For many years, traders and market makers have used pivot points to determine critical support and/or resistance levels. Pivots are also very popular in the forex market and can be an extremely useful tool for range-bound traders to identify points of entry and for trend traders and breakout traders to spot the key levels that need to be broken for a move to qualify as a breakout. In this article, we'll explain how pivot points are calculated, how they can be applied to the FX market, and how they can be combined with other indicators to develop other trading strategies.

Calculating Pivot Points

By definition, a pivot point is a point of rotation. The prices used to calculate the pivot point are the previous period's high, low and closing prices for a security. These prices are usually taken from a stock's daily charts, but the pivot point can also be calculated using information from hourly charts. Most traders prefer to take the pivots, as well as the support and resistance levels, off of the daily charts and then apply those to the intraday charts (for example, hourly, every 30 minutes or every 15 minutes). If a pivot point is calculated using price information from a shorter time frame, this tends to reduce its accuracy and significance.

The textbook calculation for a pivot point is as follows:

Central Pivot Point (P) = (High + Low + Close) / 3

Support and resistance levels are then calculated off of this pivot point using the following formulas:

First level support and resistance:

First Resistance (R1) = (2*P) - Low

First Support (S1) = (2*P) - High

Likewise, the second level of support and resistance is calculated as follows:

Second Resistance (R2) = P + (R1-S1)

Second Support (S2) = P - (R1- S1)

Calculating two support and resistance levels is common practice, but it's not unusual to derive a third support and resistance level as well. (However, third-level support and resistances are a bit too esoteric to be useful for the purposes of trading strategies.) It's also possible to delve deeper into pivot point analysis – for example, some traders go beyond the traditional support and resistance levels and also track the mid-point between each of those levels.

Applying Pivot Points to the FX Market

Generally speaking, the pivot point is seen as the primary support or resistance level. The following chart is a 30-minute chart of the currency pair GBP/USD with pivot levels calculated using the daily high, low and close prices.

The open. There are three market opens in the FX market: the U.S. open, which occurs at approximately 8a.m. EDT, the European open, which occurs at 2a.m. EDT, and the Asian open which occurs at 7p.m. EDT.

Figure 1 - This chart shows a common day in the FX market. The price of a major currency pair (GBP/USD) tends to fluctuate between the support and resistance levels identified by the pivot point calculation. The areas circled in the chart are good illustrations of the importance of a break above these levels.

What we also see when trading pivots in the FX market is that the trading range for the session usually occurs between the pivot point and the first support and resistance levels because a multitude of traders play this range. Take a look at Figure 2, a chart of the currency pair USD/JPY. As you can see in the areas circled, prices initially stayed within the pivot point and the first resistance level with the pivot acting as support. Once the pivot was broken, prices moved lower and stayed predominately within the pivot and the first support zone.

Figure 2 - This chart shows an example of the strength of the support and resistance calculated using the pivot calculations.

The Significance of Market Opens

One of the key points to understand when trading pivot points in the FX market is that breaks tend to occur around one of the market opens. The reason for this is the immediate influx of traders entering the market at the same time. These traders go into the office, take a look at how prices traded overnight and what data was released and then adjust their portfolios accordingly. During the quieter time periods, such as between the U.S. close (4p.m. EDT) and the Asian open (7p.m. EDT) (and sometimes even throughout the Asian session, which is the quietest trading session), prices may remain confined for hours between the pivot level and either the support or resistance level. This provides the perfect environment for range-bound traders.

Two Strategies Using Pivot Points

Many strategies can be developed using the pivot level as a base, but the accuracy of using pivot lines increases when Japanese candlestick formations can also be identified. For example, if prices traded below the central pivot (P) for most of the session and then made a foray above the pivot while simultaneously creating a reversal formation (such as a shooting star, doji or hanging man), you could sell short in anticipation of the price resuming trading back below the pivot point.

A perfect example of this is shown in Figure 3, a 30-minute USD/CHF chart. USD/CHF had remained range-bound between the first support zone and the pivot level for most of the Asian trading session. When Europe joined the market, traders began taking USD/CHF higher to break above the central pivot. Bulls lost control as the second candle became a doji formation. Prices then began to reverse back below the central pivot to spend the next six hours between the central pivot and the first support zone. Traders watching for this formation could have sold USD/CHF in the candle right after the doji formation to take advantage of at least 80 pips worth of profit between the pivot point and the first level of support.

Figure 3 - This chart shows a pivot point being used in cooperation with a candlestick pattern to predict a trend reversal. Notice how the descent was stopped by the second support level.

Another strategy traders can use is to look for prices to obey the pivot level, therefore validating the level as a solid support or resistance zone. In this type of strategy, you're looking to see the price break the pivot level, reverse and then trend back towards the pivot level. If the price proceeds to drive through the pivot point, this is an indication that the pivot level is not very strong and is therefore less useful as a trading signal. However, if prices hesitate around that level or "validate" it, then the pivot level is much more significant and suggests that the move lower is an actual break, which indicates that there may be a continuation move.

The 15-minute GBP/CHF chart in Figure 4 shows an example of prices "obeying" the pivot line. For the most part, prices were first confined within the mid-point and pivot level. At the European open (2a.m. EDT), GBP/CHF rallied and broke above the pivot level. Prices then retraced back to pivot level, held it and proceeded to rally once again. The level was tested once more right before the U.S. market open (7a.m. EDT), at which point traders should have placed a buy order for GBP/CHF since the pivot level had already proved to be a significant support level. For those traders who did do that, GBP/CHF bounced off the level and rallied once again.

Figure 4 - This is an example of a currency pair "obeying" the support and resistance identified by the pivot point calculation. These levels become more significant the more times the pair tries to break through.

The Bottom Line

Traders and market makers have been using pivot points for years to determine critical support and/or resistance levels. As the charts above have shown, pivots can be especially popular in the FX market since many currency pairs do tend to fluctuate between these levels. Range-bound traders will enter a buy order near identified levels of support and a sell order when the asset nears the upper resistance. Pivot points also enable trend and breakout traders to spot key levels that need to be broken for a move to qualify as a breakout. Furthermore, these technical indicators can be very useful at market opens.

Having an awareness of where these potential turning points are located is an excellent way for individual investors to become more attuned to market movements and make more educated transaction decisions. Given their ease of calculation, pivot points can also be incorporated into many trading strategies. The flexibility and relative simplicity of pivot points definitely make them a useful addition to your trading toolbox.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.