, the Dow Theory established the groundwork for the development of numerous tools and techniques that traders rely on today.

Because of its simplicity, the theory is accessible to traders of all levels to implement in their strategy. Moreover, its focus on fundamental market dynamics that are common across different trading environments, allows for it to be applicable in different asset classes and timeframes.

However, it is important to keep in mind that like any other technical analysis tool, the Dow Theory is not without limitations. To maximize its effectiveness modern traders can use it in conjunction with other analytical tools such as moving averages and momentum oscillators.

TabTrader offers a comprehensive environment for traders to implement a wide range of technical analysis strategies in cryptocurrency trading, including those based on the Dow Theory. Through our platform, traders can access real-time market data, customizable charting tools, and a variety of advanced technical indicators.


What is the Dow Theory?

The Dow Theory is a collection of principles for analyzing financial markets. It was formulated by Charles Dow, the co-founder of Dow Jones & Company, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The theory aims to identify trends in financial assets and make predictions about their future price movements.

What are the 6 tenets of the Dow Theory?

The Dow Theory is based on six main principles:

  1. The market discounts everything
  2. There are three types of market trends
  3. Primary trends have three phases
  4. Indices must confirm each other
  5. Volume must confirm trends
  6. Trends persist until definitively reversed

How to use the Dow theory in technical analysis?

Investors and traders use the Dow Theory to analyze market trends and make decisions on when to buy, sell, or hold financial assets.

Is the Dow Theory still relevant today?

Despite being formulated over a century ago, some of the principles of the Dow Theory remain relevant in modern financial markets. Key concepts, such as the idea of trends and market cycles, continue to influence technical analysis today.

What are the limitations of the Dow Theory?

Limitations of the Dow Theory include reliance on historical data leading to lagging readings, challenges to adapt to modern markets, dependence on closing prices only, and limited applicability in short-term trading scenarios.

Why is the Dow Theory important?

The Dow Theory was the first ever formal theory to outline the principles of analyzing market trends based on price and volume data. Its concepts have greatly influenced technical analysis and remain foundational to understanding market behavior.

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