How to Use Moving Averages in Trading: A Detailed Guide

Jeremy BiberdorfBy: Jeremy Biberdorf

June 14, 2024June 14, 2024

Moving averages are fundamental tools in technical analysis, used extensively across various financial markets to smooth price data and identify trends. By averaging price data over a specific period, moving averages provide a clearer view of the price trends by filtering out the “noise” from random short-term fluctuations.

As a trader, whether you’re just starting or have been in the markets for years, understanding how to effectively use moving averages can significantly enhance your trading strategy.

Tools like TradingView and TrendSpider can be extremely helpful. These platforms allow you to overlay moving averages on your trading charts easily, offering a visual representation of trends, potential entry points, and areas of support and resistance.

Types of Moving Averages

Moving averages come in various forms, each with its method of calculation and typical uses. Here’s a breakdown of the most commonly used types:

Simple Moving Average (SMA)

The Simple Moving Average (SMA) is the most basic form of moving averages. It is calculated by taking the arithmetic average of a given set of prices over a specific number of days. For example, a 20-day SMA would add up the closing prices of the last 20 days and divide by 20. The SMA is used to smooth out price data to identify the trend direction and is often used as a benchmark for other types of moving averages.

Exponential Moving Average (EMA)

The Exponential Moving Average (EMA) adds a layer of complexity by placing more weight on recent prices. This responsiveness to recent changes makes the EMA more preferred in fast-paced markets as it can provide earlier signals of potential reversals. The calculation of EMA involves using a multiplier that emphasizes the most recent price data.

Weighted Moving Average (WMA)

The Weighted Moving Average (WMA) is similar to the EMA in that more weight is given to recent data, but the weighting is linear and not exponential. This type of moving average assigns a heavier weighting to recent price data than to older data, potentially making it more sensitive to new information. WMAs are particularly useful when more significance needs to be given to the most recent price changes.


Using Moving Averages to Identify Market Trends

Moving averages can be incredibly powerful in identifying the direction and strength of market trends. Here’s how you can use them effectively:

Single Moving Average Strategy

Using a single moving average can help you quickly determine the market trend. If the price is above the moving average, it’s generally considered an uptrend or bullish condition. Conversely, if the price is below the moving average, it’s viewed as a downtrend or bearish condition. The slope of the moving average also indicates whether the market is accelerating or decelerating.

Multiple Moving Averages Strategy

Using multiple moving averages of different lengths can provide a deeper insight into trend dynamics. For instance, you might use a short-term moving average (like a 10-day EMA) and a long-term moving average (like a 50-day EMA) together.

A bullish signal is typically identified when the shorter moving average crosses above the longer one, known as a “golden cross.” Conversely, a bearish signal, or “death cross,” occurs when the shorter moving average crosses below the longer one.

Crossover Strategy

The crossover of moving averages is one of the most popular methods to signal changes in trend direction. This strategy involves observing two different moving averages for crossovers to determine potential buying or selling opportunities. These signals are particularly powerful in a trending market environment and can be tailored by adjusting the time periods based on your trading style and objectives.

Moving Averages as Support and Resistance Levels

Moving averages not only help in identifying trends but also serve as dynamic levels of support and resistance. These levels adjust as new data becomes available, providing a constantly updated framework for making trading decisions.

Support Levels

When the price of an asset falls towards a moving average but does not break below it, the moving average acts as a support level. This suggests that the moving average is holding the price up, and often, buyers enter the market around these levels, anticipating a potential upward rebound.

For instance, in an uptrend, the 50-day SMA often serves as strong support, where many traders consider buying opportunities.

Resistance Levels

Conversely, during downtrends, a moving average can act as a resistance level. When the price rises to a moving average but fails to break above it, the moving average is holding the price down, indicating selling pressure.

Here, sellers might enter the market, expecting the price to fall back down. The 200-day SMA is commonly regarded as a significant resistance level in longer-term downtrends.

Chart Examples

In practice, if you observe a stock chart with the price oscillating around a 100-day EMA, each approach to this moving average that results in a price bounce could validate it as a support or resistance level, depending on the overall trend direction.

Using charting tools like TradingView or TrendSpider, you can visually track these interactions and make more informed decisions based on historical price actions.

Advanced Trading Strategies Using Moving Averages

To further leverage the power of moving averages in your trading, consider incorporating these advanced strategies:

Moving Average Ribbon

A moving average ribbon is simply a series of moving averages of different lengths plotted on the same chart. This technique helps visualize the trend more comprehensively by showing multiple trend layers. When the ribbons fan out, it generally indicates a strong trend, while convergence or entanglement of the ribbons can signal a weakening trend or a potential reversal.

Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD)

MACD is a sophisticated trading indicator derived from moving averages. It uses two exponential moving averages (typically the 12-day and 26-day) to calculate the MACD line and then subtracts a 9-day EMA (the signal line) from this result.

MACD is particularly effective in identifying changes in momentum, direction, and duration of trends. Traders often look for a crossover between the MACD line and the signal line as indicators for buy or sell signals.

Learn More about MACD strategy

Practical Applications and Real-World Examples

Here’s how you can apply moving averages in various market settings:

Setting Up Moving Averages on Trading Platforms

Most trading platforms allow you to easily add moving averages to your charts. In TradingView, for instance, simply select the ‘Indicators’ menu, search for ‘Moving Average’, and choose your preferred type (SMA, EMA, or WMA). You can adjust the settings to fit your specific trading style and the asset’s characteristics.

Real-World Chart Analysis

Consider a chart of a popular stock, such as Apple. By applying a 20-day EMA and a 50-day EMA, you can observe how these moving averages provide buy and sell signals through crossovers. During periods of high volatility, these moving averages might also highlight key areas where the price finds temporary support or faces resistance.

Combining Moving Averages with Other Technical Indicators

To enhance the reliability of the signals from moving averages, combine them with other indicators:

RSI and Moving Averages

Combining the Relative Strength Index (RSI) with moving averages can help confirm overbought or oversold conditions. For example, if the RSI is above 70 (overbought) and the price is approaching a significant moving average from below, it may indicate a strong resistance level.

Learn about RSI Divergence

Bollinger Bands and Moving Averages

Bollinger Bands, which include a middle band that is an SMA, provide additional context to the price volatility around moving averages. The interaction between the price and these bands can help validate the strength of the support or resistance offered by the moving average.

Use Moving Averages to Improve Your Trading Strategy

Moving averages are indispensable tools in a trader’s toolkit, offering insights into market trends, momentum, and potential areas for entry and exit. Whether you’re a novice just starting out or an experienced trader, incorporating moving averages can significantly enhance your analytical capabilities.

It’s crucial to practice these strategies in a demo environment to hone your skills. Continuous learning and adaptation to changing market conditions will further refine your ability to use moving averages effectively.

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Jeremy Biberdorf
Jeremy Biberdorf

About the Author:

Jeremy Biberdorf is the founder of Modest Money. He's a father of 2 beautiful girls, a dog owner, a long-time online entrepreneur and an investing enthusiast.

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