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What is the 'Moving Average Convergence Divergence - MACD'

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) is a trend-following momentum indicator that shows the relationship between two moving averages of a security’s price. The MACD is calculated by subtracting the 26-period Exponential Moving Average (EMA) from the 12-period EMA. The result of that calculation is the MACD line. A nine-day EMA of the MACD, called the "signal line", is then plotted on top of the MACD line which can function as a trigger for buy and sell signals. Traders may buy the security when the MACD crosses above its signal line and sell, or short, the security when the MACD crosses below the signal line.

If the 12-period EMA is above the 26-period EMA, the MACD will be above its “baseline” of zero. If the shorter EMA is below the longer EMA, the MACD will be below its baseline. The more distant the MACD is above or below its baseline indicates that the distance between the two EMAs is growing. In the following chart, you can see how the two EMAs applied to the price chart correspond to the MACD (blue) crossing above or below its baseline (red dashed) in the indicator below the price chart.

The MACD is often displayed with a histogram which graphs the distance between the MACD and its signal line. If the MACD is above the signal line, the histogram will be above the MACD’s baseline. If the MACD is below its signal line, the histogram will be below the MACD’s baseline. Traders use the MACD’s histogram to identify when bullish or bearish momentum is high.

BREAKING DOWN 'Moving Average Convergence Divergence - MACD'

Moving average convergence divergence (MACD) indicators can be interpreted in several ways but the more common methods are crossovers, divergences, and rapid rises/falls.

Crossovers

As shown on the following chart, when the MACD falls below the signal line, it is a bearish signal which indicates that it may be time to sell. Conversely, when the MACD rises above the signal line, the indicator gives a bullish signal, which suggests that the price of the asset is likely to experience upward momentum. Some traders wait for a confirmed cross above the signal line before entering a position in order to reduce the chances of being "faked out" and entering a position too early.

Crossovers are more reliable when they conform to the prevailing trend. If the MACD crosses above its signal line following a brief correction within a longer-term uptrend, it qualifies as bullish confirmation.

If the MACD crosses below its signal line following a brief move higher within a longer-term downtrend, traders would consider that a bearish confirmation.

Divergence

When the MACD forms highs or lows that diverge from the corresponding highs and lows on the price, it is called a divergence. A bullish divergence appears when the MACD forms two rising lows that correspond with two falling lows on the price. This is a valid bullish signal when the long-term trend is still positive. Some traders will look for bullish divergences even when the long-term trend is negative because they can signal a change in the trend, although this technique is less reliable.

When the MACD forms a series of two falling highs that correspond with two rising highs on the price, a bearish divergence has been formed. A bearish divergence that appears during a long-term bearish trend is considered confirmation that the trend is likely to continue. Some traders will watch for bearish divergences during long-term bullish trends because they can signal weakness in the trend. However, it is not as reliable as a bearish divergence during a bearish trend.

Rapid Rises/Falls

When the MACD rises or falls rapidly (In other words, when the shorter moving average pulls away from the longer-term moving average), it is a signal that the security is overbought or oversold and will soon return to normal levels. Traders will often combine this analysis with the Relative Strength Index (RSI) or other technical indicators to verify overbought or oversold conditions.

It is not uncommon for investors to use the MACD’s histogram the same way they may use the MACD itself. Positive or negative crossovers, divergences, and rapid rises or falls can be identified on the histogram as well. Some experience is needed before deciding which is best in any given situation because there are timing differences between signals on the MACD and its histogram.

Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) Summary

The MACD indicator is based on the distance between a 12-period EMA and a 26-period EMA. When the short-term moving average is above the long-term moving average, the MACD is positive and above its baseline. When the short-term moving average is below the long-term moving average, the MACD is negative and below its baseline. The 9-period EMA of the MACD itself is called the signal line and can be used to generate trading signals from the MACD indicator. The MACD helps investors understand whether bullish or bearish movement in the price is strengthening or weakening.

[ The MACD is one of the most used technical indicators, but there are many others that traders should be familiar with to maximize their performance. If you'd like to learn about more indicators, Investopedia's Technical Analysis Course provides a comprehensive introduction to the subject. You'll learn basic and advanced technical analysis, chart reading skills, technical indicators you need to identify, and capitalizing on price trends in over five hours of on-demand video, exercises, and interactive content. ]

Additional MACD Resources

Are you interested in using the MACD for your trades? Check out our own Primer On The MACD and Spotting Trend Reversals With MACD for more information.

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