Technical Analysis

Get an introduction to technical indicators and how to use them.

Using Technical Indicators

Price charts help traders identify tradable market trends - while technical indicators help them judge a trend's strength and sustainability.

If an indicator suggests a reversal, confirm the shift before you act. That might mean waiting for another period to confirm the same indicator's signal, or checking out another indicator. Patience will help you read the signals accurately and respond accordingly.

Types of Moving Averages

One of the most widely used indicators, moving averages help traders verify existing trends, identify emerging trends, and view overextended trends about to reverse. As the name suggests, these are lines overlaid on a chart that "average out" short-term price fluctuations, so you can see the long-term price trend.

A simple moving average weighs each price point over the specified period equally. The trader defines whether the high, low, or close is used, and these price points are added together and averaged, forming a line.

A weighted moving average gives more emphasis to the latest data. It smoothes out a price curve, while making the average more responsive to recent price changes.

An exponential moving average weighs more recent price data in a different way. An exponential moving average multiplies a percentage of the most recent price by the previous period's average price.

Finding the Best Moving Averages and Period for Your Pair

It can take a while to find the best combination of moving average and period length for your currency pair. The right combo will make the trend you're looking for clearly visible, as it develops. Finding that optimal fit is called curve fitting.

Traders often start by comparing a few timeframes for their moving averages over a historical chart. Then they compare how well and how early each timeframe signaled changes in the price data as they developed, so they can adjust accordingly.

When you've found a moving average that works well for your currency pair, you can consider this as a line of support for long positions or resistance for short positions. If prices cross this line, that often signals a currency is reversing course.

Longer-term moving averages define a trend, but shorter-term MAs can signal its shift faster. That's why many traders watch moving averages with different timeframes at once. If a short-term MA crosses your longer-term MA, it can signal your trend is ending - and that it's time to pare back your position.

Stochastics

Stochastic studies, or oscillators, help monitor a trend's sustainability and signal reversals in prices. Stochastics come in two types, %K and %D, measured on a scale from 0 to 100. %K is the "fast", more sensitive indicator, while %D is "slow" and takes more time to turn.

Stochastic studies aren't useful in choppy, sideways markets. In these conditions %K and %D lines might cross too frequently to signal anything.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

Like stochastics, RSI measures momentum of price movements on a scale of 0 to 100.

Always confirm RSI signals with other indicators. RSI can remain at lofty or sunken levels for a long time, without prices reversing course. All that means is that a market is quite strong or weak - and likely to stay so for a while.

Adjust your RSI to the right timeframe for you. A short-term RSI will be very sensitive and give out many signals, not all of them sustainable; a longer-term RSI will be less choppy. Try to match your RSI timeframe to your own trading style: short-term for day traders, longer-term for position traders.

Divergences between prices and RSI may suggest a trend reversal. Of course, make sure you confirm your signals before acting.

Bollinger Bands

Bollinger Bands are volatility curves used to identify extreme highs or lows in price. Bollinger Bands establish "bands" around a currency's moving average, using a set number of standard deviations around the moving average. Creator Jon Bollinger recommends the following:

Touching a high or low band doesn't necessarily mean an immediate trend reversal. Bollinger Bands adjust dynamically as volatility changes, so touching the band just means prices are extremely volatile. Use Bollinger Bands with other indicators to determine the trend's strength.

MACD - Moving Average Convergence Divergence

Developed by Gerald Appel, MACD (pronounced "Mac-Dee") plots the difference between 26-day and 12-day exponential MAs.

A 9-day MA serves as a trigger line: when MACD crosses below the trigger, it's a bearish signal; when MACD crosses above the trigger, it's a bullish signal.

If MACD turns positive and makes higher lows while prices are still tanking, this could be a strong buy signal. Conversely, if MACD makes lower highs while prices are making new highs, this could be a strong bearish divergence and a sell signal.

Fibonacci Retracements

Fibonacci retracement levels are a sequence of numbers discovered by the noted mathematician Leonardo da Pisa in the 12th century. These numbers describe cycles found throughout nature; technical analysts use them to find pullbacks in the currency market.

After a significant price move, up or down, prices often "retrace" most or all of the original move. As prices retrace, support and resistance levels often occur at or near the Fibonacci Retracement levels. For currencies, that means retracements usually happen at 23.6%, 38.2%, 50% or 61.8% of the previous move.