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Technical Indicators: What They Are, How to Use Them, and Examples

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Alessandra Nicole

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Technical indicators are essential tools for traders practicing technical analysis. These heuristic signals are derived from price, volume, and open interest data, aiding traders in predicting future price movements. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into what technical indicators are, how they work, their types, examples of their use, and their pros and cons. Whether you’re a novice or seasoned trader, this article will provide valuable insights into the world of technical indicators.

What is a technical indicator?

A technical indicator is a vital tool in the arsenal of traders who employ technical analysis. It comprises heuristic or pattern-based signals generated from the price, volume, and/or open interest of a security or contract. These indicators serve as a crystal ball for traders, allowing them to make informed decisions based on historical data.

How technical indicators work

Technical analysis is a trading discipline employed to evaluate investments and identify trading opportunities by analyzing statistical trends gathered from trading activity, such as price movement and volume. Unlike fundamental analysts, who attempt to evaluate a security’s intrinsic value based on financial or economic data, technical analysts focus on patterns of price movements, trading signals, and various other analytical charting tools to evaluate a security’s strength or weakness.
Technical analysis can be used on any security with historical trading data. This includes stocks, futures, commodities, fixed-income, currencies, and other securities. In this tutorial, we’ll usually analyze stocks in our examples, but keep in mind that these concepts can be applied to any type of security. In fact, technical analysis is far more prevalent in commodities and forex markets, where traders focus on short-term price movements.
Technical indicators, also known as “technicals,” are focused on historical trading data, such as price, volume, and open interest, rather than the fundamentals of a business, such as earnings, revenue, or profit margins. Technical indicators are commonly used by active traders, since they’re designed to analyze short-term price movements, but long-term investors may also use technical indicators to identify entry and exit points.

Types of indicators

There are two basic types of technical indicators:
  • Overlays: Technical indicators that use the same scale as prices are plotted over the top of the prices on a stock chart. Examples include moving averages and Bollinger Bands®.
  • Oscillators: Technical indicators that oscillate between a local minimum and maximum are plotted above or below a price chart. Examples include the stochastic oscillator, MACD, or RSI.
Traders often use many different technical indicators when analyzing a security. With thousands of different options, traders must choose the indicators that work best for them and familiarize themselves with how they work. Traders may also combine technical indicators with more subjective forms of technical analysis, such as looking at chart patterns, to come up with trade ideas. Technical indicators can also be incorporated into automated trading systems, given their quantitative nature.

Example of technical indicators

Let’s take a closer look at some common technical indicators and their application:
In this example, the 50- and 200-day moving averages are plotted over the top of the prices to show where the current price stands relative to its historical averages. The 50-day moving average is higher than the 200-day moving average in this case, which suggests that the overall trend has been positive. The RSI above the chart shows the strength of the current trend—a neutral 49.07, in this case. The MACD below the chart shows how the two moving averages have converged or diverged—slightly bearish, in this case.
Weigh the Risks and Benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks of using technical indicators in trading:
  • Technical indicators assist in making informed trading decisions.
  • They help traders gauge market sentiment and trends.
  • Useful for both short-term and long-term investors.
  • Can be automated to save time and improve efficiency.
  • Provide a systematic approach to trading.
  • Overreliance on technical indicators may lead to false signals.
  • Interpreting multiple indicators can be complex and time-consuming.
  • They may not account for unforeseen events impacting the market.
  • Technical indicators alone cannot guarantee absolute accuracy.
  • Not suitable for all types of trading strategies.

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Frequently asked questions

Are technical indicators suitable for all types of traders?

Yes, technical indicators can be useful for both short-term and long-term traders. However, the choice of indicators should align with your trading strategy and goals.

How many technical indicators should I use?

The number of indicators to use depends on your comfort level and strategy. It’s advisable not to overcrowd your analysis with too many indicators, as it can lead to confusion.

Can technical indicators guarantee accurate predictions?

No, technical indicators do not guarantee absolute accuracy. They are tools that provide insights into market trends and sentiment, but they should be used in conjunction with other forms of analysis and risk management.

What are some popular technical indicators for beginners?

Beginners often start with simple indicators like moving averages and RSI. These are easy to understand and can provide valuable insights for novice traders.

Can I use technical indicators in combination with fundamental analysis?

Yes, many traders combine technical analysis with fundamental analysis to get a more comprehensive view of the market. This approach is often referred to as “techno-fundamental analysis.”

Are there any risks associated with using technical indicators?

While technical indicators are valuable, overreliance on them can lead to false signals and missed opportunities. It’s essential to use them as part of a broader trading strategy.

Do technical indicators work equally well in all market conditions?

No, the effectiveness of technical indicators can vary based on market conditions. They may work well in trending markets but less effectively in choppy or unpredictable markets.

Can I automate trading using technical indicators?

Yes, technical indicators can be incorporated into automated trading systems, known as algorithmic or algo trading. These systems execute trades based on predefined criteria, including technical indicators.

Key takeaways

  • Technical indicators are invaluable tools for traders employing technical analysis.
  • They come in various forms, such as overlays and oscillators, each serving a unique purpose.
  • Technical indicators are not foolproof and should be used in conjunction with other analysis methods.
  • Understanding technical indicators is crucial for making well-informed trading decisions.
  • Combining technical and fundamental analysis can provide a more comprehensive view of the market.

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