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I often hear/read technical analysts looking at volume and price action on a chart and claiming that there are "more buyers than sellers" or vice versa.

Since every trade requires a buyer and a seller, how can volume/price signify more of one than the other? What does that actually mean?

When I hear that there are "more buyers," I get the impression they actually mean more "professional" or "institutional" buyers, but I could just be imagining that meaning.

But wouldn't this "more buyers" situation actually represent a smaller number of large buyers placing multiple orders? (and those orders would be matched by a larger number of smaller investors on the other side of the trade?) Maybe I have my assumptions backwards and "more buyers" is what they say when they actually mean "more retail buyers and less institutional buyers"?

Or maybe the expression has nothing to do with number of buyers/sellers at all and is just some arbitrary technical analysis situation? What situation is it that they're trying to describe?

If the "smart money" traders had placed larger orders, then there would have to be equally large sellers on the other side of that large trade, right? I know trades often get broken up, but if the trades had been broken up it would be equivalent to "large traders placing multiple orders" scenario described above. If the trades were not broken up, then there would not be an imbalance in the "number" of "smart" vs. retail buyers/sellers, right?

UPDATE/EDIT: I usually see this stated in reference to technical indicators such as RSI. I don't typically hear people saying "there are more buyers than sellers" in the situations you guys are describing with more unfilled orders on one side of the (potential) trade (though that would make more sense if that was what they were talking about).

See for example: http://www.wisestockbuyer.com/relative-strength-index/

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2 Answers

You are right for every trade to take place there has to be a buyer and a seller, so essentially on the trade the number of buyers and sellers would be the same.

However, what one means when there are more buyers than sellers is that the quantity of buy orders is more than the quantity of sell orders. This indicates that more people want to buy a particular share and few people are ready to sell. Let's see for an example share XYZ:

 Buy Quantity / Price   ||  Sell Qty / Price  
 20 / 5.30              ||     15 / 5.35  
 15 / 5.25              ||     10 / 5.40  
 25 / 5.20              ||     10 / 5.45  
 40 / 5.15              ||     10 / 5.50  

Given these orders, there will be no trade; i.e. the maximum a buyer is ready to pay is 5.30 and the lowest the seller is ready to sell at is 5.35.

However if you look at total order quantity, there's around 100 to buy compared to 45 to sell, meaning that quite a few are interested in XYZ stock and the chances are high that some may sooner or later be more willing to pay 5.35 or 5.40. However, if it was the other way around, with more sells than buys, it means more people are ready to sell and the price may move down.

There are various other analysis and insights that are derived from the order book and not just the actual trades that took place.

Edit:
The quote from the link you have posted "In other words, if the stock is going up (i.e. more buyers than sellers) then it’s right to buy shares, and similarly if the stock is going down, then it’s right to sell shares. But if this were true, then stock prices would never change direction, and trends never reverse."

The first part "more buyer than sellers" is exactly what I described. The more the buyers, the stock will go up and vice versa.

The article further tries to define an analysis as to when the trend would change ... ie in simple words, based on my example, if there are more buyers, then the price would go up ... at this new price levels there maybe more seller's willing to sell and less buyers willing to buy ... and hence price would start going down. The article gives a analytical way to predicting the turn around, but like all tools there is not fool proof way to predict and there are quite a few occassions when it would go wrong.

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+1 Well put! That is why when there are alot of buy orders and few sell orders the price can rise very fast, and vise versa when there are many sell orders and few buy orders then prices can fall very quickly. –  Victor Sep 18 '12 at 10:13
    
You cannot calculate the number of orders based on price/volume action. I don't think your answer is correct. –  Brian Oct 13 '12 at 10:45
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This is related to the bid and the ask. There is usually a spread between them, so the buyers want to buy at $9.95 and the sellers want to sell at $10.05

The two can both sit there indefinitely or someone can place a new limit order hoping to get matched by a seller.

But you can do analysis on placed orders looking at if orders got filled on the buy or ask side. If there are more buyers than sellers than orders will get filled more on the ask side, as the buyers would be willing to accept the sellers price at market.

If I recall correctly, this information is available per order.

In a large market buy order, once the nearest seller gets filled, the next seller (with an even higher price) gets filled, and so on.

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I'm talking about situations where people are looking at actual trades that happened, indicators with price/volume, not a look at outstanding un-filled orders. –  Brian Oct 13 '12 at 10:46
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