Golden Cross vs. Death Cross: An Overview

Technical analysis involves the use of statistical analysis to make trading decisions. Technical analysts use a ton of data, often in the form of charts, to analyze stocks and markets. At times, the trend lines on these charts curve and cross in ways that form shapes, often given funny names like "cup with handle," "head and shoulders," and "double top." Technical traders learn to recognize these common patterns and what they might portend for the future performance of a stock or market.

golden cross and a death cross are exact opposites. A golden cross indicates a long-term bull market going forward, while death cross signals a long-term bear market. Both refer to the solid confirmation of a long-term trend by the occurrence of a short-term moving average crossing over a major long-term moving average.

Meaningful Moving Average Crossover

There is some variation of opinion as to precisely what constitutes this meaningful moving average crossover. Some analysts define it as a crossover of the 100-day moving average by the 50-day moving average; others define it as the crossover of the 200-day average by the 50-day average. Analysts also watch for the crossover occurring on lower time frame charts as confirmation of a strong, ongoing trend. Regardless of variations in the precise definition or the time frame applied, the term always refers to a short-term moving average crossing over a major long-term moving average.

Golden Cross

The golden cross occurs when a short-term moving average crosses over a major long-term moving average to the upside and is interpreted by analysts and traders as signaling a definitive upward turn in a market. Basically, the short-term average trends up faster than the long-term average, until they cross.

There are three stages to a golden cross:

  • A downtrend that eventually ends as selling is depleted
  • A second stage where the shorter moving average crosses up through the longer moving average
  • Finally, the continuing uptrend, hopefully leading to higher prices

Death Cross

Conversely, a similar downside moving average crossover constitutes the death cross and is understood to signal a decisive downturn in a market. The death cross occurs when the short term average trends down and crosses the long-term average, basically going in the opposite direction of the golden cross. The death cross preceded the economic downturns in 1929, 1938, 1974, and 2008. There have been many times when a death cross appeared, such as in the summer of 2016, when it proved to be a false indicator. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Either crossover is considered more significant when accompanied by high trading volume.
  • Once the crossover occurs, the long-term moving average is considered a major support level (in the case of the golden cross) or resistance level (in the instance of the death cross) for the market from that point forward.
  • Either cross may occur as a signal of a trend change, but they more frequently occur as a strong confirmation of a change in trend that has already taken place.