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  1. Moving Averages: Introduction
  2. Moving Averages: What Are They?
  3. Moving Averages: How To Use Them
  4. Moving Averages: Factors To Consider
  5. Moving Averages: Strategies
  6. Moving Averages: Different Flavors
  7. Moving Averages: Conclusion

Most moving averages take the closing prices of a given asset and factor them into the calculation. We thought it would be important to note that this does not always need to be the case. It is possible to calculate a moving average by using the open, close, high, low or even the median. Even though there is little difference between these calculations when plotted on a chart, the slight difference could still impact your analysis. (For related reading, see: The 7 Pitfalls Of Moving Averages)

Finding an Appropriate Time Periods When Using Moving Averages

Because most MAs represent the average of all the applicable daily prices, it should be noted that the time frame does not always need to be in days. Moving averages can also be calculated using minutes, hours, weeks, months, quarters, years etc. Why would a day trader care about how a 50-day moving average will affect the price over the upcoming weeks? On the other hand, a day trader would want to pay attention to a 50-minute average to get an idea of the relative cost of the security compared to the past hour. Some traders may even use the average price over the past three minutes to gauge an uptake in short-term momentum. (For more, see: What are the most common periods used in creating Moving Average (MA) lines?)

No Moving Average is Foolproof

As you know, nothing in the financial markets is for certain - certainly not when it comes to using technical indicators. If a stock bounced off the support of a major average every time it came close, we would all be rich. One of the major disadvantages of using moving averages is that they are relatively useless when an asset is trending sideways, compared to the times when a strong trend is present. As you can see in Figure 1, the price of an asset can pass through a moving average many times when the trend is moving sideways, making it difficult to decide how to trade. This chart is a good example of how the support and resistance characteristics of moving averages are not always present.

Figure 1

Responsiveness to Price Action

Traders who use moving averages in their trading will quickly admit that there is a battle between trying to make a moving average responsive to changes in trend while not allowing it to be so sensitive that it causes a trader to prematurely enter or exit a position. Short-term moving averages can be useful in identifying changing trends before a large move occurs, but the downside is that this technique can also lead to being whipsawed in and out of a position because these averages respond very quickly to changing prices. Because the quality of the transaction signals can vary drastically depending on the time periods used in the calculation, it is highly recommended to look at other technical indicators for confirmation of any move predicted by a moving average. (For more, see: What are the main advantages of using Moving Averages?)

Beware of the Lag

Because moving averages are a lagging indicator, transaction signals will always occur after the price has moved enough in one direction to cause the moving average to respond. This lagging characteristic can often work against a trader and cause him or her to enter into a position at the least opportune time. For example, the only way for a short-term moving average to cross above a long-term moving average is for the price to have recently moved higher - many traders will use this bullish crossover as a buy signal. One major problem that often arises is that the price may have already experienced a large increase before the transaction signal is presented. As you can see from the chart of International Business Machines (IBM) in Figure 2, the large price gap due to positive earnings created a buy signal in mid-October 2017. However, this signal was too late because the price  already moved up by more than 7% over a short time period. When you are talking about a company with a market capitalization of over $100 billion, this type of move is what makes the headlines. The surge in momentum quickly became exhausted and in this example, the lagging aspect of a moving average would work against the trader and likely result in a losing trade. Check out the next section of this tutorial to learn about trading strategies involving moving averages. (For more, see: What are the best technical indicators to complement the Moving Average)

Figure 2


Moving Averages: Strategies
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