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indicators and technical charts

This article is designed to introduce the concept of technical indicators and explain how to use them in your analysis. We will shed light on the difference between leading and lagging indicators, as well as look into the benefits and drawbacks. Many, if not most, popular indicators are shown as oscillators.

With this in mind, we will also show how to read oscillators and explain how signals are derived. Later we will turn our focus to specific technical indicators and provide examples of signals in action.

What Is a Technical Indicator?

A technical indicator is a series of data points that are derived by applying a formula to the price data of a security. Price data includes any combination of the open, high, low or close over a period of time. Some indicators may use only the closing prices, while others incorporate volume and open interest into their formulas. The price data is entered into the formula and a data point is produced.

For example, the average of 3 closing prices is one data point ( (41+43+43) / 3 = 42.33 ). However, one data point does not offer much information and does not an indicator make. A series of data points over a period of time is required to create valid reference points to enable analysis. By creating a time series of data points, a comparison can be made between present and past levels. For analysis purposes, technical indicators are usually shown in a graphical form above or below a security’s price chart. Once shown in graphical form, an indicator can then be compared with the corresponding price chart of the security. Sometimes indicators are plotted on top of the price plot for a more direct comparison.

What Does a Technical Indicator Offer?

A technical indicator offers a different perspective from which to analyze the price action. Some, such asmoving averages, are derived from simple formulas and the mechanics are relatively easy to understand. Others, such as Stochastics, have complex formulas and require more study to fully understand and appreciate. Regardless of the complexity of the formula, technical indicators can provide a unique perspective on the strength and direction of the underlying price action.

A simple moving average is an indicator that calculates the average price of a security over a specified number of periods. If a security is exceptionally volatile, then a moving average will help to smooth the data. A moving average filters out random noise and offers a smoother perspective of the price action. Veritas (VRTS) displays a lot of volatility and an analyst may have difficulty discerning a trend. By applying a 10-day simple moving average to the price action, random fluctuations are smoothed to make it easier to identify a trend.

Why Use Indicators?

Indicators serve three broad functions: to alert, to confirm and to predict.

indicator can act as an alert to study price action a little more closely. If momentum is waning, it may be a signal to watch for a break of support. Or, if there is a large positive divergence building, it may serve as an alert to watch for a resistance breakout.

Indicators can be used to confirm other technical analysis tools. If there is a breakout on the price chart, a corresponding moving average crossover could serve to confirm the breakout. Or, if a stock breaks support, a corresponding low in the On-Balance-Volume (OBV) could serve to confirm the weakness.

Some investors and traders use indicators to predict the direction of future prices.

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