The Schaff Trend Cycle indicator is the product of combining Slow Stochastics and the moving average convergence/divergence (MACD). The MACD has a reputation as a trend indicator, but it's also notorious for lagging due to its slow responsive signal line. The improved signal line gives the STC its relevance as an early warning sign to detect currency trends.
How the STC Works
The STC detects up and down trends long before the MACD. It does this by using the same exponential moving averages (EMAs), but adds a cycle component to factor currency cycle trends. Since currency cycle trends move based on a certain amount of days, this is factored into the equation of the STC Indicator to give more accuracy and reliability than the MACD.
Since the MACD is nothing more than a series of EMAs with a signal line, the STC has improved on the MACD. MACD has a 12- and 26-period EMA with a nine-period signal line. STC Indicator improved on this by incorporating a 23- and 50-period EMA with a cycle component used as the 10-period signal line. Since we can factor cycle trends based on X amount of days, we can then know how far and how long a trend lasts in terms of potential pips to earn.
In terms of indicators both old and new, the STC Indicator is quite original in its conception. Never before has an indicator been developed using a cycle component. Most use some form of moving average, particularly EMAs, as a base because it's easier to calculate and it focuses on recent prices rather than a simple moving average's long data set of closing prices. (To learn more, see "Stochastics: An Accurate Buy and Sell Indicator.")
The STC Indicator was developed primarily for fast markets, particularly currency markets, yet it can be employed in any market.The trend nowadays is to develop more accurate, reliable and early warning signal detectors to follow prices more accurately using the old models. The invention of the computer made it able to capture speed, accuracy and reliability of prices more uniformly, because the computer eliminated the need to calculate long equations using pen and paper. So, any new modern indicator will always have a higher reliability factor when a signal is generated.
However, as reliable as the STC Indicator may be, it never will be perfect. The reliability factor may be higher but slight problems exist because of the STC's ability to stay in overbought and oversold markets for extended periods. For this reason, the STC Indicator should be used for its intended purpose: to follow the signal line up and down and take profits when the signal line hits bottom or top. Eventually, another signal will generate.
Take a look at the hourly chart of the GBP/JPY, the granddaddy of currency pairs. The MACD generates its signal when the MACD line crosses with the signal line. The STC Indicator generates its buy signal when the signal line turns up from 25 to indicate a long or turns down from 75 to indicate a short.
Source: Standard Pro Charts
Notice how many more signals the STC generated compared to MACD. It served as an early warning of trend change on the far left with the long red candle. A sell signal was generated at 142.50 and stopped at 139.50, a 300 pip move. While the MACD lines hovered around 140, the STC line generated a buy signal at about 140.00 and stopped at 142.45, a 245 pip move. The next sell signal was generated at about 144.00 and lasted until 141.50, a 250 pip move. These moves occurred ahead of the buy and sell signals generated by MACD.
Notice how many times the STC line resulted in a straight line to signal an overbought or oversold market. One certain aspect is that oversold markets will eventually become overbought and overbought markets will become oversold, especially when it comes to the currency cycle aspects of this indicator. Yet that is not a signal generator. Overbought or oversold markets represented by a straight line can in many instances still represent 200 points on the upside, as it did at the overbought mark at 14:00 in the middle of the chart. This is the small problem with the STC Indicator. The recommendation is to wait for the signal before jumping in.
The technical code for the STC works like this. Inputs: TCLen (10), MA 1 (23), MA 2 (50). Plot 1 (_SchaffTC(TCLen.MA1, MA2), Schaff_TLC. Plot 2 (25). Plot 3 (75).
One can increase the cycle count signal line from 10 and adjust upwards to fit the exact market. This would represent smaller market turns and a more accurate reading. Caution is advised not to increase the cycle count higher than 40, since that is the maximum currency count. One can also adjust downward to generate many market turns, but they may not be accurate signals.
For longer time framed charts such as the weekly, it is recommended to adjust the EMAs to 12 and 26 or 7 and 13, and allow the same amount of cycle counts at 20 as the signal line. For shorter time frames, such as the 10-minute chart, increase the EMAs to 115 and 240, and allow the same cycle count. A personal recommendation is to allow the indicator to work as intended with the recommended settings, especially when it comes to cycle counts. Better to adjust the EMAs rather than the cycle count trigger line if one has to adjust at all.
The Bottom Line
The inventor of the STC Indicator allowed the full knowledge of formulas and codes to be released in 2008, so the trading public is now becoming aware of its use as an early warning trend signal. I have personally used and profited from its use on many occasions, and I have personally used the recommended settings. The interesting aspect is that this indicator is forward-looking, and is considered a leading indicator. This means false signals are very rare if ever generated. Plus, signals are generated much faster than the old indicators, such as MACD. For another recommended indicator that works as intended, this is a good one.