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What is an 'Indicator'

Indicators are statistics used to measure current conditions as well as to forecast financial or economic trends. Economic indicators are statistical metrics used to measure the growth or contraction of the economy as a whole or sectors within the economy. Technical indicators are used extensively in technical analysis to predict changes in stock trends or price patterns in any traded asset. In fundamental analysis, economic indicators that quantify current economic and industry conditions are used to provide insight into the future profitability potential of public companies.

BREAKING DOWN 'Indicator'

Economic Indicators

There are many economic indicators created by different sources in both the private and the public sector. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, compiles data on prices, employment and unemployment, compensation and work conditions and productivity. Within the price report is information on inflation, import and export prices and consumer spending.

For more, see: Economic Indicators To Know in the Investopedia University.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is a not-for-profit professional association for supply management and purchasing professionals. It has published its ISM Manufacturing Report on Business monthly since 1931. The report contains a composite index, the Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), which contains information on manufacturing and non-manufacturing orders. The index is a closely watched barometer of economic activity. The U.S. Department of Commerce uses ISM data in its evaluation of the economy.

For most of the 21st century, housing a real estate have been leading economic indicators. There are several metrics used to measure housing growth including the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, which measures house sale prices, and the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which is a survey of home builders that measures the market appetite for new homes.

Other economic indicators include interest rates, the money supply and consumer sentiment.

For more, see: What economic indicators do oil and gas investors need to watch?

Technical Indicators

In the context of technical analysis, an indicator is a mathematical calculation based on a security's price and/or volume. The result is used to predict future prices. Common technical analysis indicators are the moving average convergence-divergence (MACD) indicator and the relative strength index (RSI).

For more, see: The Top Technical Indicators For Commodities Investing.

The MACD is based on the assumption that the tendency of the price of a traded asset is to revert to a trendline. In order to discover the trendline, traders look at the moving averages of asset prices over different time periods, often over 50 days, 100 days and 200 days. In addition, moving averages can be either simple or exponential.

For more, see: Using Trading Indicators Effectively.

The RSI compares the size of recent gains to recent losses to determine the asset's price momentum, either up or down. Using tools like the MACD and the RSI technical traders will analyze assets' price charts looking for patterns that will indicate when to buy or sell the asset under consideration.

For more, see: Using Compound Indicators To Predict Market Fluctuations.

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