On-Balance Volume (OBV): Understanding, Calculation, and Effective Applications


OBV Developed by Joseph Granville in 1963, OBV focuses on the relationship between volume and price movement, making it a valuable tool for traders and investors. This article dives into the definition, formula, uses, and limitations of OBV, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of this powerful indicator.

What is on-balance volume (OBV)?

On-balance volume (OBV) is a technical momentum indicator that leverages volume data to forecast shifts in stock prices. Joseph Granville introduced this metric in his 1963 book, “Granville’s New Key to Stock Market Profits.” Granville believed that volume was a critical force driving markets and designed OBV to predict major market moves based on volume changes.

Granville famously described the predictions generated by OBV as “a spring being wound tightly.” Essentially, when there is a significant increase in trading volume without a substantial change in the stock’s price, OBV suggests that the price will eventually experience a significant upward or downward movement.

Key takeaways

  • OBV is a technical indicator that uses volume changes to predict price movements.
  • It reflects crowd sentiment and can indicate bullish or bearish outcomes.
  • Comparing OBV with price bars offers more actionable signals than traditional volume histograms.

Formula for on-balance volume (OBV)

The on-balance volume (OBV) is calculated using the following formula:


  • OBV: Current on-balance volume level
  • OBVprev: Previous on-balance volume level
  • volume: Latest trading volume amount

Calculating on-balance volume involves three rules:

  1. If today’s closing price is higher than yesterday’s closing price, then: Current OBV = Previous OBV + today’s volume
  2. If today’s closing price is lower than yesterday’s closing price, then: Current OBV = Previous OBV – today’s volume
  3. If today’s closing price equals yesterday’s closing price, then: Current OBV = Previous OBV

What does OBV tell you?

OBV is based on the distinction between institutional investors (smart money) and retail investors. When institutions start buying a stock that retail investors are selling, volume can increase while the price remains relatively stable. This can eventually drive the price upward as larger investors sell while smaller investors buy, creating a price uptrend.

OBV itself is cumulative, making its specific numerical value less relevant. Instead, analysts focus on the trend and slope of the OBV line over time to make trading decisions.

Example of how to use OBV

Consider a hypothetical stock’s 10-day closing prices and volumes:

  1. Closing price = $10, volume = 25,200 shares
  2. Closing price = $10.15, volume = 30,000 shares
  3. Closing price = $10.17, volume = 25,600 shares
  4. Closing price = $10.13, volume = 32,000 shares
  5. Closing price = $10.11, volume = 23,000 shares
  6. Closing price = $10.15, volume = 40,000 shares
  7. Closing price = $10.20, volume = 36,000 shares
  8. Closing price = $10.20, volume = 20,500 shares
  9. Closing price = $10.22, volume = 23,000 shares
  10. Closing price = $10.21, volume = 27,500 shares

By applying OBV rules, we can calculate the OBV for each day and observe how it changes.

OBV vs. accumulation/distribution

OBV and the accumulation/distribution line share similarities as momentum indicators using volume to predict “smart money” movement. However, they differ in their calculation methods. OBV focuses on up and down days, while accumulation/distribution uses price position relative to recent trading range and volume.

Limitations of OBV

One limitation of OBV is its status as a leading indicator, which means it may produce predictions without offering insights into actual events. It can lead to false signals, so it’s often used alongside lagging indicators like moving averages for confirmation.

Additionally, sudden spikes in volume can distort OBV readings, causing misinterpretations. Traders should exercise caution and consider the broader context when using OBV to inform their decisions.

What is average daily trading volume?

Average daily trading volume (ADTV) represents the average number of shares traded daily for a given stock. It’s a valuable metric for assessing liquidity, volatility, trade execution, and risk management. ADTV can complement OBV and other indicators in evaluating market activity.

What’s the difference between on-balance volume and volume-price trend?

Volume-Price Trend (VPT) and OBV both measure cumulative volume and provide insights into money flow. However, VPT considers how much higher or lower the price was, whereas OBV looks solely at price direction.

Is on-balance volume leading or lagging?

On-balance volume is a leading indicator, offering predictions but not specific information about past events. For more accurate insights, traders often use it alongside lagging indicators.
The on-balance volume (OBV) indicator is a powerful tool for traders and investors, offering insights into market sentiment and potential price trends. By understanding its formula, applications, and limitations, you can incorporate OBV into your trading strategy effectively.

Ready to apply your knowledge? Practice your trading skills risk-free with our FREE Stock Simulator. Compete with fellow traders and gain the experience needed to navigate the real market with confidence.

Frequently asked questions

What is the main principle behind on-balance volume (OBV)?

The main principle behind on-balance volume (OBV) is to assess the relationship between trading volume and price movements in a security. It aims to identify the flow of money into or out of an asset and uses this information to predict potential price trends.

How does OBV differ from traditional volume indicators?

OBV differs from traditional volume indicators by focusing on the cumulative total of volume, distinguishing between up and down days, and providing a single line indicator. Traditional volume indicators often use colored histograms and may not consider price direction.

Can OBV be applied to different financial markets?

Yes, OBV can be applied to various financial markets, including stocks, cryptocurrencies, commodities, and forex. It’s a versatile indicator used to analyze volume and price relationships in different assets.

What is the significance of OBV divergences?

OBV divergences occur when the OBV line moves in the opposite direction of the asset’s price. Bullish divergence happens when OBV rises while prices fall, indicating potential upward price movement. Bearish divergence occurs when OBV falls while prices rise, suggesting a possible price decline.

Are there any specific strategies that use OBV?

Traders use various strategies involving OBV. One common approach is to look for divergences between OBV and price, which may signal trend reversals. Additionally, OBV can be used with moving averages to confirm trends and generate buy or sell signals.

What are some tools or platforms that offer OBV as an indicator?

Many trading platforms and charting tools provide OBV as a built-in indicator. Some popular platforms like MetaTrader, TradingView, and Thinkorswim include OBV among their technical analysis tools.

Is OBV suitable for long-term investors?

OBV can be used by long-term investors to assess the overall trend and sentiment surrounding an asset. While it’s often associated with shorter-term trading, long-term investors can benefit from understanding the flow of money into or out of their investments.

How can I avoid false signals when using OBV?

To reduce the risk of false signals, traders often use OBV in conjunction with other technical indicators and consider the broader market context. Additionally, they may apply smoothing techniques like moving averages to the OBV line to filter out noise.

Is OBV a reliable indicator for predicting price movements?

OBV is a widely used indicator, but like any technical tool, it has its limitations. It can be a valuable part of a trader’s toolkit, but it’s important to use it alongside other forms of analysis and not rely on it exclusively for price predictions.

Can sudden news events impact OBV readings?

Yes, sudden news events, such as earnings announcements or significant market news, can lead to abrupt changes in trading volume. These events can impact OBV readings and may result in temporary distortions. Traders should consider the context of such events when interpreting OBV.

Where can I find educational resources to learn more about OBV?

There are numerous educational resources available to learn more about OBV and its applications. You can explore books on technical analysis, online courses, and tutorials offered by financial education platforms, and consult reputable financial websites and forums for insights and discussions.

Key takeaways

  • On-Balance Volume (OBV) is a powerful technical indicator for predicting price movements based on volume analysis.
  • Developed by Joseph Granville, OBV assesses the flow of money in and out of assets and can provide early signals of trend reversals.
  • OBV’s formula involves cumulative volume, distinguishing between up and down days, making it different from traditional volume indicators.
  • Traders use OBV to identify divergences between OBV and price, offering insights into potential shifts in market sentiment.
  • OBV is versatile and applicable across various financial markets, including stocks, cryptocurrencies, and commodities.
  • When using OBV, it’s essential to consider its limitations, such as sensitivity to sudden volume spikes and the need for complementary analysis.
View article sources
  1. Profitability of the On-Balance Volume Indicator – ResearchGate
  2. Technical Analysis (Financial Time Series Toolbox) – Northwestern University
  3. What Is OBV? – On Balance Volume – Fidelity Investment