Master Moving Averages: The Complete Guide to Spotting Trends, Trading Signals and Improving Stock Market Profits

Use Moving Averages to Spot Trends and Make Better Stock Trading Decisions

Moving averages are one of the most versatile and widely used technical indicators in stock market analysis. Traders and investors alike use moving averages to objectively identify market trends, support/resistance zones, dynamic price levels, and key reversal points for entering or exiting trades.

Understanding how to properly analyze and interpret moving averages can greatly improve any trading strategy across various time frames. Whether you are a short term day trader seeking to ride momentum, or long term investor looking to determine overall market bias - moving averages provide valuable insights.

This comprehensive guide aims to give you an edge by teaching you all about using moving averages for smarter and more profitable trading decisions. We will start from the basics, clearly explain how moving averages work, their significance in stock charts, and then progress to advanced application topics like combining indicators to further increase profitability of your signals.

You will gain practical knowledge on:

  • Defining different types of moving averages
  • Calculating moving averages with examples
  • Identifying what periods to use for best analysis
  • Powerful stock trading strategies built on moving averages
  • Real chart examples with annotated trade signals
  • Limitations to be aware of in analysis
  • Best practices for combining other indicators with MAs

So whether you are a beginner seeking to learn key technical analysis concepts or an experienced trader looking to hone your understanding, this definitive guide on trading with moving averages has got you covered.

Let's get started!

What are Moving Averages and How Are They Calculated?

A moving average is a widely used indicator in technical analysis that helps smooth out price action by creating a constantly updated average price over a specified period of time.

Moving averages are useful because they filter out the daily noise and price fluctuations, allowing traders to identify the underlying trend direction. They act as dynamic support and resistance levels that adjust to the latest market conditions.

The three most popular types of moving averages are:

Simple Moving Average (SMA)

A simple moving average is the simplest form of moving average calculated by adding up the prices from a predetermined time period and dividing it by the number of periods.

For example, a 50-day simple moving average is calculated by taking the sum of closing prices from the last 50 trading sessions and dividing it by 50. If a stock's closing price over the last 50 days is as follows:

[20, 22, 19, 21, 23, 22, 24, 29, 31, 33, 35, 32, 36, 29, 33, 35 ...]

The 50-day SMA would be calculated as:

(20 + 22 + 19 + ....+ 35) / 50 = ₹28

So the 50-day SMA currently equals ₹28, providing traders the average closing price over the last 50 days.

Exponential Moving Average (EMA)

An exponential moving average gives greater importance and weightage to the most recent price data, rather than evenly weighing all values like in SMA. This allows the EMA line to react faster to price swings and changes in volatility.

The EMA formula uses a smoothing factor 'alpha' which assigns exponentially decreasing weights over time. The alpha factor determines how rapidly the EMA responds to new information. A higher alpha discounts older data points quicker.

The mechanism behind how an EMA 'exponentially ages' historical data points is as follows:

  • The latest datapoint gets a weighting factor equal to alpha
  • The datapoint 1 period ago gets a weighting = alpha * (1-alpha)
  • Datapoint from 2 periods ago = alpha * (1-alpha)^2
  • The coefficient applied keeps reducing exponentially for older data

This gives substantially higher importance to price action from past few days, allowing EMA to change rapidly. At the same time, it does not discard historical data altogether - the curve remains a smoothed line instead of jagged peaks.

For example, in a 10 period EMA, at 2 data points ago, weighting factor = alpha (1-alpha)^2 = about 12% of latest data. Whereas in a SMA 10, the point 2 periods ago still gets 10% weighting, making it slower to incorporate new data.

A commonly used EMA is the 20 or 50 day exponential moving average, with an alpha value around 0.04 to 0.06 which provides responsiveness while still keeping the integrity of longer term moving average.

Now let's take an example of calculating the 10 day EMA step-by-step to reinforce the exponential weighting concept:


I hope the deeper look into EMA math and visual example helps explain the advantage it has over SMA - faster reaction to price, while avoiding noise.

Weighted Moving Average (WMA)

In a weighted moving average, the latest prices receive the highest weighting. Each older data point receives lesser and lesser weighting. This creates a moving average that reacts faster to recent price swings.

The prices are multiplied by the weighting factors assigned, and then the weighted values are added together. Finally we divide the sum by total weighting factors.

Now that you have a solid understanding of what moving averages are and how they are constructed, we can dive deeper into why they matter for stock trading.

Why Are Moving Averages Important for Stock Chart Analysis?

Moving averages have several useful applications in technical analysis and trading:

Identify the Underlying Trend Direction

One of the key uses of moving averages is determining if a stock is in an uptrend or downtrend. Generally, if the price is trading above its key moving averages like the 50-day and 200-day MA, it signals an uptrend. Conversely, trading below indicates a downtrend.

For example, Reliance was trading in a strong uptrend in 2017 as price remained above the rising 50-day moving average over several months. This provided clear evidence of bullish momentum.

RELIANCE_Monthly chart

Traders use the 50 and 200-day MAs to gauge both short term and long term trend direction. The slope and relative positioning signals whether bulls or bears are in control.

Spot Potential Support and Resistance Zones

In the short term, moving averages often act as dynamic layers of support and resistance. For example, the stock may find buying interest multiple times at its 20 or 50-day MA during pullbacks providing a floor.

Short term traders carefully watch these moving averages, waiting for temporary dips and bounces to enter positions in line with the bigger trend. The area surrounding the MA serves as supply/demand zone.

You can check example of reliance chart given above itself. Once it started its upward journey, I was taking support at 50 moving average, when it retraced.

So rather than static levels, moving averages create adaptive support and resistance that shifts with latest price changes.

Generate Trading Signals for Entries and Exits

Crossovers are one of the most popular ways traders use moving averages to generate buy and sell signals.

For example, a bullish crossover occurs when a faster moving average crosses above a slower MA - signaling strengthening momentum. The opposite crossover signals potential exhaustion.

In addition to crossover signals, a break and close below a key MA can trigger exits for traders, while a moving average bounce is used for counter-trend entries.

Catch Reversals

When the price breaks the support or resistance of a moving average, it often signals a trend reversal. If a stock breaks below a rising 50-day MA, it indicates short term bearish reversal.

So moving averages form the foundation for many systematic trading strategies and models used by active traders and algorithms.

Common Periods for Moving Average Analysis

Traders use moving averages of various periods depending on their strategy time horizon.

Short Term (10, 20 50-day simple or exponential MAs)

Capture quick changes and help time shorter trades. 50 and 20-day moving averages also provide dynamic support and resistance.

Medium Term (50, 100, 150-day MAs)

Define the overall existing trend of 1 to 6 months. Crossovers signal changes in momentum. Useful for swing trades.

Long Term (200 or 300 day simple or exponential MAs )

Define long term trend direction that dictates the overall market sentiment. The 200-day MA also acts as critical support level for long term charts.

Proven Moving Average Trading Strategies

While past performance does not guarantee future results, traders often use three popular types of moving average strategies with good success:

Moving Average Crossover

Buying or selling when a shorter MA crosses above or below a longer term MA. For example when the 50-day MA crosses above the 100-day MA, it generates a golden cross buy signal.

Moving Average Bounce

This mean reversion strategy involves buying or selling as price bounces off or breaks MA support and resistance zones. This is best on short term charts - daily or 4 hour frames.

Moving Average Divergence

When price diverges away from the moving average baseline it often signals exhaustion of trend. Divergence combined with overbought/oversold indicators provides high probability reversal trades.

The Limitations You Must Know

While moving averages are an indispensable tool for analyzing trends, they do have some drawbacks that traders should be aware of. Being aware of these limitations allows you to anticipate potential pitfalls and use other confirming indicators to improve your trading performance.

Lagging Indicator

The main limitation of moving averages is that they are by definition "lagging" indicators. Since the MA takes an average of past data points over X number of periods, it always tends to lag behind the latest price changes. This means it may not react quickly enough to rapidly changing market conditions.

For example, during the start of an uptrend, the price rise may already be half over before the MA starts sloping upwards. Savvy traders combine leading indicators like RSI to gain an edge in detecting early trend shifts.

False Signals and Whipsaws

In volatile trading environments, moving averages can sometimes give fake reversal signals resulting in losing trades when acting upon the signal. For example, the price may breach a key MA barrier signaling a breakdown but then immediately bounce back above it resulting in whipsaw.

Using longer period moving averages such as 200-day MA reduces likelihood of whipsaws. Traders also wait for confirmation candles like marubozu bars to avoid false breaks. Employing oscillators as additional filter improves reliability.

Moving Sideways in Ranging Markets

When the price is oscillating within a horizontal channel or trading range between support and resistance, moving averages tend to flatten out. The MA simply chops around aimlessly, making it ineffective during non-trending conditions.

Tools like Bollinger Bands and chart patterns perform better when stocks are ranging and lacking clear directional bias. So it's best not to solely rely on MA signals.

While no indicator is perfect in all conditions, being aware of these drawbacks allows smarter utilization alongside other analysis techniques.

Enhance Effectiveness by Combining Other Indicators

While moving averages form the foundation of sound technical analysis, combining them with momentum oscillators, volume and band indicators improves timing and performance.

Some examples are - Relative Strength Index (RSI), MACD histogram moving average combo, Bollinger Bands overlay on moving averages. You can read post about MACD here - what is MACD and how to use it for trading.

The key is not to overload your charts but choose 1-2 complementary indicators that provide more context to the underlying trend.


Learning to properly analyze and trade moving averages takes some practice but allows even beginner traders to profit from short to long term trends.

Use the guidelines provided regarding the most useful periods, chart combinations and proven stock trading strategies centered around moving averages.

Don't forget to manage your risk with appropriate stop losses on every trade. Over the long run combining moving averages with good risk/reward ratio results in consistently profitable trading.

So start putting the power of moving averages to work for you today!

Video shared below is taken from our YouTube channel share market Malayalam by Muhammad Riyas. It explains uses of moving average.

Uses of moving average -



Video given below explains what is moving average and how its calculated?

What is moving average and how it's calculated -

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