1) First waves — As a rough estimate, about half of first waves are part of the “basing” process and thus tend to be heavily corrected by wave two. In contrast to the bear market rallies within the previous decline, however, this first wave rise is technically more constructive, often displaying a subtle increase in volume and breadth. Plenty of short selling is in evidence as the majority has finally become convinced that the overall trend is down. Investors have finally gotten “one more rally to sell on,” and they take advantage of it. The other fifty percent of first waves rise from either large bases formed by the previous correction, as in 1949, from downside failures, as in 1962, or from extreme compression, as in both 1962 and 1974. From such beginnings, first waves are dynamic and only moderately retraced.
2) Second waves — Second waves often retrace so much of wave one that most of the advancement up to that time is eroded away by the time it ends. This is especially true of call option purchases, as premiums sink drastically in the environment of fear during second waves. At this point, investors are thoroughly convinced that the bear market is back to stay. Second waves often produce downside non-confirmations and Dow Theory “buy spots,” when low volume and volatility indicate a drying up of selling pressure.
3) Third waves — Third waves are wonders to behold. They are strong and broad, and the trend at this point is unmistakable. Increasingly favorable fundamentals enter the picture as confidence returns. Third waves usually generate the greatest volume and price movement and are most often the extended wave in a series. It follows, of course, that the third wave of a third wave, and so on, will be the most volatile point of strength in any wave sequence. Such points invariably produce breakouts, “continuation” gaps, volume expansions, exceptional breadth, major Dow Theory trend confirmations and runaway price movement, creating large hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or yearly gains in the market, depending on the degree of the wave. Virtually all stocks participate in third waves. Besides the personality of “B” waves, that of third waves produces the most valuable clues to the wave count as it unfolds.
4) Fourth waves — Fourth waves are predictable in both depth (see Lesson 11) and form, because by alternation they should differ from the previous second wave of the same degree.
More often than not they trend sideways, building the base for the final fifth wave move. Lagging stocks build their tops and begin declining during this wave, since only the strength of a third wave was able to generate any motion in them in the first place. This initial deterioration in the market sets the stage for non-confirmations and subtle signs of weakness during the fifth wave.
5) Fifth waves — Fifth waves in stocks are always less dynamic than third waves in terms of breadth. They usually display a slower maximum speed of price change as well, although if a fifth wave is an extension, speed of price change in the third of the fifth can exceed that of the third wave. Similarly, while it is common for volume to increase through successive impulse waves at Cycle degree or larger, it usually happens below Primary degree only if the fifth wave extends. Otherwise, look for lesser volume as a rule in a fifth wave as opposed to the third. Market dabblers sometimes call for “blowoffs” at the end of long trends, but the stock market has no history of reaching maximum acceleration at a peak. Even if a fifth wave extends, the fifth of the fifth will lack the dynamism of what preceded it. During fifth advancing waves, optimism runs extremely high, despite a narrowing of breadth. Nevertheless, market action does improve relative to prior corrective wave rallies. For example, the year-end rally in 1976 was unexciting in the Dow, but it was nevertheless a motive wave as opposed to the preceding corrective wave advances in April, July and September, which, by contrast, had even less influence on the secondary indexes and the cumulative advance-decline line. As a monument to the optimism that fifth waves can produce, the market forecasting services polled two weeks after the conclusion of that rally turned in the lowest percentage of “bears,” 4.5%, in the history of the recorded figures despite that fifth wave’s failure to make a new high!