Crypto Charting 101: How to ID Basic Patterns and Trends

Learn to spot flags, pennants, wedges and sideways trends and understand how those patterns can inform trading decisions.

Updated Apr 10, 2024 at 3:19 a.m. UTC

Technical analysis is the practice of looking at a cryptocurrency price chart and inferring the future from the patterns that have formed in its trend lines.

This article is part of CoinDesk's Trading Week.

Sign up for CoinDesk’s Learn Crypto Investing Course.

Some dismiss technical analysis as pseudo-science while others have built empires on the techniques, profiting immensely by spotting obscure “cup and handles” or “Bart Simpson haircut” formations in the charts and taking action before the markets act out their predictions.

This guide is an entry to this strange and somewhat mystical world. It teaches the fundamental patterns and trends that these analysts use to inform their predictions about the market.

Flag

This price trend resembles a flag. It is first composed of a “pole” – the mast of the flag, where the price of an asset jolts upward or downward amid a flurry of trading volume – and then a quieter period of consolidation, known as the “flag.” During the flag, the market flips the other way for a period of time before breaking out in the direction of the pole.

There are two types of flags: bull flags and bear flags. Bull flags are flag patterns that trend upward, hinting at a future price rise. Bear flags are those that appear in downtrends, when the analyst that spots them predicts that prices will fall.

Bullish flags vs. Bearish flags are a common technical indicators used by crypto and markets traders.
Bullish flags vs. Bearish flags are a common technical indicators used by crypto and markets traders.

Flag formations are useful because an analyst could infer that an upward or downward price spiral is about to happen. Check the image on the left in the chart above: The first rise is the “pole.” The flag’s pole rises until traders have decided that enough is enough and it is time to sell.

That’s when the price takes a nosedive. But the price oscillates for a period, trending downward while trading volumes decline. When you overlay parallel trend lines over this oscillation on the chart, the image starts to look a little like a “flag.”

Then comes a breakout – another pole – and a confident drive upward that surpasses this period of consolidation. The bull/bear flag formation is over when the prices no longer resemble flags.

Pennant

The pennant is another kind of chart formation. A pennant is also a flag, but the kind that looks like a sideways triangle (see below). When charting crypto prices, technical analysts look to pennant formations for bullish or bearish price signals.

In technical analysis, the difference between the flag and the pennant is that with flags the trend lines are horizontal, whereas pennant trend lines converge in the shape of its namesake, a triangular flag:

Ether faces selling pressure ahead of the U.S. CPI report. (Source: TradingView, CoinDesk)
Ether faces selling pressure ahead of the U.S. CPI report. (Source: TradingView, CoinDesk)

Apart from the shape of the consolidation period, the pattern for a pennant is pretty much the same as the flag: There is an upward or downward movement, known as the flagpole, followed by a consolidation period marked by low trading volume that precedes a high-volume breakout.

Traders can try to take advantage of a bearish or bullish pennant. To take advantage of a bullish pennant, they might spot higher than usual trading volume in the initial breakout period – the pole.

If so, traders might buy the cryptocurrency during the consolidation period while prices stagnate and volumes swindle. Finally, they’ll wait for another breakout period to occur, selling before the market crashes again.

Sideways trend

Sideways trends, also known as horizontal trends, mark periods of trading when the price doesn’t budge much at all. The technical analyst submits that this is because supply and demand are pretty well balanced, marking an uneasy equilibrium that precedes a price rise or fall.

These periods of unsettling calm are different from the periods of consolidation in the pennant and flag because they tend to (but not always) last for far longer – weeks or months, rather than hours or days.

bitcoin four-hour chart (Tradingview)
bitcoin four-hour chart (Tradingview)

The technical analyst must eye the chart for potential breakouts in either direction. This might include watching prices like a hawk to check for other trends or scrutinizing trading volumes to work out if the trading volume of sellers matches that of buyers.

Wedges

Wedges are price formations that are identified by two converging trendlines. Unlike pennants, which converge along a horizontal axis, wedges converge in an upwards or downwards direction.

Read More from Trading Week: 9 Survival Tips for Crypto Winter

During the initial phases of the wedge, there are large distances between the upper and lower price swings. Over time, these prices converge and volumes may dwindle. If so, the keen technical analyst may identify this as a signal of a potential price reversal.

Ether's daily chart showing a falling wedge breakout in Sept. 2022
Ether's daily chart showing a falling wedge breakout in Sept. 2022

Rising wedges converge upward while trading volumes decline. This signals a bearish reversal. Conversely, falling wedges may signal the end of a bad market. When prices and trading volumes fall, trend lines converge, trending downward.

This article was originally published on Oct 24, 2022 at 2:19 p.m. UTC

Disclosure

Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Robert Stevens

Robert Stevens is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Decrypt.


Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk's longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to consensus.coindesk.com to register and buy your pass now.