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Technical Analysis: The Relative Strength Index (RSI) & Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD)

Updated: Feb 19

In the world of technical analysis, two of the most popular indicators used by traders and investors are the Relative Strength Index (RSI) and the Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD). These two technical indicators help traders identify potential buying and selling opportunities in the market.

Relative Strength Index (RSI)

The Relative Strength Index (RSI) is a momentum oscillator that measures the speed and change of price movements. Developed by J. Welles Wilder, the RSI calculates the ratio of higher closes to lower closes over a specified period. The RSI fluctuates between 0 and 100, with values above 70 considered overbought and values below 30 considered oversold. Essentially, it helps traders identify potential reversal points in price.

For example, assume that a given stock is in a strong uptrend, continually making new highs. As the price continues to rise, the RSI also rises until it reaches above 70, indicating that the stock is overbought. This suggests that the stock's price might be due for a correction or at least a slowdown in the uptrend. On the other hand, if the stock's price was in a downtrend, and the RSI fell below 30, this would suggest that the stock is oversold and might be due for a rebound. Remember, however, that these are just guidelines. The RSI doesn't always accurately predict market tops or bottoms. It can stay in overbought or oversold territory for extended periods during strong uptrends or downtrends.

Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD)

The Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) is a trend-following momentum indicator that shows the relationship between two moving averages of a security's price. The MACD is calculated by subtracting the 26-period Exponential Moving Average (EMA) from the 12-period EMA. The result of that calculation is the MACD line. A nine-day EMA of the MACD, called the "signal line," is then plotted on top of the MACD line, which can function as a trigger for buy and sell signals. MACD triggers technical signals when it crosses above (to buy) or below (to sell) its signal line. The speed of crossovers is also taken as a signal of a market is overbought or oversold. MACD helps investors understand whether the bullish or bearish movement in the price is strengthening or weakening.

For example, assume you're following a particular stock. The MACD line crosses above the signal line, which is a bullish signal, and you might consider entering a long position. Conversely, if the MACD line crosses below the signal line, it's a bearish signal, and you might consider exiting or shorting. Let's say, a stock's 12-day EMA is 20, and the 26-day EMA is 18, the MACD line would be 2. If the 9-day EMA of the MACD line jumps to 1.8, it might signal that the stock could be overbought, and it could be time to sell.

It is essential to remember that MACD, like RSI, is just an indicator and can't predict future price movements with 100% certainty. It should be used as a part of a comprehensive trading strategy, taking into account other market information and indicators.

RSI Divergences

Divergence occurs when the price of an asset is moving in the opposite direction of a technical indicator, such as RSI. In a bullish divergence, the price will make a lower low, while the RSI makes a higher low. This could be a sign that the downward trend is losing momentum and a bullish reversal could be on the horizon. Conversely, in a bearish divergence, the price makes a higher high, while the RSI makes a lower high, potentially signaling an upcoming bearish reversal.

MACD Histogram

The MACD histogram is an elegant visual representation of the difference between the MACD line and the MACD signal line. The histogram is positive when the MACD line is above the signal line (bullish), and negative when the MACD line is below the signal line (bearish). The histogram's size can also signal the strength of the price move.

Fine-Tuning the Use of RSI and MACD

Fine-tuning these indicators can help traders adapt to various market conditions. For instance, if the market is demonstrating higher volatility, traders could adjust the overbought and oversold levels on the RSI to 80 and 20 to reduce the chance of false signals. Similarly, the periods used in the MACD calculation can be adjusted according to the trader's strategy and the asset's characteristics.

Combining RSI and MACD

RSI and MACD can be used together to produce more reliable signals. For example, a trader could wait for a bullish signal from the MACD (MACD line crossing above the signal line) and then enter the trade only if the RSI is below 70 (indicating that the asset is not overbought). For example, If the RSI of a certain stock is at 72 (overbought) and the MACD line crosses below the signal line (a bearish signal), a trader might consider selling the stock or even going short. Conversely, if the RSI is at 28 (oversold) and the MACD line crosses above the signal line (a bullish signal), the trader might consider buying the stock.

Applying RSI and MACD in Different Market Conditions

The effectiveness of RSI and MACD may vary depending on market conditions. During a strong trending market, RSI can remain overbought or oversold for extended periods, giving false sell or buy signals. On the other hand, during a ranging market, the MACD might produce many false signals as the price swings back and forth. Thus, it's crucial to identify the current market environment and adjust your strategy accordingly.

The Risks and Limitations of RSI and MACD

While RSI and MACD are helpful tools in predicting potential price reversals, they're not foolproof. Technical analysis indicators are based on past price data and cannot predict future price movements with absolute certainty. Additionally, they may not take into account factors like changing market conditions, news events, or fundamental changes in the underlying asset. Therefore, traders should use these indicators as part of a broader trading strategy that includes risk management techniques and considers other factors like market news and fundamental analysis.

Both RSI and MACD are powerful tools used in technical analysis. They can provide valuable insights into market trends and potential reversals, but they should not be used in isolation. Instead, these tools are best employed in conjunction with other technical analysis indicators and fundamental analysis to ensure a well-rounded, comprehensive view of the market. For instance, volume-based indicators, like the On Balance Volume (OBV), can be used alongside RSI and MACD to understand the strength of a given trend. On the other hand, fundamental analysis indicators, such as earnings per share (EPS), price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, and industry trends, can provide insights into the company's financial health and overall market sentiment. Moreover, while these indicators can provide valuable input, it's crucial to manage risk effectively in any trading strategy. Setting stop losses, diversifying portfolios, and maintaining a disciplined approach to investing are all crucial components of a successful trading plan.


An interesting fact about these technical analysis tools is that they were both developed around the same time in the late 1970s, during an era of rapid advancement in computer technology and increased interest in market analysis. The Relative Strength Index (RSI) was introduced by J. Welles Wilder Jr. in his book "New Concepts in Technical Trading Systems" in 1978. This book also introduced several other key technical analysis tools, including the Average True Range (ATR) and the Parabolic SAR. Around the same time, Gerald Appel introduced the Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD) as a way to visualize the relationship between two moving averages. Despite being developed over 40 years ago, both the RSI and MACD remain among the most popular and widely used technical analysis tools today. This is a testament to their enduring value in helping traders navigate the complexities of the financial markets.

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