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Donchian Channels

Donchian Channels – A Complete Guide Using Them

In the technical analysis world, you will rarely find an indicator capable of presenting the historical volatility, signal potential breakouts, reversals, pullbacks, or identify overbought and oversold signals all at once. The following guide focuses on Donchian Channels – a less famous but still handy trading indicator. We’re going to dive into the trading tool’s pros and cons. We’ll also provide practical insights into using it to spot different signals. Now, let’s find out who can benefit from using the Donchian Channel indicator. This article will look into how it can help you improve your trading strategy’s precision.

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What are Donchian Channels?

The Donchian Channels indicator comprises three lines that help show price volatility, trend breakouts, reversals, and potential overbought/oversold market conditions.

It consists of three separate bands generated by moving average calculations. The central part of the indicator is the mid-range band. You also have the lower and upper bands on the outside. The upper one shows the highest price of the security, while the lower one represents the lowest price. The band in the middle is simply the average of the other two. You calculate the value over a specific number of periods you define.

Donchian Channels Chart 1

The indicator dates back to the 1950s. It gets its name after its father, Richard Donchian, also known as “The Father of Trend Following.” As a futures trader, he needed a straightforward tool to help measure volatility. At the time, that was a pretty challenging task.

Traders apply Donchian Channels on a variety of assets and time periods. It was originally intended to be used only on daily values. Today, it is applied equally effectively on the minute, hourly, weekly, and other charts.

The Donchian Channels indicator is very similar to Bollinger Bands and, more often than not, stays within its shadow. However, it also has its benefits. In many instances, it proves to be the more suitable and easier-to-interpret trading tool.

How to Interpret Donchian Channels

When the volatility is high, the bands of the indicator are positioned wide. On the other hand, when the market is calm, and the prices are more stable, the bands become narrower.

If the price reaches the upper band, you have an overbought signal. If it touches the lower one, the market condition is considered oversold. However, you should bear in mind that such scenarios are pretty standard. This means most of the generated signals aren’t informative on their own.

Donchian Channels Chart 2

Traders also rely on Donchian Channels to learn about the strength of the trend. If the price moves into the overbought territory or breaks the upper line during a bullish market, it signals a strengthening trend. On the other hand, if it moves into oversold territory and breaks the lower band during a bearish market, the trend indicates that the negative market sentiment prevails.

This pattern shows that the way the price behaves around the upper and lower bands can indicate both the start of a long-term trend and the reversal of an existing one. That is why you should make sure to complement Donchian Channels with an additional, more precise indicator.

Traders use the range where the security’s price trades to plan how to play the market. For example, a situation where the instrument trades below its lowest N periods low is considered suitable to open a short position. On the other hand, if the price trades above its highest high for the observed period, traders usually go long.  

Why and when to use Donchian Channels?      

You should consider using Donchian Channels as they provide an easy-to-interpret map of volatility and trading price history.

Although they won’t grant actionable new information, they help visualize the price action and confirm other indicators’ signals.

Donchian Channels work best when there is a clearly defined trend and when trading on longer-term charts.

It is very efficient when combined with other technical analysis tools such as trend lines, Directional Movement Indicator (DMI), Relative Strength Index (RSI), Average Directional Index (ADX), and other tools.

The way you will use the Donchian Channels indicator depends on your broader strategy. For example, you can use a directional strategy to rely on higher volatility to generate more trading signals and buy/sell opportunities. You can also use it if you rely on range-bound price movements when the market is calmer (i.e., when trading in-the-money call and put options, calendar spreads, and more).

Donchian Channels Calculation and Formula

The calculation of the indicator is straightforward and easy to understand even by complete beginners.

Usually, the process depends on the number of periods you prefer to use. Traders typically use a 20-day period. If we take that as an example, here’s how the indicator will look:

  • Lower Channel – 20-day Low
  • Upper Channel – 20-day High
  • Middle Channel – (20-day High + 20-day Low) / 2

The calculation method is simple. For the upper channel, you have to choose the highest price for the given period. Meanwhile, you pick the lowest price for the lower one. The average of the two is the central channel. After you calculate the results, plot them on the chart.

Donchian Channels Trading Strategies

Remember that you should always confirm the signals generated by Donchian Channels with other indicators, no matter your strategy. Of course, like any other technical trading tool, the indicator is far from flawless when you use it on its own. On the other hand, it’s almost sure to be of value if you combine it with oscillators or other indicators.

Now, let’s go through some trading strategies ideas on how to use the Donchian Channels indicator to spot breakouts, reversals, and pullbacks. 

Breakout Trading Strategy

The Donchian Channel is a trend-following indicator. Its bands are basically breakout lines. To apply this strategy, you should keep an eye on the price behavior around the indicator’s upper and lower lines.

The strategy is most effective when applied on short- or medium-term intervals. In the general case, traders can open a long position when the instrument is trading higher than the Donchian Channels indicator and a short one when trading below.

Traders who apply it start by identifying an existing trend. Then they open a position as soon as they see the price touching the lower/upper band. The idea is to benefit from the possible upcoming breakout. Bear in mind that there is a fine line between a pullback and the price touching the lower/upper band. If the price doesn’t embrace a move in the opposite direction (towards the middle band), the chance is there will be a breakout.

Seeing the price repeatedly touching either of the bands indicates that it’s been trading at its highs/lows for an extended period. A breakout in the upper band is considered a bullish signal and a good moment for a buy order. On the other hand, a breakout in the lower band indicates a bearish signal and a chance to place a sell order to capture your profits before the price drops.

When do you place a trade?

So, how long should you wait before making a move? The consensus among traders is that two consecutive candles touching the bands are enough to consider the signal stable and proceed by opening a position.

Once a breakout occurs, the trader knows that the price embraces a sustainable bullish or bearish trend and can ride it until he hits the profit target or identifies a potential reversal.

However, bear in mind that the Donchian Channels indicator often generates false breakout signals. To avoid falling for one, make sure to wait for the price to close consistently above the upper/lower band.

To ensure better efficiency, you can combine Donchian Channels with the Average Directional Index (ADX). As an indicator that measures the strength of the trend, it can help you identify whether the breakout and the following trading opportunity are viable.

Reversal Trading Strategy

Keeping an eye on the median band of the indicator is detrimental to the success of this strategy. By spotting potential upcoming reversals, traders can exit trades and enter new ones early so that they can capture high-profit potential opportunities.

This strategy requires you to wait until there is a reversal in the price. Once it takes on a stable journey in the opposite direction, the trader can open a short or long position, depending on his strategy.

The important thing here is to understand when we can consider the Donchian Channels indicator’s price movement “stable.” Usually, when the price crosses the middle band from above, you can consider it a sound signal for opening a short position. On the other hand, it indicates opening a long position when it crosses the middle line from below. The positions are closed usually when the price touches but doesn’t break either of the lines. If there is a breakout, then the trend is considered strong, and the trader can ride the market and reap profits.

When applying the Donchian Channels Reversal trading strategy, the idea is to wait for the trigger and not try to forecast before opening a position. The best thing to do is to confirm the signal with another indicator. Once you are confident that a reversal is taking place, you can place your trade.

Pullback Trading Strategy

This is a short-term strategy and isn’t indicative of the long-term direction of the trend.

To implement it accurately, you should continuously keep an eye on the median line as it is detrimental to the correct identification of buy and sell signals. If you see the price hitting but not breaking the upper band, you can open a short position as it will likely revert to the middle line. On the other hand, if the price bounces of the lower band, you can open a long position as it will embrace a bullish movement towards the central band.

You can retain your position until the price reaches the opposite band. If it manages to break it and consistently closes below or above it, you align with a strong trend. However, if it doesn’t make a breakout, you should expect another pullback to occur, which is why the best thing to do is to close your position.

This strategy is convenient for picking out the optimal entry points when the market is trending. The reason is that when the price is trending, the most fruitful moment to open your position usually is right after a pullback occurs.

When combined with an oscillator like the RSI, Donchian Channels has proven effective in ranging markets. That way, you can get a more precise indication of whether the market is really overbought or oversold.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Like any other indicator, Donchian Channels isn’t perfect and won’t singlehandedly carry your trading strategy to success. It has plenty of cons and equally many pros.

To determine whether the indicator is suitable for your trading style and needs, let’s go through the indicator’s main advantages and disadvantages.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Can serve multiple purposesCan’t be used as a standalone indicator
A great way to visualize volatility and plot the price’s historical performanceProne to generating false breakout signals
Suitable for many time framesRelies on historical data and may not reflect current market conditions
Works with all asset classesCan’t identify cyclical moves
Easy to apply and interpret by beginnersRequires constant presence on the markets
Works well in non-trending marketsPuts equal weight on all data points

Donchian Channels vs. Other Indicators

Several indicators resemble Donchian Channels in the way you plot them on a chart. The main one is the popular Bollinger Bands, but others fall in the broader category of price channels. While all of them use lines to draw channels and visualize the price’s movement, there are some core differences that traders should learn to avoid being confused. 

This section of our guide will go through the main characteristics that can help you distinguish Donchian Channels from other technical trading tools.

Donchian Channels vs. Bollinger Bands

One of the main differences between the indicators is in the way you plot them on a chart.

While Donchian Channels plots the highest and lowest price points over the examined period, Bollinger Bands uses a simple moving average. The SMA adds/subtracts the standard deviation, multiplied by 2.

What Bollinger Bands does differently is to reveal the degree of dispersion (variation) from the average. Its calculation is way more balanced and significantly minimizes the effect of highs and lows.

There is also a big difference in the way both indicators interpret breakout signals. While with the Bollinger Bands, a breakout indicates a potential trend reversal, with Donchian Channels, the case is different. If the price breaks the upper or the lower bands of the indicator, the signal is indicative of the development of a new trend in the same direction rather than in the opposite one.

Which one is better?

If you are looking for a concrete answer on which one is the better choice, you won’t find it here. The reason is that everything depends on the nature of the traded market (how volatile it is; whether it is cyclical in nature, etc.), the trading strategy and its horizon, the risk tolerance, and more.

For beginners, Donchian Channels will surely be the easier-to-comprehend indicator. Also, unlike Bollinger Bands, they are less dynamic and react slower to price changes, easing their application and interpretation.

Bollinger Bands has many advantages of Donchian Channels, but this doesn’t mean it fits every context. In some cases, Donchian Channels come out on top. For example, it is a better choice for traders with a low-risk appetite. The reason is that Bollinger Bands is a dynamic indicator, which means it adopts more risk by design. Furthermore, Richard Donchian was a very conservative trader. He was looking for the safest way to profit from commodities trading. That explains why the indicator, named after him, is the better choice for risk-averse strategies.

Donchian Channels vs. Price Channels

Let’s start by saying that price channels are a group of trend lines used to visualize an instrument’s chart pattern. They can be ascending, descending, and horizontal, depending on the market momentum.

Channel trading requires traders to use technical indicators that mark the traded instrument’s price levels (support and resistance). They use the information to decide whether to open buy or sell positions, the volatility levels, and other factors.

Donchian Channels by nature are price channels. The indicators are interchangeable, and it won’t matter if you plot price channels or Donchian Channels on a chart. Many trading platforms support just one of these, so if you don’t find Donchian Channels, use price channels instead. The interpretation and the generated trading signals will be the same.

Final Thoughts

The Donchian Channels indicator comes in handy to traders who want to get a quick and easy way to plot market volatility. The indicator helps identify potential swing reversals, breakouts, and pullbacks. Its main use is that it helps traders time their entry and exit points better. Donchian Channels show the highest efficiency when the trend is strong enough. In those situations, the trader can capture a new move in its earliest stage.

However, we should clarify that Donchian Channels aren’t a 100% accurate and reliable trading tool if used independently. To make the most out of Donchian Channels, traders who want to incorporate it into an active trading strategy should complement it with an additional oscillator to serve as a confirming tool.