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The Top Technical Indicators for Options Trading
There are hundreds of technical indicators traders can utilize depending on their trading style and the type of security to be traded. This article focuses on a few important technical indicators popular among options traders. Also, please note that this article assumes familiarity with options terminology and calculations involved in technical indicators.
(If you are not sure whether technical trading or options are for you, check out the Investopedia Introduction to Stock Trader Types tutorial to decide your preferred style.)
How Options Trading is Different
Technical indicators are often used in short-term trading to help the trader determine:
- Range of movement (how much?)
- The direction of the move (which way?)
- Duration of the move (how long?)
Since options are subject to time decay, the holding period takes significance. A stock trader can hold a position indefinitely, while an options trader is constrained by the limited duration defined by the option’s expiration date. Given the time constraints, momentum indicators, which tend to identify overbought and oversold levels, are popular among options traders.
Let’s look at a few common indicators—momentum and others—used by options traders.
- RSI values range from 0 to100. Values above 70 generally indicate overbought levels, and a value below 30 indicates oversold levels.
- A price move outside of the Bollinger bands can signal an asset is ripe for a reversal, and options traders can position themselves accordingly.
- Intraday momentum index combines the concepts of intraday candlesticks and RSI, providing a suitable range (similar to RSI) for intraday trading by indicating overbought and oversold levels.
- A money flow index reading over 80 indicates that a security is overbought; a reading below 20 indicates that the security is oversold.
- The put-call ratio measures trading volume using put options versus call options and changes in its value indicate a change in overall market sentiment.
- The open interest provides indications about the strength of a particular trend.
Relative Strength Index – RSI
The relative strength index is a momentum indicator that compares the magnitude of recent gains to recent losses over a specified period of time to measure a security’s speed and change of price movements in an attempt to determine overbought and oversold conditions. RSI values range from 0-100, with a value above 70 generally considered to indicate overbought levels, and a value below 30 indicating oversold levels.
RSI works best for options on individual stocks, as opposed to indexes, as stocks demonstrate overbought and oversold conditions more frequently than indexes. Options on highly liquid, high-beta stocks make the best candidates for short-term trading based on RSI.
All options traders are aware of the importance of volatility, and Bollinger bands are a popular way to measure volatility. The bands expand as volatility increases and contract as volatility decreases. The closer the price moves to the upper band, the more overbought the security may be, and the closer the price moves to the lower band, the more oversold it may be.
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A price move outside of the bands can signal the security is ripe for a reversal, and options traders can position themselves accordingly. For instance, after a breakout above the top band, the trader may initiate a long put or a short call position. Conversely, a breakout below the lower band may represent an opportunity to use a long call or short put strategy.
Also, in general, keep in mind that it often makes sense to sell options in periods of high volatility, when option prices are elevated, and buy options in periods of low volatility, when options are cheaper.
Intraday Momentum Index – IMI
The Intraday Momentum Index is a good technical indicator for high-frequency option traders looking to bet on intraday moves. It combines the concepts of intraday candlesticks and RSI, thereby providing a suitable range (similar to RSI) for intraday trading by indicating overbought and oversold levels. Using IMI, an options trader may be able to spot potential opportunities to initiate a bullish trade in an up-trending market at an intraday correction or initiate a bearish trade in a down-trending market at an intraday price bump.
It is important to be aware of the “trendiness” of the price moves. When there is a strong visible uptrend or downtrend, momentum indicators will frequently show overbought/oversold readings.
To calculate the IMI, the sum of up days is divided by the sum of up days plus the sum of down days, or ISup ÷ (ISup + IS down), which is then multiplied by 100. While the trader can choose the number of days to look at, 14 days is the most common time frame. Like RSI, if the resulting number is greater than 70, the stock is considered overbought. And if the resulting number is less than 30, the stock is considered oversold.
Money Flow Index – MFI
The Money Flow Index is a momentum indicator that combines price and volume data. It is also known as volume-weighted RSI. The MFI indicator measures the inflow and outflow of money into an asset over a specific period of time (typically 14 days), and is an indicator of «trading pressure.» A reading over 80 indicates that a security is overbought, while a reading below 20 indicates that the security is oversold.
Due to dependency on volume data, MFI is better suited to stock-based options trading (as opposed to index-based) and longer-duration trades. When the MFI moves in the opposite direction as the stock price, this can be a leading indicator of a trend change.
Put-Call Ratio (PCR) Indicator
The put-call ratio measures trading volume using put options versus call options. Instead of the absolute value of the put-call ratio, the changes in its value indicate a change in overall market sentiment.
When there are more puts than calls, the ratio is above 1, indicating bearishness. When call volume is higher than put volume, the ratio is less than 1, indicating bullishness. However, traders also view the put-call ratio as a contrarian indicator.
Open Interest – OI
Open interest indicates the open or unsettled contracts in options. OI does not necessarily indicate a specific uptrend or downtrend, but it does provide indications about the strength of a particular trend. Increasing open interest indicates new capital inflow and, hence, the sustainability of the existing trend, while declining OI indicates a weakening trend.
For options traders looking to benefit from short-term price moves and trends, consider the following:
Market/security is strong
Market/security is weakening
Market/security is weak
Market/security is strengthening
The Bottom Line
In addition to the above-mentioned technical indicators, there are hundreds of other indicators that can be used for trading options (like stochastic oscillators, average true range, and cumulative tick). On top of those, variations exist with smoothing techniques on resultant values, averaging principals and combinations of various indicators. An options trader should select the indicators best suited to his or her trading style and strategy, after carefully examining the mathematical dependencies and calculations.
Relative Strength Index (RSI)
What Is the Relative Strength Index (RSI)?
The relative strength index (RSI) is a momentum indicator used in technical analysis that measures the magnitude of recent price changes to evaluate overbought or oversold conditions in the price of a stock or other asset. The RSI is displayed as an oscillator (a line graph that moves between two extremes) and can have a reading from 0 to 100. The indicator was originally developed by J. Welles Wilder Jr. and introduced in his seminal 1978 book, «New Concepts in Technical Trading Systems.»
Traditional interpretation and usage of the RSI are that values of 70 or above indicate that a security is becoming overbought or overvalued and may be primed for a trend reversal or corrective pullback in price. An RSI reading of 30 or below indicates an oversold or undervalued condition.
- The relative strength index (RSI) is a popular momentum oscillator developed in 1978.
- The RSI provides technical traders signals about bullish and bearish price momentum, and it is often plotted beneath the graph of an asset’s price.
- An asset is usually considered overbought when the RSI is above 70% and oversold when it is below 30%.
Relative Strength Index (RSI)
The Formula for RSI
The relative strength index (RSI) is computed with a two-part calculation that starts with the following formula:
The average gain or loss used in the calculation is the average percentage gain or loss during a look-back period. The formula uses a positive value for the average loss.
The standard is to use 14 periods to calculate the initial RSI value. For example, imagine the market closed higher seven out of the past 14 days with an average gain of 1%. The remaining seven days all closed lower with an average loss of -0.8%. The calculation for the first part of the RSI would look like the following expanded calculation:
Once there are 14 periods of data available, the second part of the RSI formula can be calculated. The second step of the calculation smooths the results.
Calculation of the RSI
Using the formulas above, RSI can be calculated, where the RSI line can then be plotted beneath an asset’s price chart.
The RSI will rise as the number and size of positive closes increase, and it will fall as the number and size of losses increase. The second part of the calculation smooths the result, so the RSI will only near 100 or 0 in a strongly trending market.
As you can see in the above chart, the RSI indicator can stay in the overbought region for extended periods while the stock is in an uptrend. The indicator may also remain in oversold territory for a long time when the stock is in a downtrend. This can be confusing for new analysts, but learning to use the indicator within the context of the prevailing trend will clarify these issues.
What Does RSI Tell You?
The primary trend of the stock or asset is an important tool in making sure the indicator’s readings are properly understood. For example, well-known market technician Constance Brown, CMT, has promoted the idea that an oversold reading on the RSI in an uptrend is likely much higher than 30%, and an overbought reading on the RSI during a downtrend is much lower than the 70% level.
As you can see in the following chart, during a downtrend, the RSI would peak near the 50% level rather than 70%, which could be used by investors to more reliably signal bearish conditions. Many investors will apply a horizontal trendline that is between 30% and 70% levels when a strong trend is in place to better identify extremes. Modifying overbought or oversold levels when the price of a stock or asset is in a long-term, horizontal channel is usually unnecessary.
A related concept to using overbought or oversold levels appropriate to the trend is to focus on trading signals and techniques that conform to the trend. In other words, using bullish signals when the price is in a bullish trend and bearish signals when a stock is in a bearish trend will help to avoid the many false alarms the RSI can generate.
Example of RSI Divergences
A bullish divergence occurs when the RSI creates an oversold reading followed by a higher low that matches correspondingly lower lows in the price. This indicates rising bullish momentum, and a break above oversold territory could be used to trigger a new long position.
A bearish divergence occurs when the RSI creates an overbought reading followed by a lower high that matches corresponding higher highs on the price.
As you can see in the following chart, a bullish divergence was identified when the RSI formed higher lows as the price formed lower lows. This was a valid signal, but divergences can be rare when a stock is in a stable long-term trend. Using flexible oversold or overbought readings will help identify more potential signals.
Example of RSI Swing Rejections
Another trading technique examines the RSI’s behavior when it is reemerging from overbought or oversold territory. This signal is called a bullish «swing rejection» and has four parts:
- RSI falls into oversold territory.
- RSI crosses back above 30%.
- RSI forms another dip without crossing back into oversold territory.
- RSI then breaks its most recent high.
As you can see in the following chart, the RSI indicator was oversold, broke up through 30% and formed the rejection low that triggered the signal when it bounced higher. Using the RSI in this way is very similar to drawing trendlines on a price chart.
Like divergences, there is a bearish version of the swing rejection signal that looks like a mirror image of the bullish version. A bearish swing rejection also has four parts:
- RSI rises into overbought territory.
- RSI crosses back below 70%.
- RSI forms another high without crossing back into overbought territory.
- RSI then breaks its most recent low.
The following chart illustrates the bearish swing rejection signal. As with most trading techniques, this signal will be most reliable when it conforms to the prevailing long-term trend. Bearish signals during downward trends are less likely to generate false alarms.
The Difference Between RSI and MACD
The moving average convergence divergence (MACD) is another 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. Traders may buy the security when the MACD crosses above its signal line and sell, or short, the security when the MACD crosses below the signal line.
The RSI was designed to indicate whether a security is overbought or oversold in relation to recent price levels. The RSI is calculated using average price gains and losses over a given period of time. The default time period is 14 periods with values bounded from 0 to 100.
The MACD measures the relationship between two EMAs, while the RSI measures price change in relation to recent price highs and lows. These two indicators are often used together to provide analysts with a more complete technical picture of a market.
These indicators both measure the momentum of an asset. However, they measure different factors, so they sometimes give contradictory indications. For example, the RSI may show a reading above 70 for a sustained period of time, indicating the security is overextended to the buy side.
At the same time, the MACD could indicate that buying momentum is still increasing for the security. Either indicator may signal an upcoming trend change by showing divergence from price (price continues higher while the indicator turns lower, or vice versa).
Limitations of the RSI
The RSI compares bullish and bearish price momentum and displays the results in an oscillator that can be placed beneath a price chart. Like most technical indicators, its signals are most reliable when they conform to the long-term trend.
True reversal signals are rare and can be difficult to separate from false alarms. A false positive, for example, would be a bullish crossover followed by a sudden decline in a stock. A false negative would be a situation where there is a bearish crossover, yet the stock accelerated suddenly upward.
Since the indicator displays momentum, it can stay overbought or oversold for a long time when an asset has significant momentum in either direction. Therefore, the RSI is most useful in an oscillating market where the asset price is alternating between bullish and bearish movements.
Highest profits are realized only when the best forex trading strategies are employed by the forex traders. There are many time tested forex strategies that can be used by serious traders. Whereas some of them are based on the effect of the current political and economic scenarios of a country, some others rely on charts and numbers that are based on past performances of the forex market. All the strategies that are explained briefly in this article have different levels of complexity. It is also important to note that whatever may be the strategy that the forex trader wants to apply, the best effects occur only when the trader has sufficient knowledge and experience in the field. This article aims to familiarize the readers with a few well-known forex trading strategies.
Major Forex Trading Strategies
The main categories of forex strategies used by traders include: Fundamental Strategies, Technical Strategies and Popular Strategies. Fundamental forex trading strategies are dependent on the fundamental economic indicators of a nation and other political events that happen in a nation. Technical forex trading strategies rely on the statistical and mathematical models of the currency prices and the analysis thereof. Popular trading strategies are always a combination of the fundamental and technical analyses.
Fundamental Analysis Based Forex Trading Strategies
Forex traders evaluate currencies and the countries much like how equities and companies are evaluated to get a clear idea of the currency’s value. The value of a currency changes due to many factors such as economic growth of the nation and its financial strength. All this information is analyzed by the forex traders to evaluate the value of its currency. Fundamental trading strategies cannot be easily mastered by a newbie forex trader. Given below are some trading methods that use fundamental analysis.
Method #1: Trading the news
This method is all about analyzing important news happenings on different fronts in a nation and understanding the implications that they will have on the currency market. The trader will then place the trades accordingly. The market moves in an unpredictable manner when there are sudden political or economic happenings in any nation. As the forex market operates round the clock, news flows in from all parts of the world. Trading on the basis of economic news and data suits all kinds of traders wherever they are and whichever currency they choose to trade.
Method #2: Trading market sentiment
This forex trading strategy takes advantage of the momentum of the market that is currently prevalent. Any market sentiment is a sum total of all the traders’ prevalent sentiments. This ultimately results in the forex market moving in a specific direction. Market sentiment is a very important aspect and traders should learn to read or feel the same in order to successfully trade currencies. Sometimes it is easy to understand the sentiment, but some other it may not be very obvious.
Method #3: Market Volatility
The forex market is a very volatile market. When the market is volatile, traders get lessons on how to hedge, develop and acquire broad/diverse portfolios, and act on low leverage to exploit the prevailing market condition. There are two different types of volatility. They are historical and implied volatility. The former refers to the normal price action with respect to a period of time (say, a month or year). Abnormal current and future price action is referred to as implied volatility. It often exceeds the historical range when compared with the historical price action.
Method #4: Arbitrage
Arbitrage is based on the premise of the forex trader trying to make a gain from small differences (of the currency) that exist either in the same or different markets. This is primarily a form of speculation. Identifying the right conditions and employing this strategy is not an easy task. Arbitrage strategy best market participants who have best technology systems and have quickest access to information. Arbitrage is best employed when the same currency has two different prices.
Method #5: Interest rates
Any nation’s central bank, adjusts the rates of interest from time to time in order to contain or curb the inflationary trends. This, in turn, has a definitive effect on the currency market and traders assume trading positions accordingly. The central bank of a country does not act as it is a solid body. The interest rate is increased or decreased based on the vote cast by the members of the monetary policy committee. The number of members monetary committee varies from one bank to another. If the interest rate is cut, there will be more money in circulation. This makes it cheaper. If the interest rate is hiked, its value increases.
The forex trading strategy Carry Trade is different from other forex strategies. While most of the Forex trading strategies follow the concept “buy low/sell high”, Carry Trade relies mainly on the difference in interest rate between the currencies. This means that forex traders can make profit even if the market is stable. When employing this strategy, traders buy a currency with a high differential ratio, meaning the interest rate of the currency they buy will be higher than that of the currency they sell.
Fair Value strategy made use of in various financial markets. In the forex market, the fair value of a currency is determined based on the economic situation in a country. In order to use this forex strategy, traders must have an understanding about a few basic related to the economy, especially the GDP growth of the two economies whose currencies they plan to buy and sell. Other aspects to be considered include the unemployment rate and the inflation data.
Technical Analysis Based Forex Trading Strategies
Some of the other best forex trading strategies are based on the technical analysis. This method is particularly important in day trading. Technical analysis is useful to traders in that it gives them an indication of times when they can enter or exit the market. It also helps the trader to make the most out of the existing market status. Given below are brief explanations of some of the technical analysis based trading strategies.
#1: Fibonacci Indicator
This strategy is employed by forex traders as a long-term plan to make the trades profitable. The indicator mainly uses the ‘Pullback’ and the ‘Trend’, both of which are fundamental in nature. In order to have a complete understanding as to how this strategy works, traders must be familiar with the more fundamental concept called ‘the trend’. It is very difficult to explain each individual price change and determine a pattern as there will be many of them. Traders need to look at the bigger picture in order to see trends. The three key Fibonacci numbers that traders should always remember are 0.382, 0.5, and 0.618. They should also keep in mind 0.764 and 0.236.
#2: Horizontal Levels
These are indicators that help the trader to analyze charts and can be used by itself or as a helping tool in other strategies. Traders can make successful traders just by watching the price changes that are very obvious to them and drawing their horizontal levels. However, a better understanding of the horizontal levels in more complex charts helps them to spot trends that they would have otherwise missed.
Divergence is a tool that helps the traders to learn the price behavior of the currency. This analysis generates patterns that will help to predict the direction of movement of the currency rates. Divergence, a leading indicator, helps traders to significantly increase their profits. This is because the likelihood of trading in the right direction and at the right time increases if this indicator is used along with others such as Moving Averages, Stochastics, RSI, Support and Resistance levels, etc.
This method is mostly put to use by the retail investors. This tool works well in both volatile and the not-so-volatile market conditions. However, candlesticks work optimally when used with other tools. They do not reveal past price action details.
#5: Wedges and Triangles
Currency pair prices generally do not follow a straight-line path when moving up or down. They usually consolidate before breaking out into the next surge or dip when moving up or down. A wedge or triangle is formed during these consolidation periods. This effect is very visible when a chart is viewed using smaller time-frame boundaries.
#6: Head and Shoulders
To really master the candlestick charts, traders have to learn about some of the common patterns. The pattern ‘Head and Shoulders’ is one of the most recognizable and tradable chart patterns. The Head is the higher peak and Shoulders are the two lower ones. This patterns becomes relevant when the support (neckline) is broken.
In Forex trading, hedging is a commonly used strategy to limit risk. Traders choose two currency pairs that are positively correlated (such as EUR/USD and GBP/USD or AUD/USD and NZD/USD) and then take opposite directions on both of them. Hedging helps to reduce the risk of loss during uncertain times.
The ‘Elliot Wave Theory’, named after Ralph Elliot, is one of the oldest forex strategies. He analyzed the stock price data for around 70 years and found out that human psychology (emotions, fear and greed) drove the market and that it moved iteratively. This is to say that the market switches between optimistic and pessimistic modes. In this strategy, the motive phase unfurls in 5 steps.
Popular Forex Trading Strategies
Some popular forex trading strategies are explained briefly in the paragraphs below.
#1: Multiple Time Frames
As suggested by the name, this method involves tracking the price of a currency pair over many time frames. This action helps to fix high and low points which subsequently help to work out a price trend that the currency rates are following. The changes and patterns are not discernible if viewed over a single time frame.
Scalping is a method that can help a trader to make a lot of money in a short span of time. This is a technique used in intraday trading and involves opening and closing positions quickly one after the other. The method demands a lot of attention and alertness on the part of the trader to make successful trades.
#3: Support and Resistance Levels
The upper end that marks the end of a bullish run is called the ‘resistance’ level and the corresponding lower end of a bearish trend is referred to as ‘support’ level. However, these do not last for very long periods. However, the talent of a trader lies in being able to identify these levels just before the next break.
#4: Trend Trading
Trading currencies following the existing market trend is the safest way to maximize profits. The most important aspect in trend trading is to be able to identify the topmost or the bottom points.
#5: Moving Averages Trading
This indicator can be easily placed on a chart. The moving averages strategy involves waiting for the price of the currency to get close to this level on the chart. When the price nears this level, the trader can decide to buy or sell the currency pair.
#6: Bladerunner Trade
This is an exceptionally good strategy and works across all timeframes and for all currency pairs. This trending strategy picks breakouts from a continuation so as to help traders trade the retests. Candlesticks, pivot points, support and resistance levels and round numbers can be used when employing this strategy. Off-chart indicators are not necessary.
#7: Bolly Band Bounce Trade
This strategy is best suited for a ranging market. Many traders make use of this strategy to great effect by combining it with confirming signals.
#8: Dual Stochastic Trade
The Dual Stochastic Trade makes use of two stochastics: slow and fast. The two stochastics are used in combination to pick spots where price is trending, but is overextended in short term retracements and are about to snap back into the continuing trend.
#9: Pop ‘n’ Stop Trade
Traders who have chased the price as it bounces upward and have often suffered losses because of a sudden reversal would want to keep this strategy in their minds when trading currencies. By employing this simple strategy, they can determine whether the price will continue in the breakout direction or not. This helps them to increase their profits or reduce losses.
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