What Is the Hindenburg Omen?

The Hindenburg Omen is a technical indicator that was designed to signal the increased probability of a stock market crash. It compares the percentage of new 52-week highs and new 52-week lows in stock prices to a predetermined reference percentage that is supposed to predict the increasing likelihood of a market crash.

Named after Germany's Hindenburg airship that crashed on May 6, 1937, it was conceived and promoted by James R. Miekka in 2010. It was reported that it had correctly predicted a significant stock market decline only 25% of the time.

Key Takeaways

  • The Hindenburg Omen is a technical indicator that was designed to signal the increased probability of a stock market crash.
  • It compares the percentage of new 52-week highs and lows to a predetermined reference percentage.
  • In practice, the Hindenburg Omen is not always correct, but it may be used with other forms of technical analysis to decide when it's time to sell.

Understanding the Hindenburg Omen

Given the inherent upward bias that is built into most stock markets, any occurrence that is abnormal usually leads to a flight-to-safety response from investors. This facet of investor psychology is, arguably, the single most relevant factor that leads to precipitous market declines, or market crashes.

The Hindenburg Omen looks for a statistical deviation from the premise that under normal conditions, some stocks are either making new 52-week highs or new 52-week lows. It would be abnormal if both were occurring at the same time.

According to the Hindenburg Omen, an occurrence such as this is a harbinger of impending danger for a stock market. The signal typically occurs during an uptrend, where new highs are expected and new lows are rare, suggesting that the market is becoming nervous and indecisive, traits that often lead to a bear market.

Main Criteria for a Hindenburg Omen Signal

Four criteria must be met to signal a Hindenburg Omen:

  • The daily number of new 52-week highs and 52-week lows in a stock market index are greater than a threshold amount (typically 2.2%).
  • The 52-week highs cannot be more than two times the 52-week lows.
  • The stock market index is still in an uptrend. A 10-week moving average, or the 50-day rate of change indicator, is used to indicate this.
  • The McClellan Oscillator (MCO), a measure of the shift in market sentiment, is negative.

Once these conditions are met, the Hindenburg Omen is considered active for 30 trading days and any additional signals during that period should be ignored. The Hindenburg Omen is confirmed if the MCO is negative during the 30-day period and rejected if the MCO turns positive.

Traders using the indicator will go short or exit long positions when the MCO turns negative during the 30 days following a Hindenburg Omen confirmation.

By doing so in the past, traders could have escaped the 1987 market crash and the 2008 financial crisis.

Of course, since the omen's rate of success is estimated at only 25%, they also would have jumped unnecessarily a number of times. Traders might use the indicator in conjunction with other forms of technical analysis to provide further confirmation of a sell or take-profit signal. For example, traders might look for a breakdown from key support levels before going short or taking profit on a long position.

Example of the Hindenburg Omen

The following chart shows an example of the Hindenburg Omen in an S&P 500 SPDR (SPY) chart.

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Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2021

In this example, the shaded area represents where Hindenburg Omen conditions were met. The S&P 500 moved sharply lower on high volume just one month after the indicator suggested that traders should brace for a bear market. Traders could have exited their long positions following the Hindenburg Omen and avoided the market decline.