Discover the Advantages of the MT4 Moving Average Indicator
Reading time: 24 minutes
This comprehensive article on Moving Averages (MA) and the MT4 Moving Average Indicator will provide professional traders with a detailed breakdown of what moving averages are, why traders should apply long-term moving averages, how to use the moving average indicator in MetaTrader 4 (MT4), as well as, some useful trading strategies that traders can use with the indicator.
Of all the many trading adages that are bandied around, perhaps the most common is 'the trend is your friend'. As well worn as this phrase may be, it does contain an element of truth. Many profitable trading strategies revolve around entering the market when there is an above average chance of a new trend forming. When a trend does occur, the key is to hold on for as long as the trend persists.
This article is going to discuss why the MT4 Moving Average Indicator is an essential trading indicator that can be used as a means of identifying trends. But this is not its only use. The indicator has other wider applications for helping sift through the noise of price fluctuations.
What Is a Moving Average?
You can calculate a moving average over any data set that changes with time, but in technical analysis, its most common usage is with price. A moving average is a continuously calculated value of the arithmetic mean of the price over a specified time period. The moving part of the name is there because we calculate a new value as each time frame advances, so that the value of our average adjusts with changes in the price.
So, for example, we might use a 30-day moving average. The value is the arithmetic mean of the price over the previous 30 days. In other words, we sum each of those 30 closing prices and then divide by 30. This value is calculated each day, discarding the oldest value in the data set, in favour of the most recently transpired day. The effect of a moving average is to smooth out price fluctuations. This helps us to look beyond transitory or insignificant blips in price, and instead see the longer-term tendency of the market.
Economists and analysts have used moving averages in their studies for a long time. Back in the days before the personal computing revolution, such calculations would be performed by hand, or with the help of a calculator. Needless to say, this was time consuming. As a consequence, calculations tended to be restricted to end-of-day data. Of course, we are in a much more convenient position today, possessing values for pretty much any time frame we desire, which are available at the click of a button.
Why Traders Must Apply Long-Term Moving Averages
Identifying the Long-Term Trend
Price charts can sometimes be confusing for traders. Large corrections could make traders lose track of the trends and the overall picture. They may get distracted by the many ups and downs that price action can create. The long-term MA's help traders keep their focus. Traders can quickly understand whether a trend is present by adding a long-term moving average (MA) to the chart. The MA also identifies the direction of the trend. Here is the main summary of using moving averages for the trend:
- Trend is present → price action is far away from the long-term MA
- Long-term MA has bearish angle → downtrend
- Long-term MA has bullish angle → uptrend
- Trend is retracing → price action is retracing back to the long-term MA
- No trend is present → price action is oscillating around the long-term MA
The long-term MA keeps traders on the right side of the financial markets. It helps traders to avoid risky reversal setups, and allows them to enter setups that are keeping with the trends.
Depicted: Demo Account - MetaTrader Supreme Edition - EUR/USD - 1 Hour chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
Key Decision Zone: Bounce or Break Spot
The trend is not the only advantage for using long-term moving averages. Price tends to respect and stop at the long-term MA levels. The MA levels are key and critical decision zones for either a trend continuation or a larger reversal:
- If the price breaks the long-term MA, a reversal is likely
- If the price bounces slowly at the long-term MA, the price can break both ways
- If the price bounces strongly at the long-term MA, a trend continuation is likely
The reaction of price at the long-term moving average is certainly valuable information to take into consideration. Of course, it is best to take other factors into consideration as well, such as tops and bottoms, Fibonacci levels, and other indicators to find a confluence of support and resistance.
The more confluence, the more important a decision zone becomes. This in turn means that the breakout or bounce will have more value, and can be considered more important. Traders can trade these breakouts and bounces by, for instance, waiting for Japanese candlestick patterns to indicate whether a bounce or breakout is occuring. Traders can then judge whether the candle pattern is interesting for a trade setup or not.
Depicted: Demo Account - MetaTrader Supreme Edition - GBP/USD - 4 Hour chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
Which Are the Best MA Levels?
Most traders tend to use MAs around 100 to 200 period for the long-term. The MA could be both a SMA (Simple Moving Average) or a EMA (Exponential Moving Average). Popular MA settings are often around levels such as 100, 150, and the 200 period. Some traders also use Fibonacci sequence levels for MA's such as 89, 144, or the 233 period.
That being said, short-term and medium-term moving averages remain important too, but for different purposes. The short-term MAs are best used for determining momentum, and support and resistance zones. The medium term MA's are useful for assessing retracement and correction targets.
Short-term moving averages are anything between 0 and 20 MA, whereas medium-term MAs are usually between 20 and 100 MA. These settings can, of course, vary from trader to trader, but this is a general rule of thumb. Many traders in fact add all three types of moving averages to their chart:
- One moving average around 5-20
- One moving average around 20-100
- One moving average that is 100+
The advantage of applying all three moving averages to the chart is that traders are able to get a full 360 degree view on various angles. However, this article aims to primarily emphasize the importance of long-term moving averages for analysing the charts. Of course, make sure to use these ideas explicitly via financial instruments, but only once you have completed your own proper analysis first. This is a supportive method of analysing the charts. Always test these ideas first, through a demo account of course, before applying them to a live account. Another key tool is the Metatrader Supreme Edition plugin, which offers 60+ extra features.
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MA for Trend and Momentum
The core value of applying moving averages in Forex is the MA's ability to quickly determine the presence, and the direction of trend and momentum. Here are the three differences between trend and momentum:
- An overall trend occurs if the price moves away from the long-term MA: higher (uptrend) or lower (downtrend)
- A short-term trend is visible if the price moves away from the medium MA: higher (bullish) or lower (bearish)
- Momentum is visible if the price moves away from a short-term MA: higher (bullish) or lower (bearish)
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - EURUSD Hourly Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
The best trending movements are when the price, the short-term trend, and the overall trend are aligned in one direction. For an uptrend this means that the price is above the short-term MA, and the short-term MA is above the trend MA.
For a downtrend this means that the price is below the short-term MA, and the short-term MA is below the trend MA. The chart lacks a trend or momentum, if the price is moving around the MA (i.e. called a correction) or if it is going back to the MA's (this is called a retracement or a pullback).
Corrections can unfold in two ways: passively or aggressively. A passive correction is when the price goes sideways, and the moving averages catch up with the price. An aggressive retracement is when the price moves impulsively (quickly), back towards the moving average(s).
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - EURUSD - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
The Hidden MA Gem
MA's are valuable as support or resistance, when the market is trending and moving impulsively. As the market gains momentum, the price will still make smaller pullbacks along the way. These pullbacks typically retrace back to either a shallow MA like the 8 MA, or a short-term MA, like the 20-40 MAs, before the momentum continues.
In these cases, the MA's turn into a solid support or resistance level, which often caps the light pullback from a further counter-trend movement. One approach to visualize support or resistance is by applying the same MA in three different ways including:
- A 21 MA close
- A 21 MA low
- A 21 MA high
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - USDJPY Hourly Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
Together, these three MA's create a band or zone of support and resistance. The biggest advantage of having three MA's act as support and resistance, rather than just one, is that the market tends to respect a rough range, rather than a single support or resistance point, so a price zone always has more value than a single price point.
It is important to note that the MA's will not act as support or resistance if the market is in a large consolidation (i.e. a lack of trend). When adding an MA, it is recommended to complete some backtesting using an easy-to-use trading platform, such as the MT4 Supreme Edition plugin, for Metatrader 4 & MetaTrader 5.
MA's for Divergence and Reversal Targets
Eventually the trend will end, and a phase of either consolidation or reversal will start. The chance of pullback increases substantially once the trend loses its momentum, which creates a divergence between the highs (in uptrend) or the lows (in downtrend). Divergence is a strong indication of either a pending retracement within the trend, or an end of the trend and a subsequent reversal.
Whether the price shows a shallow pullback or a full reversal depends on the strength of the support and resistance nearby, as well as the time frame where the divergence is visible. The MA can also be used in various different ways, for instance, when the price starts its counter-trend move including as: an entry for further trend continuation, or a target for a reversal trade.
Here are some important concepts to use as a rule of thumb when applying your strategy to Forex trading:
- A lack of divergence could see the price retrace to and bounce at a shallow 8 MA
- A single divergence on a one-hour chart or lower will mostly create a slight retracement, which means that the price could pull back to and bounce at the 21 MA
- A single divergence on a four-hour chart or higher will mostly create a sturdy retracement, which indicates a good chance of price retracing back to, and bouncing at the 144 MA
- A double divergence should initiate a stronger pullback, which means that the price pulls back to a 144 MA
- Divergences on a multiple time frames will increase the chance of a reversal, which means that the price could pull the 21 MA to the opposite side of the 144 MA
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition - GBPJPY Hourly Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
The targets featured in the image above are of course rough indications, so it is important to realise that the targets could be missed before the trend continues, and to analyse each financial instrument on its own merit, and within its own context.
Using the Moving Average Indicator in MetaTrader 4
As one of the more common technical indicators, it is no surprise that we don't need to make a separate moving average indicator download when using MetaTrader 4. The moving average comes as one of the standard set of tools with the trading platform. You'll find the MT4 moving average indicator inside the 'Trend' folder in MetaTrader's 'Navigator', as shown in the image below:
Source: MetaTrader 4 - Selecting the moving average indicator
The image above also shows the dialogue box that opens when you click on the MA indicator. The three main variables to choose are:
- Period — the time frame over which the average is calculated (default value = 100)
- MA method — how the average is calculated (the default method is 'Simple', which is the mean of the preceding number of periods)
- Apply to — the price value that you are averaging (default value is the closing price of each period, but there are several other options, including open, low, and high)
When it comes to the method, there are several complex types available beyond the SMA. The most common of these is the EMA. The EMA gives more weight to more recent price values. The amount by which this weighting decreases for each successively older price value is exponential, hence the name. The image below displays the MT4 MA indicator once it has been added to an hourly GBP/USD chart:
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 - Moving Average Indicator - GBPUSD Hourly Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
Specifically, the Forex moving average applied here was a 30-period SMA for the close. For each point plotted by the MA indicator for a specific hour, the value is calculated as the arithmetic mean of the GBP/USD closing price for each hour, going back over the previous 30 hours. Notice how the moving average smooths out short-term fluctuations in the price. You can think of it as guide, helping you to see the overall picture of what the market is doing.
Trading With the Moving Average In MT4
The MA is usually the first indicator that traders attempt. Yet it's also generally the first indicator that is removed from their chart. Why is that? One of the main reasons is that traders see that the moving average is lagging. This is true, but it is crucial to note that moving averages offer numerous advantages for traders using technical analysis: advantages that clearly outweigh this negative. So removing moving averages from your analysis is clearly a mistake.
In simple terms, the extra value of the Forex moving average strategy is not based on overly simplistic and unprofitable approaches, like late crossover entries, but is instead rooted in its ability to identify trend and momentum, to act as support and resistance, and to clarify divergence.
The most basic strategy is to simply compare the moving average to the current price. From a trend-following perspective, if the price moves above the moving average, it is a bullish indication. If the price falls below the moving average, it is bearish. When a new trend forms, we will always see the price breaking out from the moving average in these ways. This really is quite a rudimentary method, though.
You should be mindful that the price will often cross over the moving average without a trend subsequently forming. We can also come up with other strategies by adding more than one Forex moving average indicator to our price chart. Let's start by looking at a strategy that utilises two moving averages.
Moving Average Trading Strategies
The Dual Moving Average Strategy
This a simple strategy that provides you with a signal to trade when a faster moving average crosses over a slower one. Take a look at the hourly GBP/USD chart below. A 30-period Forex moving average has been added, which appears as a thin, dotted red line. A slower 100-period moving average has also been added, which is the thicker green line:
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 - GBPUSD - Hourly Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
The rules of the strategy are simple — when the faster MA crosses above the slower one, you buy. When it crosses below, you sell. As you can see, at 22.00 on 25 April, the faster MA crossed above the slower MA. This was our signal to buy. Notice how the price continued to trend higher after we received the buy signal.
This trading system always leaves you with a position in the market, either long or short. The signal to close your position would be when the faster MA crosses back below the slower one. At this point you would square and reverse, going short in the market. So what can we do if we don't always want to have a position in the market? We can use a slightly more complex version of the strategy, that uses three moving averages instead of two. This is known as the triple moving average strategy.
The Triple Moving Average Strategy
As the name suggests, this strategy uses three moving averages: one fast, one medium, and one slow. The trading signals are generated by the fastest moving average crossing over the medium-length average, just as with the dual strategy. There is an additional rule to consider however. This rule has the slowest moving average to act as a trend filter. That is to say, that you can only place a trade if the two faster MAs are the right side of the filter.
To go long, both need to be higher. To take a short position, both need to to be lower. The daily GBP/USD chart below shows three moving averages added for this strategy. The dotted red line is a 150-day moving average. The thick green line is a 250-day moving average. The dashed blue line is a 350-day moving average — this is our filter line.
Depicted: MetaTrader 4 - GBPUSD Daily Chart - Disclaimer: Charts for financial instruments in this article are for illustrative purposes and does not constitute trading advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any financial instrument provided by Admiral Markets (CFDs, ETFs, Shares). Past performance is not necessarily an indication of future performance.
Note that there are two points on the chart where the fast red line crosses the green line. The first time is a cross above, indicating a buy signal. But because our signal lines are beneath the filter, we do not trade at this point. However on the second time, when the fast red MA crosses beneath the medium-length green one, we go short, because both lines are the correct side of of the blue filter line for a sell.
Other Indicators That Incorporate the Moving Average Indicator
It's a testament to the versatility of moving averages that the technique is often incorporated as a part of more complex indicators and trading methods. A well-known example of this is the method of Bollinger Bands. Bollinger bands utilise a moving average envelope — whereby traders plot lines a certain distance above and below a moving average. These lines are known as bands or envelopes.
In the case of Bollinger bands, the lines are a volatility envelope. They are placed a certain number of standard deviations away from the moving average, which means that the bands widen or narrow according to the volatility of the market. Bollinger bands trading, therefore, is a type of moving average envelope strategy that takes into account the volatility of price movements.
We said earlier that simply comparing price to the moving average may provide false signals — tricky times when the price crossing the MA does not result in a trend. These false signals may be exacerbated by highly volatile markets. Using a volatility envelope can, therefore, be an effective way to mitigate this problem to some degree.
You can also apply the MA indicator on top of another indicator, rather than applying it solely to price. You might want to do this as a smoothing technique, if you feel the results of an indicator are so choppy that they make an underlying pattern unclear.
So which is the best moving average indicator strategy?
There's no single one-size-fits all answer to this, because the most suitable strategy will depend on the specific preferences of the individual trader. One way to help you decide what works best for you is to backtest your strategy. The trading simulator that comes with the MetaTrader 4 Supreme Edition plugin is a great way to manually test different strategies.
It's a similar story when it comes to picking a suitable time frame for your averaging. If you are dealing on shorter time frames, you will need to be dealing with a suitably fast-moving indicator. So, if you are day trading moving averages, it makes sense for you to use a 30-period moving average on a 15-minute chart. If you are a long-term trend follower, you may find that something as long as a 350-day moving average is more appropriate.
A useful way to conclude which settings are best for your strategy is to experiment with a demo trading account. This will allow you to fine-tune your system in order to react as you desire - without taking on unnecessary risk while you are still operating in trial-and-error mode.
A Final Word on the Moving Average Forex Indicator
Moving averages have many applications in trading. The beauty of the indicator is that you can make it as simple or as complicated as you need. At the simpler end of the spectrum, the indicator can help to smooth out fluctuations within a choppy market. This makes it easier to see what is happening, without the noise of volatility. Another basic use is as a rudimentary yardstick of the trend of the market over a given timeframe. A rising MA suggests an upward trend, and a falling MA suggests a downtrend, as we have seen.
Of course, you can choose to increase the complexity substantially from there, with weighted-moving averages and different cross-over strategies, incorporating multiple moving averages. We've covered just a couple of types of such crossover strategies here, but there is tremendous scope for further modifications. Bear in mind, though, that an increased level of complexity does not necessarily translate to increased success. Sometimes keeping it simple can be more effective, and is a very sensible way to start out.
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This material does not contain and should not be construed as containing investment advice, investment recommendations, an offer of or solicitation for any transactions in financial instruments. Please note that such trading analysis is not a reliable indicator for any current or future performance, as circumstances may change over time. Before making any investment decisions, you should seek advice from independent financial advisors to ensure you understand the