Trends are what allow traders and investors to capture profits. Whether on a short- or long-term time frame, in an overall trending market or a ranging environment, the flow from one price to another is what creates profits and losses. There are four major factors that cause both long-term trends and short-term fluctuations. These factors are governments, international transactions, speculation and expectation, and supply and demand. (For more, see Trading Trend Or Range?)

Tutorial: Economic Indicators To Know

Major Market Forces
Learning how these major factors shape trends over the long term can provide insight into why certain trends are developing, why a trend is in place and how future trends may occur. Here are the four major factors:

  1. Governments
    Governments hold much sway over the free markets. Fiscal and monetary policy have a profound effect on the financial marketplace. By increasing and decreasing interest rates the government and Federal Reserve can effectively slow or attempt to speed up growth within the country. This is called monetary policy.

    If government spending increases or contracts, this is known as fiscal policy, and can be used to help ease unemployment and/or stabilize prices. By altering interest rates and the amount of dollars available on the open market, governments can change how much investment flows into and out of the country. (Learn more in our Federal Reserve Tutorial.)

  2. International Transactions
    The flow of funds between countries impacts the strength of a country's economy and its currency. The more money that is leaving a country, the weaker the country's economy and currency. Countries that predominantly export, whether physical goods or services, are continually bringing money into their countries. This money can then be reinvested and can stimulate the financial markets within those countries.

  3. Speculation and Expectation
    Speculation and expectation are integral parts of the financial system. Where consumers, investors and politicians believe the economy will go in the future impacts how we act today. Expectation of future action is dependent on current acts and shapes both current and future trends. Sentiment indicators are commonly used to gauge how certain groups are feeling about the current economy. Analysis of these indicators as well as other forms of fundamental and technical analysis can create a bias or expectation of future price rates and trend direction. (Read more on this closely watched economic indicator; see Understanding the Consumer Confidence Index and Investors Intelligence Sentiment Index.)

  4. Supply and Demand
    Supply and demand for products, currencies and other investments creates a push-pull dynamic in prices. Prices and rates change as supply or demand changes. If something is in demand and supply begins to shrink, prices will rise. If supply increases beyond current demand, prices will fall. If supply is relatively stable, prices can fluctuate higher and lower as demand increases or decreases. (See more on this subject in Economics Basics: Demand and Supply and Monetarism: Printing Money To Curb Inflation.)

Effect on Short- and Long-Term Trends
With these factors causing both short- and long-term fluctuations in the market, it is important to understand how all these elements come together to create trends. While these major factors are categorically different, they are closely linked to one another. Government mandates impact international transactions, which play a role in speculation, and supply and demand plays a role in each of these other factors.

Government news releases, such as proposed changes in spending or tax policy, as well as Federal Reserve decisions to change or maintain interest rates can have a dramatic effect on long term trends. Lower interest rates and taxes encourage spending and economic growth. This has a tendency to push market prices higher, but the market does not always respond in this way because other factors are also at play. Higher interest rates and taxes, for example, deter spending and result in contraction or a long-term fall in market prices.

In the short term, these news releases can cause large price swings as traders and investors buy and sell in response to the information. Increased action around these announcements can create short-term trends, while longer term trends develop as investors fully grasp and absorb what the impact of the information means for the markets.

The International Effect
International transactions, balance of payments between countries and economic strength are harder to gauge on a daily basis, but they play a major role in longer-term trends in many markets. The currency markets are a gauge of how well one country's currency and economy is doing relative to others. A high demand for a currency means that currency will rise relative to other currencies.

The value of a country's currency also plays a role in how other markets will do within that country. If a country's currency is weak, this will deter investment into that country, as potential profits will be eroded by the weak currency. (Unique features of the forex market may allow larger players to get a jump on smaller ones; check out The Currency Market Information Edge also read Forex Trading Rules: Always Pair Strong With Weak for more on weak and strong currencies.)

The Participant Effect
The analysis and resultant positions taken by traders and investors based on the information they receive about government policy and international transactions create speculation as to where prices will move. When enough people agree on direction, the market enters into a trend that could sustain itself for many years.

Trends are also perpetuated by market participants who were wrong in their analysis; being forced to exit their losing trades pushes prices further in the current direction. As more investors climb aboard to profit from a trend, the market becomes saturated and the trend reverses, at least temporarily. (Find out what effect institutional investors have on the stock market and individual traders, read The Market Participant Playbook.)

The S & D Effect
This is where supply and demand enters the picture. Supply and demand affects individuals, companies and the financial markets as a whole. In some markets, such as the commodity markets, supply is determined by a physical product. Supply and demand for oil is constantly changing, adjusting the price a market participant is willing to pay for oil today and in the future.

As supply dwindles or demand increases, a long-term rise in oil prices can occur as market participants outbid one another to attain a seemingly finite supply of the commodity. Suppliers want a higher price for what they have, and a higher demand pushes the price that buyers are willing to pay higher.

All markets have a similar dynamic. Stocks fluctuate on a short and long-term scale, creating trends. The threat of supply drying up at current prices forces buyers to buy at higher and higher prices, creating large price increases. If a large group of sellers were to enter the market, this would increase the supply of stock available and would likely push prices lower. This occurs on all time frames. (The A/D line highlights buying and selling pressure to confirm existing trends; check out Trend-Spotting With The Accumulation/Distribution Line.)

The Bottom Line
Trends are generally created by four major factors: governments, international transactions, speculation/expectation, and supply and demand. These areas are all linked as expected future conditions shape current decisions and those current decisions shape current trends. Government affects trends mainly through monetary and fiscal policy. These policies affect international transactions which in turn affect economic strength. Speculation and expectation drive prices based on what future prices might be. Finally, changes in supply and demand create trends as market participants fight for the best price.

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