Most literature written on technical analysis, more specifically technical indicators, begins with Moving Averages. The reason for this is simple; they are considered by most analysts the most basic and core trend identifying indicators. As its name would suggest a moving average calculates an average of price range over a specified period. For example, a 10 day moving average gathers the closing prices of each day within the 10 day period, adds the 10 prices together and then of course divides by 10. The term moving implies that as a new day's closing price is added to the equation, the day that is now 11 days back is dropped from the equation. Figure 1 shows an example of a simple moving average line placed on a candlestick chart.
The example above outlines what would be considered a Simple Moving Average. There are at least 7 varieties of moving averages, but generally the average Forex trader is focused on just one of the following three:
Before examining the various calculations and types of moving averages it is essential that we as traders understand what a moving average is trying to tell us. Its message is really quite simple,
and is primarily focused on market expectations. A moving average calculating the last 30 days of prices in the market essentially represents a consensus of price expectations over that 30 day period.
When prices stray from this safe zone, or from the moving average line a trader should begin to consider potential entry points into the market. For example, a price that has risen above the moving average line typically implies a market that is becoming more bullish, traders are on the up, and with such will come good opportunities to buy. Just the opposite, when prices begin to fall below moving average lines the market is becoming visibly bearish; traders should thus be looking for opportunities to sell.
Notice the angle of the moving average shown above at various points across the chart. Moving averages not only give traders a much smoother look at the true trend of the market, they also offer keen directional insight found in the angle of the moving average line. Erratic sideways markets tend to be represented by moving average lines that are flat or sideways, whereas markets that are beginning to trend strongly in one direction or another will begin that trend with a very angled moving average line.
Remember, it is one thing to look at a completed moving average line and determine at what point would have been an excellent entry into the market, it is another thing to spot the angle of the line as it is developing and at that point wisely enter the market. A true technical analyst is after what the moving average can tell him or her about the coming hours or days of the market, not what the moving average can prove about what should have been done in the past. That said, look for angles!
Simple Moving Averages
Calculating simple moving averages is really quite simple (no pun intended). As was outlined in the beginning of this section the sum of all closing prices is divided by the number of days in the equation. With each new day the now oldest day that is no longer a part of the time frame is subsequently dropped from the equation. A simple moving average is considered a lagging indicator. In fact, the simple moving average perhaps epitomizes the meaning of lagging indicator in that its visual data often comes a bit after the fact, and can be hard to act on. Nevertheless, simple moving averages are key to understanding the markets general feel of where the price rage should be trading at, or the safe zone that we referred to earlier. When prices begin to break away from the moving average line in conjunction with a sharply angled moving average line - basic mathematics is predicting a move up or down in the market. The notable down side is that when observing lagging indicators, this prediction often comes too late; thus the reasons for other types of moving averages, averages that more heavily weigh recent data and can offer quicker predictions:
Exponential Moving Averages
Exponential and weighted moving averages attempt to resolve the issue of lagging directional forecasts. In other words, they often cut to the chase faster, allowing traders to better time the market. This is done by placing greater emphasis on more recent price data. Instead of evenly distributing plotted points of a moving average across all candles in the period, a weighted or exponential moving average puts more emphasis on the most recent data; allowing the angle of the moving average to react more quickly.
Whether using exponential moving averages, weighted moving averages or simple moving averages the objective does not change. You are looking for an average in which the market has been trading. When new candles push significantly through this average in conjunction with a sharply angled moving average line it is time to consider an entry point. History has proved itself; when prices begin trading above the moving average line the market is becoming bullish and traders should be looking for buy entry points. When prices begin trading below the moving average line the market is becoming bearish and traders should look for an opportunity to sell.
20 Days & the Moving Average Cross
There are those who pretend that they understand why the 20 day moving average is such a popular choice of today's Forex traders. The answer may simply be that the average charting software offers this time frame as a default setting, or it may be that minus the weekends this time frame represents about a month of market activity.
Don't jump the gun!
Don't jump the gun! Often inexperienced traders assume that a moving average cross is a perfect entry at the exact point of lines intersecting. This is usually not the case. Do not be fooled by what may become nothing more than a sideways market. Again, look for sharp angles and an obvious degree of separation between the two lines. Looking back at the image above, notice that the solid trends all have two things in common; the shorter period line has a sharp angle up or down, and the two lines are separated by what would be at least 2 or 3 numbers on a clock. Once this separation is obvious and a few candles have opened higher than the previous (lower than the previous in the case of a downwards trend) the market has shown its true colors. At this point, you should be looking to pull the trigger.