Popular Trading Indicators (Simply) Explained

Every full-time trader knows that rule number 1 in this business isn't to make money; rule number 1 is: don't lose money. Hence, any successful, long term trading strategy must inherently focus on managing risk. I know that lately the word risk carries next to no meaning, and that's because the more risk you take, the more you're rewarded, while those who manage their risk, and are potentilly risk averse in general, pay the price (in purchasing power terms). Having said that, in this context, trading with risk in mind is critical to following rule number 1, and it's essential to managing your risk exposure, and creating a sustainable, successful trading strategy.

Moving averages (MA):

Sifting through dozens of mathematical functions to help understand, and predict price action can be very challenging. But, having an understanding of why we use certain indicators is a great place to start. Let's begin by talking about MAs. The name is self-explanitory, of course, and it's not much more complicated than that. When we're looking at a MA, what we're seeing is an average of the price over a specified period of time. Now, you could say that using a 20 day simple MA is better than using a 21 day exponential MA (which places more emphasis on recent PA). But, this is a moot conversation, because we don't actually know what they mean until we explore what the MAs reveal for the timeframe being analyzed.

By knowing and focusing on industry standard MAs, we can see what larger institutional desks might be seeing, and those MAs include the 20 day MA (20DMA), 50 day MA (50DMA), 100 day MA (100DMA), and the 200 day MA (200DMA). When we apply these MAs across multiple timeframes to derive a thesis on price action, it all starts to make sense, and you can see these industry benchmarks being respected on the longer time frames, clearly. However, when you look at price action post 2008, it's almost as if the intraday MAs are seemingly ignored completely. The HFT EFT flows are so heavy and they distort price so drastically, imo it's a losing battle trying to day trade based on intraday MAs.

Relative Strength Index ( RSI ):

The relative strength index ( RSI ) is a great momentum indicator used to gauge whether or not a financial instrument is overbought or oversold. It's analyzed as a line graph with a range of 0 to 1, the latter being the top of the range, with overbought conditions identified at a value of greater than 0.70, and oversold conditions being observed with a value of 0.30 or lower. These polar extremes often indicate that a reversal is about to occur.

Fibonacci Retracement (Fib):

The Fib is a very popular and is used to gauge the magnitude of a price retracement. For example, if a stock falls 25%, and then bounces hard on high demand, we could apply a Fib to benchmark the move against previous, similar moves. How the Fib works, is it uses a mathematical formula which adds the previous two number together to get the next. For example, starting at 0, the Fibonacci sequence is as follows: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.. Within the Fib indicator, there are 5 key levels to watch after you've applied the 0 and 1 ranges to your price move, which includes the 0.236, 0.382, 0.5 (not officially included but useful), the 0.618, and finally the 0.786. Typically, I divide the asset price by the money supply ( M2 ), to find tradable Fib levels (a lot of price distortion currently as I mentioned).


When the price of an underlying security changes, what we're witnessing is the demand and supply (discovery) process. While this does tell us a lot, volume tells us the power of the move, and hence also the weakness of a move. For example, when we're seeing price rise as volume falls, the power of the move is diminishing, therefore it tells us that the move/trend could be nearing exhaustion. Placed together with other indicators that may also be flashing "red" could help us make better, and more informed decisions. In forex, however, volume points to the number of price changes which occured within the specified time interval. This is a bit different than stock or bond price volume , but essentially speaks to the depth of the market as well as the participation rate, just as it's peer does.

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