The similarities between the Chaikin money flow (CMF) oscillator and the money flow index (MFI) end with the idea that they are both commonly used by active traders to monitor the flow of money and/or momentum. Yes, while both are commonly used momentum indicators on stock charts, the math underlying each indicator—and how traders interpret signals—is quite different.

Chaikin Money Flow Oscillator

Created by Mark Chaikin, the Chaikin money flow oscillator is similar to the more widely used Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) indicator because it uses two different exponentially weighted moving averages (EMAs) to analyze momentum. MACD is generally calculated by subtracting the 26-period EMA from the 12-period EMA.

Key Takeaways

  • Chaikin money flow oscillator and money flow index are both momentum indicators, but the similarities end there because the ways the indicators are calculated and interpreted are different.
  • Chaikin is similar to MACD in that both indicators use exponential moving averages in their calculations.
  • When the Chaikin money flow indicator is red, it suggests the market is in a downtrend and when it is green, the indicator suggests an uptrend.
  • Money flow index uses volume in combination with recent price movements to determine trends and to determine whether a market is overbought or oversold.

In the case of the Chaikin Money Flow, the indicator uses the difference between a 3-day exponentially-weighted moving average of the accumulation/distribution line and the 10-Day EMA of the accumulation/distribution line. Meanwhile, the accumulation/distribution line (also developed by Chaikin) is a separate indicator that attempts to quantify the amount of money coming in (volume) and its impact on stock prices.

As you can see from the chart of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN) above, negative money flow (as shown by the period between the two red rectangles) suggests that the directional bias is downward. Positive money flow is marked by the green areas on the Chaikin money flow indicator and suggests that the trend is upward. If the indicator rises above .20 or falls below -.20, it could suggest that the market is overbought or oversold.

Money Flow Index

The money flow index is quite different than the Chaiken money flow oscillator because it uses volume in combination with recent price movements to determine whether momentum is up or down. Many traders view this indicator as a volume-weight relative strength index (RSI), which is calculated using average price gains and losses over a period of time (usually 14 days).

Typically, if MFI rises above 80, the market is overbought, and due for a pullback. On the other hand, readings of 20 or less suggest an oversold market that may bounce. As you can see from the chart above, money flow index never moves above or below key overbought or oversold levels on the chart of AMZN as it did in the CMF example. When using the money flow index, buy and sell signals are only generated when the index moves beyond the 20 or 80 levels.

Since Chaikin oscillator and money flow index are calculated using different elements, it is unsurprising to see that the trading signals are quite different. In general, understanding the underlying formula of any technical indicator is essential before using it to generate buy and sell signals.